Meet Lewsberg, Rotterdam’s answer to The Velvet Underground

Words: Derek Robertson

From the outside, Rotterdam might not seem like a hotbed of underground culture and creativity. But the Dutch city has a long history of nurturing mavericks and misfits artists defiantly pleasing no-one but themselves. Lewsberg, a four-piece whose arty, lo-fi college rock rumble has drawn comparisons to The Velvet Underground, Television and The Modern Lovers, fit this mould perfectly – alongside a fierce independent streak. They take their name from writer Robert Loesberg, a cult local author whose work was famously nihilistic and disillusioned.

Doing things in their understated way suits them just fine, and has seen them become one of the most successful groups to emerge from the burgeoning Dutch underground music scene. After several festival-stealing sets at the likes of Eurosonic and MENT, their debut album was released in the UK in February, via Cargo Records, and they’ll be on tour for most of the year, with several UK dates scheduled for autumn.

NME caught up with lead singer Arie van Vliet between shows, and we deduced these seven key reasons why you should get on board with Rotterdam’s answer to Velvet Underground

Their guitarist does anti-solos

“The idea was to start a rock band with really good songs, played very badly. We like to break down songs when they start to sound too nice, to slow things down when you start to feel the rhythm, to sound really sweet when singing about disaster, to be out of tune during a crucial guitar solo. And a nice thing about playing live is that you can make mistakes, which means opening up to new perspectives and possibilities.”

They sound like the Velvet Underground and sing about not fitting in

“We like to keep things simple and straight-forward. No frills or decoration, but focus on the rhythm, the melody, and the lyrics of a song. Being normal, living an everyday life, seems to be something special or exceptional nowadays. Rotterdam used to be a city where there was room for everyone, no matter how poor or ugly or strange. I miss that diverse place; now everything and everybody seems to look the same.”

But whatever you do, don’t call them retro

“We fully embraced the idea that rock music is an old-fashioned concept, not that different from jazz or classical music, but we’re not interested in following rules or characteristics of a particular genre at all.”

Nihilism can be comforting, they reckon

“‘It is what it is’, is a phrase we use a lot in the band. You can call that nihilistic, but at the same time it’s a very comforting and freeing thought. People don’t seem to care about unimportant things anymore.”

They narrate the every day in spectacular fashion

“Things often only get mentioned if they are exceptional, but a guy who simply crosses the street also has a story. So most of my lyrics are about ordinary events or thoughts, which I think get too little attention. It is somehow an unwritten rule that pop music should be about emotions, which is nonsense – I like lyrics when they stay far away from opinions or feelings.”

Singer Arie van Vliet does not want to stand centre stage

“If I was in the middle, we would look like a Gaussian curve. Too balanced. Besides, why would the singer automatically be the centre point of a band? Lewsberg is a four-piece where everybody is equally important.”

They’re not interested in a mega-production for their live shows

“I prefer to keep distance, both in my lyrics and on stage. We’re not looking to blow people away when we play live. It is what it is. And it’s up to the audience whether they take it or leave it – we’re not here to please or comfort people.”

Lewsberg’s self-titled debut is out now via Cargo Records. The band will tour the UK and Europe this autumn, including dates at End Of The Road festival and Into The Great Wide Open.