A Town With No Cheer? Leiden’s Brave New Musical World

July 31, 2013
by Richard Foster


Photo courtesy of J.P. Kranenburg, click for more of his photos in the original Leidse Dagblad article

Now there are few things you can rely on in life, but over the last few years the one constant bone that the culture dogs in this lovely town I live in like to pick at seems to be the idea that Leiden’s got no “real” music scene to speak of.

On one level, this perception is to do with the very obvious and physical (not to say spiritual) demise of the LVC, which will shut its doors after 40 years or so in late August 2013. I can’t say I’ll miss it, despite enjoying myself on occasion there. This gaping cultcha hole will – in the eyes of many who don’t go to gigs – be filled by the creation of the new place, called deNobel (sic), which is a renovated factory next to the culture centre-cum-café-cum-Sunday-afternoon-wander-about-quizzically-and-uncomprehendingly-looking-at-local-art spot, Scheltema, in the artsy and angsty Leiden West. They’ve knocked everything down in the area – including mad bad old Jazzmatrazz – apart from the crumbling façade of the factory. It’s a sort of metaphor for modern life – a promise of tradition but softly salved with the counter-promise of “state of the art” conceits, conveniently tucked away inside – future past stuff, the stuff Berlin’s been so successful at promoting, and you see these kind of urban developments everywhere now.

So, all change, and all good, n’est-ce pas?

Up to a point, Lord Copper. Recently I read in the Werfpop’13 booklet an introductory piece from Jan-Jaap van der Haan about deNobel. Van der Haan  is the fellow who looks after culture in Leiden; and a nice soft-soap piece it was too, replete with phrases like “40 years of pop music history”, “a new bubbling (musical) future”, “Leiden will continue to invest in culture (thanks for that, cock) and therefore also (sic) in music!” (thanks again). And not forgetting “Rock, pop, dance, metal, swing and jazz are all sincerely welcome!”  My concerns about no mention of avant-industrial noise or spazzcore in Jan-Jaap’s hearty welcome aside, I‘m sure this is all sincere and Jan-Jaap will do his best to fulfil his remit for the populace. Good luck, son. I’ll back you all the way.

So all well and good.

Well… Up to a point, Lord Copper.

Because this whole idea that Leiden needs to be woken from its torpor into a bright new musical future won’t end there. Because  there’ll be a building that needs to be suitably staffed. And this is where the waters are still muddied. For the last few years Leiden’s “local glossy lifestyle” mags; LOS Magazine being the main culprit – I often pick them up in my local boozer Schommelen –  have been running with articles expressing the following viewpoints: “Leiden’s got no music scene / Leiden needs millions investing in a state of the art venue / Leiden’s never had folk gigs until now / Leiden’s venues need to be more fashionable to attract audiences / Leiden needs an electronic / ambient/ noise / electro presence, Leiden’s off the standard band touring map.”

With the exception of the last it’s all to be taken with a pinch of salt: hyperbole, a storm in a teacup, patent, château bottled bullshit in some cases, and pedalled by people I don’t see at any gigs in town. And as you can see when you stick these phrases together like I’ve just done it all sounds as if there’s no real appreciation of what is going on by the people who wrote them. What you certainly see is a whole truckload of confusion. Maybe deNobel will silence a lot of this expostulation. I doubt it. But over to you, Jan-Jaap.

When things get said in Leiden they often get slapped down. Especially when (as in 90% of such cases) it’s just talk. And that’s the rub. It’s just chatter and those actively and regularly involved with putting on gigs know it.  Here’s a mail I got from one nameless Leiden promoter. “That paper article about (another aspirant and nameless promoter team) and imperium (sic) was really crap…. Where they claimed nothing is happening in town with folk [music] and they will save the day. [****] was furious about this. We have been doing a shitload of folk shows in town for years (sic) and these dudes are always invited but never show up. And claiming they will bring dudes like Peter Broderick to town and make it a common name with the Leiden people… both things will never happen.”

So “dudes” writing an article about stuff that will never happen. A chattering class disease more virulent than tulip fever in Holland. Here’s some more stuff that I’ve read that will never happen. The idea that Leiden’s new venue needs elements of “fashion”  to make it successful, or a few million euros (I think they quoted 4 in the piece I read) to get things going. You could have a go at saving the Gabon elephant with that.

And frankly I’m glad this perception is doing the rounds. Because, (again, frankly), it’s because of this “cultural impasse/speaking in tongues kultur” and concomitant lack of general interest from “above” that Leiden’s underground has blossomed in the past 7 years or so.

You only have to see this list… or or  or (it’s going in 2014, don’t miss out on what’s been a treasure trove for alternative bands) or or (sometimes) or (watch this space, some good stuff will eventually come from here) or  great spaces like Meet&Greet,  and sometimes in galleries or art complexes, such as De Pieter , Kaasmarktschool  or  say something really free and  hippy dippy like Ipsylon festival, or the new Hotel Suburbia booking idea or the new Cultuur? Barbaar! set up, OR what Francis and Glen do (and did) with Cultureel Centrum de Ex, or stuff put on in good old pubs like WW, Schommelen or Twee Spieghels  to realise what utter tripe people talk when they talk about Leiden’s music scene.  Not to mention the numerous huiskamer concerts I’ve seen in houses and flats. Greg Haines in a shop? Believe.

You only have to look at the list of gigs I’ve covered for my magazine Incendiary to see what risible, patent, Horsemeat Bullshit the claim that “Leiden’s got no music scene” is. Here’s a list of articles I’ve written about just 2 places I go to: SUB071 and Meet & Greet. Cool, I’ve spammed my other mag. And there, see? There’s hods going on. Not all of it good, some downright piss, some badly attended, a lot badly, often comically promoted for sure, but loads going on. And sometimes revelatory; and very often better, cheaper, friendlier, and with a more knowledgeable and appreciative audience than in other towns.

And although there’s some right head in sand stuff in town, it’s not all self-indulgent middle class leisure-time tripe – we’re talking experiencing the polar opposites of music: you can take in on a reasonably regular basis the self-consciously arty stuff with software and pedals, or grizzled vets doing Radar Love for the umpteenth time on a platform outside a pub. Even the posh students have their own shit sorted, luckily behind doors.

But, sadly, it seems that’s not enough. When ideas get aired in Leiden they appear to get repeated. Over & over. Often without much thought.

The people spouting off don’t know or really care about the thriving underground scene because – as I keep repeating – they don’t go to these gigs. They probably go to Amsterdam to see circuit-friendly acts like Foxygen or Jacco Gardner and wonder why “that” can’t happen “here”. And I suppose if all you’ve seen of Leiden’s scene and its supposed equivalent of the national band circuit was the LVC, then yes I can understand how you reach a conclusion that the town’s on its musical knees, and up for grabs in terms of moulding a musical future down at deNobel or some other netjes place like Scheltema.

And to go one further: the events that get the Gemeente revenue aren’t the sort of bashes that – say – popular ersatz dullards like Editors will fancy playing. Werfpop is notoriously hit & miss but it’s good fun none the less and usually pretty rammed, often with interesting people, mainly because it’s free and a cool family day out.  The Rapenberg festival and the 3 October gigs on the Nieuwe Rijn are often less than the sum of their creative parts. I can’t really comment on Leidse Jazz Week, (but then we all know what Jazz is for), or the International Students bash in summer, as I’ve never been allowed in. Sure people enjoy the big days out, and fair play; but these aren’t events aimed at a gig going crowd in any case; especially the people you see eating lettuce on Overtoom.

And even so, what of it? These events shouldn’t be the targets of any ire or angst from anyone. As I’ve hinted, Leiden ISN’T on its musical knees. Leiden’s suffering the wittering of people who want to control the budget of the new space, when it comes. And doubtless, when it does, and when the “right” people are in place, NOTHING dramatic in terms of innovative musical policy will develop from this particular quarter because, likely as not, everyone will still be looking for 4 million to “inject fashion” into Leiden, or complaining about the fact that no-one will bring Peter Broderick along to strum his latest folk jewel.  Or they’ll do something in a half-arsed manner – à la the LVC of later years – and wonder why no-one gives a fuck.

Het gaat allemaal nergens over, kiddos.

I suspect the people saying these things are not that interested in sorting out what’s there – or really looking to exploit the brains or networks behind or for example. I suspect the people saying these things just want a “cool job”. Because what Leiden needs isn’t the dudes we hear spouting off in papers like LOS, Leiden just needs to get the people who’ve made a quietly successful scene over the last few years and let them loose.

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