Last weekend the Eurosonic event engulfed the northern Dutch town of Groningen. Despite its location, 2 1/2 hours by train from Amsterdam and without an airport hosting commercial flights, Groningen is not a sleepy backwater. Instead the place is a thriving contemporary city with a vibrant student population and beautiful old architecture aligning cobbled steets and canals. Eurosonic is a blend of music conference, awards ceremony and festival. Festival bookers, broadcasters, publications and music technology companies flocked to Eurosonic from 11th – 14th January. Festival bookers were looking for hot new bands to book, media outlets were looking to break bands to their station or magazine audiences, whilst tech companies arrived to raise their companies’ profile within the European music industry.
I arrived via the invitation of the European Broadcasting Union, best known for their organisation of the Eurovision Song Contest. Despite their association with the kitsch geo-political sing-a-long, the EBU undertakes a vital role for European public broadcasters. Each of the EBU members share music recordings with each other to broadcast free of charge. This means there’s a ready source of live music for often cash strapped public broadcasters. The EBU also plays an important role in sharing knowledge on new technologies and advancements in the worlds of broadcasting and music. My role in bringing real-time interactive coverage of music festivals for the BBC, for instance, interested EBU members enough for them to invite me to Hamburg to speak to members and subsequently to a wider group in Groningen.
It was a flying visit, meaning I crammed in five bands in a four hour period on the Thursday evening and three panels on Friday day, in between catching up with a few folk.
Starting in the Vera venue, Danish band Thulebasen performed brooding shoe-gaze with a kick. Their track Gate 5 as featured on the Eurosonic playlist hooked me with its psychedelic rhythms and metamorphosing nature. Gate 5 is clearly their most interesting track although other tunes on the night still maintained a level of intrigue albeit in a less distinguished way. The three piece’s sound is best when it blends shuffling breakbeats alongside fuzzy phased out guitar distortion and a tighter lead guitar melody.
Following Thulebasen, I headed to Team Me at the grand theatre … The Norweigan six piece group’s records have the preppy enthusiasm of Bombay Bicycle Club and the folksy musicianship of acts like Tunng, a description which sounds trite in some ways. The voguish combination of Arcade Fire rabble with youthful joy explains their growing popularity across Europe, but doesn’t do justice to the quality of their songs.The ethereal undertones, unpredictable twists and insightful lyrics raise the group above faddish folly. Tracks like Dear Sister also show how accomplished and thoughtful musicians are able to synchronise their potentially dissonant contributions with restraint and volume when the song’s story requires it. Their sound is also very likable, the tone and topics feel genuine and not showy, but then not dispassionate either.
Following an accappella serenade by Jamie N Commons (with an amazingly mature sounding youthful lead singer) in the Dutch broadcaster VPro’s studio, I headed over to a church by the fish market for Holland’s current rising guitar group Moss.
The large church setting helped to raise otherwise adequate Moss songs. All very polished, meant and atmospheric, but without resonance. Their Editors, Elbow, blah blah sound was all very pleasant, but struggled with its Coldplay -like vague lyrical notions. Say something specific, otherwise it sounds like a Dot Com bubble presentation about a new CRM system set to Garageband fills.
The Suicide of Western Culture with a bottle of Duvel to swig on was the perfect antidote to Moss. Pure buzzing electronica, The Suicide of Western Culture mixed the more challenging Rephlex grinds, with melodic techno and broader beatless synth action. Deliberately cultivating the faceless techno act cliche , TSOWC relied on projections for their visual performance. Drawing on their Spanish heritage, pretty disturbing scenes from the Spanish Civil War were backdropped behind TSOWC’s jerky midi button girations to start with. The imagery soon tempered out to abstract street scene snatches as the musical integration moved from bad cop to good cop through the use of lilting techno to a club friendly four-four beat. I left at 2am as they just re-entered the throbbing glitchcore realms, conscious that an early conference session on Meta Products awaited.
A review of Friday’s Eurosonic Conference follows later in the week.