Eurosonic Noorderslag 2015 – Wednesday
Kicking off his festival calendar in earnest, Vic Galloway's never-ending quest for compelling new music takes him to Groningen's Eurosonic
Having dedicated myself to searching out interesting music for over 15 years at the BBC and as a freelance journalist, my inquisitive nature has taken me all over the world in some kind of never-ending quest. I've touched down in Texas for SXSW, Brittany for Transmusicales, Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves, Oslo for the By:Larm conference and Hamburg's Reeperbahn festival, amongst many other exotic and/or grimy locations across the UK. In January 2015 however, I find myself in Groningen, Holland for my debut Eurosonic experience and my first new-music festival fix of the year. It's been recommended to me many times before but, perhaps being so close to the start of a New Year and the inevitable hangover from our very own festive season, I've always tended to give it a miss... until now.
Beginning in 1986 under the more streamlined Nooderslag moniker, it was a local showcase event for Dutch and Belgian bands only. Joining forces with European radio counterparts under the Eurosonic banner, the festival has since grown over the years to become one of the most important music platforms in Europe, celebrating its 29th birthday in 2015. If you're interested in discovering European music across genres, styles, types and tempos then ESNS is one of the best places to get a head-start. As well as four days and nights of gigs around the city centre, there is also an extensive music industry conference with panels, talks, seminars and interviews covering all aspects of the music world from working in the live sector, to streaming and digital innovation. Yes, it's a place to network and spread the word on your new acts, but also a place to learn new tricks from the experts. Add two awards ceremonies to proceedings and you have a very busy few days in northern Holland.
Arriving late on Tuesday evening in total darkness, whistling winds and intermittent showers, I soon realised this part of the world gets a very similar deal when it comes to weather as Scotland does, at this time of year. It's hardly the Bahamas! Not to be disheartened, I found my Air B'n'B apartment in a central, suburban area of the city, turned on the central heating and hit the hay. The journey couldn't have been easier I might add, with a direct flight from Edinburgh to Schiphol in Amsterdam and a connecting train to Groningen from the airport terminal. As ever with continental Europe, everything was neat, natty, tidy, spotlessly clean and on time somehow putting dear ol' blighty to shame!
Awaking to more dreadful weather, with occasional breaks of blue in the clouds, I wandered into the center of town to register and get into the action. What struck me initially is how damn pretty Groningen is. Imagine the red brick and flowing waterways of Amsterdam with the quaint architectural beauty of St Andrews, York or Durham. It's a student town and you notice it immediately – from the cafes, hipster clothes shops, record stores and cheap eateries to the high cheek-boned hordes on bicycles flying around every corner. Regardless of the festival rolling into town, I'd say this is a nice place to saunter around, drink coffee and take in the views at any time of year.
Finding my way to De Oosterpoort, I tooled up with the necessary wristbands, hardy Eurosonic rucksack and accompanying flyers, festival guides and promo materials. I was set for the days ahead... now, let's see some music. The Wednesday night starts off a little quieter than the following three, but still packs a punch with around 15 of the 35 potential venues in use and packed with punters, delegates and musicians. First stop, after some incredible, fresh Japanese food at the Fujiyama restaurant, was the main room in the Huiz Maas venue to see Dutch singer-songwriter Jacco Gardner and his band. Taking his cues from the current psyche renaissance, his free-flowing music takes in Tame Impala, Dungen and even The Zombies to create a lush, baroque, dreamy pop sound which I loved.
Moving into the front venue of Huis Maas, I caught a few songs by all female, Scandic quartet My Bubba, who hail from Iceland, Sweden and Denmark and are centered around two singer-songwriters who effortlessly harmonise on their carefully crafted, if somewhat underwhelming, acoustic country-tinged melancholia. From here, I sped towards the main room within the Grand Theatre, one of the key venues in the town square, for another largely female, Icelandic ensemble by the name of Mammut, whose angular, post-rock soundscapes are augmented by singer Kata acrobatic yodel.
Briefly popping into the European Festival Awards, which celebrates large and small success stories across the whole continent; I sat with friends from the excellent, eclectic and expertly curated Pohoda Festival in Slovakia. Taking in a storming two song performance from Danish pop-kid MØ, which saw her leave the stage and aggressively stand legs akimbo on a delegates' table amongst the registered attendees; raised a rather dry and flat event into something far more visceral and exciting.
As gongs were exchanged and glasses raised, I returned to the town center to finish my evening to the sounds of more young Icelanders, Vok who came on like The XX meeting Sinéad O'Connor with added electronics and saxophone. I liked them, and judging by their tender years, they should have a great future ahead of them. That was Day One of ESNS and despite chilly surroundings, I've thoroughly enjoyed myself so far, and already discovered a range of artists I'd never seen before, in the wonderful, welcoming setting of Groningen... speak to you tomorrow. Dank u wel!