Vida Festival London Launch Party – Zulu Zulu and Sam Berridge – Sebright Arms – March 5th 2020

I go to lot of festivals. Indeed, it was the lure of a festival press pass or two that got me into this writing game. I used to think that most people who write about music are pricks; in fact, by and large, I still do. But now I’ve well and truly joined that club with many years of eFestivals contribution in my rucksack. 

People often ask me what my favourite festival is. It’s an impossible question to answer. There are so many special ones dotted across the calendar. And they all scratch different itches.

But I guess one solid measure of quality would be looking at the festivals I still pay for tickets for; the ones that, press pass or not, I have to be at. For the past two years, there’s been one in particular that meets that criteria. 

Valued readers of Sonic Breakfast – I give you Vida.

Two years ago, when living in Spain, I was told about this mighty gem that takes place in early July on the outskirts of Vilanova i la Geltru and south of Sitges in Catalonia. It was the line up that year that first drew me in. It had been far too long since I’d had chance to see They Might Be Giants and Of Montreal play live and elsewhere on the bill there was more than enough to delight. I had no idea at that point just how beautiful the Vida site is (It’s set in the grounds of a gorgeous house) or what value for money the Wild Side VIP ticket represents.

Please don’t tell your English or Irish friends about this“, said more than one other Wild Side ticket holder to me in that first year. I could see their point. Frankly, this all felt too good to be true. Nestled beside the country house, this VIP area was a mini festival in itself. As DJs played fine tunes, we would sit on straw bales and help ourselves to the free alcohol. Yes, free –  all beer, wine and cava is free with a Wild Side ticket. For a price of about 150 euros it works out as astonishing value for money. Last year, I told my good friend from Dublin, Rian, all about the Wild Side. This year I’m totally breaking rank and blogging about Vida.

With a cracking line-up announced for 2020, my ticket’s already purchased. In the build-up to the festival, Vida have put on showcase gigs free for ticket holders in Barcelona. I was over the moon to see that this year they’d added a launch party in London. With a line up headlined by Zulu Zulu (previously featured here on Sonic Breakfast), the Sebright Arms was the only place to be last Thursday evening. 

Sam Berridge was up first. I confess that Flyte were a band that largely passed me by, an act that I ought to revisit. Sam, one of their mainstay members, has now gone solo and he’s worth a watch. Happy to be in ‘London’s fashionable East End’, he plays beautiful and literate folk songs on an acoustic guitar, laden with Byrds-like melody. He temporarily discards his guitar to sit at an electric keyboard where he wraps Gilbert O Sullivan, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney up in one easy-listening package. ‘No Soy Gringo’ is his concession to the event, a song written in Colombia and, like the other morsels of joy in this lovely half hour, an intelligent song of love and regret.

Zulu Zulu are a must-see live band. Think Animal Collective or Caribou and you’re part of the way towards envisaging what you get from this trio from the Balearic Isles. Dressed in crazy animal-themed outfits and wearing colourful masks, Zulu Zulu serve up exquisite melody, African rhythm and tribal harmonies; even for the self-conscious, it’s impossible not to dance. As a Vibraphone gets touched and a crazy jazz trumpet blown, the impressive strobe lighting just adds to the euphoric feel all around. It all comes together in a free-form baggy indie that The Stone Roses could only aspire to. This is super-fine stuff. 

 

The party continues upstairs at the Sebright Arms with a DJ playing tunes to keep us dancing. But I’m off elsewhere. The gig has whetted that appetite for the fab Vida festival. 

 

ESNS – A more gentle Friday!!?

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.

 

 

ESNS 2018 preview – Zulu Zulu

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. 

See you in Groningen.