Eurosonic Noorderslag 2013: Day 1

From Marple's Dutch Uncles to Riihimäki's Death Hawks, the first day of Holland's premier new music expo yields revelations from around the globe

Blog by John-Paul Mason | 10 Jan 2013

Hosting a festival in Holland in January might seem crazy to some, but having arrived in Groningen for our first visit, The Skinny can assure you that this one is well worth the pilgrimage. From the chip embedded in the wristband (more on that later) to the organisation of its stages, this slick musical showcase has every angle covered.

So, a quick bite to eat at a nearby Indian restaurant (it’s ok but no Kebab Mehal!) and we're off to see the first band of the evening at Vera. The venue itself recalls a fraternity house as you enter, with a smell like a school corridor. Tucked away at the back is a large room, similar in shape to Glasgow's Stereo but a fair bit bigger. On stage is Mikhael Paskalev, a moustached fellow from Norway who cites The Shins and Paul Simon as influences. Although neither of these are particularly evident in his songs, he has an accomplished band alongside who deliver a kind of folk pop which does little to inspire and certainly is no better than many UK exponents of the same genre.

One predicted highlight of this particlar visit to the venue is London band Bastille. They start with confidence and thoughts drift immediately to a more accessible Yeasayer, with a frontman who looks frighteningly like Nick Grimshaw, sporting an even more dramatic quiff. Their set includes a crowd pleasing mash up of Corona’s ‘Rhythm of the Night’ and Snap’s ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’, which is an almost perfect song to deliver to the Europop heads in attendance. With dates approaching in Glasgow (Oran Mor) and Edinburgh (The Liquid Room) in March, it’s clear these guys are on their way.

Then it's a quick dash along the Grose Markt (all the venues are fairly close) to find a queue to get into Huize Maas; the fact Jake Bugg is playing in the same building might help explain it. One flash of the Skinny laminate and we're in... to be confronted by four hairy Finnish behemoths who go by the name Death Hawks. Sounding like a stirring blend of The Soundtrack of our Lives and BRMC, The Skinny is immediately taken by them, one song later, we're down the front right at the speaker stack. By the time they play the frenetic, pounding ‘Shining’, we're centre stage rocking out. Clad in suede, tasselled shirts and with a keyboard player in shades wrestling his Korg around the stage, they're a sight to behold. 

As the crowd are left reeling, the layout of the venue allows punters to simply turn on their heels and walk to the other side of the room to a much bigger stage, where a Dutch compere (think Wavey Davey from Big Night out) introduces Jake Bugg to the audience present (and many more watching live online). Although clearly a talent, his first song's lyrics about Kentucky and railroads has us wondering what the whole euphoria over this Nottingham scamp is really all about. So much so that we quickly decamp to De Spieghal for the last part of Manchester outfit Dutch Uncles, who kick off their last song as we squeeze our way into the venue. Their their enthusiastic agent tells us that we'll have an opportunity to see them in Glasgow (at the Art School Union) next month.

We do however, wait for the last band of the day in De Spieghal, which has a definite Henry’s Cellar Bar vibe to it. Phantom possess a homemade MIDI Theremin in the shape of a UFO, expertly navigated by one Tommi Koskinin; the Finnish outfit's Massive Attack/XX influenced sound is enthralling to watch. We hope to see them on these shores soon.

And so to that wristband chip; Eurosonic's organisers endorse a newly developed prototype chip, which is scanned as you enter and leave a venue. You can then download an app called ‘Where Were You Last Night’ to piece together your evening. Fortunately, as we were relatively sober, The Skinny didn't need to call upon this wonder of technology. But tonight is another night...