How to beat the January blues? Head off to Holland for the first fest of the year, of course. Groningen, Netherlands (January 15-17)
Mid-January. Great. The gig schedule is as barren as a Woolworths pic’n’mix aisle. Party season has crash-landed into a credit crunch hangover without (until the Shockwaves NME Awards Shows gear up anyway) the merest smidgen of rock’n’roll to help us forget we’re all heading to the dole office. Plus, the Joe Lean album still isn’t finished yet (or is that just us?).
So, what to do? Steal a copy of Football Manager 2009 and don’t leave the house until it’s either February or you’ve won the Champions League with West Brom? There is another way. Arriving in the middle of the gig drought, for those who can afford the jaunt in these wallet-shrivelling times, the Camden Crawl-esque EuroSonic in the Dutch university town of Groningen is a way to mainline guitar strings and forget we haven’t had a decent crowdsurf in over a month.
The timetable is a minefield of seemingly Chris Morris-christened acts including Vincent Van Go Go, Neimo, The Sedan Vault, The Ideal Husband and Rita Redshoes, all just as possibly the next great guitar hopes as the next band to soundtrack the closing credits of Eurotrash. In need of a quick rock fix, to our possible discredit we play it safe and head to Huize Maas, the allure of an early-hours White Lies set kicking in at just the same time as the first of the large-headed continental lagers. The Jessie Rose Trip, formed by Manchester songstress Jessie Rose, kicks off what seems to be a bit of a northern UK showcase, with her homeboys Lowline plus Oldham’s Twisted Wheel set to tread the pale ale-soaked floors later. If 2009 is going to be the year of Florence + The Machine, it should, by rights be Jessie’s too. Taking a pinch from Amy (nod-worthy soul-warbles), Kate (a slew of impressively quirky piano-led ditties) and Florence herself (dresses from a drama prop cupboard), she’s still got enough mad-eyed individuality to make colourful waves of her own.
Swerving the generic Manc-y guitar squall of Lowline, we go front-row for Dinosaur Pile-Up. ‘My Rock N Roll’ and ‘Love Is A Boat And We’re Sinking’ are greeted like classic singles by the huge crowd, with the likes of ‘I Get My Direction’ correcting our previous assertion that they were simply Nine Black Alps-style Nirvana revivalists. Nah. Brilliantly, they’re frickin’ Weezer in Biffy Clyro wigs. Baddies, on the other hand, are The Hives precision-squeezed into The Futureheads’ wardrobes and doused in enough sweat to drown a herd of elephants. Over at the Vera, they’re more than worth the half-hour wait to get in, igniting the stage with their raucous chisel-rock. “Are we ready for first base?” frontman Michael Webster teases the crowd after ‘Battleships’. Forget first base, mate – we’re so enthralled with your QOTSA-on-fizz-powder racket we’re waiting at the end of the aisle in a wedding dress and no underwear.
Ahem. Back at the Huize Maas, Twisted Wheel demonstrate how touring with Oasis can hone your game. They’re tighter than an elastic band around a KLM jet, but still pit-bull vicious, fast proving more Sex Pistols than generic parka-rock and rightly earning the first moshpit of the festival from the off with ‘She’s A Weapon’. After all that excitement, White Lies’ grandiose gloom-rock is just the thing to ethereally shiver us to sleep.
Following Thursday’s twists and tumbles, expectations for Friday night are higher than the green-faced tokers in the town’s coffee shops; alas, our musical choices see us pulling the proverbial whitey. Errors’ electro-prog is a sluggish start to the night at Simplon, while later at the same venue The Rakes, despite rumours that they’ve nailed a stormer of a third album, run through ‘We Dance Together’ and ‘Strasbourg’ with a pale-faced lack of lustre. At the Stedelijke Muziekschool, James Yuill demonstrates a lot of talent with an arsenal of electronic devices, but comes off sounding like Groove Armada, and there’s no chill-out tent here. The night is saved by a late-night Mongrel mash-up, a saucer-pupiled dub-squash, with rapper Lowkey and The Rev commanding the stage like squadron leaders before we bed down for 24 hours (the last day of the festival being reserved for dodgy Dutch bands in mini conference centre showcases).
Eurosonic: a festival of two halves, then. But a much more enjoyable affair than that Football Manager 2009 session.