The Ex Festival, Paard van Troje, Den Haag 28/2/14

Could the Paard confound Terrie’s recent comments made in the Dutch press about playing soulless new pop venues?

 

Oh my word what a weekend. Where to start? I really have no idea. It’s been a whirl of nights, and even though we managed to attend but three; the experience has conjured up the impression that every atom of my spiritual and physical self is now jostling with different atoms, atoms from another place.  In fact the whole experience has encouraged some peculiar memory bubbles to float to the surface.  The sensory overload of the Paradiso gig in particular reminded of a supermarket fantasy I used to have in Accrington, back in the 1990s. I always dreamt of being locked in behind the savoury meats counter. Think of it... everyone has gone home. And I’m alone, with about 40 yards of cured and potted meat for company.  Suitably armed, I reckoned I could hold out for days, working through the ham joints and spiced turkey rolls. Et in arcadia ego.

Enough of prepared delicatessen meats! On with the review!

Well, Incendiary turned up to the Paard van Troje for the Friday show, after hearing some damned positive reports of Doornroosje and Vera the previous two nights. Could the Paard confound Terrie’s recent comments made in the Dutch press about playing soulless new pop venues? The Paard van Troje is a strange old place and somewhere that often shoots itself in the foot with unthinking behaviour that doubtless gets explained away as the consequence of a lack of budget. I mean; one bar guy on in a room with a 300 plus crowd in there at 7pm... and a crowd that was growing? Not allowing the first band a decent sound? Great... punters pay nearly 20 euros of their hard earned to then hear pub/squat quality sounds from the gig that often sets up the mood of the night (and that’s what happened to Space Siren for their first few numbers here, until the admittedly decent sound guy did the right thing and allowed the sound to run through the house PA)... no wonder people get disillusioned.  Bouncers prowling round a bunch of chin stroking hippy punks... What is it with the Paard and its aggressive security? It reminds me of the time at a festival I hosted there when the door staff tried to stop someone (Aart-Jan from the Julie Mittens) playing under the stairs because they didn’t; like it. Is that their call? No. So, yeah, Terrie, you’ve got a point; these places can be black holes and they don’t make it any better with the way they behave. Luckily your festival was utterly fantastic from first to last and everyone had a stonking night.

Every gig deserves a mention; Space Siren overcame the sound restrictions to utterly blast the early birds with a set that accentuated their groovy side. Maybe it was a bit subdued in parts, especially the opener, I Think I Saw An Elephant but the gig grew more in stature when the new numbers started and the band realised that they were playing to a fantastically receptive audience.Oh yeah...somehow Space Siren’s new stuff sounds much more ferocious and willing to take risks, especially that incredibly slow number, which allows the emotional temperature to drop like a stone down a well. And yet again the poppy chimes of Who Makes Me Try rounded off another fab set from this most underrated of bands. Job done.  Then we got Han Bennink and Peter Brötzmann who laid down a steamy set that, at times, escaped its moorings and embarked on a wee bit of astral travelling. This show was far harder and more intense than the subsequent shows at Paradiso and Tivoli; possibly because of the sound being, well, sharper, more modern (I’m no expert in these matters but the PA the kit the Paard uses always seems monstrous more compressed, more industrial and attuned to things like hip-hop or dance nights) and more adept at picking out the more abrasive textures that Brötzmann coaxed out of his sax and clarinet.

Then it was time for Thurston Moore. Standing at the back of the Paard main hall isn’t the best place to see any gig, but Moore’s got this calm, stentorian presence about him that keeps things in order. He played a reflective show, more mellifluous than I thought, and only occasionally breaking into the feedback squalls we expected, but keeping things fairly low key. It was a very serene gig and full of gradations of tone and texture (helped again by the fact that he’d got a whole PA rig to shred his guitar through) and a shit sight better than the last Sonic Youth show here.

Time for The Ex! There’s not really much to say about the gig – apart from they absolutely slaughtered Den Haag, shredded them. There was a righteous anger about the band on the night that was palpable; the grooves were choppier than normal, knife-sharp, coruscating. Their beat was much harder, more insistent; much more tribal than I’ve previously heard it. Maybe it was the shock of the amplification. You see the last time I saw them was in a pub in Groningen and before that, in a Youth centre in Leiden that only allowed a 99db maximum… (Such are the indignities brought upon musical greatness and invention in Holland, take note...) Still things were different here and as soon as Addis Hum kicked in there was no let off. No mercy. Every Sixth is Cracked, Bicycle Illusion, Maybe I Was The Pilot, all these locked the audience into a groove and didn’t allow them any release.

Back when I was very young there was this kids TV programme about a character called Windy Miller. At the show’s beginning and end, he’d appear from, and disappear back into, this revolving box. Seemingly prone, and unable to move, despite gyrating round at a rate of knots, Windy Miller would go round and round until the music stopped and the box enveloped him. And that was the audience at the Paard. Rendered powerless and unable to do anything but dance at the Ex’s bidding. But they loved it really. We even got an old, old Ex track as an encore. Love? In the air at the Paard? Amazing.

You’d think that’s the end, wouldn’t you, you know, headline band, playing their own festival… they’d wrap it up, and leave to the cheers of all those Windy Millers who re-found their feet and sense of willpower. But this isn’t any old band. More fool you. The Ex are an ever-giving bunch and they wanted us to share in their sonic discoveries. So, people moved to the convivial small hall upstairs for Chocolat Billy, who are, for want of a better word, bananas. Over the following nights we become accustomed to the fact that they are incredibly multi instrumentalists; but this was the first time we’d see them and we were utterly knocked out by the way they switch instruments and (at one point breaking down their equipment) and rebuild it up again to create a sound that is both ever changing and the same! HOW? Plus, their guitarist (on this night) wore the most eye bleeding shirt and sock combo known to fashion. These French eh? Then it was time for Trash Kit, who were fresh out of the van from London, and up for a brittle, poppy set. Trash Kit have a cheeky vibe about them; “this one’s about my hair” was one laconic introduction. But their songs are punchy and witty, and they manage to play this stripped down spindly punk in eth most frank, and charming manner. Finally we got to enjoy around twenty minutes of Fendika’s extraordinary Azmari music, with their dancers agog and awhirl, and their masenquo and melismatic vocals sensuously bidding us on.  Sadly we had to leave to get the train, but we’d catch Fendika the following two nights.

Overall; minds were shown and blown. And you know, it was that good that for once I didn’t mind that it rained in Den Haag (again).