A moist-but-mild weekend in mid-December, the time of year when perfectly rational people go purple with worry and frustration about the potential trauma if they don’t acquire some particular bit of overpriced tat for their significant others. But there is another way. You could just forget the festive pressure back home and bugger off to Belgium instead.
Glimps is a boldly-timed, beautifully-staged event that rounds off the musical year by bringing acts from across Europe to the unspoiled (i.e., not bombed much) grandeur of this medieval Flemish city. Ghent is a glorious place to wander about whenever you roll in, but at Christmas and with bands playing in every other bar, well, it makes for a memorable weekend.
In truth, festive commitments cause Clash to turn up a little later than planned on Friday night, and we waste a bit more valuable time standing in the middle of a large square trying to locate a venue called Lakenmetershuis, a surprisingly plush place curiously accessible only via a basement. And when we finally get there – it’s jazz! The local jazz festival are one of the bodies behind Glimps, but thankfully Actuum are anything but easy listening, a French outfit who fair batter the audience with scattergun bursts of drum, bass and horn, the sort of thing that bewilders much of the Mercury Prize audience every year.
Still, we get the gist pretty sharpish and head off to soak up some heavier vibes, at a double-staged venue called Charlatan, and a very different band called Xaxaxa. Sporting shorts to show off his impressive shin tattoo, the power-trio’s frontman gives off a heady whiff of Dave Grohl as he sweats his way through a blisteringly loud, break-free set. Admittedly it takes us a while to work out which country the “MK” on Xaxaxa’s profile relates to. Milton Keynes? Ah, Macedonia.
The band in the adjoining venue look like they’re struggling to soundcheck properly due to Xaxaxa’s sonic onslaught filtering through, but you’d never guess from their subsequent performance. From nearby Luxembourg, Cyclorama are almost the middle ground between those previous two acts, taking rock in progressive new directions, kicking off with what sounds like the wig-out at the end of a regular band’s set. The onstage microphone is for between-song banter only, but the lack of vocals clearly doesn’t affect their appeal: the place is heaving.
Oddly enough, our second day at Glimps begins with… more instrumental rock from Luxembourg - clearly that’s what’s going down in the ‘Bourg right now. Mount Stealth are a little different though, a funky brand of math rock with dark, dramatic bits, and a hint of Spinal Tap. A bloke at the back wields one of those undoubtedly useful but slightly ludicrous-looking double guitars, while the fellah at the front pulls the occasional Derek Smalls sex face. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Now Clash’s photographer for Glimps is no great fan of jazz, to put it mildly, but may well have been unexpectedly won over by Tin Men and the Telephone. A Dutch trio led by pianist Tony Roe, they take a more relaxed approach to this often over-earnest genre, using the sounds of ringing telephones, mooing cows and a collage of football commentary to inspire their improvised meanderings, with innovative visuals adding an extra layer. And yet it’s their musical talents that shine through.
A whizz around several venues now, kicking off with the grand Conservatorium, where the renowned Danish experimentalists Slarrafenland amble on in near darkness, then announce that they’ll be playing all new material, which doesn’t auger well. Thankfully these Efterklang associates have a similar penchant for pleasingly harmonious pop, and the new material sounds splendidly accessible.
Slightly different are their hotly-tipped compatriots Thee Attacks, back over at Charlatan, who morph straight from soundcheck to live show with little fanfare and rattle through a mod-fuelled set that’s as tight as their trousers. All leather jackets and quiffs, they’ve attracted an excitable young female following, with frontman Jimmy Attack (possibly not his real name) pulling some sexy Roger Daltrey/Jim Morrison shapes. They really do have the full package, in every sense.
One slight oversight: the only Belgian act we get to see, we don’t actually get to see. The K are on a high stage at the Kinky Star bar, with a moshpit too densely packed to scramble into without tossing innocent locals onto the floor below. They make an impressive enough punk racket though, and at least one of them comes from a town called Borgworm. Don’t we all wish we came from a town called Borgworm?
To finish, it’s back to the venue where we belatedly began, the lovely Lakenmetershuis and a full set from the highly rated Marius Ziska. The Faroe Islander is making waves in the US apparently, and you can understand the appeal; a powerful voice offset by a quiet, charismatic intensity. Despite the eponymous moniker this is clearly a proper band, albeit with the bass player’s foot replacing their absent drummer on this occasion. The soaring harmonies are very Fleet Foxes, and they could often do with a bit of work lyrically, but there’s big-stage potential here.
Stadium-friendly songs from the Faroe Islands, then: what better way to sum up this wide-ranging glimpse into Europe’s next wave of talent? A festively informative few days indeed.
Words by Si Hawkins
Photo by Hazel Gumble