Dodging Dutch storms to find new music...

It’s mid-January and North Sea weather patterns have the Netherlands in their grasp. Exasperated, the Dutch government have declared a Code Red weather event, suspending the rail services and shutting many of the roads.

Up in here in Groningen, though, people have a different solution: they’ve gone to the pub. Local by-laws mean that there aren’t any fixed closing hours for bars in the compact Dutch city, meaning that once the party has started, it tends to go on and on and on.

It’s a suitably frenetic venue for Eurosonic Noorderslag, then, the annual new music showcase that prides itself on uncovering the Next Big Thing before anyone else. Imagine The Great Escape but with tulips, bitterballen, and Heineken, and you’d be close.

Clash dives straight in at the deep end, catching Dutch act Binkbeats at the wonderful Grand Royal venue, before hopping over to Huize Maas for a slice of Pale Honey. It’s a veritable bee-hive on the opening night, with British group Stereo Honey packing out nearby venue Vera. We heard there’d be a buzz around this festival, although this is perhaps a tad too literal.

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BBC Sound Of 2018 winner Sigrid is the hot ticket of the first night, and her set at Stads-Schouwburg is eagerly awaited – when we get there, though, the enormous crowd is spilling out into the street, anxious fans peering over the top in an attempt to see inside. Popping around the corner we find the intimate confines of Lutherse Kerk being entertained by Fenne Lily. The inquisitive Bristol group have a patiently melodic form of songwriting deconstruction, with slight hints of post-punk mingling with the vocal interplay of Warpaint or even Ride’s more pop-focussed efforts. A highly intriguing set, it becomes one of the first of many unexpected Eurosonic triumphs.

IDER follow, and are are on bristling fine form but we can’t quite resist the temptations of the Iceage live experience. The Danes are notoriously unpredictable, often veering from sublime to appalling within the same song, and muffled sound certainly doesn’t allow their message easy passage. That said, the sheer sense of risk and creative bravado onstage is marvellous, with the Stooges-esque saxophone belches sitting alongside scorching John Cale violin lines. Currently planning yet another creative about-turn, this was a set dogged by a vital sense of frustration, by a feeling that something as yet unformed was set to emerge.

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The second day opens with ominous clouds and weather warnings, although – while certainly windswept – the denizens of Groningen seem remarkably clear-minded about it all. Fire Recordings’ signings Hater blast away the cobwebs at Huis De Beurs, before Clash joins the queue for Italy’s Black Snake Moan at the tiny News Cafe venue. An intimate basement space – many of Eurosonic’s venues are half-inched from the local population – it would galvanize fans and act as a source of frenzied hype through the festival.

Tom Grennan showcased his upcoming debut album at the Groninger Forum, before Clash decided to have a wander around a few of the lesser-spotted venues. Winding up in the open air section of the town centre, we catch the remarkable brass-laden techno sounds of Meute, a collective who seem to mix the structure of maximalist electronics with a full brass band. So imagine sousaphone renditions of Flume basslines and belching trumpet intonations of classic Detroit lines; an acquired taste, certainly, but a taste nonetheless.

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Italy’s Weird Bloom live up to their name at Huis De Beers, matching evocative progged out guitar pop to high falsetto vocals, a daring if something bewildering combination. The night hots up with a remarkable, inspired set from Canshaker Pi, the Stephen Malkmus endorsed slacker pop outfit dearly loved in the Dutch underground. With two impeccable albums already out there in the world the band aren’t short of material, and a stellar set at Heerenhuis becomes one of the weekend’s true highlights.

It wouldn’t be Eurosonic without a party, however, and Domino producer George Fitzgerald certainly supplies that at Huize Maas. It’s a bristling, flexible, continually surprising live set, focussed club electronics with a deft, artful touch, one that doesn’t shy away from melody and tightly wrought song structure. It’s the perfect venue for the set, too, with that sharply metallic ceiling presenting a vision of tech-dominated future.

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Friday brings with it a slight shift in tempo. With the weekend drawing near the population of Groningen seem to surrender themselves to the festival, and it’s clear that little to no one is at work. Nearby Plato Records host in-stores all day, with Great News and Isaac Gracie both playing deft, highly entertaining sets.

The much-hyped online-savvy collective Superorganism launch Friday’s proceedings, playing an opinion-splitting set at Machinefabriek. Given the enormous anticipation around their performance little would prove definitive, but the entrancing push/pull of visuals and the sheer force of the eight-strong collective made sure they couldn’t be ignored. Ending on breakout cut ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’ it was a sugar-sweet meal that gave a sharply needed energy boost – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Pale Waves avoided the weather by taking a lengthy alternative route to Groningen, leaving absolutely nothing to chance. Word spread during the day about the band’s efforts, and the queue outside the ESNS Play venue for their set was a sight to behold – if every one of those people buy the group’s debut album then success is surely assured.

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Norways’s ever-intriguing Broen play a deft set at Huis De Beers, while there’s still time to catch UK newcomer Yungblud. The evening then takes on a Gallic tone, with Agar Agar’s remarkable set at Machinefabriek. At times wistful, at others refined, the show ends with a blistering techno-driven workout, made all the more remarkable for their stripped down two-piece line up.

Bad Sounds keep the energy levels up, but begins to drift back towards the town centre, absorbing the 60s R&B and soul fuelled sounds of D/Troit. Hailing not from the American city but actually from Denmark, their crisp evocation of 60s black America is worthy of the mighty Dap Tone stable itself – indeed, the imprint’s founder Gabe Roth volunteered to give their recent album the final mixdown.

With the clock reaching the wee small hours Clash manages to squeeze in one final act, the French psych-pop wonders Lomboy. Knowing little to nothing about the group – we’re working on a hunch shared to us from a random in a queue – we’re pleasantly surprised to find that each song is better than the last, a sublime fusion of Broadcast’s other-worldly side, Tame Impala’s future-facing psych, and the emotional pull of Portishead. Just wonderful, in other words.

The final day boasts an array of panels and an entirely Dutch line up, but with a plane to catch and a network system with more delays than a shoegaze band’s pedal-board we’re leaving little to chance. There’s enough time for some final farewells, the obligatory purchase of cheese and postcards, and a final glance at the timetable. From the bizarre to the delightful Eurosonic is always a treat, even if the sun does sometimes forget to shine.

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Stay in touch with Eurosonic Noorderslag online.

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