Every year I say to myself, don’t overdo it, be calm, watch each band, try to show some appreciation for the work that’s gone into this festival in the face of all the shit and ill-will that the organisers (the redoubtable Subroutine Records) have to face from the Dutch music industry. And every year there is a complete blank at some point, normally due to the fact that I get tired and emotional in the face of overwhelming temptation. Reviewers, eh?... I can, however, mitigate my failure somewhat by reporting that the bits I saw I loved: because not only did this year this feel like the year that Subroutine Cares really got into its stride as a going concern, but the performances I witnessed were absolutely blistering.
Allow me, however, a bit more of a waffle and then I’ll review the night. It seems from this vantage point that Subroutine’s rise to the periphery of Dutch music’s underground consciousness is mirrored in the rise of a set of bands, related labels and promoters who maybe all have something special to offer this country’s alternative scene. The bands aren’t all on Subroutine (a number are, such as AC Berkheimer and Vox Von Braun), but share the label’s cussed beliefs and free spirit. The labels and promoters share the same chippy attitude and grudgingly accept that working on a shoestring has to bring artistic results. All in all, it’s that exciting time where all the possibilities are not yet defined and but barely tangible. Maybe it should stay that way; who knows? Still, at the end of the night, standing round outside Kult’s front door, there seemed to be a greater willingness to stick around, chat, share stories, and talk things through. Something’s happening.
Kult - hot & full of fag smoke
Something that the British music journalist John Robb caught a glimpse of when he put his head round O’Ceallaigh’s door after speaking at Unconvention. Mr Robb had come to get a look at Rotterdam’s Rats on Rafts, playing Subroutine Cares after rave reviews from many people including this magazine. The band - looking more than ever like some lads who’ve missed the ferry back to Hull - played their barnstorming, scruffy, anthemic music to an increasingly enthusiastic audience.
Rats have a peculiar way of catching you out with the most obvious of hooks and runs: you keep falling for sounds and attitudes you thought stopped back with Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie in 1982. And unlike lots of the modern acts who take from the post-punk canon, they are supremely aware of that earlier era’s cheeky sensibility and “anything is possible” attitude. You know, it’s easily forgotten that bands from then were just as likely to try to balance pop melodies and rhythms against the most brutal sonic cut ups: Rats sensibly realise that it’s perfectly okay to nab from Dragnet-era Fall and from Postcard, or from Ludus. It matters not. And that shimmering guitar sound; balanced against the violent yelps and shouts that singer David Fagan belts out gives them their edge. This lot are rapidly becoming fabulous. As long as they stay hungry and don’t bother what they do they’ll be fine.
Rats on Rafts
Staying downstairs we caught Lars Ludvig Löfgren who came with a full band this time. I must admit that I’ve not heard his new LP, but on this showing it’ll be bloody good. There’s an insistent, urgent feel to the music, slightly manic, and this might sound plain stupid, (especially when you consider I’m reviewing a gig in a pub) but something in the whole shebang that lent itself to a stadium. The music had grand gestures built in; chords were swept through, melodies were set up to cascade and the message was brazen, confident and a tad overblown. A touch of the Boss’s grand theatrics, maybe? It might sound bad reading this, but this approach worked a treat live. As long as they don’ start sweating before the gig, an old trick of the Boss’s…
Then a slight pause, and off to the smoky and Bohemian confines of Kult, where the Moi Non Plus battered everyone about with their primal drum-charges, yelps and flat-screen sonic rage. It’s getting frustrating and ever so slightly tedious writing about how bloody good this lot can be live. Every time I see them they are tremendous. I believe they’ve mellowed, and I believe that extracurricular activities take a lot their time up these days but…. ….but they still sound like two bozos who have stumbled on that Neu! rehearsal tape in Dusseldorf (the 1972 one on Captain Trip Records if you’re interested) and decided to dedicate their musical lives to squeezing every last drop of musical sap from it. There was a moment near the end of the gig where Leon started smiling as he battered the drums, realising they were on one, and even if it lasted only for another 5 minutes he was going to bash the life out of his kit… it was one of the highlights of the night. They might be a little delicate on record, but who cares?
Moi Non Plus
Then – after a long time checking - we had Katadreuffe, who had enough equipment to fill a freight container. And about 30 guitars to tune. Maybe they were embarking on some Rhys Chatham sonic experiment? No, it was the same Katadreuffe this magazine has come to admire: an angry refracted, mumbling, snarling band who have the most preposterously sensual sound in Holland; thick, rich and very suggestive. And still I can’t tell you what it’s suggestive of, as in many ways they’re such a puzzle. Their lyrics sound like a set of permanently repeated soliloquies, aimed at no-one in particular; like some Goth Hamlet sitting on a bench outside Zeeman. They are bizarre, but once you start getting hooked into this strange self-centred vibe they have, that’s it, you’re gone.
Now it was getting late, but Incendiary magazine had picked up enough wind to take in Space Siren, who floored Kult with a display of pyrotechnics that was in total contrast to Katadreuffe. Where the former had built up an elaborately textured wall of sound, Space Siren cut through the atmosphere with a chainsaw of sharp, iridescent guitar noise: it was akin to seeing Alexander cut through the Gordian knot at times. Space Siren are pretty good on record, but live they are visceral; there’s a great interplay off guitarist Corno Zwetsloot (who is all action, bouncing about like an angry bear stung by a bee) and the singer Gwen Douglas; who seems to be casting for the role of Nurse Ratched. Their take on D.A.F.’s Verschwende Deine Jugend was brutal in its simultaneous expression of haughtiness and abandon. Oh, and whilst I’m frothing at the mouth, I might as well stick my neck out and say that the band’s drummer for my money offers the most brazenly ebullient expression of rhythmic genius in Western Europe. I will take bets on this.
What a night. Still, there was time enough to chat maniacally, berate someone about Postcard Records and find myself being woken up by a cat sitting on my head. Good do!
Photos: Courtesy of Anna Heap and Sjors Hoogerdijk