Cast the doom-mongers and naysayers aside. 2009 isn’t going to be a complete disaster. We know because we’ve already had the first European festival of the year, and it went rather well.
Eurosonic takes over the provincial Dutch town of Groningen for three days every January with a mission (rather like that of the Great Escape, Popkomm and By:Larm) of showcasing rising bands from around Europe in a round-robin fashion.
That means every bar, club and youth club in town is requisitioned and fitted with a stage. Each European national broadcaster sends a band from their country (BBC Radio 1 put James Yuill on the plane at Gatwick with bag of jam sandwiches and a thermos of tea) and the organisers pitch in a load more from Belgium and Holland.
And what a lovely little town it is too. Sleepy, certainly, it becomes wild for one weekend as the legions of students in this university town effortlessly mix with locals and even tolerate the annoying foreign press corps who parachute in brandishing drinks tokens and a desire to go as mad as they possibly can in the space of 72 hours. John Peel used to love it here - you can see why.
You get tips on where to go and what to see from everyone. Some fantastic Groningen university students lead us to a bar that’s playing Rage Against The Machine, Turkish promoters tell us about bands they’ve heard, Danish government officials share their tips with us.
And although there are a fair few damp squibs in amongst the selection of bands we check out, the atmosphere cancels out the duds. The only thing that dogs us all weekend like a sprained ankle that just won’t mend is why the quality of Dutch indie and rock bands seems to be so poor.
Sorry - we love your festival, we love your stroopwaffles and we love your citizens. But your bands need some work.
TOP FOUR OF THE WEEKEND:
Buraka Som Sistema whip up a desert storm with their angular Angolan beats and insistent vocals. It’s hard not to be swept along with them as they cavort around the stage at the Simplon venue, shaking and shouting and generally looking like you’re having a blast. There are shades of Ebony Bones and Basement Jaxx in what they proffer, and even though they blather on in Portuguese about God knows what, we simply don’t care - they are an amazing party act.
Rolo Tomassi are growing on us with each viewing. Last week at the Lexington it was all a bit hasty - though enjoyable, certainly. This time we get more of a chance to see what they’re really about and dismiss the frankly disappointing production on their album. Yep, live is where the RT experience comes into its own - and the more you see of them the more you realise it’s not just stupid shouting for the sake of being arty and obtuse at all - there’s actually structure, rhythm, dynamics, sheen even. Yes, Eva’s a guttural goddess who can yell for Yorkshire, but we’re increasingly becoming somewhat infatuated with her flamenco dancing during the softer parts of their songs. We watch them as they’re being filmed for Dutch TV, and they’ve never looked or sounded better.
Dinosaur Pile Up are new to our ears but they don’t disappoint with their proto-grunge, some of it nicked hook, line and sinker from 1994; the rest a modern take on intelligent rock. The stripped-down trio keep it wonderfully simple, making only sparing use of distortion pedals to push their sound into orbit on the most bass-heavy of their tunes. These are surely youngsters with a bright future.
Scots math-sters Errors are a driving proposition live and it’s a shame that no-one can be bothered to see them. We stand at the front feeling sheepish but let the waves of abstract noise and electro jive wash over us. Their best songs are in fact the ones that offer up a groove, rather than the post-rock squalls they also like to knock out. Not that either is bad, but if they become more like Hot Chip rip-offs than Mogwai rip-offs, we think that will make us - and probably them - happier.
Vincent Van GoGo are the worst possible start to the festival. This Danish indie-pop band don’t even have Alphabeat’s singalong moments. So we’ll skip over them.
The Jessie Road Trip, meanwhile, have all the hooks that they could possibly require. Breezy and bright, the Manc popsters are propelled by some glorious singing from their female vocalist. However, whether anyone will want more jazzy pop fronted by a female singer is a moot point. But Sainsbury’s sells an awful lot of white loaves week in, week out.
Fey indie girls (and boy), Firefox AK channel the spirit of the Cardigans into their pop offering. And the Swedes chuck some synth sounds in too, but overall it’s a flower that falls limply to one side rather than blossoming.
The Rakes: still in business. Still looking mostly like The Feeling. Now their guitarist also looks like Barry Gibb from The Bee Gees. Here’s the rub for them: the 22 grand jobs in the city they sing about are the ones they’ll soon be going to on the bus. It’s alright lads.
Pity Filthy Dukes: They put their all into their set but there’s hardly anyone here and of the audience present no-one really seems to care about the electro odyssey they’ve embarked upon. Fun but flippant.
We’ve criticised Dutch indie but let’s give the Netherlands credit for their dance music: 2562 is the best Dutch act we see all weekend. The unassuming guy from The Hague makes the kind of pinpoint-accurate dubstep that would get the geezers in Plastic People frothing at the mouth. In Holland, they call it clog step. His friend DJ Gomes pulls off a similar trick straight afterwards.