<em>Wednesday, January 15 – Saturday, January 18, 2014</em>
Ordinarily Groningen is an unassuming and traditional Dutch town. There’s the monolithic central cathedral, a cobbled town square and a criss-crossing grid of canals. And lots and lots of students riding bikes. Once a year the serenity is pin-pricked by four nights of music and conference talks. Any space is utilised for bands to set up – pubs, clubs, theatres, clothes stores, coffee shops. Imagine SXSW with less chicken wings and a higher wind-chill.
Traditionally, each January, this is where British bands come to shake off their Christmas slumber and try to earn bookings at Europe’s biggest festivals by playing in front of the right people.
The Strypes (Thursday, Plato) do a fine job of that, by rattling through a brief set on a risen, cramped stage in a packed-out record shop. Punters are forced to scale vinyl stacks to get a decent look at the Irish youngsters who power through tracks such as ‘Hometown Girls’ and ‘Blue Collar Jane’.
It appears everyone wants to get a look at mysterious London collective Jungle. First on at Simplon (Thursday), the seven musicians emerge through a musty curtain of smoke. Half Prince, half Hot Chip their set has a relentlessly ace groove. In a nice touch, singer T also dedicates a song to Dutch native Child Of Lov who passed away in 2013.
Circa Waves have barely played any gigs in the UK, let alone in mainland Europe. But there’s no sign of nerves from the Liverpool foursome, who put on a confident, finely sculptured display at Vera (Thursday) – a venue which once hosted Nirvana. For those who’ve only heard Tokyo Police Club-esque ‘Get Away’ single there’s a lot more to come.
Over at Minerva Art Academy (Thursday) Manchester’s Money take to the stage (watched by friends Jungle). The obtuse angles of the surroundings (a stylish design centre) suit the twists and turns of their music, a bit like fellow northwest crew Everything Everything. It’s odd, but just on the right side of pop.
Sam Smith (Friday, Forum) has had a busy beginning to the year: he’s added the Number One spot on the BBC’s Sound Of 2014 list to his Brits Critics’ Choice award. This – the second of his two slots at Eurosonic – sees him take to the stage at this cinema-cum-venue just past midnight. “It’s late isn’t it?” he says. “Oh god, I’m such a granny.” The highlight of the set is recent single ‘Money On My Mind’. Sadly the solo version of his collaboration with Disclosure ‘Latch’ slightly falters – stripping away all the bounce that made it so addictive in the first instance.
It’s left to East India Youth (Friday, Simplon) to round things off. His brand of chattering alt-electro is frenzied and exciting – a blur of whipping hair and analogue keyboards.
Frankly, if you’re a European festival promoter, take your pick.