Why this craziness, have these teens been O'ding on frikandels again? No; it's drummer Erik's 18th birthday. That's why. So we celebrate in full-on, Head On style.
(Pic courtesy of Hedwig Plomp)
OK, I'm rough. Despite the best efforts of my good friend Richard to make a home from home at his well appopinted groove pad, I feel like someone's been putting soil in my mouth during the night. Anyway there's shit to do, so we trundle back down to town, catching the Rooie Neger showcase where The Miseries are running at full blast in the Vera cellar. They are great live; a rich, steamy and incredibly loud mix of raw rock and roll with a few rockabilly/surf elements thrown in for good measure. Fantastic.
After that we groove over to catch Afterpartees at Excelsior's showcase-cum-trinkets-and-music-shoppe, FTTB. Excelsior are past masters at creating a nice, friendly, inclusive vibe; it's possibly why their label has done so well over the years in the Netherlands. Of course you can say it's not too demanding or groundbreaking; but to their immense credit Excelsior look to include everyone in their good time policy and don't care when people don't like what they do, so a big hand to them. I'm here to see their new pop hope Afterpartees, who were SUCH a laugh on Best Kept Secret in June, and such a manic presence at the Rooie Neger show in O'Ceallaigh's this time last year. I'm not that convinced by their record (more of that later in another review). BUT when they are roused, Afterpartees have a killer vibe, and stream a fizzy, crackling, cartoon angst through their chief spark, Niek Nellen. Here the room is packed but it's a predictably 'industry' audience from where I'm standing. Of course that's the reason they're playing, it's Eurosonic, and of course they are here to sell their musical wares. I get that. That's the pact. But something emanating from the band and the crowd feels flat and somehow the band's vibe - or sound - doesn't travel to the back of the room. Or not enough. In fact they seem to be trying too hard from the off and their sound (which needs to be buzzy and revved up) seems to blend into an increasingly thin, grizzly, monochromatic sludge. Because of that it just doesn't convince, despite Niek's showmanship. It's 4pm. They are much better than this.
No rest for the wicked! I run off to give a talk about what I call (provocatively, a little bit naughtily but yes there is a reason and I'm happy to talk it through with you, anytime) the reverse apartheid of the Dutch 'music scene'. OnNederlandsgoed and all that kinda bullshit. It's picking up on a theme in an interview I gave for Gonzo Circus mag. Anyway, I do my yapping at the Soup n Knowledge bash at Galerie Sign, a cool hang that normally hosts the Subbacultcha! show on the Sunday. I make leek and potato soup, do my talk about some of the stranger aspects of how 'rock' music 'works' in the Netherlands (to these English eyes at least) and nearly poison everyone with the results. Wally van Middendorp, Grote Roerganger of all that is caustic and tegendraads in Dutch alternative music, advises me to add 2 raw onions. It's the perfect Ultra gesture. I fear there will be upset stomachs tonight.
Still; it's a cool hang at Sign and I stick around for some inspiring talks and a lot of soup fun before heading back to O'Ceallaigh's to catch Hamsterjam's Naive Set kick off the second Subroutine night. Now, Naive Set are one of those bands that really should be noticed more, as they have something greater than the sum of their parts to offer. You see, there's an almost spiritual thing going on round their pretend-slapdash pop; which more people really should tune into. This spiritual side is really noticeable with a lot of new tracks which get aired for the first time; a sparkling folio of out-of-time, sunset pop that will only add to their reputation as trippy left-of-centre troubadours. I really notice - and like - their restraint; they are smart lads who know when to turn things down and let things simmer; a rare commodity. This jazzy Astral Weeks looseness and softness is very noticeable in O'Ceallaigh's and given further emphasis by some sharp turns of phrase and tempo. Their beautiful bittersweet single, Like That is, of course, predictably great and given an extended run out. But best is saved till last with a new track; a wonderful stop-start affair that singer Mikey guides using some caustic, self reflective vocals. Wow!
I could have gone upstairs to catch Homemade Empire and Eerie Wanda, but to be honest I'm going to stake my claim to a place near the front for Rats on Rafts. I remember the crush for the brilliant show from The Ex last year. And this is Rats, replete with an armful of new sounds. Rats have been in determined mood recently; they've pushed themselves in the studio like their lives depended on it, and their latest tracks have been hinting at something totally otherworldly. Here and not here, a record that is future-past, and one that's going to stake their place as a band who matters. Even if it does cost them everything they've built up in the Netherlands. For, on the evidence of this gig alone I can promise that their new stuff is going to freak some people out. Forget the chiming pop; strap yourselves in for some burning explorations of texture and tone, Pinkwind style. Some things are the same; their love of balancing extremes of noise (opener Sleep Little Child) and their anger (Powder Monkey is spat out, and Jazz is still the ultimate call to arms for those who hate the mundane). But elsewhere there's none of that radio friendly jangle. Sadly we don't get weird non-pop pop song Zebradelic, but we get the 'African song' which is in two parts, some of which involves me. David winks and motions me up. I rant about fake plastic breasts and Michael Hutchence. Shit feels good, and I'm drinking Guinness and wearing tweed. But enough, except for one detail I want to relate to you. When you stand on a stage with Rats on Rafts it sounds like a launch pad to somewhere else; such is the power of their rhythm section. This is not amplified noise, it's the sound of the underground lavaflows spitting you out into space. And will Rats on Rafts ever come back from their self-manned Moon flight? Let's see. Personally I hope not.
Guinness gets drunk, it's dark outside and the bats come out to play in O'Ceallaigh's. Time for the legendary Gluemen. A three piece playing weirdo gloop? Outta space vox (geddit) mixed with 'strangely' laidback confrontational gambits? This doesn't sound like some old band going through the motions. They sound essential! Vocal duties pinball between the drummer and guitarist Wymer Vaastra and the squidge and squelch of their racket leaves a whole set of things to be guessed and wondered at. Beefheart? Howlling Wolf? Guru fucking Guru in their UFO years? We shall never know, as this is a bravura examination of the organs of weirdo rock and roll. A killer gig and another Deutsche-Niederland Freundschaft in action. Yowsa!
Kult. It's still sweaty and gloomy. Perfect. We have work to do. You see, in his crazy yet occasionally mind-blowing new novel One Three One, ex Teardrops Explodes singer (and whey faced loon/Neolithic expert) Julian Cope introduces us to a Dutch villain, Dokkum's DJ Judge Barry Hertzog; a bad lad who both hates Half Man Half Biscuit (cos they slagged off Liverbird Nerys Hughes instead of Thatch) and needs to find his redemption through an idealised Boer past and football hooliganism. Now, think on; JULIAN H COPE talking about Dokkum. It's too good to be true, so I persuade The Homesick to let me introduce them, and to add a small connection to the nervenet of rock's mythology; Lester Bangs style. Elias looks at me in that goofy, spaced way he has and I get on with it. I crash into the crowd waving the book to utter bewilderment. No matter; the set is totally off its head; with Jaap and Elias making the biggest mud pie of modern guitar pop you can imagine. Jaap is particularly bug-eyed tonight, and he screeches through the set. Johnny Cash is deranged; Cut Your Hair sounds like a threat. Why this craziness, have these teens been O'ding on frikandels again? No; it's drummer Erik's 18th birthday. That's why. So we celebrate in full-on, Head On style. The last (new) song sounds like a digital take on the entire history of Nuggets; rolled into one big processed line of fried, glow in the dark gunk. It's amazing and quite rightly I lose it, bouncing off walls. Jaap falls over his bass and somehow disconnects his amp. No matter, it makes perfect sense. WHAT a band!
The gauntlet is nailed down and Nouveau Velo have work to do. For once, for ONCE they throw inhibition to the wind, stop trying to please, and shred it! Finally! They've got that buzzy swagger and cheekiness they had when I first saw them at Joep van Son's brilliant Ultra-Nieuwe showcase in Eindhoven 3 years ago. In the gloaming of Kult they rip through their set with a passion and confidence that I thought they'd lost; Rolf stepping up and delivering his best vocal performance to date. It's impassioned, direct, angry in places; as if he knows he just couldn't let anyone think he wasn't up to it. The Al Green's Dream homage/instrumental is a pop jewel as is punk pop track Wait For Me. But best is indisputably their brilliant charge through Turning Away, which has vision and self-belief coursing through it. Rolf screams through the song, pushing it on and on; Niek lets his guitar add drive and Bart and Twan click and start to add a thunderous backdrop. If they carry on like this they are onto something.
Afterwards, high as a kite off sound alone, I chat in the street with pals and decide to get eierballen with the Homesick and the odd Yuko. It's fun stuff; we get far too many deep fried egg snacks and try to palm them off on Rats on Rafts who are wandering about trying to avoid industry types. They're not having it. It's past 3am, I'm cream crackered. I need bed.
I could talk about my talk on a ESNS panel (official) and the groovers at Galerie Sign on the Saturday, or more fun in O 'Ceallaigh's on the Saturday afternoon and early evening but after Kult the night before (even with ANOTHER brilliant Homesick show in Sign) but reading this back, there's not really much more to say. Groningen, you shred my soul.