Cultuur? Barbaaar! - Qbus and Vrijplaats, Leiden 30/08/13

Somehow this C?B! thing could be a runner. Nature and Nurture, Prospero and Caliban, Bitter and Mild, or even a cherry in your spritzer. Let’s see what next year throws up.

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I’m not sure I like everything about Cultuur? Barbaaar!, but then, I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to. It’s a strange old set up. C?B! is a festival based in Leiden, one that’s in its second year, and one that seems to be still finding its feet, though it’s certainly made a mark. It seems to be an interesting conceit: on one hand C?B! (rightly) looks to show that there’s a hell of a lot going on under the radar in Leiden, (almost basking in the messy glory of illuminating the cultural chasm that radiates between the netjes Leiden of University borrel and dank defiance of the squat party), on the other quite happy to play the media game with their pals on the Bestuur; AND all the while happily taking a grant to promote the cultural activities in this fair city.  So whilst I don’t totally subscribe to this festival’s concept in the round I can’t help but support it and be drawn to some of its more endearing nonsense. And – yes - last year I was an active participant; drawing pictures of English football hooligans for all those who tarried at my stall.

Anyway; enough pontificating on matters social. This year the festy was split over two venues; one being the new Vrijplaats, a lovely venue run by endless committees but saved by its beautiful interior  and cheap beer and lovely vegan food, and doughty old Qbus, still looking to punch above its 99db weight. Incendiary mucked about with friends in Vrijplaats in the afternoon, idly grazing on the often great sometimes shite artistic offerings, sometimes joining in (photographing one’s shoes on a picture of shoes) but never feeling bored or frustrated; in fact enjoying the total scattergun approach C? B! looked to promote.

I suppose it’s only fair to point out that there was a theme underpinning C? B!, that being a parallel take on the Walter Benjamin debates over at Leiden Uni. All well and good. Though reinterpreting philosophical tracts can lead the cultural actor down some unforeseen paths; and Vrijplaats certainly hosted a number of bold stabs at forming some strange artistic unions. At one point some young shavers declaimed some text whilst banjo, fiddle & bongos provided a backdrop, and later on a slightly older ensemble ran through a smooth 5kmh (with sandwich stop) take on Coltrane or Baker. People lounged about; bemused, becalmed, sipping coffee and politely registering interest. Nuff said.

The evening’s programme was the thing Incendiary was up for, though the programme at Qbus seemed to be a smorgasbord of musical styles, the music volleying between CAB03 and the main downstairs stage, and topped (if you fancied the fug) of the poets room (where absinthe was being doled out ad infinitum). We settled for bumming about round CAB, especially when one act decided that their show would be enhanced with some topless advertising. Ho hum. It was all nice enough, if not especially diverting, the acts in CAB turning out to be facking good at replicating a sort of Beefheart-esque pissing about. Still, we were merry enough and matters improved considerably when the last 3 acts came on; these being Incendiary faves Gul Night Out, 40 Dollar Baby and The Ex. Let’s take each in turn.

In the gloaming of CAB, Gul seemed to be very preoccupied with showing their new “hip hop” style* off, whatever that was. As ever with this band of loons, the music was directed through and by singer Jacco, who took the time to pull some outrageous ballet poses and threaten the crowd. Any pretence that this was some nonsense to be smirked through soon left the cultural grazers, who felt increasingly intimidated by Jacco’s yelling. Gul still have that Swell Maps/Fall/kindergarten assembly vibe about them, and pleasingly the set was comprised, (outside of old chestnut Jongens van de Buurtbeheer),of new numbers that were just the right mix of inept nonsense and deep, menacing wisdom.  Jacco carried on looking for a way to put his head through the roof of the CAB, whilst Niek laconically played his guitar so badly (especially during their awful cover of Pretty Woman) that people must have thought that he’d never ever seen a 6 string semi before. Seriously, that kind of faking is some talent. Matters grumbled along till the brilliant ending, a song about the degenerative effects of masturbation amongst the young. Sax and spice was added, people grroved along to this odd bunch. The band are heroes and wizards and we are still head over heels in love with them.

*If only I had a euro for the number of times Jacco mentioned this to me earlier.

Off to the main hall to see 40 Dollar Baby, who still manage to frustrate and delight with their strange cabaret. What is it about them? I honestly don’t know. At times they are bloody annoying, at others inspired, a band that can play but still seem to be wrestling with their own muse, maybe still wondering whether it’s safe to play these snippets of whimsy and aggression in a live setting at all. When they do get it right it’s a joy, and a sort of multicoloured, freewheeling sound is whipped up, cleverness is left waiting at the door and a messy, and “everyman” pop noise comes out to play. They’re like one of these preposterous bands like Carter & the Unstoppable Sex Machine, theoretically unlistenable but hugely popular and loved by many. The main hall was at times nonplussed, thinking that this was some kind of arty nonsense to be indulged before the main act, but some started to get it, seeing their multiform pop for what it was, fun, engaging and intelligent. Stick with them.

Finally The Ex. Now, Incendiary were slightly apprehensive given this room’s 99 db sound limit, as after all, this is The Ex we are talking about. They like noise. They be punks, savvy? But no matter. What The Ex does better than virtually anyone else is explore the possibilities of a groove. They’re like 80-82 era Talking Heads like that; their choppy rhythms clash and grind against each other until a sort of sonic equilibrium is found; and the way Andy, Arnold and Terrie play, you would think that these tightly wound, finely expressed meshes of sound are second nature… they throw up the most ridiculous filigrees of noise, the daftest, most ridiculous ornaments of rhythmical structure.  A lot of the tracks came off the last couple of LPs, certainly a fair number off Enormous Door and Catch My Shoe, (apart from a newie featuring drummer Kat on vox and maracas) and the gig was stealthily paced, nothing really coming loose at the seams till the last track, a tribute to the Congo’s Konono No. 1, Theme from Konono No. 2.

That was the signal for the audience to finally loose it; in truth they’d been waiting a good 30 minutes or so to express their ardour - but like the gigolos in some long forgotten silent flick- the Ex had kept everyone expectant, pining at the gate, rose in teeth, legs crossed. Now there was no holding them. Suddenly it was mayhem; shirts were ripped off, pogoing was the order of the day, piggy backs and some comedic falling over became de rigeur, and all in the space of a few slippery feet. Glorious stuff. 

What was that about?

Somehow this C?B! thing could be a runner. Nature and Nurture, Prospero and Caliban, Bitter and Mild, or even a cherry in your spritzer. Let’s see what next year throws up.

+As indeed they bloody well should.