Le Guess Who? Festival, Utrecht 1/12/12

Oh yeah, talking of the Voorstraat, what the bloody heck is that rabbit statue about? I think it’s shit and I need to be convinced of its place in the scheme of things.

Saturday 1/12/12 Le Mini Who (Voorstraat), Tim Hecker (Tivoli de Helling)

Another filthy day, there’s snow forecast, but that doesn’t stop up us from sauntering down the Voorstraat to take in Le Mini Who?, a festival that sort of sweeps up the local talent and presents it as a side show to Le Guess Who?, I suppose in an effort to show that it’s not all about bands from California who say things like “awesome”, listen to Meddle, have fringes and insist on having their arse sticking coyly out the back of their chinos. Oh yeah, talking of the Voorstraat, what the bloody heck is that rabbit statue about? I think it’s shit and I need to be convinced of its place in the scheme of things.

Enough! We were looking forward to taking in a tremendous line up of local bands: starting with the affable and knowledgeable chaps from INDIE INDIE,who’d taken over the pub on the corner we can't remember the name of; (but highly recommended nonetheless, tremendous staff, courteous and quick off the mark on the beer taps), to put on two great Dutch acts who explore the more glamorous, more chrome-plated side of this big, battered and cuddly world of rock that we all love and abuse. First up were Vagelein and Vonnegut, a trio who trade in a heady, whirlwind mix of candyfloss Gothicke pop. They balance this against a stripped down take on the growling punk cabaret that Nina Hagen used to spit out. We’d seen them earlier this year at Inner City Grit’s showcase, and we thought they have something, a bit because the guitar runs and rhythm section played a very charming sort of cat and mouse with each other, but mainly because the girl has the sort of voice that would be the envy of many a Russalka. The vox have a happy knack of giving space to the sometimes claustrophobic tight-knit sound, and because of that the band can’t get too metallic or locked into the mechanics of guitar drum and bass, which is useful. You could imagine that music like this if not handled correctly or balanced against an extra element could get very lumpy indeed. In the café, they steamroller through their set, their attitude, determination and focus a thing to behold.

Another beer, a shuffle for space in a café that is growing ever more packed and then time for April, whose attempts to get changed into their stage cossies have been hampered by a steady stream of people seeking relief. Undaunted, April kicked off their gig. They sound big, bossy and far more confident and assured than they did in Delft, but that’s no surprise as a) in Delft they did have no discernible amplified sound and were put off by a bloke traversing the stage carrying a ladder, and b) they are now playing their hometown. The set is tight, and a lot sassier than previous. Julia and Jorn’s vocal harmonies seem a lot more confident too whilst their big romantic sound has a few more interesting nooks and crannies to explore – especially with the new songs. Mainly, and most refreshingly, they seem to have made the transition (through a welter of diverse things such as getting a drummer, gigging a lot and recording with Corno Zwetsloot) from a bunch of talented individuals whose ideas just needed to be expressed – however disparately - into a band who can put on a show.

We peg up the road to ACU to label of the moment* Subroutine’s showcase to see Vox Von Braun who – fresh from sorting their new LP Rich and On Wheels out, are putting in a rare appearance in this most “netjes” of cities. Vox are on a roll, not only are we bowled over by this new record of theirs, but we were also really taken in by their energetic and snappy set at Incubate and in ACU, with its low ceiling and dingy atmosphere, their warm tones and stoner beat works like a charm. Vox are a band that relies on moods and slight gradations of tone to impart their meaning. Because, rare amongst many of their contemporaries, their songs have real meaning and depth and their muse is – for my money - much closer to Smog or Lambchop than fuzz pedal bores like Ty Segal. To categorise or dismiss their incredibly sensitive, empathic music as just a good take on stoner garage rock will be a grave mistake but one I feel a lot are going to make in the coming months. As for the gig, well these kinds of afterthoughts didn’t enter the heads of Incendiary as the seductive elements in tracks like You Look Real Neat and the beautiful A.R.T.I.S.T.S. Are Go, with its fab refrain and kicking beat, just overwhelmed us with their reflective beauty. An old, scuzzy/buzzy Lord of Pesetas, (a highlight from their previous LP), got a run next to Ibiza Style too, the latter being a sort of shinier, trendier cousin. But best was definitely saved till last with Pitch Black Heart, which morphed into a dizzying stew of pedal effects and thudding, shuddering walls of white noise. A fantastic gig and good to see singer Wymer smiling and enjoying himself, too. At one point he even attempted a version of Sabrina’s Eurosmash, Boys, Boys, Boys. Of such things are dreams made.

After that, we awaited Space Siren: Corno Zwetsloot’s had a tough time and it was great to see this band back on track after what must have been a bitch of a year. Space Siren have also released one of the LPs of 2012 in Mr Wagner… and their live performances have got steadily stronger this last twelvemonth, too. So much so that, seeing them here, with a righteously angry Corno** on guitar and a sound that could have been Magicked in for them, (a superb, crystalline sound; emphasising the guitars high the register, entwining the soft gradations in the vocal with some real meat on the bass and toms), the roof came off. Space Siren have a way of building up the pressure, accumulating the memory of their sound during a gig; the noise grows in quality almost throughout the timeslot in terms of its presence, the previous tracks leaving a sort of an emotional afterburn. And with Gwen’s soothing vocals allowing a sort of rope out of this maelstrom of noise and shattering flinty beats and polyrhythms - only for the crushing weight of the sound to drag you back under - they are hypnotic, insistent, crushing in their intent. Righteously the band finishes on D.A.F.’s Verschwende Deine Jugend, which is becoming a clarion call for them. Delighted, Incendiary loses it. Bizarrely finding a bear mask at this point, we don it and embark on a short and bracing regime of physical jerks. Not only that but (adopts MES voice) two little girls (though probably not with 50 pence between them) decide to join in carrying out a maypole-less Maypole dance, arms entwined, blonde locks flowing, skipping merrily to Gaby & Robert's paean to lost youth. Brilliant. Unforgettable.

Finally – it’s time for Wolvon. Rum is being drunk at the bar, the sort of drink I can imagine Wolvon rub themselves down with to keep out the cold. A merry scene is unfolding where the constellation of musicians and art types who constitute Subroutine’s scene finally settles on drinking the place dry whilst taking the piss out of the serving lad who’s wearing a hat that looks like a tea cosy. ACU is packed now, packed… Wolvon get on and with the minimum of fuss smash out the best gig I have seen them do. Wolvon cross the divide between (NL hipster mag) Subbacultcha’s vainer butterflies – people who’d get a nosebleed at anything unrecommended, and the “worker / dosser paradise” bunch that is the Subroutine massif. Regardless, Wolvon slaughter all in front of them: they can be messy and often off message in terms of putting on a gig but on this day their sound is perfect, huge, uncompromising, like a broadsword tearing through chainmail. And on this day, their recent single Unicorny sounds like the end of the world itself. Again the two girls get on down with the band, skipping in a corner next to the amp, like two tiny handmaidens waiting to take these bearded sonic warriors to Valhalla.

No Valhalla for us, only gyros, and then a dash to de Helling to take in Tim Hecker who is part of the main programme, and a celebrated name though – and this is probably down to time and location - not one who is drawing a massive crowd on the night. He should, his music is brilliant, often coming on like a strange pulsating dreamscape that somehow touches the umbilical cord in all of us. On this evening the music is lighter, more angular and with some fizzing connecting points and counter melodies, but still nestling in an intricate setting – rather like one of those Beardsley drawings of an enchanted garden where all sorts of naughtiness takes place. Incendiary doze off into a waking dream at one point such is the power of this beautiful music – when it finishes it’s akin to having a tub of cold water thrown on you. A brilliant gig. Sadly other commitments meant we had to leave matters there for the year, but they do a fine job at this festy, and we’re looking forward to next year, no shit.

*Evinced by the fact other, more ruthless scene characters are now attending their gigs. Here’s hoping that these people don’t fuck up the splendid vibe built up by Subroutine… well they will, whether they know it or not. Which makes it worse of course. As these people don’t put their backs or brains into anything, not understanding how fragile these things are or what confluence of spirits makes things tick, seeking only a business opportunity to further their own self-interest and glorification from any scene that has potential to be "trendy". Incendiary say, hey, scene vampires! Stick to SUUNS or the next band off the conveyor belt of washed down, scrubbed up “indie”. There’s a whole host of them waiting to swap meaningless platitudes with. Go and suck their blood. Or remember all the fuss you made over myriads of identikit bands like The Faint. Or wasn’t that about music? No thought not.

**Boy did we enjoy his speech which basically called out what is more and more the case in NL: alternative, independent Dutch bands are overlooked or dismissed, given second billing at festivals, treated like an unwanted element in their own land. And not only that but through various acts of patronising recognition and a concomitant quick dismissal they are controlled; pinioned to a way of working that is set by a bunch of people who are more interested in aligning themselves to what comes out of the US / UK as a way of showing how on the ball THEY are. Or mainly because the people in a lot of the Dutch music scene have no real interest in music, it’s a nice job they can show off in. These dudes are only interested what the other members of the Dutch media say, so they don’t get caught out, they can stay on message.

Only when approbation for a band comes from outside this perfumed garden - especially from a respected outsider - do the media graspingly get involved. Flags wave and people pretend they were there all along. Check all the ridiculous fuss Alex Kapranos engendered when he joined Rats on Rafts on stage: check the video of Rats doing Jazz at the Great Wide Open, most people are standing around listlessly as the band finish their set, but, as soon as Alex (who, via the machinations of this very mag you are reading got into the band) joins them, the audience doubles, cheers are heard, posts and tweets is made. This weird, passive aggressive timidity can be compared with Belgium where people back their countrymen’s bands. Or, closer to home, imagine if the same suddenly happened to elements of the Dutch entertainment industry that do have a discernible pedigree – football, imagine if football was returned to its pre-Michels days of patronising, amateur , insular, “we are not worthy” condescension. Imagine. Or in the case of the sleek robots currently being recharged in Hilversum, change the message. Dutch underground music is good, commercially viable if given a helping hand and guess what, some foreigners like it: got that?