I loved my two trips to Groningen for the Eurosonic festival. They formed part of a perfect January break. As snow and sleet fell all around and I stomped from venue to venue across the city dressed like an Eskimo, I probably took the freedom of it all for granted. Packed bars and clubs hosted the finest up and coming acts from across Europe and I was in my element. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
On that first trip to Groningen, I had a brief conversation with some cool dudes at Southend Airport. You can read about that encounter here. I’ve since written about L.A. Salami and Francobollo a few times for eFestivals and have always made an effort to see them live when they’ve been on a festival bill. The brief encounter at the airport was one of those fortuitous moments that life keeps spinning back to.
I was thus very happy to hear about the make-up of King Casio. An Anglo-Swedish trio formed between vocalist Aaron King and members of Francobollo, they specialise in psychedelic Lo-fi ambles. King Casio’s first two singles had videos directed by L.A. Salami but I’ll let you review those in your own time. Today, let’s look at their latest release, Big Truck.
Aaron describes ‘Big Truck’ as “happy, sad and a bit nostalgic as well. It came about through my cat getting run over and it symbolised the sudden death of a relationship. These two events informed the feel of the song, which allowed us to think about how It was sad to lose these things, but happy to have had them in the first place.”
The sudden death of a relationship and the mixed emotions that ensue – that’s clearly a universal theme that we can all get behind.
Musically, Big Truck is an awkward yet compelling track. It’s no singalong but I don’t think that entirely matters. Jazz tones and crumpled electronica give way to an off-kilter guitar gloss whilst Aaron’s vocal croons, deliberately wayward, within the mix. It’s skew-whiff brilliance, nostalgic, hypnotic and perfectly odd. And it works for me.
Apparently, King Casio and L.A. Salami were due to go on tour together this year but that’s looking increasingly unlikely now because of Covid. A shame but I’ll certainly be looking forward to those random meetings in Southend when the restrictions relax.
If things were ‘normal’ right now, I might be packing up a small suitcase in anticipation of a flight to Amsterdam. And from there, I might be hopping north on a train to Groningen. I’d pull my things through the slush on the streets (the snow never quite settles) and check in at the cheapest room I’d been able to find. I’d then reacquaint myself with all that there is to see and do at Eurosonic Noorderslag. January festivals are the best.
Clearly, things aren’t ‘normal’ right now. That giddy freedom of drinking myself silly whilst rushing around Dutch cities and watching acts that I might love or hate whilst talking nonsense to nearby punters is not on the cards. I’m glad I have the memories.
Jolene is still releasing music. Sonic Breakfast readers with particularly extensive memories might recall how we once met in Groningen (here). I would love to be back in that crowd right now. I treasured the card that Jolene gave me until my wallet got stolen about eighteen months later
“Wow that is a long time ago and how drunk was I that evening hahah”, says Jolene when I get back in touch with her to tell her how much I like her new track, Denied. It’s a dark-pop classic. On the surface, it’s a tale of love gone wrong and yet for me, right now, it takes on a much greater significance. I’m being denied these things that I love, festivals in January, and it hurts. But probably not as much as Covid does.
Eurosonic Noorderslag is sort of continuing this year. From this Wednesday, it’s programmed four free online stages where you and I can head to watch 15 minute sets from the up and coming across Europe. I might dip in and out. I’ve struggled to connect with online gigs in the way I might if I was there in person but it’s a noble substitute and there will no doubt be some fine contributions. (Sign up here). It’ll be worth watching if other lockdown alternatives are exhausted.
I don’t know if Jolene will be watching any. She’s sounds kind of flat-out . “For 2021 at the moment I’m busy with another project I’ve just started. It’s another musical side of me. I’m going to record another rock album with influences of Quentin Tarantino Dead Weather Style :)”, she says. “Meanwhile I’m looking for a producer to record 3 new tracks for my Jolene electro project. So kinda busy with creating music.”
It’s hard to believe it was just two weeks ago that I was in Groningen; it feels longer. I’m sure that as 2018 progresses I’ll continue to curse myself for the bands I missed whilst at Eurosonic. There was so much going on though so I do have an excuse.
One such band that I missed was Pale Grey. This was despite some lovely communication with Max from their record label/booking agency, JauneOrange, heartily encouraging me to head along to the Huize Maas on Thursday.
It appears that ‘Pale’ is this year’s prefix for a cool band name (taking the place of ‘Crystal’ perhaps?). Despite coming from quite different genres, there were three ‘Pale’ bands at Eurosonic. To a casual outsider, it might prove challenging to distinguish between Pale Grey, Pale Honey and Pale Waves.
The confusion gets even more complex when you consider that Pale Grey’s latest album, which has a Europe-wide release in March, is called ‘Waves’. And when you receive a press release saying ‘some acts are impossible to categorise. Pale Grey are one of those bands‘, the temptation is to throw your hands up in the air with despair.
But that’d be foolish. You’d miss out on the music of Pale Grey which very much speaks for itself. “Through the lyrics and the melody, Pale Grey works to reconcile the air with the ground, the aerial with the carnal“, says the slightly pompous PR statement surrounding the band. It’s all about combinations and fusions apparently. Let’s listen.
Latest single, Late Night, is compelling. Pale Grey’s songs don’t typically feature rap but this one’s got Serengeti involved. We descend with the band into an alcohol-infused stupor, a drunken stumble home from an excessive night out.
My favourite of their single releases from the upcoming album, Seasons, is a short and stunning consideration of how life passes all of us by so quickly. It’s quite different to ‘Late Night’ and you begin to see the complexities of a band refusing to be pigeon-holed.
The album has had a release in their native Belgium. I’m looking forward to hearing more when it’s released here.
Perhaps I’m a bit jaded after overdoing things at Eurosonic on Wednesday and Thursday. Perhaps, somewhere in the back of my head a sensible voice is telling me that ‘you’re travelling home tomorrow and you don’t want to miss your connections’. Whatever the reason, Friday at ESNS doesn’t kick off with the vigour of the previous days.
I go for a walk around parts of Groningen I’d not previously visited. I commend myself for my pursuit of something healthy as I stroll around a very pretty lake within a park. It starts to snow; not that picture-postcard type of snow but the sludgey variety that quickly turns to icy water underfoot. I curse myself for being out in the open air and yearn for a warm cafe/pub. They’re not difficult to find in these parts.
I am in Lola (Lola is a venue in this town). It’s another place that I failed to visit last year; a compact one-roomed venue, ornately decorated with chandeliers and baroque, garish art. The room is packed as ‘Afterpartees’ take to the stage. I’ve noticed that Dutch bands can anticipate enthusiastic, full crowds, probably to be expected when on home soil. For this show, the queues outside of the venue snake down the road and round the corner. It’s easy to see why. Afterpartees deliver a bubblegum power punk pop with youthful energy. Their lead singer is a ball of energy as he fizzes in angular fashion around the venue. He jumps into the crowd and breaks down, questioning his very existence, in front of a mirror hanging at the back of venue. It’s too much for two older chaps standing behind me who giggle at the ‘schoolboy band’ and yearn for ‘something heavier’. But, I think they should open their minds and chill out a bit. It’s hard not to grin in appreciation when Afterpartees are in full flow.
I’d been inside Lola earlier as well. The BUMA Rocks! showcase sounds interesting and not just because there’s free beer on offer. I say hello to a lovely chap, Waldo, who I met last year when at Fira B! In Mallorca (here). I had no idea that he’s compering this event, something that he seems to do very proficiently even if I have little clue what he’s saying. For I Am King take to the stage. Sonic Breakfast prides itself on being open to all genres of music but confesses that screamo metal mostly passes me by. You can’t get away from the fact though that when done well it’s an exciting live proposition. And For I Am King are great. I’m no expert in this field but I’d hazard a guess that the majority of screamo singers are male; it’s why it’s so great to see Alma Alizadeh front up this band. She does so with incredible presence, her guttural growls at least the equal and often better than male counterparts. The whole band put on a show, guitarists jumping into the spotlight as they unleash complicated solos on us. A moshpit forms and I’m almost tempted to jump on in. But then I remembered I’m an older man. For I Am King have definitely blown away the cobwebs.
I spotted many of the crowd from BUMA Rocks! later in the evening at Myrkur’s gig in the Lutherse Kerk. The Lutherse Kerk is another of Groningen’s wonderful church venues. There’s something wonderfully decadent and a tad inappropriate about drinking beer from a church pew looking out to an antique, wooden pulpit. Myrkur is an enigma; that’s what many say about her. From Denmark, this classically trained wonder has specialised in ethereal, folk-laced dark metal to date. As such, it seems brave to put this on in a church. But the organisers know what they’re doing. Tonight’s show from Myrkur is dreamlike and choral. She moves from piano to acoustic instruments ably supported by her band and singers. I think this might be reworkings of traditional folk songs. It’s beautiful and angelic, not nearly heavy enough for the metal fans who come to explore and leave complaining that it’s not their thing. Those that do stay (and there are many) close their eyes, ignore those grumbles and are taken away to a place of magic. Purely perfect.
Whilst you can quickly walk between many of the Eurosonic venues there are a few that are on the periphery. There are some great acts playing further out of town tonight and if it wasn’t so blooming cold and snowy I could be tempted to go and see Bad Sounds. I saw them three times in 2017 and they never failed to disappoint. I owe them a blog post of their own at some point.
I stay central and after passing time with the fine Altin Gun (1970’s psychedelia with a delightful Turkish glaze), I head to see Zulu Zulu. I had to really after they featured in a previous preview blog post (here). Since that random discovery, I’ve spent a fair bit of time with their album. It meant that I could claim faint familiarity whilst dancing along to their sunshine grooves. The masks, the lights, the sheer euphoria of it all means I never really want it to stop. But, as always happens when you’re enjoying yourself too much it’s all over far too quickly.
And that seems like an appropriate time to call an end to my 2018 Eurosonic experience. The gigs continue on Saturday with the Dutch music showcase, the Noorderslag, taking place in the Oosterport convention centre but reluctantly I have to head back to the UK.
I wander past Vera one final time and make note of the lengthy queues outside as Astroid Boys play inside. It’s been an epic adventure, a wonderful experience to spend these few days in Groningen and I’m already thinking about 2019.
I try not to have too much of a fixed plan when in Groningen for Eurosonic. It’s right to pick out a couple of ‘must-sees’ every day from the lengthy list of acts but it’s also right to follow your nose and to allow yourself to stumble upon the unexpected. Thursday throws up some delightful surprises.
I make no apologies for posting this twenty minute video from Slovenian band, Sirom. It’s the best I can find on the web that demonstrates the beauty I experienced from their set. I mightn’t have taken a seat upstairs in the Grand Theatre if I hadn’t had a random chat with a chap from Slovenian radio the day before but I’m really grateful for that tip. A rug is laid out on the stage and on it is an assortment of twenty or so wild instruments. I couldn’t begin to name half of them let alone play them but the three members of Sirom move hypnotically between them weaving a magical spell. When two of them beat out a tune together on an elaborate glockenspiel looking thing, I’m close to tears. The rug becomes a magic carpet and I’m flying on it through history. Completely enchanting and an act that should be booked for Womad or Musicport without delay.
Weird Bloom are from Italy. I pop into their set on the way to somewhere else and stay for the duration. They’ve got a psychedelic simplicity about their work; if you tried to write a nursery rhyme whilst high on magic mushrooms, you might end up with something from the Weird Bloom catalogue. It’s not the busiest of shows but those that pass by miss a treat. When lead singer, Luca Di Cataldo, leaves the stage towards of the end of the final tune, you really don’t expect him to be joining you in the crowd. He dances with those of us watching whilst making rock postures. It’s funny, delightful and massively entertaining. I’d pay to go and see this band again.
I really should be heading to bed for it’s been a long day; a brilliant one during which I’ve seen so much great art. But the crowd that’s gathered outside Mutua Fides looks enticing and I enquire about what’s going on within. Meisterjaan is from Estonia and he uses jaw harps, a looper and live electronics to make the most incredible dance music. It’s clubbing but not as we know it; an act that would go down a storm at Sonar. Weary and fairly drunk after a full day of beer, I sway from side to side appreciating the noise and performance that’s coming from the stage. I can’t help thinking that it’s been a splendid Thursday and I feel myself getting far too emotional. If I see acts that are half this great on Friday, it will have been an excellent Eurosonic.
Groningen has some great buildings. I amuse myself by day by simply wandering around and looking up. Much of the architecture is wonderful; exceptionally Dutch and picturesque. Somehow, when in Groningen for the first time last year, I failed to observe how well some of these fine buildings are utilised for Eurosonic. If Thursday has a theme it might well be that Sonic Breakfast is in awe of live music in stunning spaces.
Take Wildwood Kin in Der AA Kerk as an example. Der AA Kerk is a church in the centre of town. Look up and your breath is taken away by the domes, the sculptures and the icons. Beer is sold at two and a half Euros a pop though I suspect that’s simply an Eurosonic addition and wouldn’t be the case when the priest is in the pulpit.
Wildwood Kin shouldn’t have passed me by to date but I guess their brand of posh, Radio 2 friendly, folk-fuelled niceness hasn’t stood out in the crowd of other E-mails received. That’s all changed now and I promise to give this family three piece (two sisters and a cousin) my full attention. Their tight harmonies sound exquisite in this delightful space. They show their rock n’roll credentials by breaking a sustain pedal. Warm, polite and inclusive, Wildwood Kin generously praise the welcome they’ve been given in Groningen. And they receive much praise back in return. It’s a lovely set in a lovely setting.
I should have gone to the Stadsschowburg in Groningen before now. A theatre hall that’s seen some history, there’s a twist in this space. Rather than be ushered towards seats in the red velvet domed theatre (it’s a smaller scale Royal Albert Hall), we’re directed down some plush corridors towards the stage. Yes, the audience watch the bands from the theatre’s stage. The bands play on a specially constructed platform that hangs into the auditorium. Behind them, the word ‘Eurosonic’ beams out from a multitude of light bulbs fixed around the theatre. It’s a truly incredible site.
The setting is not lost on Hannah Williams and The Affirmations. This is out and out soul music theatrically delivered. Hannah has a great voice; a power-laden emotional thing from which you feel every moment of anguish and every glimpse of happiness. It’s a polished set; there’s no awkward, nervous rambling here. Every member of Hannah’s band knows exactly what their role is. When Hannah enters into harmonies with her two delightful backing singers, you think the dome of the theatre might open and ascension might begin. It’s heavenly stuff from within a wondrous setting.
As afternoon turns into early evening, I am in ‘The Blokes’. The Blokes, just in case you’re wondering, is a fine bar in Groningen with a decent range of beers and a charming, convivial atmosphere.
I’m here for the Sony Music showcase. It’s a ‘thing’ about Eurosonic that, in the weeks preceding, your mailbox will fill with invites from labels, promoters and artists suggesting that you head along to their gig. For some reason, I notice the ones where free beer is offered. If finger food is also on the menu then try keeping me away. Does that sound a bit mercenary? It probably is.
The Sony Netherlands showcase is one that I stay at for some time. It’s not just because of the delicious beer and the tasty, hot food delicacies that get passed around on trays by helpful hostesses. From what I can tell, this is a place to watch acts recently signed to Sony. They’ve evidently got a great A&R team in these parts.
Traudes are a revelation. From Amsterdam, they specialise in funky, hip-hop. They have a frontman who climbs on tables to spit out his poetry. He uses gadgets to make his voice go all wobbly, sustained and falsetto. Together with a fine frontwoman, they work incredibly hard to connect with the notoriously difficult showcase crowd. Backed by a band that clearly know their disco and rock, this is a show that gets the whole room bouncing. I order another beer and smile. Life is pretty good right now.
Have I mentioned my love of Eurovision? Loic Nottet will always be remembered amongst my gang of Eurovision buddies as Belgium’s entry into the contest in 2015. On the streets of Vienna, we danced away and hoped that his song, Rhythm Inside, might win the contest rather than come fourth. Tonight at the Sony showcase, Loic chooses not to play the Eurovision tune but instead, accompanied by a backing tape, plays danceable pop from a new album. He puts his all into his angular dance moves and breaks out into a sweat. He winks at audience members as he announces a show with a full band elsewhere in just one hours time. The teenage girls in the front row rush off to grab their spaces at the Forum. It’s best not to be sniffy; Loic is a real talent.
Komodo are the band that are on the stage when I first walk into the Sony showcase. They play classic rock; it’s Led Zep updated for 2018. Sometimes, this is the sort of music that has me running in the opposite direction but I concede there’s a definite charm and hippie talent amidst the rock cliche with Komodo. They’re enjoying themselves on stage and that enthusiasm is infectious. Definitely ones to watch.
The Sony showcase isn’t my only one of the evening. I arrive at The Blokes after a pleasant hour or so at Oost, a recently renovated club space in Groningen. I’m there for the V2 Records and Radar Agency. It’s honestly just a coincidence that I leave when the free beer runs out but I have been able to see Sunbow before I go. An atmospheric indie three piece, I’m unable to find out much about them online. This is a shame because they show glimpses of greatness. Their singer asks for the lights to be dimmed and once his wishes are granted we enter into smoky, club mode. It’s barely 5PM. There’s plenty more enjoyment to be had as afternoon turns into evening.
I’ve arrived safely in Groningen. It’s been a long day of travel, sometimes fraught with fear of missing connections, yet somehow I’ve got here ahead of schedule. In truth, I could do with sleep after checking into my lovely digs but there’s an action-packed evening of bands to see on Eurosonic’s Wednesday and I’m up for that challenge.
I flit from venue to venue, confident in the layout, having largely.got my bearings last year. The main result – Sean sees lots of great ‘up and coming’ music and by the end of the evening is a little bit drunk.
Tomorrow, I head to Groningen for Eurosonic Noorderslag 2018. Needless to say, I’m very excited. My mailbox is creaking from artists, agents and PR companies who are keen to get their acts on my radar. With so many artists playing, it’s easy to overlook things without getting those prompts.
I thought it the right time to do another of my entirely random ESNS searches (here’s the previous one) to identify another band to quickly preview. The random word generator gave me ‘Waves’ and the random number generator ’16’. I’m taken right to the alphabetical end of the Eurosonic line up for ‘Zulu Zulu’ – this might be interesting!
The ESNS website describes them thus:-
“Delivering some much needed mediterranean vibes to cold Groningen, Zulu Zulu is a project born in Mallorca in 2015. Their proposal, African music based on onomatopoeia, does not leave anyone indifferent. Bright landscapes, ancestral rhythms and an impeccable staging are some of its virtues. Their first record Defense Zebra came out in January 2017, and they have quickly been picked up by many venues and festivals.”
I was in Mallorca for the lovely Fira B showcase back in September (I wrote a small bit about it here). One criticism that might have been levelled against many of the bands I saw playing was that they lacked originality. I saw some cool stuff and met some lovely people but band-wise, the level of derivation often felt clumsy. There were exceptions to that rule; bands that had gone beyond direct copycat mimicry of their heroes to add something new and vibrant. It would appear that Zulu Zulu had made great strides at Fira B in 2016, the year before I was there.
A quick listen to ‘Defense Zebra’ and a watch of their YouTube videos leaves one in little doubt; Zulu Zulu are an exciting, unique proposition. I’m a sucker for visuals, especially when it involves masks, costumes and mystery. Zulu Zulu are a band who’ve raised themselves above the humdrum and the obvious by employing a tribal theatricality of their own. They’ve overcome the barriers of language by creating one of their own.
Most of all, and the reason why they’re now on my list to watch on Friday night at the Huis De Beurs (00:15 – 01:00), they look like one hell of a live proposition.
As I mentioned yesterday (here), I’ve got a last minute press invite to Eurosonic Noorderslag next week in Groningen. I can’t wait until I’m once again on those cold streets drinking coffee and beer with music fans from around Europe.
There are a massive number of acts scheduled to play over the course of the festival. Even if I’d had more time to peruse the line up it’s inevitable that I would overlook something I’d really be keen on. I’ve asked mates with more of a handle on these things than I’ve currently got to send me their tips. Obviously, I’ll follow my nose as well and refuse to be too structured with my plans. That’s where the most joy can come from.
I asked a random word generator for a word this morning and got ‘maggot’. I asked a random number generator for a number between one and thirty and got ‘ten’. I logged onto the ESNS line up page (here) and counted ten acts down from ‘MAG’ in their alphabetical list.
‘Millionaire’, a rock band from Belgium, is what my lucky dial landed upon.
I can’t help thinking that ‘Millionaire’ are not a typical ESNS band. Many acts that are scheduled to appear might be considered up and coming. They’ll be making use of their time in Groningen to build industry contacts and to make links that’ll further their careers.
But Tim Vanhamel, the main man behind Millionaire, arguably has better links than most who’ll be around next week. This is a guy who played guitar in dEUS. Millionaire have toured with Queens Of The Stone Age, Muse and Foo Fighters. Tim’s even written a tune for Eagles Of Death Metal. On one level, it’s hard to see what gain there might be for Millionaire in playing ESNS.
They’ve been away for some time though. A decade is a long time in this fickle industry, Third album, Sciencing, came out last year when many had given up hope of seeing Millionaire again. I’m sure that fans of the band welcomed the release and lapped it up but nostalgic references to glory days will only get you so far.
And so it begins again; the incessant touring and the re-building of a fan base. I’m looking forward to their show at ESNS Play. It’ll be an opportunity to see a rock craftsman with undeniable pedigree at work.
Millionaire play ESNS Play on Friday 19th January between 22.40 and 23.20