New year’s resolutions are there to be broken. As noble as the intentions may be behind detoxing and treadmills, if we’re being honest, they aren’t much fun. So maybe we’re just getting it all wrong? Maybe our 2020 resolution should instead constitute a steadfast commitment to discovering as much new music as possible. That’s surely something we can get on board with, right?
As a point of dedicated initiation to this year of audio adventuring, Groningen’s EUROSONIC NOORDERSLAG festival – sat plumb on the nose of January – is there to set us off on the right track. And, as Europe’s leading festival of new music, it sounds like shit loads more fun than kale smoothies and burpees. A programme of industry talks and panels, with the added exercise of cycling between the offering of over 400 live acts, is a cocktail much more enticing in the dry month of January.
So, boosted by the idea of a resolution we may actually be able to keep, we set the controls for the heart of the new music universe and jump on a plane and head for the Netherlands.
After a break-neck sprint through Groningen, we arrive just in time to catch YIN YIN, who are on a mission to reclaim the twin-neck guitar from Derek Smalls. This Maastricht four-piece could easily be Allah-Las’ Belearic brothers, fusing lackadaisical, dusty soundscapes with Korg-heavy dancefloor grooves. Think Nippon Guitars receiving the Andrew Weatherall treatment. They’re almost as cool as their crushed velvet kaftans. Fans of Goat, take note.
Thanks to the Dutch cargo bike we’ve commandeered for the trip (when in Rome and all that), we manage to seemingly to be in two places at once, catching both SIR WAS and Liverpool’s own EYESORE & THE JINX within the space of an hour.
Sir Was’s In The Midst – in all its Porcelain Raft and Washed Out looseness – is one of our current favourite cuts, rediscovered of late (by this correspondent at least) after it passed us by on its 2017 release. Live, it is a real treat, receiving a high-energy make-over. In their typically understated, unassuming Swedish way, Sir Was could quietly cause quite a fuss.
Almost 12 months to the day since gracing the front cover of these pink pages, Eyesore & The Jinx are one of the hottest shows tonight at Eurosonic. It feels like an important, crowning moment in the Eyesore journey. The school canteen that has been appropriated for their show is busting at the doors and they perform with their characteristic, seemingly unflappable purpose and poise. We are, however, hit with the grim realisation that On An Island – in its lament of the narrow-minded and nauseating pigheadedness of little England – has an all-together more sinister undercurrent in 2020 than it did on its release. Performed here, at a festival celebrating the joy of creative European collaboration, as Britain simultaneously sails off into the Brexit abyss, it is afforded a further lacquer of despair.
JUNIOR BROTHER is about as trad-Irish as Richard Dawson is trad-folk. Here is an artist shaped by a storied songbook, who simultaneously torches it. Set within an exquisite, ornately baroque, underground lair, this is as punk, as soulful, as visceral as it gets.
Punk, soulful, visceral could just as equally form the byline for KAUKOLAMPI. Spawned from this parish’s favourite Finnish house/metal combo K-X-P, this side-project is dark techno, Blanck Mass-brutal, yet wouldn’t seem out of place leathering the dancefloor in the Cream annex.
Heavily oiled, we are now a hazardous two-wheeled road user. It seems these wide Dutch handlebars get wobblier by the schooner. Still, no excuse for the near fatal cross-town seater that is deployed to get to KO SHIN MOON. These are a French duo who borrow from across the spectrum like a backpacker’s sonic scrapbook, creating a synth-laden mix, perfect for fans of Klaus Johann Grobe. It is worth the near-death experience.
We are by now convinced that Eurosonic is the best music discovery festival we’ve been to. Groningen is tiny and – aided by our trusty if heavily bruised bicycle – so easy to jump between venues. Nowhere is more than a five-minute pedal away and, with cycle lanes, no hills to traverse and a pedestrianised centre, it is perfect for venue hopping. How they pack around 30 official venues (the unofficial fringe is even bigger) into a town centre the size of Chester is plainly ridiculous. This is music nut heaven.
Charlotte AdigÉry has been honing her craft under the tutelage of Soulwax – releasing on their DeeWee imprint – and shares her Belgian compatriots’ immaculate sense of tough dancefloor sensibility and unadulterated pop mega-hooks. She’s a ready to go, box-fresh, bonafide pop star, who is clearly equally at home delivering 4am bangin’ club sets as she is at tastemaker festivals. Despite the fact Huize Maas is bursting at the seams and bopping along to every bleep, yelp and bass drop, she screams for more from her audience. “Are you with me? This is a showcase, but you are allowed to dance! Give me more!” Charlotte has high standards.
One aspect Eurosonic seem to nail consistently is presenting artists in spaces that perfectly suit their oeuvre. This is a lovingly curated festival. Belfast’s Kitt Philippa benefits from this approach beautifully as we bear witness to 45 minutes of the most joyous, fragile, soulful wonderfulness, set within the intimate chapel that is Lutherse Kerk. Blending a classical virtuosity, gorgeously crafted songs and spacious arrangements; think Anna Calvi sat at the piano, making all your dreams come true.
If Lutherse Kerk was a delicate chapel of joy, in the hands of KEELEY FORSYTH the vast octagonal Nieuwe Kerk is a cathedral of nightmares. But the kind of nightmares you hope to have every single night. Heralded as “the new Scott Walker” by The Guardian last month, Forsyth presents a series of musical stone tablets that are possibly the most visceral, angst-laden laments we have experienced in years. The minimal baritone guitar, piano and violin arrangements, with their dramatic skyline of mountainous crescendos, are just sensational. Alongside this, Keeley Forsyth’s performance is a physical act; she contorts and shifts as if each passage is an exorcism, a cleansing and cathartic experience. Something of an unlikely highlight, but if we were to select a Eurosonic standout, it would be this.
And, with that, our adventure here is done. We have completely fallen in love with Eurosonic, fallen in love with Groningen and fallen in love each night numerous times over. Surely these are the New Year’s resolutions worth keeping, right?