Up 260 spiral steps, what feels like several thousand feet above Grote Markt, a band are playing a gig in a snowstorm. At the top of the bell tower, exposed to the elements and all but drowned out by the wind, a bunch of plucky Dutch rockers grit their teeth, mentally sack their agent and manfully plough through their stripped-down set for a select audience of twenty frozen delegates who are starting to wonder if this is the first acoustic gig they might not survive. It’s like watching a band in a climactic Harry Potter battle scene.
The tower is the Martini Church in Groningen, the band is EUT from Amsterdam and the occasion is Eurosonic 2019, the annual European music showcase upon which the continental industry descends to swap tips, show off their home-grown talent and pad out their festival bills with psychotropic French space jazz. Sprawling local drinking hole De Drei Gezusters teems with agents, bookers and impressionable bands, all contractual common sense demolished by the devil’s Pilsner, signing their souls away in blood to the highest bidder. Every basement, bar and broom cupboard is transformed into a venue where the cream of European talent tout their wares on the endlessly churning conveyor belt of rock’n’roll fantasy, praying for the King Gizzard support slot of their wildest dreams. Hundreds of rising acts, thousands of cocaine-ravaged industry professionals, a combined expense account visible from the moon; it’s an ice-laden rock hog feeding frenzy, like SXSW in gilets.
It also suffers from the same issues of mismatching hyped band with small venue that makes The Great Escape such a pointless endeavour as a punter. If you’ve shelled out expecting to catch major tips like Black Midi, Fontaines D.C., Sports Team or The Slow Reader’s Club, forget it; we fail to get in to any of them. Your only choice is the random roam, the showcase festival lucky dip. Results understandably vary. For every glorious grunge Anna Calvi like Sweden’s Linn Koch-Emmery that you stumble across in the cavernous Barn venue on the main square, there’s a drippy folk strumbler like Switzerland’s Long Tall Jefferson – looks of Erol Flynn, vibe of James Taylor – boring the Huize Maas to tears, or The Grand East coming on like The Doors on steroids. If you’re lucky you might chance upon something seriously weird: “we only have two songs left, please don’t leave!” yelps the singer of Spain’s Alien Tango between bursts of time-warped art rock, carnival Bowie and subaqueous psych that veers between brilliant and awful faster than PMQs.
Such oddities abound. Liverpool’s Queen Zee include one Johnny Rotten, one Peace refugee and one ice hockey player singing lascivious punk pop tunes called ‘Porno’ about the singer’s crap sex life. Cyril Cyril appear to have astrally projected themselves here from Switzerland, where we assume they’re one of very few dreadlocked bands playing birdsong ragas and harmonic chants adorned with monkey yelps and banjo, sounding like a kind of hallucinogenic Woodstock Alt-J. French noir pop wonders Junoire make compulsive and haunting noises akin to Joe Meek producing Francoise Hardy, yet seem to have Ultron on guitar. Glasgow’s Free Love writhe atop the bar at the News Café basement to their squelchy disco rave, and Germany’s Sea Moya feature one Sideshow Bob with elastic legs going berzerk to their afro-psych funk and a ‘stage show’ consisting of shining a light through a tiny prism like the world’s shittest recreation of ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ cover.
The greatest clash of weird and wonderful comes in the form of London’s Black Futures. “Welcome to Black Futures’ existential exploration plan!” yells the one called Black Futures 001 aka SPACE (or possibly the one called Black Futures 002 aka VIBES) while men in hazmat suits wave alien flags at the side of stage and immense, mountainous industrial “nihilistic party anthems” blasts Poolcentrum to rubble. “I’ve been to the future,” he/it declares, “and we all become great friends.” Count on it.
In terms of European hotbeds, two cities dominate Eurosonic 2019. Dublin is roaring – Vulpynes might need to work on removing the metal tropes from their splatter garage rock but certainly have the attitude in place, but Fangclub are a fully formed thrash pop monster; melodic, frenzied and phenomenal. Imagine a beefed-up Tribes, or Cloverfield glam. If Fontaines are piloting the new Irish punk blitz, Fangclub are the Big Boys in the bomb bay.
And then there is the Dam-pop. Amsterdam has finally finished its munchies and pulled its finger out, producing two of the best finds of the week. Released from the tower and plugged in at the Barn, EUT prove to be the ‘Dam’s own Metric, pumping out anthemic, electro-fied power rock that lifts the (albeit corrugated) roof. ‘Bad Sweet Pony’ is sumptuous future rock, and besuited singer Megan De Klerk spasms through the crazed pop finale howling “PARTY TIME!” RSVP. And Amsterdam alt-pop artist Someone steals the week, singing behind a transparent screen full of space waves, floating planets and sunrises. The unexplored mid-point between Pond and The Cardigans, she’s capable of both gorgeous gossamer laments like ‘Forget Forgive’ and magnificent psych pop like ‘Pull It Together’. Finally, Amsterdam’s red light turns green.
Our week ends, lessons learned, getting into Huize Maas a solid half hour before BBC Sound Of 2019 winner Octavian is due onstage to appear to mime through a sizzling hip hop/soul/trap/R&B/grime extravaganza, climbing on the speaker stack and encouraging us to big up ourselves so often we almost put our backs out. Party time, yes, but Eurosonic works best as a blitz of blind discovery. There’s a Someone out there for everyone.