Cellar dwellers YOKOCOLA: Rotterdam’s fizzy no wave revivalists

January 25, 2014
by Jasper Willems

It was a hot summer day in Winston, a tiny Amsterdam venue close to the Beursplein, the City District where the Dutch Occupy-revolt began a year earlier. With this malaise a distant memory, Mission of Burma diligently proved they’re still a formidable live unit, punctuating their set with a fiery rendition of “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”.  Opening up for the Bostonian post-punk legends was a mysterious quintet going by the name of YOKOCOLA.

It was immediately – and blatantly – obvious these cats weren’t part of that whole counterfeit retro-exhibitionist fad that seems to presently intoxicate the music industry. There was something unnerving about YOKOCOLA’s self-described acid synth wave:  the translucent analog synths,  the cutting-edge guitars, the motorik drum propulsion, the cockamamie stage attire. They appeared to be a truly authentic no wave-throwback, deprived from any form of pastiche. Quite convincing, to say the least.

At the fulcrum of YOKOCOLA’s malicious post-punk thrust is lead singer Sid Idiopath, a magnetic performer with a bone-chilling, analgesic death glare. You’d feel inclined to tell her how much you enjoyed the show if she didn’t emanate the aura of a primeval succubus who’d rip your heart out and devour it before your dying gaze. Suffice to say, Idiopath and her bandmates did steal quite a lot of hearts that evening.

One question lingered, however: who in bloody hell are YOKOCOLA?

Hi Ho Silver Lining
The morning after, a quick Google-search proved to not much avail: a series of ambiguous sound clips and artwork, very much in tune with some of Harmony Korine’s low budget indie films. Apparently, YOKOCOLA once played a show at Roodkapje, one of Rotterdam’s primary strongholds for underground music. The pictures depict a scenery more bizarre than the Winston-performance: the front of the stage cut off by caution tape, with several band members sporting balaclava’s. Then and there the realization hit: YOKOCOLA are actually a Dutch band, hailing from Rotterdam.

One whose genesis can be traced all the way back to 1987: at the time, YOKOCOLA-guitarist Yono Achmat and skinsman Clemens Gillekens co-founded a peculiar band called Hi Ho Silver. Hi Ho Silver’s MO is a tricky one to specify: their sound ranges from Residents-influenced avantgarde pop to absurdist lo-fi recordings in the vein of R. Stevie Moore and Rotterdam’s very own Harry Merry.

Hi Ho Silver’s career spanned two full-length LPs: 1989’s Tlagooslnswipistbtppimmsmgisbicmh (pronounce it, I dare you) and 1991’s Hi Ho Silver 2. Even in an era where digital music streaming allows the connoisseur to get their paws on nearly any release, coveting music by Hi Ho Silver is an elusive undertaking. In many ways a shame, because the few fragments found on the interwebs (including a short documentary of the recording sessions for Hi Ho Silver 2), reveal a large scope of wonderful ideas, integrating rock, indigenous music, easy listening, – even reggae – into a malleable pop template.

Hi Ho Silver achieved their pinnacle of success when they were nominated for De Grote Prijs van Nederland in 1988 (nowadays, such left field music has no place within the assembly of saccharine singer-songwriters and mundane pop groups fronted by The Voice of Holland-rejects). This footage shows the band members anxiously teetering among friends and family as they await the results. Eventually, Hi Ho Silver lost out to One Track Charlie (and a bunch of other bands we can’t remember).

Midway through the clip, Yono’s one-year-old baby girl begins to throw a temper tantrum, as if trying to say, “fuck this, winning this folly is nothing but fool’s gold”. Her name is Sidhi Arahdana Achmat, presently known in Rotterdam’s vast left field music subdivision as the omnipresent, vivacious Sid Idiopath.

The Cellar
Anxiously, Luifabriek walks up to some ramshackle rehearsal space in the pastoral outskirts of the Rotterdam Harbor District. After ringing the doorbell, a loud bark can be heard, as well as some faint clamoring. Sidhi opens the door, exchanging three polite pecks on the cheek, leaving resident and freshly acquired drummer, Kay Hessels to restrain his gallant pet pooch. When Sidhi insisted Kay should fill in for the recently departed Clemens Gillekens, he immediately squatted this place so the band could store their gear and continue rehearsing regularly.

“That’s pretty much my only reason for squatting, period: to have a place where I can play as loudly as possible, twenty four seven.”, Hessels proudly boasts. The room is a wonderful hunkajunk: gear and cables scattered everywhere on the floor, worn out posters, art and newspaper articles hanging on the wall, a corroded, crusty fireplace in the middle.

Hessels joined YOKOCOLA simultaneously with bass player Matthijs Felix, the latter replacing Sidhi’s pal Glenn Kessler. Kessler is a visual artist who will showcase his work (alongside a gallery by Sidhi’s biggest idol, Alan Vega) at next weeks Grauzone festival. Sidhi herself will be present as well, DJing under the Sid Idiopath-moniker, given to her by Rotterdam cult figure Henri van Zanten.

Calling Van Zanten a rare bird is quite the understatement: he was once quoted saying “you can either become an artist or a terrorist.” A self-proclaimed ‘omni-artist’, who spent a large chunk of his youth in Canada and South-Africa, dabbling his time in stand-up comedy, television, performance art and drama. Often his projects are downright bizarre, even starring in an opera entirely written in Klingon. Van Zanten moved to Berlin a couple of years ago. Sidhi: “Henri is the freakiest person I will ever know. I love him and I miss him. He called me Professor Idiopath, because I helped him discover a shitload of punk bands.”

Sidhi met Van Zanten November 30th, 2007, after a performance by his band God Knows The Absence at the Arminius Church. “I immediately ran up to him to tell him he looked like Nick Cave of The Birthday Party. We ended up talking and drinking all night. We became close friends.”, Sidhi recalls.

About five years earlier, Yono and her uncle, Koos Driesens, formed YOKOCOLA, a sobriquet based on both their birth names. Yono took on guitar duties under the handle Rudolph Heimat, while Koos (keyboards) appointed himself Otto Didak, a tongue-in-cheek play on the word autodidact. “YOKOCOLA really started out more like a party band…nonetheless, quite a brilliant one!”, Sidhi comments.

Initially without Sidhi, who was still finding her niche with a myriad of other bands from her mid-to-late teens, namely JC Thomas & The Missing Slippers, Kate & Leopolt and The Shi-Lockers. Even at the ripe age of fifteen, it became evident she’s wasn’t just an inherent performer, but a devious musician as well.

Perhaps you can pin this on her background: instead of listening to boy bands and pop idols, Sidhi grew up with a regimen of the more cutting edge stuff: The Birthday Party, Suicide, The Germs, Throbbing Gristle, Silver Apples, Gary Numan, The Residents, The Fall, Public Image Limited. The list goes on and on. Simply put, she knows more music than most pundits at age 40 and beyond.

The real Sid Idiopath
At the inner crust of the Rotterdam underground movement, the name Sid Idiopath susurrates ubiquitously: as part of DJ-outfit FRAUDULEUS, as fashion icon, as visual artist and as facilitator of left field music. Even beyond Rotterdam, apparently, Sid made waves: she briefly appeared in popular Dutch balladeer Blaudzun’s music video “Elephants” through a mutual friend.

Here’s the thing though: after conversing merely five minutes with her, Sidhi debunks the frigid ‘fatalistic fork-tongued vixen’-exterior she depicts so convincingly on stage as Sid Idiopath. She is actually this wide-eyed, fragile porcelain doll with an incredibly deep-rooted curiosity for outsider art. In a way, her relationship with her own art is downright symbiotic. This gives her the special power to BE the artifact herself, creating this ethereal chaos rift around her whenever she steps into a room. Just watch people turn their heads on a whim.

Dandy Rotterdam once made a brief but incredibly moving documentary on Sidhi, giving proper insight what her existence truly entails. One moment she is dancing in a raunchy club – dressed in scampy see-through top – as if possessed by a demon. The next she is accompanies her grandfather in a boat on a bright sunny afternoon. Its a portrait of someone heedlessly embracing personal freedom through creation, art and performance, all while spellbindingly gazing at stars.

Once Sidhi finally channeled that immense creative energy into YOKOCOLA, Otto Didak and Rudolph Heimat quickly had to defer to Sid Idiopath, resulting in an interesting dynamic between the three next of kin. “They were merely waiting for me to come of age”, a gleeful Sidhi cracks. This dynamic got even stranger when Sidhi brought Henri van Zanten to The Cellar, quickly making it a tiny citadel for extreme artistic endeavor. Sidhi: “Henri proceeded to invite all these friends, artistic people he knew.”

Sidhi claims YOKOCOLA has tons of unreleased music in stock as result. “Millions of songs…”, she hyperbolizes. Ideas shifted from weighty adage to idiosyncratic piss takes. Sidhi: “Henri and Koos had this other side project called The Geile Travestieten. They basically performed in drag in restrooms, Henri singing opera and Koos playing keys.” She reveals that the “YOKOCOLA Cellarsoundz”-album streaming on Spotify is merely a demo, containing a remnant of songs penned by Van Zanten. “Ever since Henri left the band, we stopped playing those songs”, she says.

Tip of the iceberg
After being handed the reigns to YOKOCOLA’s creative trajectory, Sidhi aims for a more organic kraut rock-blueprint, infused with heavy drones and psychedelics – abandoning the more synth-based new wave sound of Cellarsoundz. “Our sound has definitely evolved. When you utilize electronic drums, you quickly get pigeonholed as another new wave-group. But I was personally intrigued with a more psychedelic direction: like heavy kraut rock, albeit without forfeiting our new wave influences. Ever since we’ve been utilizing live drums, it just sounds more ‘out there’.”

Sidhi claims that around seven years ago, she stopped listening to music altogether for an entire year to “reprogram” her way of writing: “I really started hating it. At one point I hated it so much, I felt everything started sounding alike. Bands like Suicide, who basically smear out a single melody to create this elaborate trip, that’s the kind of stuff I’ve been intending to write lately. On The Road kind of has that aesthetic: you close your eyes and go into this never-ending trip, endlessly journeying on a highway.”

As the Achmats were quick to embrace newcomers Hessels and Felix, things started gelling quickly:

Sidhi: “You should’ve seen Yono at our previous rehearsal, he was so excited.”

Kay: “He was close to tears!”

Sidhi: “After every song he kept flailing his arms like a monkey. I mean, I was thrilled too. But Yono tends to act like this big kid. He started handing out clothes and other presents.”

About an hour after Luifabriek’s arrival, Koos enters the room, jubilantly holding a bottle of wine. He acknowledges not even being aware the Cellarsoundz-demo was placed on Spotify to begin with. When asked about YOKOCOLA’s current objectives, Sidhi speaks of “some Groningen-based” label she intended to e-mail yesterday about releasing the upcoming LP, which is slated for release somewhere in spring. Subroutine?

Sidhi nods.

“Eventually I didn’t, because I happened to be partying sooner than expected (laughs). I didn’t arrive home till the day after. But I’m definitely preoccupied with getting the music out there. Recently we’ve been selling merchandise, with a couple of gigs pending. It would be nice to finally have a label, just to help generate more shows.”

It’s quite endearing to see a band so in over their heads when it comes to the business side of music. One might suggest they are better off this way. Untainted by false pretense and manufactured testimony, YOKOCOLA’s cellar dwelling ways indeed amount to something wholeheartedly pure and authentic. Frankly, this is exactly what makes them such an amazing, exciting band to watch. Even if they capture some long lost subculture of punk to a tee, it’s the kind of band that makes one wonder: is it just the tip of the iceberg? How many more have yet to surface from their cellars?

Sidhi: “Well, all things considered…our band pretty much consists of complete idiots!”

Kay: “Complete AND utter idiots! And Sidhi’s the one who has to keep all of us in check!”

You can catch YOKOCOLA at the following dates:

8 February at Route du Nord, Roodkapje w/ Black Midgets From The Future

5 April at Popcultura Brogum w/ King Champion Sounds

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