Eurosonic Noorderslag 2015

Gronigen, The Netherlands, Wednesday, January 14 – Saturday, January 17, 2015

Hundreds of festival bookers descended on a sleepy, sodden Dutch town last week hoping to spot the bands with the potential to do great things in 2015.

Everyone’s looking for something different of course. The French techno bookers probably only pass the Hungarian metal-fest bosses in the queues at the hash coffeehouses, but if anyone was even vaguely interested in punk with something to say then they’ll have gone home raving about Bad Breeding. The Stevenage four-piece tore through a late-night set at De Spieghel on Friday sounding a little like The Stooges would if they’d grown up in suburban England and had met Damon Albarn instead of Iggy Pop. Frontman Christopher Dodd ends up off the stage and down in the mosh pit, yet even when the sweat is dripping off him his lyrics remain raw but eloquent – “living in a town where nothing really happens, except nothingness itself,” he yells in ‘Age Of Nothing’ – as if someone kidnapped Art Brut and made them listen to hardcore records and read Chomsky.

Spanish garage band Hinds (formerly known as Deers) [pictured] played several times over the week, including a chaotic show on the opening day, so when they arrived for their show at Huis “De Beurs” they began by announcing that they’d be “so professional today”. What followed was endearingly ramshackle – if you’re not won over by the time closer ‘Davy Crockett’ rolls around then you have a heart of pure stone. The Madrid-based four-piece, built around the singer-songwriting duo of Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote, share something of the high-wire thrill of watching The Libertines teeter through a show that always seems somehow in danger of falling apart. Except instead of heroin they seem to prefer drinking beer and laughing a lot as if they’ve just realised they’re part of the coolest gang in Europe.

Some of London trio Happyness’ deadpan patter between songs seems to get lost in translation, but their gorgeous set which channels Grandaddy, Eels and Pavement definitely doesn’t. Melancholy stand-out tracks ‘Baby, Jesus (Jelly Boy)’ and ‘Regan’s Lost Weekend’ are the perfect soundtrack to the end of an evening in a country where you can legally get blazed.

In terms of landing spots at festivals, numbers-wise the most successful band of the week were the XL Records-signed twin-sisters, Ibeyi. The French-Cuban duo, Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz, whose live show draws heavily on the Yorùbá tradition of chants brought over to Cuba from Nigeria and Benin on slave ships, have been booked for nine European festivals so far off the back of their performance. They were closely followed by poet-rapper Kate Tempest, BBC Sound of 2015 winners Years & Years and Norway’s Aurora Akksnes with eight bookings apiece. Meanwhile, look-out for MIA-influenced multilingual ravers Alo Wala at Glastonbury this year, and then subsequently all over the planet.

While some bands arrived at Eurosonic looking to make their name, a handful of bigger acts played who’ll have been hoping to secure a place high on festival bills this summer. It’s safe to say that James Bay had a better time going Dutch than Twin Atlantic did. The hat-wearing, Brit Award-winning singer songwriter played to a packed Cathedral and channelled John Mayer and even a hint of Petty or Springsteen on ‘Best Fake Smile’. In contrast, the night before the Scottish band had been left frustrated by a sparse crowd and ended up beseeching those that were there to come a bit closer. Frontman Sam McTrusty urged: “How would you feel about taking a few steps forward Holland? We’ve come all the way from Scotland. Makes us feel welcome. Make it feel like we’re at a rock’n’roll show and not some sort of fucking exhibit.”

One of the most remarkable things about Eurosonic is how rarely it does feel like a museum piece. Alongside all the industry deal-making, it’s a real festival with enthusiastic crowds – particularly when Eurosonic becomes the Dutch-focused Noorderslag on it’s final day. One man beat factory Binkbeats manages to pull off the ambitious task of covering Aphex Twin. Youthful indie band Yuko Yuko channel The Stone Roses and Lightning Seeds on jangly tracks like ‘Borderline’ (but there’s a lyric about popping molly because this is 2015 and that’s the law). If you’ve ever thought that what Europe really needs is an answer to the Black Eyed Peas – and who among us hasn’t? – then Cookachoo are for you.

If there’s one thing that unites all these bands is a sense that they can find a shred of optimism even in the depths of the prevailing gloom. Even when Bad Breeding sing about our ‘Age Of Nothing’, there’s a sense that together we can change things – and that runs through everything from Hinds’ gang mentality to Ibeyi’s mining of their rich culture and Alo Wala’s activist bangers. We might be living through an age of nothing, but at least it should have a decent soundtrack.