March 5, 2014
by Jasper Willems
Early 2013, Boring Pop-frontman Arie van Vliet and Rens de Haij started Rotterdam-based label YCR. This in a day and age where many independent Dutch artists go out and release music on their own terms, while the sceptics progressively question the viability of the small indie label.
It’s easy to assume this Arie guy either lacks common sense or suffered severe head trauma in the past before deciding to run yet another one. Fortunately to this day, all his grey matter remains pretty much intact: “I still love the idea of a physical product, preferably on vinyl. Either way, I feel that every YCR-release needs to be given sufficient care. We’re not that interested in releasing albums just for digital streaming.”
No kidding. As Luifabriek enters Van Vliet’s cozy residence in the outskirts of Rotterdam’s Agniesebuurt, we are welcomed by the musky scent of vinyl. Frankly, the place is stacked with LPs, even on top of the tables and chairs. Inside, Arie fixes some tea and puts a Dean Wareham-record under the needle. A lively chat ensues…
Arie and brother Kees were both raised in classical music, picking up the violin at the tipsy age of four. Van Vliet: ‘I actually considered going conservatory, which I ultimately decided not to do. I reckon it would have siphoned the joy of playing eventually. So instead, I decided to study CKI (Cognitive Artificial Intelligence). It was around that time when I first started listening to music fervently. One of the first bands I started listening to was The Strokes.’
Of course, The Strokes. The band who killed the teenybopper-era at the turn of the millennium with their silver-spooned garage pastiche. Suddenly, it was a fad again to be in a rock band. Except it took Arie four more years to realize that. Arie: “Indeed. Before I heard The Strokes, the pop music I was affixed to was Paul Simon’s Graceland or whatever. So I had a lot of catching up to do. I only started listening to The Strokes in 2004, four years after their big break. That prompted me to pick up the guitar. After I graduated from my CKI study, I attended arts school. The main reason was to mingle with like-minded people, not so much as building a resume. I definitely consider it an excuse to find people to play with. I didn’t really set out to become an artist or whatever.”
It was Arie’s first big bluff, yet it gave him the means to an end: meeting people who aspired similar creative musical endeavors. It was around that time when Arie met Boring Pop-skinsman Dennis Vedder.
Things were paying off, for now.
Arie’s second bluff came shortly thereafter: ‘The guy I ran into told me there was this festival happening within a few months where we could play. That’s when I asked Dennis if we could write some stuff together. We eventually rehearsed about five original songs and three covers. At the time, we were playing with a bass player who now lives in France and probably hasn’t touched another instrument since. Niek Hilkmann (Yoshimi!) was supposed to become our next guitar player: about one week prior to our gig he called off by text messaging us from Sziget. We were pretty bummed out, because a band who has yet to play their first gig usually isn’t, you know, adaptable. After we impromptu found a drummer in Luuk Kleiman (Surface Noise), Dennis decided to switch to guitar.”
Arie: “The gig was fun, but didn’t go very well. Dennis blacked out and started making these weird gestures instead of playing guitar. This hasn’t happened since.’
Bad karma? Or something even more ominous? Despite Arie’s idea of “fun”, Luifabriek believes there might be some dark forces at play here. After all, entering the world of rock-‘n-roll after considering conservatory schooling is bound to awaken some kind of arcane presence.
Well, as of yet, no casualties. Thank heavens.
Why Arie? Why did you have to interfere with forces you can’t possibly comprehend? Once again, with no band members to show for, you gawkishly bluffed your way towards certain misfortune when asked to play the 010 TONEN Festival at the (now sadly folded) EXIT.
Arie: “010 TONEN was a TV series (broadcasted by Cinaec Rotterdam TV, JW) about underground bands. I think Rats On Rafts played there as well, even though I didn’t know them at the time. Anyway, I still had no band assembled and I had to quickly find new musicians to play with. I asked my brother Kees to play keys and violin. Dennis back on drums, and we had a guy Wilko on bass, who probably doesn’t make music as of now.”
And thus, the band Slash Dennis was born, named after an act of self-mutilation by their drummer. Simply put, this is a misfortune by itself.
Arie: “Dennis decided to get a tattoo in a drunken binge at Sziget. At first, he just wanted a straight line just to see what it felt like. But the tattoo artists thought it was a waste to toss his needle out, so Dennis told him to add a D as well. Anyway, the 010 TONEN-show went a little smoother. Afterwards we went on hiatus yet again, until I ran into Edwin Borst, who I met back in high school eight years ago at the time. That’s when we, my brother and myself, Edwin and Dennis, decided to take things a bit more seriously. We started rehearsing and writing songs as Boring Pop.”
Wait a minute. So no more unexplained black-outs or self-mutilation? Well, well. Like fellow four-eyed conjuror Harry Potter, Arie seems to finally *preempt whatever repercussions rock music’s invocatory protocol might have. Maybe he got around to watching that Spinal Tap-documentary and had a revelation or something.
*I mean, come on! Calling your band something as brain-neutral as Boring Pop couldn’t be anything more than a safeguard to keep nefarious spirits from corrupting what otherwise appeared to become the genesis of a promising music career. Right?
With Boring Pop finally shooting for stardom, it was good time to be Arie van Vliet. No one could touch him with a ten foot pole.
Until he turned 27, of course, when heinous fate once again meddled. Arie got struck in the skull by…indeed, a ten foot pole. In the midst of 2011’s Pukkelpop tragedy, heavy wind currents caused a huge tent to collapse right on top of the 6’6 singer/musician.
However, after nearly dying on us, Arie clearly wasn’t ready to meet his maker. Maybe it’s because he was already walking a righteous path. Needless to say, the bluffing days are a thing of the past.
In his fourth year at Arts School, Arie applied for an internship at Excelsior Recordings. There he took on a plethora of tasks: making websites, doing backdrops for release shows and assembling packaging. Arie: “When the first De Speeldoos (a side-project by Roosbeef’s Roos Rebergen and De Staat’s Torre Florim, JW) LP was released, we had to insert cd’s into all these music boxes. So everyone there has to roll up their sleeves during the whole process.”
Working for Excelsior was instrumental for Arie to gain proper knowhow and extend his network to do exactly what he wants: play music and run his own label. Arie: “Opinions on Excelsior are pretty much split down the middle: I feel a lot of people are critical about the way they do things, but they run a really tight ship. Sure, it’s a company, but one sparked by a love for all things music.”
With Boring Pop, Arie finally did the sensible thing: ‘We were able to record an album with Chris van Velde at his LGM Studio. He’s this very nice, easy going guy to work with. It took about three days to record about twelve songs. At the time we were still looking for a label. We pitched it to Subroutine Records, but they declined as it didn’t really fit their bill.’
Like with most small record labels, Subroutine has a particular A&R-method that allows pundits Koen ter Heegde and Niek Hofstetter to give their bands maximum exposure and opportunities to play. When a band is too devious to follow that trajectory or has their own specific ideas on how to put themselves on the map, it will obviously overcomplicate matters.
According to Arie, this was never an issue to begin with. ‘Basically, we only approached Subroutine because we’re big fans of their releases. We felt no other label measured up to what we wanted. It was either Subroutine or starting a label ourselves. In January I met up with Rens de Haij, who is very much into organizing house shows and stuff, to explore the possibilities. That’s basically how YCR spawned. Boring Pop’s own self titled debut and the Yoshimi!- record were the first two releases we did.’
With brand new label to run, Arie and Rens decided to try their luck facilitating live shows as well. Arie: ‘The first few shows were in RAAF, a small café in Rotterdam’s Southern district. We had a small budget, but it was very doable. We didn’t need a PA, albeit because it was a residential area and we couldn’t make a lot of noise. There were shows with cool bands like Spilt Milk, The Doo Run Run, Koning der Dieren and Naive Set. Eventually, we had to quit doing them, because the cons outweighed the pros. Not long after, Roodkapje moved from de Meent to the Teilingerstraat, which was really convenient because it’s closer to the inner city than RAAF. Plus there’s a complete PA and everything. They also had a clearer vision of what they wanted to do. We spoke to Leon van Barneveld (Roodkapje’s project manager, JW) to start doing monthly shows called To Hell With Common Sense.’
A sentiment well worth noting: common sense hasn’t exactly merited good fortune thus far. But sometimes, common sense can be a virtue, even when your name is Arie van Vliet. About a month ago, Arie began running the bulk of the Band Aid-nights at Roodkapje with Arnold van de Velde (Bismuth, Neon Rainbows). Quite a juicy position to be in: now he’s able to scout Rotterdam’s finest underground bands from the trenches.
With an abundance of promising local bands and an apparent scarcity of small record labels, YCR already faces quite a crossroads in the early going. Will they adapt an MO like for instance Samling Recordings, a small scene-oriented label that carves out a niche…or serve as platform for giddy young groups like The Afterveins? For the moment, Arie is comfortable with YCR as a label that stresses the first option. ‘That said, we’re not the loudest to holler. We like to go about our business in all modesty, while keeping interested parties up to date as often as possible. But personally, I’m not the type who stands on the soapbox to exhibit YCR each and every day. I feel that people can discover our releases at their own pace.’’
Luifabriek will walk you through some of YCR’s players, with a boring soundbite from Arie himself to boot!
Rotterdam cult hero Ricky de Sire combines beat music and satire in an abrasive yet surprisingly profound way. These days, Boring Pop acts as his backing band, having released 7’’ “Nevelen Der Toekomst” together. According to Arie, it sounds as if (sic) Herman Brood and Ariel Pink (sic) started a band.
Arie’s Boring Soundbite: “Rarely have I witnessed an artist with as much sincerity as Ricky de Sire. A sincerity that coincides effectively with his penchant for absurdity. Did I just say Herman Brood meets Ariel Pink? Might as well say André Hazes meets Harry Merry as well! This schizo clashing of styles becomes even more evident at Ricky’s shows: one part of the audience ends up bailing out and shaking their heads, another gets crudely ousted by the man himself while the remainder will be absolutely entertained!”
With their self-titled release, happy-go-lucky geekazoids Boring Pop instill Rotterdam’s ever-popular beat music-canon with deliciously waft Orange Juice-styled jangle pop. Not boring at all, just wonderfully dull. There’s a clear-cut difference.
Arie’s Boring Soundbite: “Gee, what to say about your own band? Our first LP didn’t get a loud ovation. However, it’s a nice place to start. Boring Pop’s goal is basically to work with the most unfortunate of circumstances (apparently not just circumstances of their own pickings, JW). To not start from zero but from minus ten, or so to speak. From there on out we try to level the playing field. At the moment we’re working on a new LP bearing the working title Fun For Snobs.”
Niek Hilkmann (the man formerly known as Yoshimi!) is a lo-fi pop contortionist who switched from English to Dutch lyrics by his second album. He recently released a split with songsmith St. Polaroid, who supplied dusky crooner “Matthew Webb”. The song Arie plays for Luifabriek is called “Collie”, a moving ode to Niek’s ol’ pooch. It kind of reminds us of Sean Nicholas Savage’s pliable mock-pop with casually lulling Bobby McFerrin-scats. Great stuff.
Arie’s Boring Soundbite: “Niek is a guy who always keeps you guessing. Even when you think you’ve wrapped your head around it, you’re still puzzled on the reason why. The purpose of everything he does seems to always debunk what he did previously, just to catch the listener off guard. It explains why he has dropped the Yoshimi!-moniker – just as it was beginning to resonate with people – to continue writing under his birth name. After releasing the Niek Hilkmann/St. Polaroid split single last fall, we’re hoping to release a new EP, tentatively called Deo Volente, which includes the songs “Dissonant Akkoordje” and “Palindroom”.
Three jitterbug noiser kids who came out swingin’ last year by winning De Grote Prijs van Rotterdam. The Afterveins are a spazzed-out, giddy bunch with hooks that stick. They’ll be presenting their debut LP March 13th at Rotown, so fans of Johnny Foreigner and The Folk Implosion rejoice!
Arie’s Boring Soundbite: “If The Afterveins had existed when James Brown was still among the living, he would’ve never attained the title “Hardest Working Man in Show Business”. Three sprightly, heedless kids, hungry like wolves: picture this ravenous predator, stick an adjective on its head and you’ll get The Afterveins in a nutshell. They’ll be celebrating their debut LP March 13th at Rotown. It’s a terrific record, I’m especially fond of Side B, in particular the instrumental tracks. The artwork is great too…I have yet to see anything that tops it.”
– 8 March V11, Rotterdam, w/ White Fang (US)
– 22 March : Roodkapje, Rotterdam, w/ Naive Set
Ricky de Sire
– 21 March : Vibes, Rotterdam, w/ Harry Merry
– 13 March , Rotown, Rotterdam, albumrelease
– 15 March , Brogum, Zierikzee
– 28 March , De Buze, Steenwijk
– 29 March , The Pitcher, Haarlem
– 4 April , De Valreep, Amsterdam
– 11 April , Musicon, Den Haag
– 25 April, Klooster Oude Noorden, Rotterdam
– 5 May, Bevrijdingsfestival, Rotterdam