Subbacultcha's Unofficial Motel Mozaique – Space Siren, Yoshimi, Herrek, Nouveau Vélo 6/4/13

Yoshimi is a four piece fronted by Niek who also plays guitar in agit-prop loons Gul Night Out. This band are nothing like the savage idiocy of Gul tho’, preferring a whimsical, Van Kooten en Bie take on things...

Photo by Isolde Woudstra Photography

Who said the third world war would be fought with sticks and stones? They had a point you know. A sort of artsy-fartsy rehearsal of this post-apocalyptic scenario is being played out all over the world in terms of gigs; where evermore unexpected “spaces” are utilised, in the never-ending search for a cheap place to play or do creative things. All this means the average dedicated gig goes is likely to spend more and more time in places that once sold sofas, and find old plaster marks on the seat of their pants. All of this waffle is a sort of introduction to the new Roodkapje, moved from the increasingly gentrified Meent area to a spot just north of the station, just south of Rotterdam Noord.

(A word on the Meent: there are people wearing those silly “urban boho” cloth caps indoors swanky art centres there now, a sure sign of the end if ever there is one. Roffa, get them out, send them back to Amsterdam, you don’t need them.)

As well as being an opening party of sorts for Roodkapje, the gig today was a sort of quiet counterblast to Motel Mozaique  - the long established arts and culture festy which had turned most of Rotterdam’s venues into rooms full of baffled / pompous media people with agendas. Not for yours truly who seeks his kicks under the radar. And at Roodkapje things were basic but cheerful: the cavernous shell made comforting with a fridge for drinks and a trestle table where pancakes and tostis were served.

First up in this carpet warehouse-made arts temple were Yoshimi, whose new, brilliant record Bottelaars En Beesten is just out. Yoshimi is a four piece fronted by Niek who also plays guitar in agit-prop loons Gul Night Out. This band are nothing like the savage idiocy of Gul tho’, preferring a whimsical, Van Kooten en Bie take on things, (think a skiffle take on Van K&B’s earlier incarnation as De Clichee –mannetjes' Lekker Legbad and you’re getting there). Niek’s a charming front man too; a master of snappy gestures and quick asides, he comes across as a sort of children’s’ TV presenter who’s on the run from the Law. The set was a sharp, punky run through of the new record, starting with their great take on Wim T Schippers’ No Way Around That, and ending in their mini comic operetta (come ode to Johnny Richman), Doe De Krab. All the while Niek conducted the other band members who had – at various points -brought a variety of instruments into play, (with washboard, violin and cow bell being most noticeable). What with the hanging soft toys and general silliness it could have been easy to miss out just how bloody good they are musically. Luckily you were made aware of their dazzling talent and frankly, they could well be on the way to being this country’s take on what the Bonzo Dog Doodah band were in England. I just hope that their whimsy and wit isn’t crushed by the judgemental and often ignorant appraisals that “Musicland NL” often dishes out.

People start turning up in droves for Nouveau Vélo, who are THE nom du jour in Dutch pop, and a band who release their music, (almost inevitably), on Subroutine Records. The gig today is easily the best I’ve seen them. They’re no mugs: wisely using the cavernous reverb in the place, Niek’s guitar is muted, held back, allowing Bart’s rich, mellifluous bass runs to dominate: (frankly, if Niek’s allowed to do what he wants we’d just hear him, and tension is what this band needs). When the guitar does come in it’s with maximum effect, little needles puncturing the atmosphere, refreshing the sound, reigniting the tension. And sing Hosanna!, we can hear Rolf’s vocals, and hear how good his voice actually is. I tell thee, this lad has star quality and wasting that presence and energy behind a tinny mic is nigh on incomprehensible.

Still my musings matter not one jot: today they simmer and purr, and the audience are captured, entangled like sheep’s wool on barbed wire on these beautiful guitar lines, won over by Rolf’s disarming presence, happy with Bart’s steadiness and big personality. They have really struck a chord with the alternative scene, watch them at any gig and look at the faces in the audience: their fresh and clean cut pop on the point of bringing in a more widespread recognition too: frankly their music is so melodic, so saturated with killer harmonies it’s a wonder they aren’t already being feted by higher powers.

That they’re not is a good thing as, despite their talents, (despite their incredible knack of sounding like The Feelies or early REM and at the same time, without sounding like anyone but themselves), they still need to work on one or two aspects before all kneel at their altar. There’s still a suspicion that they can’t alter their sound according to volume; (it’s either louder or quieter, and that’s just not enough – does this band have a cavernous, multidimensional sound that can work in different ways? That’s something to develop, I feel). There’s still a suspicion that the groove and the beat has been sacrificed a little too much for the melody (ok their melodies are genius, and yes I’m frothy mouthed enough to say they write songs like Buddy Holly, but maybe they just need to turn things around a bit). But I’m sounding like Jonah. People love them, they have that something. And today was the best I’ve seen them. Onwards and Upwards!

Following this was Herrek and a change in atmosphere once again. Where Nouveau Vélo had people bouncing around, Herrek had them sitting and paying attention. I’d said this before and I’ll say this again. You need to listen in to Herrek, paying partial attention means you will not get the trip, and you’ll deceive yourself into thinking that this band aren’t worth your time which is unfair.  Fresh from playing a church in Noordwijk, and now playing for the Subba! crowd (more their natural congregation so to speak), the band soothed cares, laid down a steady, gently undulating vibe: a perfect accompaniment to a lazy, groovy and Spring-like Saturday afternoon where people wandered about dreamily or sat on a surface that was at least partially clean. Gerrit has this knack of swaying (almost sashaying) around the stage, and as if in response, his band started to mimic his moves, almost looking like a Quaker meeting about to fall into some prayer ecstasy. It’s good, quietly enervating music.

The place was full, the cheap beer getting a hammering and people sticking in ear plugs for Space Siren. I turned to Chris van Velde, of Rats on Rafts producing fame and muttered something about standing outside for Space Siren. Surely Corno’s buch were going to make the BIGGEST NOISE EVER in this echoing, noisy place? No need to worry. Of course Space Siren’s gig sounded astounding. And if there’s one band who do understand and utilise the ethics of sound it’s this lot. They have got more groovy of late, the songs on the Mr Wagner LP being played with total confidence and brevity, the essentials in the structures being more noticeable, the bass underpinning things in a much more aggressive manner. There were new songs in evidence too; poppier, leaner, built with more sinew and steel it seems. Regardless of whether the songs are new and old they have also developed this great trick of setting the bass lines up, coming in a bit late; it captures people and makes them aware of the incredible beat that propels the sound. Gwen’s voice was crystal clear too, the girl really can sing, and there’s a bit more timbre to the vox with her using a much more confident mid-range that drives some of the melody lines along pretty bloody effectively, it must be said. This being a great day out where nothing could ever go wrong, we were treated to the perennial Incendiary fave, their cover of DAF’s Verschwende Deine Jugend, (and the audience got the predictable Incendiary kack dance moves). Be still, my beating heart!

At the time of writing Space Siren are on the cusp of a UK tour with Zea and frankly those lucky enough to see them in the UK will be blown away: as the band sounded formidable, defiant, confident, aware that they have made some classic rock and roll that will survive time and tide.

People can have only so much fun it seems. After a very nice meal we traipsed over to Worm to see Awesome Tapes from Africa – but a rail fuck up (no trains between Delft & Den Haag) meant we scarpered for the earlier train. Oh well…  but hey. Always a good time in Rotterdam. And we certainly look forward to going to Roodkapje when there’s well, a functioning venue in place. Rock on!