IN GRONINGEN, HISTORIC university town of the north Netherlands, they don’t have licensing laws and the bars stay open ‘til dawn. Add to this the Eurosonic Noorderslag’s January 15-18 music bash, where 337 bands perform over 36 stages, and the potential for entertainment is clear (imagine such a scenario in a regional British town, and shudder). Since 1996 the Eurosonic element’s centered on new bands and an industry conference, while the one-day Noorderslag’s an all-Dutch affair first held in 1986. Knowing little of what to expect, MOJO begins by watching Paris-based psych-popsters La Femme at the Minerva Art Academy. Infusing post punk moods with Gallic pop fun, surf guitars and live theremin, they’re like a French VU with added glitter, and had they split 30 years earlier the Finders Keepers label would be reissuing them.
Because Austria is this year’s ‘focus country’, a double-bill of Viennese whirls follow; over at De Spieghel, in blue dinner suits and no shirts, bearded MC/ live drums-and-synths combo Koenig Leopold are on, with the assistance of bee-outfitted MC Rhine. Vocalist Leo Riegler variously gives away 1,000 euros from the stage, appears poker-faced on a screen visual wearing a bra, and reads incomprehensibly from an anonymous document, completing their antic subversion of hip hop and r&b. Upstairs, co-nationals T-Shit are revisiting the third side of Can’s Tago Mago LP, with bowed double bass, guitar and a drummer of the creaky hinge school bringing space to earth before more recognisable beats and an electronic, south seas ambience descends.
Tonight also sees a performance by Estonian berzerkers Winny Puhh at the historic Vera hall. Having formed in 1993, the band found internet infamy with this song, intended to represent their home country at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Tonight they don’t take the upside down/ spinning drummers route - possibly wisely, as both sticksmen appear starkers in just body paint and RHCP-style socks. With the rest of the band clad in old ladies nighties and nightmare face paint, their absurdist too-fast goon-metal with screaming in Estonian does indeed send some onlookers heading for the doors, but as when singer Indrek declares, “we will heal you!”, it’s hard to deny that when Winny Puhh are onstage, a special itch is scratched.
“Tonight Winny Puhh don’t take the upside down/ spinning drummers route...”
Though by day the event revolves around conferences for music industry pro’s, Friday reveals other pre-showtime diversions. At obliging Irish bar O’Ceallaigh’s, an enlivening half hour passes in the company of Limburg neo-pub rockers Afterpartees (see top image). Singer Niek achieves young Jagger/ David Johansen spasm and squawk, while the power punk tunes possess hard-to-begrudge youth club appeal. Next up, local three-piece Traumahelikopter zip though an unarguable, super stripped Ramones covers set and get the mature crew of attendant football fans crowdsurfing, bootprints on the ceiling and all.
Back at the festival proper, the Grand Theatre opens with Switzerland’s Kadebostany, who employ totalitarian imagery, reference their own invented nation state and do synchronized, martial clapping – just some of the ways they appear to have manifested as a samba class version of Laibach, crossed with Ace Of Base. Over at the Vera, Poland’s live/ electronic three-piece Kamp! begin hesitantly but soon show us what they're made of with euphoric house and disco selections. Back at O’Ceallaigh’s pub, plucky local indie label Subroutine have pitched up with their off-piste mini-fest The Sound Of Young Holland II, which features a show by Dutch post-punk institutions The Ex. It is magnificent; currently celebrating their 33 ⅓ anniversary, give or take the odd member, they bring total, finger bleeding energy to what must be one of the shows of the festival. There’s just time to catch Austria’s Fuckhead play their Prodigy style rave rock at the Vera, abetted by whirling dervishes in penile head dresses, onstage aerobics and, at the show’s climax, a heavyweight customer intoning, “I am God,” in the deepest of voices.
Saturday begins with more DIY fringe events. At the Gallery Sign, where Dutch cult figures Harm Wierda and Harry Merry are in attendance, Amsterdam promoters Subbacultcha are actually giving away free ale as well as putting bands on. A new DFA signing from Greece, Larry Gus appears to be suffering some kind of breakdown onstage while creating his emotional, agitated dance beats. It’s an unguarded and spontaneous affair – at various points he ties his shoelaces, jumps off stage to breakdance and then presents the audience with a prolonged builder’s bum exposure – but his aim is sure. Next up, Southampton’s East India Youth presents a shortened set, moving from his pop balladry to a bludgeoning wall of electronics.
“Promoters Subbacultcha are actually giving away free ale as well as putting bands on.”
That night, the Noorderslag proper takes place in labyrinthine theatre complex De Oosterpoort, with events including a tribute to singer-songwriter veteran Boudewijn de Groot and hip hoppers The Opposites winning the ten thousand Euro Pop Prize. MOJO stays down in the Cellar venue, where Hague krautrockers Monomyth pump up the strobes and epically punctuate passages reminiscent of Hawkwind and electric-era Miles Davis with jarring, Black Sabbath-flavoured ur-riffs, as if admitting their own mythos cannot escape the gravitational pull of 1970 Birmingham. They’re shortly followed by Amsterdam’s Katadreuffe, metallic noise mongers with a weakness for King Crimson-style structural derangement, who battle manfully aganst ropey sound and win. Local boys Wolvon, who also look askance at regular rhythms and believe in getting in amongst the audience, follow with full bore indie noise to a modest but appreciative crowd. It’s safe to say that not much could follow Egyptian ‘electro cha3bi’ party starters Cairo Liberation Front – bellydancers and, oddly, free kebabs complete the show, though MOJO learns that one of the group’s gasmasks was pinched the night before – and so we depart into the night, ears ringing, but confident that the musical future of Europa is in safe hands.
IMAGES: Sander Braks & Bart Heemskerk