Out of all the nights this was the one that felt closest in spirit to what went on - and this was probably due to the fact that the programmers were original ULTRAs themselves and demanded high standards to do their movement justice.
Where to start on this entire trip? Maybe with a list. A list of things. These four long ULTRA2012 days offered the curious visitor such diverse delights as punk line dancing, some bizarre readings and statements, a band that changed gender, “olive oil vandalism”, a round of applause for some wallpaper, a film about garden gnomes taking over the world and a goats horn. Still, what the fuck? The music wasn’t half bad either, at times inspirational. It just goes to show, the mad dream of the ULTRA soul...
But despite all these rich ingredients – sonic and non-sonic – and regardless of the supposed benefits of the internet as a marketing tool there’s always the matter of getting the word out. Just like the original movement, ULTRA2012 has needed time to gain interest. It’s all about confidence, you see. And lack of confidence breeds apathy. In this level headed land, famed for watching the pennies, there’s always a quick line trotted out about whether any venture out of the ordinary is actually worth it. Especially one that has lain dormant for nearly 30 years. In Nijmegen reservations were aired as to whether 7 euros for a bill split over two clubs and 12 attractions wasn’t a bit much…
Extrapool is a quirky, creative space that brims with a friendliness and invention. The venue works in tandem with the squat/punk/alternative club Onderbroek a little further down the street. The plan was that the evening would start gently - then as the revelling got a little looser, we would all stumble on down to Onderbroek and cut some rug. Things started intellectually enough – after a few rare and racy tunes from Rob Berends (DJ Dance to the Radio) - a panel of heroes from the great Nijmegen ULTRA bands of the time -Mekanik Komando, Bazooka and Vice - chatted genially about old times whilst their younger selves were shown in their full angsty glory on the screen. The full room (even by this early hour and despite the 7 euro “hurdle”, Extrapool was jam-packed) sat and murmured gentle assent – Nijmegen had a strong and much loved scene in the early 80s even if – as Peter van Vliet from Mekanik Kommando dryly pointed out, the bands didn’t really hang out together.
Following that we had an ebullient and charming reading from the new book about ULTRA by its author (and original scene provocateur) Harold Schellinx– then after a strange but mercifully quick introduction in an amalgam cod Dutch / regional English, it was time for synth duo Wieman (Frans de Waard and Roel Meelkop) – together with Wally from Minny Pops to play a set based on a diverse array of Minny Pops tracks. Starting steadily enough with Springtime (where Mr van M paid an almost ridiculous amount of attention to playing his stylophone), the audience then got a joyful version of the Pops’ classic Dolphins Spurt. Wally was his usual quirky and stentorian self during the song, at times like some distinguished scientist conducting an experiment, at others like a member of the Christian Union high on cider….. Things were beginning to get a little unhinged after our rock history lesson and Wieman continued to slowly build up the pressure by virtue of an electronic wall of bleeps, blurts and samples, taking other Minny Pops tracks (Goddess, Time and Mono were some) and presenting a rich and entertaining wash of analogue and digital mixed media that came close to the stuff you’d normally associate with Conny Schniztler. A really great start.
The audience suffered more Anglo Dutch nonsense by way of introduction for Bertin; an unassuming lad who creates quirky, shiny Casio pop replete with the sort of dinky beat and stupid squiggly noises that you can’t help but warm to. This underpowered electro stuff always holds a special place in Incendiary’s heart, at its best it’s an incredibly charming art form – and on this evidence the lad is a master at balancing out diverse, often dissonant elements into one glossy package. It’s a punk medium too in essences. You don’t need much to start up and you can make all the mistakes you like and get away with it – as happened this evening - somehow when a small electronic device starts doing weird things like galloping off at completely the wrong speed it’s much more forgivable than if your bassist does.. We got a lovely version of Dolphins Spurt too, (using an original Korg Minny pops). Marvellous stuff, you should check him out if you haven’t already.
Back to the Future! MK-12 was up next and ready to rip the place apart with things old and things new. The night had been affectionate and enjoyable up to that point, but the tenor of proceedings moved a gear towards out and out head banging abandon with this set. MK-12 comprises of Ties van der Linden (Vice) and Laszlo Panyigay (Mekanik Kommando). These two unassuming veterans of many sonic battles now stood quietly behind a strange double keyboard / electronic / digital nonsense apparatus - a tandem keyboard stand if you will. According to the programme, tonight was a chance to reap the reward of long years with a run through of some tracks from the first, classic Mekanik Kommando LP, It Would Be Quiet In The Woods if Only a Few Birds Sing. But despite appearances, and any reservations that this would be a perfunctory run through of accepted classics, this set was no retro kick. The old stuff played was tough as steel - old models fitted with a new engine. Dress Grey and White Soldier were marvellous takes, slowly and stealthily building up towards a carefully controlled release. This was dance music in excelsis, patiently waiting to capture the audience, supremely confident in its own ability to hypnotise. Birds went up another level entirely – booting out a rhythm that shook Extrapool. By now the night assumed an air of a party, and a feeling of triumph. These things are often about confidence in your own abilities…
A speech about angels and words followed - including a rousing cheer for Meddy Ypelaar’s ULTRA wallpaper - and then the event moved on to Onderbroek, a much more punk proposition indeed with its feeling of dank cellars and sticky floors. The first act was The Dear Listeners, a duo (known to their mums as Robert Deters and Martin Luiten) who have been involved with all forms of experimental electronic music for a fair number of years. Renouncing a stage in favour of sitting facing each other at a table in the middle of the hall, The Dear Listeners built up a set based on the noises and atmosphere from the first ULTRA cassette - a remarkable and unusual proposition and one that worked brilliantly. And although it was a very quiet beginning for such a venue it worked remarkably well - the genie captured from the original scratches and growls from the ULTRA tape entered the room and enveloped people with a strange, elemental feeling almost a feeling of remove… It was a mesmerising gig. Then it was time for a poem in English and in Dutch with Wally van Middendorp – according to this poem, the ULTRA spirit is gnat shit that slowly but surely decomposes the veneer of the Dutch cultural landscape. Daft but maybe true? Who knows… we await developments...
Tändstickfabriek were next, back after 20 years to make a God-awful but exhilarating and inspiring racket. Two men, two guitars and a hell of a lot of overwrought fret and pedal action created a huge, burning sound that at times became an avalanche of textures and rhythms – all born out of sheer white noise… The music reminded me of the Late Great Julie Mittens, albeit without the meditative side. No, this was truly the sound of Ragnarok, albeit with a shitload of amplification. Until we got Donné et Desirée this was also the most emotional and extrovert gig of the evening and at times the rush of acerbic guitar was too much – it was too good if that doesn’t sound stupid.
After heat, ice both metaphorically and literally. Distel flooded the place with dry ice – so much so that I thought I was back in 1985 watching Echo & the Bunnymen. Distel is a cold wave act and another duo, (is there a tax rebate on duos in Nijmegen? I think we should be told)… and tonight their self-appointed task was to take 5 tracks of Mekanik Kommando and put them through the Cold Wave mincer. This they did remarkably well, creating a chilling subterranean sound, the sound of matters far removed from everyday concerns. Mekannik Kommando’s slightly abstract, slightly refined muse was amplified here to breaking point (just as MK-12 pushed the dance element). It was menacing stuff, conjuring up scenes from Bend Sinister or Master and Margarita… Distel’s gloopy voice now and again waded through the thick atmosphere, passing on messages almost by telekinesis.
Last up we had some lunacy from Donné et Desirée who threw reverence in the bin and played a set that had much more to do with the recent New York underground scene than any of their Dutch antecedents. This gig, with all its nervous ticks, crashes bangs and splurts of noise – as well as all the bouncing around - also reminded me of the first things Deerhoof put out, or some of the stuff happening with Californian bands like Kit. We even got a bit of builder’s arse but we’ll say no more, we don’t want to cast a shadow on a fine and inspiring performance, for they got hold of the ULTRA iconography and wrestled it to the ground with gleeful, wild abandon.
Then it was party time and bed in one of the most outrageously camp rooms I have ever had the pleasure to sleep in.
So, what to think overall?
The overriding feeling we got from all the performances in Extrapool and Onderbroek was that of the simple enjoyment to be had in making difficult or strange art using sound – in all its aspects. It was noticeable that most of the musicians got incredibly wrapped up in the music itself; it wasn’t a night – outside of Donné et Desirée and Tändstickfabriek – where out and out performance was the main concern. Rather it was about letting the strange beauty of the music from the period be re-examined and reinterpreted in a modern setting. This was affectionate, artistic stuff; concerned with attention to the correct details and taking care to ensure all finishing touches were shown in their best effect (as well as the music we had cocktails and replica ULTRA badges), not a night for grand or raw gestures and very much in fitting with the Nijmegen scene – certainly of then and seemingly (if Distel & Bertin are anything to go by) of now. Out of all the nights this was the one that felt closest in spirit to what went on - and this was probably due to the fact that the programmers were original ULTRAs themselves and demanded high standards to do their movement justice.
Some links to check
('Dress Grey', MK-12 (Ties van der Linden (Vice) and Laszlo Panyigay (Mekanik Kommando))