While the usual suspects bemoan the death of guitar music like the insufferable broken records they’ve become, a scene has been developing at a rate of knots in Western Europe. The Netherlands might be deemed unfashionable to some, but it’s been responsible for producing some of the finest, most unconventional, and genuinely breathtaking music to emerge from the underground this decade, bonded by a love of leftfield guitar bands and all sharing a DIY aesthetic that involves being truly self-sufficient. This past couple of years has witnessed the emergence of a bunch of disparate sounding outfits with one thing in common; to spread their vitriolic noise to as many people as possible.
Last month, a bunch of those bands played the Dutch Impact party at Brighton’s Great Escape showcase event and while pitched alongside the music industry’s great and good, each gave a more than favourable account of themselves to the point where their music is being playlisted on UK radio stations while return visits get confirmed; The Homesick’s October European tour is already taking in a handful of British dates including Oxford’s Ritual Union festival on the 20th of that month.
It’s with The Homesick where we begin. Hailing from the town of Dokkum in the Friesland province of the Netherlands, the band started in 2012 at which point its collective members were aged 12, 12 and 14 respectively. Bass player, vocalist and songwriter Jaap Van Der Welde takes up the story.
“We were all just teenagers getting into music. That’s why we started playing together. We didn’t know anyone else in the beginning then after a while, we met Rats On Rafts and started playing shows with them. We learned a lot from that band and their singer David (Fagan) produced our first single ‘Stereo Lisa/Boys’.”
That was released in 2015 on Subroutine Records, an independent label from Groningen that’s gained a reputation as that scene’s Sub Pop or Creation. It’s become something of a rite of passage for anyone who’s anyone in the Dutch scene to pass through Subroutine’s roster at some point or another.
“We weren’t really looking for a label,” admits Jaap. “Then we took part in a local battle of the bands competition and won, and Koen (Ter Heegde) from the label was one of the judges! So a few months later they put out our first EP (‘Twist Yr Wrists’) on cassette.”
The Homesick’s debut album Youth Hunt also came out on Subroutine in the early part of last year and immediately introduced them to a wider audience. Comprised of eight songs that sound like the best bits of The Chameleons, Deerhunter, and No Age all rolled into one, it’s a remarkably confident debut that sounds like it couldn’t have been made anywhere else than a provincial small town backwater such as Dokkum, something Jaap instantly relates to when questioned about it.
“Living in a small town definitely affects the way you discover new and old music. There are some references to growing up and living in the North in our lyrics as well, even if it’s hard to say whether it affects our sound. We really didn’t care too much about that in the beginning. Living in a small place means there are no other alternative bands you can look up to. None of us knew there would be such a big underground circuit."
The album came together during the summer of 2016 when the band realised they had enough material to make one. Recorded and produced by the band themselves in guitarist Elias Elgersma's home studio, their motto that "if the time is right then do it" paid dividends, which leads us onto the present.
"Right now we’re working on a lot of new ideas and songs," insists Jaap. "We’ll play some shows this summer then we’re going on tour throughout Europe in the autumn to play a lot of the new songs for the second album alongside some of the more familiar ones. After that, we’re probably just gonna work on the new album until it's ready."
They're not the only band making a right old racket in their homeland. Over in the south of the Netherlands, Eindhoven based punks Charlie And The Lesbians are channeling the street punk sound of 1982 to maximum effect. Formed three years ago when lesbian lovers Soesja - who happens to play the drums - and her bass playing partner Nortja decided to form a band. They asked Soesja's brother Charlie if he wanted to sing in a band and the rest is history.
"I'd never sung before!" admits Charlie. "When we started it sounded completely fucked up and awful, then one day our guitarist Mees came to a rehearsal to - at first - play the bass, while Noortje was going to play guitar. Eventually, they switched and we started rocking. We had the name before Mees joined and wanted to keep it so we decided to put on some make-up and transform Mees into one of the lesbians!"
While their music has drawn comparisons with a lot of second wave punk bands from the UK such as Sham 69, The Exploited, Cockney Rejects and The Adicts, the band's influences couldn't be further removed.
"We’re more influenced by US punk from the seventies," declares Charlie. "We’ve always listened to a lot of music from that era, so naturally it became a big inspiration for us. Most of our lyrics are really dark and about death - I don't know why exactly? But then it also varies from song to song. Most of the time half of the lyrics are written at home before we've even started the song, then we get together and the other half are written on the spot. The desolateness of the words is something that attracts me personally, cause that’s how I feel a lot of the time."
At times they wear their seventies inspired hearts on their sleeves, one example being the band's cover of The Runaways classic single from 1976, 'Cherry Bomb'. "It's a typical girl band song that we thought might sound interesting if it was sung by a man. Plus it's just a great song, with a clear difference between what's going on in the verses and chorus."
As with The Homesick, Charlie And The Lesbians were also unaware of much of what was going on elsewhere in the Netherlands. Charlie takes up the story.
"When we started we wanted to do something different from all the other Dutch bands. We were mainly associated with the garage rock scene, but we wanted to do something louder and filthier than the rest. We didn’t really draw inspiration from any other Dutch bands, we just wanted to do our own thing and make music that we love. We started out to just make music and have some fun. But the more we played we began to know more and more great bands from the Netherlands. So our growing interest in Dutch bands grew with our band. When we started the band we didn’t even think we would ever do a show. Now here we are!"
Charlie And The Lesbians' recorded output is limited to just two EPs so far. Their self-titled debut released last April and its follow-up The Lost Boy EP which came out four months later. However, with another EP due later this year and a live set that's growing and becoming more familiar with every subsequent hearing, their time will come soon enough. The band's main ambition right now is to get better and play more shows internationally, May's Great Escape showcase event being the pinnacle so far.
"That we were invited to play there was a great opportunity and a big step for us. We never thought we could play big showcase festivals like that. We’re just grateful for all the support and good responses that we've got over the years. That’s what keeps us going and let’s us make more music. We all love to do shows, and the shows at The Great Escape were really fantastic. So yeah, it kind of was a pivotal moment for the band!"
Nevertheless, despite the widespread acclaim that's helping them make an impact overseas, Charlie isn't about to forget his or the band's roots either. Particularly the Dutch underground scene from where they emerged.
"Underground labels like Subroutine are always important for the music scene. It’s always really great if there are people who believe in bands that aren’t really big, but still growing. Venues that offer a stage to new bands just starting out are even more important. 'Cause you can really grow as a band when you play a lot."
Our next stop is Willemstad, an old small town also situated in the south of the Netherlands between Breda and Rotterdam. It's there we catch up with Jeroen Reek, who plays guitar and sings lead vocals in hyperactive garage-cum-surf-rock outfit Iguana Death Cult. Formed five years ago by Reek and three childhood friends later to become musical accomplices - fellow guitarist and singer Tobias Opschoor, Justin Boer who plays bass and drummer Arjen Van Opstal - they're fuelled by paroxysms of existential despair from living in a small town yet with no previous experience of playing in bands, Iguana Death Cult essentially learned their trade by accident. Jeroen gives us his insight into the band's origins.
"Back then we were still kind of learning how to hold our instruments properly. Justin had never even touched a bass guitar before he joined the band. I remember being the only one who had really high expectations at the beginning. But as time went by and songs got better everyone started to feel like we might be on to something. Although we grew up in Willemstad, moving to Rotterdam and living in a city reflects on our music in a way that makes it diverse and gritty; almost kind of aggressive at first but really sweet at heart."
As with the other bands DiS spoke to, Iguana Death Cult's knowledge of their local scene is minimal.
"I don't really feel like we belong to a scene or anything. We are just trying to do our own thing. I'm not saying there aren't any really cool bands. Go check out Venus Tropicaux and Smudged Toads. They're awesome. Most of our early inspiration came from west coast garage and Nugget compilations, but nowadays it's shifting more towards post-punk and our own interpretations."
In fact, Jeroen believes his band's music is more suited to the overseas market than back home
"While I always had a feeling that we could pull it off abroad it came quicker than expected. For example, it's really weird coming to Madrid for the first time and people are singing along with your songs. Speaking for myself I would really like to experience living and recording in another country. It could be fun!"
Then, of course, there are the four shows Iguana Death Cult played in Brighton last month...
"The Great Escape shows were packed so we did really well. We've been waiting by the telephone ever since..."
As with The Homesick and Charlie And The Lesbians, Iguana Death Cult's recorded output stretches to a handful singles and an album, The First Stirrings of Hideous Insect Life, which the band put out themselves in the early part of last year.
"It was important for us in a sense that we wanted to keep everything in our own hands," admits Jeroen. "In retrospect, I think it was mostly down to trust issues. Even though it was cool to do and we're really proud of how far we got, we feel like it would be nice to work with a cool label for the next record. We're recording the second album at the moment and we're planning to become crazy big after releasing it on a cool label. After that: Play a gig on the moon and smear it all over Roger Waters' face too!"
With a new single due out next month and the kind of carefree attitude more bands should adopt to what else is going on around them ("I don't really care what other bands do. As long as they make cool songs"), Iguana Death Cult look as if they're most definitely here for the long haul.
We finish off in Amsterdam with Pip Blom, an artist who's been making music since the age of fifteen.
"I saw this advert for a singer-songwriter competition and all of a sudden decided that I wanted to make music too!" she tells us gleefully. "I did kind of know how to play the guitar but I was terrible at it. My dad had bought a guitar for children with three strings called The Loog and I started writing songs on it. That's the first time I ever wrote a song. Under two minutes and with just three chords."
Nevertheless, Pip's confidence soon grew and by the summer of 2013 she'd put out an entire album's worth of demos entitled Short Stories. It was soon after that Pip decided to put a full band together.
"When my gap year started I had a lot of time on my hands and thought why not make music that I would like listen to? I mean, I wasn't famous or anything like that when I started to make songs. I was just trying to make stuff that I like myself. So I asked a few friends to join my band but they didn't really feel like being in a band with me. Then I thought if I really want to do this I can do it by myself too. So I started making songs on the computer, using a drum computer, playing the bass and guitars. I made demos and put them on Spotify, but didn't really expect someone to like them. All of a sudden a lot of people discovered the songs and liked them. So I panicked! I'd only ever played three shows. At first, I thought I'm just going to play with a guitar over a backing track. But I tried it, and it didn't work at all. So then I decided to try again asking people to join me, which they did."
When asked about the Dutch music scene, Pip cites one band in particular for influencing her music.
"They are called The Suicidal Birds. I especially love the song 'Summerset Sun'. They have these really cool, rough sounds with a very catchy melody. They definitely inspired me to write songs."
Now aged twenty and with a number of singles under her belt and a new EP (Paycheck) on the way towards the back end of August, Pip Blom - now a four-piece centered around Pip and her guitar playing brother Tender - look set to break before this year's out. While it's something Pip is only too aware of, there's still a nagging doubt her music hasn't quite attained the same level of recognition back home as it has received elsewhere.
"At the moment it's fair to say that people like us more outside of the Netherlands. So if it's going to happen anywhere, it's outside our home country. We just don't know. I'm not sure if it's just us, but I do really like the fact that there are a few Dutch bands at the moment that are creating a scene outside of the Netherlands. Bands like Canshaker Pi, The Homesick, Amber Arcades, they are all playing a lot of shows around the rest of Europe. And that's really cool. I definitely think it helps a bit for other bands that people will start to think of the Netherlands as a respectable country for music. And that's great."
Indeed, when pressed about who's most likely to be the next act to break out of the Netherlands, all of our interviewees give us a list as long as their collective arms. Whatever happens next, you can be sure this isn't the last we've heard of the Netherlands as a revered musical force.
Here are 5 more incredible Dutch acts you really need to hear before the year's out...
Aggressive political Oi! from the streets of Groningen.
All hail the new Velvet Underground.
The Sweet Release Of Death
Uncompromising noise rock from Rotterdam.
A Dutch supergroup of sorts containing various members of The Homesick, Rats On Rafts and Creepy Karpis.
The Mighty Breaks
Skewered pop from Voorschoten that sits somewhere between the melancholic bliss of The Byrds and The Walkmen.
Photo by Isolde Woudstra