Grauzone, Melkweg, Amsterdam, 30/1/15, The Fall

Then MES and Elena shuffled on; buttoned up and carrying their stuff, looking like two daytrippers who were running for the Last of The Summer Wine coach trip to Holmfirth. You just felt this was going to be good.

Good fun, Grauzone, really good fun! It's great that this festival has grown into its own. I did have my doubts at the beginning. And I think that anyone who sees the concept as a line of 1980s bands playing would think this is all one step away from the chicken in a basket promotion, even if you allow for the fact that there are a lot of young bands mining the same ideas. You could also say that fusion of old and new is a bit like Breugel and his son, Peter the Photocopier. (Go look it up). But, after a couple of years of working out a headspace, Grauzone may be on the cusp of doing something genuinely exciting; and a wee bit different than what you expect. Of course there are elements that seem to plague all festivals in these self-conscious times (the three dreaded V's: Vinyl, Vegan grub outlets* & Video art) but I didn't notice them too much. I was far too busy having a good time.

What is very interesting is the way the Dutch twenty/thirty somethings view all of this. Because at Grauzone there were plenty. This crowd wasn't JUST full of old gets like me trying to fit into their 1950s trousers, but a genuinely cool mix of pretty much all sort of alternative types. The Netherlands has always had a slow burning 'punk' underground; which - over time  - hasn't allowed itself to get too hung up about the various tribalisms, sonic tributaries or stylistic offshoots that developed from the original Year Zero.  Here you get all permutations of skins goths and rockers, punks and all sorts rubbing along pretty well. The things like the Dark Allies nights also manage to steer a crafty course away from fashions, and somehow these initiatives have blossomed out into a new set of people who don't really care what the mainstream alternative press say what's hot or not.  On the evidence of Grauzone 2015, there are plenty (and I mean plenty) of people willing to make the effort to dress up and look different; subverting that whole clean and healthy, modern professional twenty/thirty something, 'consumer  into cool music' regimentation/'brand' that is in danger of making every gig into a totally vanilla, netjes shopping experience in the Netherlands. And for a festival with more black clothing on display than an Isis recruitment video,  the whole feel of Grauzone is one of colour and fun and a bit of what the heck. People using their minds. Those who were 15-16 and listening to Bloc Party a decade ago have  graduated towards darker, wilder and more challenging sounds. And they celebrate their chance to do this with relative impunity. There's a lot to be said for the C21st; people moan about it not being Manchester 1983, but they shouldn't. Whilst never being one who felt the need to look the part (apart from a desire to have that Will Sergeant Parker look off the cover of Porcupine) I celebrate the fact that the same kind of violent 1980s impulse to knock seven shades of shit out of you if you didn't look like George Michael or wear pastel blue pants doesn't rear its head here.

OK; you hopefully get the picture. Onto the music. I only saw one band and a tiny bit of another on the Friday, primarily because I was interviewing David Stubbs about his book (a bravura take on fusing elements of Germany's history and music; 'Krautrock and the Birth of Modern Germany') and then interviewing, or rather sitting back and letting the hot, sandblasting whirlwind that is John Robb, talk about anything from what was an acceptable haircut in Blackpool in the 1970s to dark matter. I also enjoyed seeing the ever-witty Kevin Cummins  talk about Joy Division and Manic Street Preachers to Mr Robb. So a lot of my festival experience was like being in a post-punk WMC committee meeting (Amsterdam branch welcomes its UK committee members).

That one band, however, was The Fall. And you need all your concentration for that. Das Gruppe (as The Bent Moustache's Ajay Saggar rightly calls them) demand all senses to be on alert. It's the truth, you cannot negotiate a Fall gig in that casual grazing, 'yeah I've seen The Fall, yeah yeah legendary yeah, Mark's a genius, yeah' iphone-wank off manner that seems to be all around us. Otherwise the joke's on you. So, notebooks out plagiarists! Time to see how The Fall had moved on since the Incubate and Guess Who shows, where I felt MES cleverly played to the idea of 'being the legendary Fall', a spectacle that demanded little else of him but to be there and mumble on about stuff whilst having a crafty fag behind the guitar amp. All the while being lauded by an audience who (a bit like devotees staring at the Turin Shroud or kissing an icon of St George) didn't give a fuck about any considerations of their own actions, but were just pleased to have, you know, been there and done that. And felt ennobled, or refreshed. Fair enough. That's watching The Fall for a fair number of people over here in NL.

So off to see The Fall in the main hall. Except we didn't, we hung around for a good 40 minutes wondering where the fuck they were. When the video mash up started (which is really good in both a surreal AND annoying way) and we saw a slowed down clip of Elvis looking like Frankenstein's monster receiving its first electronic charge, there was brief hope; but you know this is another dimension we're in when we are about to receive The Fall. Time ticked on and the mash ups continued. A plastic beer cup sailed through the air. Followed by a fair few others. Boos, whistles. The guy Safi doing the videos got the flak for tardiness. And the fact that you can only view Ozzy Osbourne slowed down to zombie speed for so long (i.e. 5 seconds). Shit man, these Dutch like their entertainment to BE ON TIME AND FUCK ME IF THIS HAPPENED AT A FRANS BAUER GIG THERE'D BE A FUCKING RIOT THIS DIDN'T HAPPEN WHEN WE SAW DURAN DURAN PLAY RECENTLY THEY HAD ENCORES TOO AND IF YOU THINK GIEL BEELEN GOT OFF LIGHTLY WAIT TILL THAT SMITH GUY SHOWS UP HE'S IN THE PUB HE MUST BE HE HAS A REPUTATION OF MAKING THINGS DIFFICULT AND I'VE PAID 50+ EUROS FOR A TICKET AND THE NIGHT TRAIN TO UTRECHT IS A BITCH.

Like my good friend and truly great rock writer Cath Aubergine has rightly said, watching The Fall is like going to the dentists; you do it twice a year even if you need to or not. What this means to me is that you learn stoicism. Expect nothing, prepare to be challenged and you will eventually find a peace and contentment in the experience of the experience. Here, the band came (acting like the first wave of a Red Army Punishment Battalion) to take the hail of beer cups. Then MES and Elena shuffled on; buttoned up and carrying their stuff, looking like two daytrippers who were running for the Last of The Summer Wine coach trip to Holmfirth. You just felt this was going to be good.

The gig was weird/wired. Not Totally Wired but not far off. And easily the best gig in this land for ages. At least since the Rotterdam show back in 2005. Despite Elena clearly wanting to attack the cup throwers (getting the factotum to clean them up like barman style), MES loved the aggro; you felt he felt he could unleash some of his genuinely shamanic, chaotic spirit into the room.  Now and again he seemed completely rejuvenated; especially when one beer cup hit him full on the bonce. A quick remark back, smiles, wind up motions, handing the mic to some crazy in the crowd, laying down some kinky beats with the two drummers, and best of all standing foursquare at the front, with no distracted wandering... all these things made for a great gig. There was a focal point, there was no going through the motions. Some of the gig was inspired; the beginning clicked immediately round Amorator and Mr Rode; the latter bumping along like an old jalopy. Cowboy George was a great blast too, and somehow I enjoyed Bury. Or it didn't bother me too much. The best track had to be the shimmering, fizzing Dedication (one of the best Fall tracks in yonks) which cut through the room like a saw through wood. And you've got to say Elena is the best thing to happen in the band for years; it's a brilliant double act. MES was all smiles as she gave off  to the cup throwers like someone had deliberately dropped fag ash on her doorstep.

How annoying that the encore quickly switched from the GREAT Reformation to White Lightning. Still; it worked... people hear White Lightning, they recognise it as a mosher and mosh to show how much they love The Fall. Circuses and bread. Keep feeding them baked beans, Mark.

After that it was about five minutes of Wytches which I recognised as a great gig but to be honest, the spirit was back in the bottle. Train. Febo. Home.
 

*When are people going to cotton on to making piles of bog standard, supermarket cheese butties? Big piles of them, cellophane-wrapped. Just a massive pile of cheese sandwiches. Crusts on, and maybe cucumber & hummus for the vegans. Sorted. I don't want loads of specially selected things like courgettes on a sandwich instead of cheese or meat, and I suspect I'm not alone.