Cultuur Barbaar Festival Leiden 15/5/13 - 17/5/13

Needless to say the room loved it; and an incredible moshpit of slumming academics, street scruffs from Amsterdam, earnest vegans, journos in love with cheap booze, rentapunks, music bizz types and Antwerp scallies threw each other around with total abandon. Jeez, even one of the academics John Robb had given an ear wigging to was making selfies behind the vortex of flesh, sweat and cheap Aldi beer. 

 

If the rock world had ethics then this review wouldn’t exist. I mean, a programmer writing about the fruits of his labours? Disgusting. Just put this review down to the triumph of dumb, gonzoid happiness. There are worse things happening out there, so I’m sure you can all cut me the teensiest bit of slack?

Onto the review. Leiden’s Cultuur? Barbaar! festival has grown from a slightly chaotic (but very colourful) afternoon & evening of grad students having fun into something with teeth. Something that is slowly creeping onto the national cultural map. This time, the organization had the city’s most august body – Leiden University – locked into the events; three days of lawyers, thinkers and other earnest types adding the rarefied whiff of academe to the usual mélange of fab street art, daft performance and way out bands. Shit, there were even (though I didn’t get any) weird posh food things like canapés. Another myth blown. They (canapés) exist. I thought they were something you “furnished” your house with, like a dado rail.

Onto the bands. Night one was at the Scheltema complex, a nice old place in theory; renovated in that faux “workers factory” style (you know SHOWING THE ARTISAN BRICKWORK alongside state of the art facilities like posh lifts) and plonked down in a great location. In practice, the layout worked against the bands (and to a certain extent the great art) on show. It was too big, too wide, too light and too, well snazzy…. with too many bolt holes for the owlish academics who really didn’t like the look of the first act Yokocola. More fool they; for Yokocola are a righteous and loud proposition. They are a mix of Wolf City-era Amon Düül II and the Patti Smith band; their punk/Goth/Pinkwind assault finely balanced on a cheese wire. One false slip and it could have been overblown nonsense; but the band have this incredible knack of blasting out riffs you could break your teeth on, and being incredibly suggestive and subtle in their approach. There’s headspace for Heads to work it all out. Most of their suggestiveness is channelled through Sidhi, a front woman extraordinaire, who is adept at throwing out a whole range of Siouxsie-esque shapes that complement the hypnotic elements of their music. Their drummer is a crazy cat too; looking like he’s on day release from the Dukes of Hazard, but all the while revving up a thunderous backdrop of noise. Those who stayed dug big style. Following that it was time for more confrontation with Cairo Liberation Front. Earlier that day, CLF’s leader Joost Heijthuijsen had ruffled conference feathers with a talk on his adventures in Egypt. CLF have been criticized, or at the very least looked at with some askance by those who think three white lads from Tilburg shouldn’t be appropriating Chaabi music from the streets of Cairo and turning it into some crazy “tribute act”.  But, rightly, overridingly, what CLF stress is the potential inclusivity of all music; an inclusivity that allows anyone to create their own headspace and connect across the globe; even if only in thought or wish. And; that the “inappropriate” appropriation of music has just as much force as that which is deemed (by our cultural movers and shakers) as that which is appropriate. A questioning of post-colonial guilt? Maybe. A perfect demonstration of real pop music? Maybe. In any case they squirt vodka from a plastic gun at you. With this in mind (and with vodka dripping down my beard) CLF’s set made total sense. Trashy, inclusive, utterly contradictory; CLF acted as the fox in the cultural curator’s hencoop. Rarefied academe and gonzo Leiden squat types got down and frantic together; waving the CLF’s “bad taste” tea towels in the air. Hell, even Joep the MC who had cracked his knee at the previous CLF gig turned up and (literally) got down; desperate not to miss out on the fun. Slightly breathless? Oh yes. Giddy? Indeed. What better to finish the night off with Crustrenunie; Leiden’s righteously rocking Crustcore dudes rolled into a heaving, crunching and blazing sonic mass? I did have my reservations prior to the gig, thinking their all-out and sometimes heavily political assault would be a bridge too far. Wrong again!  Crustenunie picked up on the heady atmosphere, cranked up the noise, and urged the dedicated loon base that had stayed on to greater heights. They ripped out a set full of venom and commitment; shit, bassist Bram even had time to read out a manifesto. A manifesto at a gig; one that people sagely nodded along to; I mean what year is this, 1983? Amazing.

Next day was bloody. Vodka ingrained in your beard hair doth not a pleasant hangover make. Still, after set up and sound check in Multiplex, we had the makings of a fine night. Thing is, given the sort of nervous standoff between the university conference goers the day before (hon. exceptions to crazy cats Yasco and Frans Willem) and the music programme, how big would the crowd be? The Thursday night was a bit underpowered, body-wise. And further; would a bunch of hard working legal academics come to a squat to see three LOUD bands (The Membranes, Repetitor and Sociale Onrust) and one fine exponent of Ye Olde funk/skank love in (Las Kellies)? Luckily Membranes’ singer John Robb had thrown down the gauntlet in a bravura key note speech at the university during the day; effectively accusing those writing about rock music in ‘Varsity circles to lighten up a bit and stop killing rock’s shamanic spirit through the dry process of over justification and theorizing. Cheers John – I’ll bin my MA thesis on ULTRA. But John’s speech had certainly ruffled some feathers, in that amongst the decent showing of punk rock types here to see the legendary Membranes and Belgrade’s giddily exciting Repetitor, there was a fair smattering of conference goers; some looking like British plain clothes coppers checking up on Disaffected Youth in a nightclub. Anyway; before I burn any more bridges, let’s get onto ye bands! First up was Amsterdam’s Sociale Onrust; a duo that was gentleman enough to help out by curtailing their set of angry balladeering (Wreckless Eric style) to fit the unrelenting demands of programming.  See, Las Kellies turned up at the last (I mean LAST minute) and sent the line up into a spin. So fair play to the ‘Onrust; no onrust was shown, rather they bowed to one of Dame Showbiz’s most cruel dictates and helped the night’s running order. And fair play; they really entertained when they got their chance. Their music is a buzzy mix of sloganeering (à la Wreckless Eric) and thrashed out rockapunk; done in two speeds, like an old Trabant. Medium fast and juddering “blow up the two cylinder engine” fast. It worked, nerves were jangling, and ear wax had popped out in time for Las Kellies.

Now; the Las Kellies gig, this is where things got magical at Multiplex. Fresh off the bus, with no time to sound check, and their meal barely swallowed let alone digested, they laconically walked onstage and started to crank out their dubby soundscapes. Incendiary is a big fan of this band; they were great the last times they played here in Leiden and, (to boot), their records are quirky, charming and incredibly independent. They also have this mad knack of stopping a song when it suits them. This gives their gigs a refreshing feel, however lackadaisical their tripped-out textures get. On the night, they slowly caught the audience’s attention and slowly but surely wrapped them into a shimmering mesh of offbeat funk and jangly pop chords; they then (ever so gently) opened up the headspace in the room; and made coy suggestions to the audience’s head, heart and hips. Their last record is a slow, laconic, patient thing; and prone to be missed if you don’t pay sufficient attention. In a live setting though, their new songs worked a treat; the cavernous spaces the throbbing bass and pattering drumming created were the perfect complement to the sweaty, hazy atmosphere. And those sudden confident, wry endings, they worked brilliantly. Even better; they cracked out their great take on ESG’s Erase You as a parting shot. A fabulous gig and one that had everyone pretty loose, if not fast and bulbous.

Time for The Membranes. This was a special gig as The Membranes don’t often play the Netherlands these days; despite them being a regular fixture (plenty of gigs with The Ex for example) back in the recent past. People were expectant and determined to enjoy themselves to the band’s energetic and often surreal cocktail of jangling, abrasive “punk”. But then, I don’t think they could have failed even if they wanted to. A floor show in a packed squat full of all human life - basically this gig was laid on a plate for them, and they grabbed the opportunity and made the room into a sweaty, exultant mass. Their surreal, Beefheartian side was in evidence too; metal objects were hit, guitars stretched, drum patterns dissolving amidships, elongated and angry work outs interspersed with knife-sharp bursts of white noise. David Fagan from Rats on Rafts joined in the fun, strapping on a guitar from Las Kellies and adding to the stew. And John Robb as usual ran through a list of grunts, snorts, wisecracks and barked exhortations, whipping everyone up into a giddy whirl. After all, one of the truly great things about The Membranes was (is) their restless nature; adapting a lot of diverse sonic bric a brac into a clanking, fizzing sonic Commonwealth. Able to straddle a whole host of scenes (C86-7, punk and post-punk, even getting into the Blast First milieu) they still sound remarkably vital (possibly more than ever); some things they do clicking with the ideas that acts like The Fat White Family or Amazing Snakeheads play with. Memory may have played a trick or two but I can’t remember hearing any old numbers; but that’s probably how it should be. Who cares? And needless to say the room loved it; and an incredible moshpit of slumming academics, street scruffs from Amsterdam, earnest vegans, journos in love with cheap booze, rentapunks, music bizz types and Antwerp scallies threw each other around with total abandon. Jeez, even one of the academics John Robb had given an ear wigging to was making selfies behind the vortex of flesh, sweat and cheap Aldi beer.      

Follow that! No problem! We could follow that because we had Repetitor, who have a growing reputation in the Netherlands, mainly down to the fine work of Subroutine Records and Moonlee Records in sticking on gigs here. But the main work is done by this incredibly fine band; as (to be blunt, rude and all things naughty) Repetitor, as a live act, rip their audience a new sonic arsehole. No shit Sherlock. Starting quietly, and menacingly, Repetitor used their angry but Cosmische grumble to great effect. Feedback was gradually added through the mixing desk, building up an astonishing wall of sound that threatened to crush everything in its wake. Voris screamed out his lyrics and all hell broke loose. The damn went, the audience acting as the water, Repetitor the bringers of chaos. Look; I will tell you this. When you try to sing along to a band that is singing in Serbian, and you have  no notion of how to speak Serbian, or what the singer is actually singing, yet you feel confident about mouthing the lyrics - because of their inbuilt shamanic power - you KNOW the band are good. NAME me another band who have that effect. And NAME me a band whose rhythm section is as supple and suggestive and overbearing as Repetitor; the two girls acting like some rhythmic version of Valkyries, taking our spirits away to another level of deranged Korova Milk Bar bliss out. It’s like bloody Ragnarok; Fenris unchained, Jotuns at large, Loki in the house, acting the goat.   

After that an incredible, inclusive, deranged set from Deejay Miss World, then home.

Sunglasses hide a multitude of sins. Even during Saturday afternoon’s art show at Aalmarkt; where good crowds had popped down to see the mix of street art, ballet, speeches and I kept them on. I’m older now and I like to hide my faults from an uncaring world. Still, scrubbed and fresh slap applied, by curtain call at Multiplex, Incendiary was ready to go again. A radically different programme offered itself. Detroit and ballet, and being locked in a room listening to a record you’ve never heard? Believe. Downstairs Stefan Breuer, one of the main motivations behind Snowstar Records and (amongst a host of aka’s) aka Bhava played his tripped out record on a couple of empty beer crates in the SUB071. Low lighting, grooves in abundance and comfy chairs made this a beautiful and remarkable session. Even better; people weren’t allowed to leave. You’ve got to have discipline to listen to the good stuff; Genesis P Orridge was right about that.  Upstairs, Duco ran through a set of that was in thrall to the Scene that Celebrated Itself; droney vox, long, rich and fluid streams of guitar feedback, and steady, slightly drowsy drum patterns. I’m sure they used the same riff in three songs; or maybe I got caught up in their blissed out scene. Who knows?

The light faded; the small shafts of sunlight that penetrated the musty, gloopy gloom of Multiplex turned from gold to red, then to silver. This change of atmosphere from fairly open minded acceptance of tripped out sounds to something more sinister and edgy suited Rooie Waas perfectly. They sloped on stage and cranked out their strange, beguiling music; a mix of impish, street hawker poetry, drugged out D.A.F. sounds and the blackest cabaret. Standing behind them (deejaying duties and the Multiplex set up combining to trap me behind the keyboards) was actually entrancing. They are incredibly smart in their stage craft; basically its two lads playing things that look like car engine parts and a drummer. You’ll appreciate, therefore, on being told this, that you need something extra. What Rooie Waas have in spades is the ability to create tension through their impeccable timing and devious, snaky wit. Gijs’s repeated observations (“Doe niet zo moeljik!”, or “Jij bent raar, Nee! Jij bent raar!”)  were interspersed with a panoply of electronic thumps, squiggles, squeaks and blares; plus a back-up of dumbass, punkish “sing and repeat” counter chorus. Every move was sorted out, but done with a panache that is at totally at odds with their harsh, stentorian sound. Gijs even did a cheeky little dance on the floor, prompting people to go utterly ape. One the Mighty Waas had left we went in another direction entirely. Ballet? Believe. Before the ballet we had to put up a bed sheet as a backdrop. Bed sheets? Believe. For this, my friends, is a place where reality has to take a backseat.  On came 20 or so classical ballet dancers – dressed in some floral garb that suggested some chorus line straight outta Euripides, or an aesthetic, fin de siècle take on selfsame. It was really, really great and even enlivened by one of the dancers getting stuck on the sticky, fag-covered floor but managing to right herself at the last moment. Sadly I can’t describe dance at all; it’s not my pigeon Dud, but this dance was an inclusive, gentle moment that had something wistful and incredibly affirming about it.  Cynics duly washed clean by this ablution; we realized “human stuff” really rocks at times. We really shouldn’t beat ourselves up all the time.  After this - and some thumping tunes from Barbaar's inhouse deejay Deejay Miss World, the mystery of the bed sheet was revealed. It was time for Hunter Complex; aka Lars Meijer, co-head honcho of Narrominded in the room; replete with his brilliant visuals (cut ups of old movies) that work hand in glove with his winsome 80’s-style electro. By this point the audience was ready to rock out. Hunter Complex – though not looking up from his bank of keys and weirdo electronic bricolage, sensed the love and started to add touches of classic mid 80’s Detroit snare to his beat; complementing the rich  washes of keys, electro loops and suggestive, weepy chord changes. The room started to gyrate and dance, this was fucking class! First ballet now this life affirming set. Slight gradations of tone, adding rumbling beats that would then trip over to being spaced out grooves; bedroom proto-acid, ur-E rave outs made flesh; nonstop erotic dancing, you name it; a wonderful set. Whilst Lars laid down his upgraded and inspiring vision from Mount Nostalgia, Andrie aka YesPinkPink started to set up his weirdo table-cum-lectern. Andrie is an engaging, wild, and utterly committed dude, who plays on the edges of the electronic freak zone with some vim. His latest incarnation, YesPinkPink is his take on hysterical high energy rave. It’s quite something. I mean I loved his idiot gonzo rock in Ghiu, but this is something else entirely. You see, Andrie, like those classic Amercian car designers of the 1950s, goes all the way and only then backs off; all the while dressing in Joan Collins’ jogging gear and flirting with every floozy in the place. It’s an incredible show; THUMPING rave and lisped high pitched vox. The place went beserk to it, whilst Andrie indulged in a running argument with the mixing desk, or batted his eyelashes at anyone within reach, emitted squeals of delight and anger, and laid down some vicious, insultingly danceable beats. It just kept coming; wave upon wave of high energy rave ups. At this point Incendiary started to throw people about, got squeezed half to death by the singer of Gul Night Out and felt as if his head would come off.  A classic end to a great weekend.

What else to say? Well, nothing really, outside of thanks to Marcel van Schooten for anything and everything, and a massive thanks to Toni at Multiplex for his incredible food. The man’s a genius and his vegan custard is to die for.

Over and out, see you on the other side Leideners. This city rocks, and all those who think their home town has nothing going on is the worst kind of self-loathing non-scene head. Got that?