2014, a year of insights: Luifabriek’s personal overview

December 28, 2014
by Richard Foster

BKS LF

et in arcadia ego…

2014 has been a compelling year for Dutch music, with plenty of highlights for Luifabriek writers Tjeerd van Erve, Jasper Willems and Richard Foster to meditate on. We discuss the “concept indie rock festival”, Dead Neanderthals’ Endless Voids, Niek Hilkmann’s New Dutch Naivity, the SUB071 and much more . Read it all below.

 

Tjeerd

2014; a year of insights. I remember the Saturday night at Best Kept Secret. Waiting at the backstage door for Richard James Foster, who once again had managed to chat his way in to the dressing room of his buddies Franz Ferdinand, I stood there overlooking the pristine festival field. No cups, no mud, no lost sweaters, shoes or any other damage; just some lamps softly lightning the beach which was undamaged after a day of intense dancing and jumping about. The beach just lay there as if all of this was yet to happen.

The positive result of a day of positive freedom, a controlled Utopia with biological fair trade macrobiotic food, orderly queues of people at the bar and music, and loads of music.

Nothing to complain, you’d say, and you’re probably right. But it gave me an awkward feeling, if only for a second. Is this what had happened to the rebellious rock n’ roll? Is this what had happened to the teenage riot whilst growing up? No stench, no dirt, no splatter, it was all just clean and perfect. I headed home, leaving Richard backstage with his British mates, maybe overthinking this, but it has not left my mind since. 

What is it that I love about pop and rock culture? And, did I get enough of that this year? 

I guess (given my thoughts above) that I am an old fashioned romantic, hoping that the counter culture would stay just that.

Having read There’s A Riot Goin On, I should’ve known better than that, I know. The counter culture kills its own darlings and when it grows, it gets incorporated in the dominant culture and just waits for a new counter culture to start a new cycle. Alternately, the remnants of the counter culture find the niches of society, only to silently and – more importantly – unobtrusively smoulder on. But as I grow older, I notice that I turn more and more towards these niches. Places where cracks in the wall tell a story, where stickers and posters show history. Places where I can get dirt on my boots. 

So, weirdly enough, one of my highlights of this year was a small visit to Leiden, for a night of Schultenbrau and a flat floor-stage in an old – now squatted – office building. No rules here, at least a minimum of rules.

But that’s not what made it special. It was the feeling that we were in it together. We: bands, audience, community, were the success of the festival. Of course I understand, this can not be wholly replicated in a major festival such as Best Kept Secret. You need guidance there. But Cultuur Barbaar had a lasting impression. Because I dived head first into the glowing embers of the niche. I must be a child of the eighties and early nineties, because I love the idea that the band I am watching could be my life. Ok, I never had the talent, nor the courage to be that band, but still; the idea is enough. But I also like the idea that culture is a necessity, not simple entertainment. Music that takes me in, kicks me over and beats me up. Music to submerge yourself in.

There were not many bands that gave me that this year, that feeling that I had to give in and surrender to the wave. And that actually brings me back to Best Kept Secret. It was there that I started to cry when Mogwai hit one of their crashing peaks. Whilst people around me were running out of the tent, I threw my hands in the air and let the wave wash over me. Hell, I even took my ear-plugs out wanting to feel the music drill into me. Not the wisest of moves, considering I’d love to hear for another few years, but sometimes to suffer is to heal. Mogwai gave me that. But I’m derailing the argument, as I so often do. My point is that I want submersion (albeit with a bubble of freedom), and a sense of belonging, preferably given and received with utter devotion. And no, I did not receive enough of that this year. True, I enjoyed many good records, saw many fine, fine shows. But very few managed to cut me deep.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion, but with their newest record as with their live show, did. Endless Voids, the collaboration of Machinefabriek, Dirk Serries and Dead Neanderthals on Incubate did, and even if I didn’t see the whole show the deep drones left a lasting impression on me. Actually this years’ Incubate will stay with me, but weirdly enough, not as much because of the music, but because of the company and the weird experience of having to queue for a show. DON’T EVER DO THAT TO ME AGAIN, INCUBATE! DON’T! Still the festival comes closest to what I seek in a cultural event, and with so many acts, submersion is never very far away. Still, on average, I feel that 2014 was quite an average year. Yes, Sleaford Mods are great and all, taking the piss with everything that even just slightly hints at any snobbism, and yes again, that record of The War On Drugs is great. But at the same time it is reflective of what 2014 turned out to be: “gewoontjes”. Not pushing, pulling or anything. It is a sonic trip through several greatly piled up layers, a mood maker of easiness; but not once did it kick me upside down let alone pull me inside out. And that is what I want.

 
Jasper

To me, 2014 has been a year where I – to a certain extent – regained a my diligence in discovering new music. I had it in my late teens and early twenties and – even as I started writing more seriously about music – I felt I had lost it forever. When we started Luifabriek, I envied Richard and Tjeerd in that regard, the way they dove head first into things with so much gusto and spirit of inquiry. It awakened a lot of things inside of me. Perhaps I might’ve been moving the opposite direction as Tjeerd*, but I had a different starting point. Unlike Tjeerd, I wasn’t as knee deep into it to begin with.

*In this case, Tjeerd, I’m glad we passed each other by more than once this year.

Anyway, over the past few years, I’d become really passive with my musical taste, narrowing it down and filtering it out further and further. A piece about modern music consumption I wrote on my personal blog two years ago, reflected that. But seeing how printed music media still need to coax the baby boomer generation to sell magazines, I realized I was slowly becoming another narrow-minded music hack, only interested in stuff that fits his own personal proclivities. In order to become a ‘relevant writer’ with a ‘unique voice’, I needed to get out of that loop in a hurry. This year, I made a conscious effort to expand my horizons again, to look for fresh new sounds. One of the artists that really opened my eyes in the early going was the aforementioned Sleaford Mods, who – ironically – happen to make loop-based music. It was mind-boggling and inspiring to see two forty-somethings from Nottingham create something both fresh and audacious by simple means. Suffice to say, it truly was a full-circle moment for me, to finally meet them in person at this year’s Le Guess Who? festival.

Another thing I realized was how many unique artists reside in my own back yard. Watching The Ex play in Paradiso was one of the most joyous experiences I have ever had, outdrinking Richard and his Incendiary accomplice Damian, dancing up on stage like a cross-eyed buffoon. The Ex are truly the first and only band of their kind, the epitome of complete musical freedom. Any other country would’ve built a shrine in their name for the things they have accomplished. Not just by being unique band sound-wise, their inherent wide-eyed curiosity for other musical tenets is nearly unmatched. Dead Neanderthals have those same qualities as well, which always makes them an interesting bunch to talk to and write about.

By any estimation, 2014 has been a great year for Dutch contemporary music. Typhoon (who has been doing great stuff for a good decade now), Thomas Azier and Jett Rebel are undoubtedly talented ‘new’ voices who have garnered respect and admiration. Thing is, they are being discussed and written about in spades, so I don’t really feel a strong urge to do the same. But for every Typhoon there are at least ten Dutch bands getting airplay who are – at least in my opinion – complete rubbish. I wish there was at least a place for bands like Nouveau Vélo or Naive Set to shine. Both made fantastic pop records this year and I feel they’d be embraced by a larger audience, if only they were promoted more.

People will eventually get sick of the same voices tooting on about these bands, unfortunately. Luifabriek is a necessity for that reason alone: to flesh them out and give them that place. Some of these bands may be destined to become like The Ex or Hallo Venray, a bunch of a scary good musicians who are too headstrong from a creative standpoint to market into the mainstream. But the point is not them becoming ‘mainstream’ per se, but to somewhat expand beyond their own inner circles…to at least open a few more minds.

On the flipside, it’s encouraging to see someone like broeder Dieleman kick in some of those doors by performing in his native tongue. Obviously, his music instantly becomes more tangible doing so. As a relatively late blooming artist, Dieleman accomplished something many successful musicians can only dream of; arrange a set of shows with his idol (Will Oldham), perform with him and, eventually, become friends with him. That said, Tonnie’s somewhat of a rare bird, a larger-than-life individual making great music. Yet he’s a testament to what a musician can accomplish if he or she stays true to his or her genesis and candor. It really echoes the notion Niek Hilkmann stressed in a recent interview I did for Luifabriek about the New Dutch Naivity. Now that I mention it, Niek’s another one of those rare bird types, a special breed of artist…but, more on him later.

*Kind of remarkable how Hilkmann and Dieleman share an affinity for birds, I wonder if there is a deeper connection there.
Richard

A funny old year. Never have I been as busy, never have I felt I have done so little. I’m no existentialist, so maybe it’s a midlife crisis who knows, and – outside of my fried soul – who cares? Highlights, well there were many, actually. It’s funny reading Tjeerd’s piece above, where he claims 2014 was ordinary, in his eyes. I feel it was anything but; but (in mitigation to Tjeerd) somehow I missed most of what was extraordinary about it until after it had passed me by. To speak metaphorically, I was in the bus behind the Magic Bus, or at the wrong table in the restaurant. And I can’t mention Cultuur? Barbaar! as a highlight, as I helped organise it and it’s impossible to look back at that weekend with any degree of objectivity. I DID find lots to enjoy though; as this for me was the year when things started to really get questioned in the Netherlands. And I like a bit of vim and vigour and devil-me-care. This came about mainly through the bloody determination of some people to do their own thing; realising they were never going to get anywhere by kowtowing to the consensus.

Things like Popronde, or the Subbacultcha nights suddenly felt like they were being used by bands (if not the audience) as a step to somewhere else, rather than being an end in themselves. For sure the main pillars of the music industry in the Netherlands will carry on in rude health, and many will flock to their banners. It would be idiotic to say ‘the bizz’ will crumble; as it won’t. But there was a different spirit abroad among the foot soldiers of the music scene. Do bands need to agree with the mainstream or established modus operandi in NL? I can only speak for the scene I work in, but maybe (after years of having to do it themselves anyway due to them being ignored) musicians just don’t care about the set up here in the same way they did. They just look elsewhere to similar or sympathetic contacts in Germany, France, Britain and America, and ignore their own backyard.

The highlights in this respect were the brilliant festival-cum-tour hosted by The Ex – including the late great Space Siren – the Mecano comeback in Spring, the truly great Homesick show at the V11 boat in Roffa, the marvellous YukoYuko show at Le Mini Who?. There was also some blasting music from the incredible noise/ambient noise scenes brewing in NL; the experimental music happening in Nijmegen, Den Haag, Eindhoven, Utrecht and Leiden; something RIGHTLY given a stage at the Endless Drones set up at Incubate, and the 24 Hour Drone at Le Guess Who?, where the Dutch artists such as Machinefabriek and Dirk Series were incredible. We can also point to the attitude showed by the Purple Noise bunch in Dokkum*, the Lepel lads in Groningen, the scene at the Groote Weiver in Wormerveer, driven by Ajay Sagar’s rejuvinated and increasingly fabulous King Champion Sounds. Let’s not forget the Dead Neanderthals / Machinefabriek / Mittens crew in Nijmegen and Leiden either, or the Next to Jaap crew in Leiden-Voorhout-Amsterdam-Ghana [sic]. All put their heads down and got on with making great music.

*Incredibly, Julian Cope mentions Dokkum as the base of his arch villain, DJ Judge Barry Hertzog, in his latest novel 131. There is a ROCK provenance in there that those Dokkum kids should milk. 

Other challenges to what has gone before took different forms. This was the year when the “concept indie rock” festival came into its own. I’m not talking about long established rock or municipal events like Lowlands, Pink, or Park Pop. In some ways these established events were sideshows to a related phenomenon that has been slowly building over the last 3 years or so, but one that is finally taking shape. You can see the likes of Grauzone, Incubate, Best Kept Secret, Down the Rabbit Hole, Rewire, Le Guess Who?, Sound Of The Dutch Underground, State X New Forms, Where the Wild Things Are and Into the Great Wide Open (to name most of the big hitters) as just manifestations of booker wars, talented chancers muscling in, middle class dreamers wanting to taste a “real experience” one last time before succumbing to a quiet life, or people jumping on a bandwagon, but I think these festivals signify something else.

Maybe there’s a desire (morphing into a trend, maybe even a consensus) to re-engage with music in a different setting; and provide for an audience that still really wants music, but wants to have experiences or in surroundings they feel comfortable with. In essence Joe Public wants weirder or more varied stuff served up alongside the reassuring realities of everyday life; clean bogs, wifi, nice food, and all the conveniences that come with modern urban living, such as good transport. Avant garde with all the mod cons. What it says about the established venue networks, I just don’t know. I do know that SUB071 continues to be a great place as does the new Generator, in Leiden. My favourite “traditional/ouderwets” festival (outside of the festival thingy that was the Ex club tour) was Harlemmerhout festival in Haarlem. Simply because you could wander in free with your own drink and food, and watch the maddest music. Though I think this concept would be impossible in any other setting than the gentrified, Liberal, middle-aged sobriety that is Haarlem. Still; we got Korean postrock and sitar drone outs; and they even screened the trailer of that hacked Kim Yung Un film. Rebels without a pause.

Tjeerd

The Netherlands. Weirdly enough I hadn’t said that much about the Netherlands in my first part, especially considering the modus operandi of Luifabriek. Which brings me to one of my personal highlights this year; starting out at Concertzender.nl as a programme maker. Having already covered many fields in the music ‘business’, from organising my own festival, working backstage as light engineer, being in bands myself and of course writing about music for the last seven/eight years, one of my silent wishes still was to make people dance to the radio. Concertzender gave me that opportunity, and last October my first show was aired. With the aim of creating a varied program, I ended up with a show that had ten Dutch songs, out of the thirteen I had chosen. It was not something I had set out to do, it was just something that happened; I needed good tunes and found them in Those Foreign Kids, Zea (that actually is a great record, yes it is), Space Siren (another great album this year) and The Liszt. Point here is, that I had enough Dutch material right at hand to create a diverse radio show. This corresponds with the growth of the Dutch independent music scene, as described by Richard above and already pointed out by us in our opening statement one and a half years ago. Anyway: the point is that the Dutch music scene is growing – in size and in strength – despite the Dutch music climate; a climate described by Richard in Gonzo (Circus) 124 as dismissive of its own music scene, almost wary by default of the cultural outcasts. Which actually brings me back to the mediocrity 0f 2014…

WHAT THE F*** IS A DOTAN?
Richard

Dotan? No, me neither. Anyway; looking forward to 2015 and beyond, I have a feeling about something. As a historian, I’m not stupid enough to predict what the future will bring. I can, however, maybe point to one talented individual who may – through his work – just have hit on a trail that can be walked on, with profit, by others. That individual is Niek Hilkmann, interviewed elsewhere in this rag by Jasper; in certainly one of the more salient articles published by us. Niek originally replied to my interview in Gonzo and, in querying one or two of my points, talked about the Dutch language music scene, past and present. He sent it to me because it didn’t get into Gonzo; and I think it’s worth publishing unabridged, in full here. I wholeheartedly agree with Niek’s points by the way; and regardless of de Kift, Nits, and Doe Maar, there is a brilliant history spanning 50 years or so which does need to be appreciated more; from Deedee Pitt, José, Iris Zegveld and “funpop” like Peter J Muller and De Clichee-Mannetjes, right though the Nederbeat and NederPsych bands to (yes, sorry, I think he’s a genius) Frans Bauer, or Beats like Marc van der Holst, with his Boho reworkings of Gerard Reve.

Anyway, over to you Niek, and have a wonderful 2015, all of you.


Pleidooi voor de moerstaal
– door Niek Hilkmann

Even iets anders. Hier vindt u zwart op wit een korte bespiegeling op de Nederlandse muziekcultuur en de rol die de Nederlandse taal daar bijna niet in speelt. De afgelopen jaren is er flink wat gefluisterd, geschreven en gekibbeld over ‘de Nederlandse muziek’. Sommige mensen houden ervan, andere niet, maar hoe dan ook, we zitten er mee opgescheept en dus moeten we het er naar oudhollands gebruik over hebben. In GONZO #124 opperde de in Leiden wonende, Britse popjournalist Richard James Foster enigszins gepikeerd dat Nederlanders hun eigen muzikanten niet op waarde zouden weten te schatten. Iedereen die weleens een festival heeft bezocht, weet dat een (NL) achter de band-naam kan leiden tot gehalveerde bezoekersaantallen. Dat is jammer, want we gunnen natuurlijk iedere muzikant de aandacht die deze verdient… Maar verdient de Nederlandse muzikant deze eigenlijk?

In dit stukje zou ik graag wat dieper ingaan op het vermeende gebrek aan vertrouwen in de Nederlandse muziek waar Foster het over heeft. Daarbij zal ik aantonen dat sommige bands dit aan zichzelf te wijten hebben omdat zij nog het meest lijken op een in Japan gemaakte stroopwafel, dat wil zeggen, een flauw imitatieproduct. Op het moment van schrijven zit het met veel bombarie aangekondigde Le Guess Who? festival er weer op. In zijn interview sprak Foster in genuanceerde vorm schande over het feit dat de Nederlandse band gedoemd is tijdens dergelijke festivals op kleine locaties met een geïmproviseerde geluidsinstallatie te moeten spelen.

Dit terwijl zij soms net zo goed of misschien zelfs beter is dan de internationale acts. Het Le Mini Who? festival dat gedurende Le Guess Who? plaats vindt bevestigt dit beeld. Terwijl op het werkelijke festival slechts een handvol Nederlandse artiesten staan, speelt de rest in koffiebars en kledingwinkels. Deze presentatievorm positioneert hen als minderwaardige acts en de technische omstandigheden doen de rest om ervoor te zorgen dat de bezoeker hen niet al te serieus neemt. Intussen staat er voor vrijwel iedere band wel een groter equivalent in hetzelfde genre op Le Guess Who? Wat biedt de Nederlandse underground dat het hoofdprogramma van Le Guess Who? niet heeft? Er is altijd een overvloed geweest aan genre-muziek en de Nederlandse underground wordt al jaren getrakteerd op goed bedoelde imitaties van het echte werk.

Ondanks dat is het opvallend hoe strak deze nichemarkt het muziekklimaat de afgelopen jaren met name op festivals is gaan bepalen. Nog aan het begin van dit millennium kon ‘een zolderkamermuzikant’ als Spinvis een brug slaan tussen de commercie en het ondergrondse. Ook genre-muziek met een Nederlandse inslag deed het een tijd vrij goed. In de jaren 90 wist Def P met de Beatbusters wekenlang in het bubbelbad chillen en de gillende meisjes die concerten van ‘Doe Maar’ bezochten, zijn tot een cultureel gemeengoed geworden. In tegenstelling tot hun concurrenten werden deze bands succesvol en worden zij nog steeds gedraaid en gewaardeerd.

Hoe kan dit? Waarom zou je immers luisteren naar Doe Maar als er ook een Bob Marley bestaat? Hierbij opper ik dat dit is omdat er Nederlands wordt gezongen en hoe je het ook wendt of keert, dit heeft een waarde die hen apart zet. Voordat ik hierop doorga wil ik verduidelijken dat het bezigen van de Engelse taal als Nederlandse muzikant niet zo onschuldig is als het lijkt. Toch wordt dit nog veel te vaak gedaan. Wellicht ligt de kiem hiervan in de oorsprong van de rockmuziek in Angelsaksische gebieden als Amerika en Engeland. Vele muzikanten zijn opgegroeid met Engelstalige muziek en proberen deze te imiteren. Dit leidt tot een zekere afstand tot de taal en daarom een gebrek aan kritische reflectie.

Veel van de liedjes die zo gemaakt worden, zijn hedonistisch van aard. Het genot probeert men te bereiken door het bezigen van clichématig taalgebruik dat een bewezen effect heeft. Binnen de muziek zijn dit beladen woorden als ‘baby’, ‘love’ of ‘forever’. Eenieder die tien minuten naar 100% NL luistert, zal de Nederlandse versies van deze woorden ontdekken. Het probleem met dergelijke muziek is dat deze abstractie in de hand werkt. Aangezien de Engelse taal niet die uit het Nederlandse dagelijks leven is, slaat de muziek ook niet op de Nederlandse luisteraar. Zodoende ontstaan vervreemde, aculturele liedjes en verwordt muziek tot een slappe commoditeit waarin niets gezegd wordt. Een band als Doe Maar kon via de Nederlandse taal aansluiting vinden bij een breed publiek met kritische liedjes over het burgelijke luizenleven.

De ironie is dat dit hen ook behoorlijk commercieel succesvol maakte. Terwijl Doe Maar op de radio was, hadden de meeste post-punk bands uit de ULTRA stal geen cent te makken. Dit in combinatie met enkele lovende woorden vanuit het buitenland gaf hen de schijn van artistieke kwaliteit, ondanks het feit dat zij zowel in taal als in vorm leunden op postpunk en artrock clichés. Het is dan ook niet vreemd dat deze Engelstalige bands waardering nodig hadden uit de landen waar hun geïmiteerde stijl vandaan kwam voordat zij in Nederland serieus werden genomen. Ironisch wordt het als men bedenkt dat Richard James Foster als Engelsman vandaag de dag voor een soortgelijke externe bevestiging zorgt wanneer hij de Nederlandse muziek promoot.

Dit terwijl er veel interessantere en scherpere muziek in ons kikkerlandje is gemaakt. In 1978 werd de waanzinnige en volledig Nederlandstalige new-wave plaat ‘Uitholling Overdwars’ door Stichting Popmuziek Nederland geproduceerd. Hierop werden bijdrages van grote nederpop namen, zoals Toontje Lager, afgewisseld met het minst commerciële spul dat op de markt te vinden was. Wat te denken van ‘Ik ben een hoer’ van Tedje en de Flikkers? Of het bizarre ‘Lepeltje’ waarin de band ‘Dorpsstraat’ helemaal uit de pan gaat, schreeuwend dat er geen lepeltje bij de soep zit, maar een vork? Een tijdsdocument met lading waarbij artiesten ofwel compleet over de schreef gaan of zouden doorgroeien naar een groter draagvlak met meer zeggingskracht. Wie opent kant 2 van deze LP? Juist; Doe Maar! Ook over de Nederlandstalige Nederbiet valt flink wat te zeggen, maar dat vraagt om een vervolgstukje.

Voor nu sluit ik af met een overdenking; Zou Le Mini Who? niet iets unieks in handen hebben als alle artiesten daar over zouden stappen op het Nederlands? Een nieuwe golf pop in je moerstaal heeft waarde, maar wordt op het moment tegen gewerkt door een festivalklimaat dat geen kritische houding van muzikanten vraagt. Kleine initiatieven als Le Mini Who? presenteren genre-bands in een marginale sfeer en kijken niet naar wat er buiten de Engelstalige rockmuziek in Nederland plaats vindt. Wellicht is er een volledige revisie van de Nederlandstalige popmuziek nodig voor we aan een nieuwe golf nederpop toe zijn. Het Nederlandse canon is nog te macho en succesgericht om zich open te stellen voor oprechte muzikanten die de luisteraar direct durven aan te spreken en iets te zeggen hebben. De tijd zal ons leren of we uiteindelijk de muziek van tegenwoordig opnieuw moeten gaan indelen om het de schijn van meerwaarde te geven, zoals bij ULTRA het geval was, of dat we op zoek gaan naar een eigen muziek die zich niet zo makkelijk in hokjes laat proppen.

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