The Dutch: they may be perennial underachievers on the football field, but when it comes to live music they really know how to stage a festival. Just weeks after hosting the colossal Amsterdam Dance Event (Clash review), the Dutch music scene twists its gaze onto good old rock ‘n’ roll, with the second leg of its bi-annual music festival London Calling.
Legendary local nightspot Paradiso hosts the weekender (1st-2nd November), which is renowned for its prescience in attracting future musical heavyweights: Blur, The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand all shocked this festival before their ascendancy to the rock ‘n’ roll stratosphere.
As the name suggests, it traditionally focuses on British bands, but it’s been reaching further afield this decade, and this weekend boasts arguably its strongest line-up in recent years.
Clash arrives on Friday to see hotly tipped indie newcomers Circa Waves shake the stage. Word has spread that these four whippersnappers are ones to watch, and the upstairs hall is chock-a-block with garishly attired youthful hipsters packed in like fluorescent stickle-bricks.
There’s no messing around – the band makes an instant jump to light-speed, following the muscle of opener ‘Young Chasers’ with the lightning-in-a-bottle squeal and squall of ‘Get Away’, a track Zane Lowe recently labelled his “Hottest Record”. They channel a sound heavily indebted to early-‘00s Strokes , but fuse it with the ferocious energy and self-belief of Palma Violets. The bassist in particular possesses a relentless energy that’s dizzying to witness up close.
San Francisco indie-rockers The Dodos are next up in the downstairs main hall. With five LPs under their belts, they’re seasoned veterans compared to the other artists in attendance.
Perhaps because they’re eyed warily by mischievous youngsters in the crowd they veer away from the introspective material of their last album, ‘Carrier’. Instead they shower the set with numbers from earlier works, with the most serious bout of plimsoll tapping caused by the frenetic bluster of signature tune ‘Fools’. Their other tracks are daubed from a palette comprising a fusion of punchy percussion, unconventional rhythmic guitar-work and frontman’s Meric Long’s ghostly vocals.
Mac DeMarco closes out the evening, dressed in an oversized lumberjack shirt, looking every inch an unkempt slacker bumpkin. His effortlessly cool confidence and easy onstage demeanour is at odds with his sloppy appearance, but his charisma soon charms the crowd, even after opening with an apology: “Please forgive me, my voice is a bit crappy tonight. But who gives a f*ck!”
The key allure of a DeMarco set is his refreshing unpredictability – highlights include the cascading rhythms of ‘Cooking Up Something Good’, and his refined paean to the simple pleasure of chain smoking, ‘Ode To Viceroy’. The night ends with a flood of crowd surfing, much to the delight of the Paradiso merrymakers.
Next evening, Clash heads to see the reason why Saturday night is a complete sell-out: London Grammar. Vocalist Hannah Reid takes the stage garbed in black as the icy chords of opener ‘Hey Now’ descend on the venue like pale mountain snow. Unfortunately, the track is beset by overbearing bass – so it’s testament to the hypnotic power of Reid’s otherworldly vocals that she still manages to captivate the crowd.
‘Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me?’ is next, during which multi-instrumentalist Dot Major swaps his keyboard for the bongos, while guitarist Dan Rothman contributes discreet, almost-spectral guitar work from the side of the stage. The haunting ‘Interlude’ gives way to a heart-rending rendition of ‘Wasting My Young Years’.
Then, after a spine-tingling cover of Chris Isaac’s ‘Wicked Game’, Reid playfully apologises for a mistake that Dot makes. “You’ll have to excuse Dot – he was out in Amsterdam last night!” She dedicates set-closer ‘Metal & Dust’ to her favourite member of the audience, explaining that the recipient of this honour has not stopped smiling once during their set.
Then they’re gone… Rather like the doomed relationships that their music so expertly chronicles, London Grammar’s set is over too soon – 30 minutes is not long enough for their slow-building melancholic magic to take root. Overall, though it crackles with potential, it’s not the spellbinding live performance you feel they’re capable of. But age is on their side.
Brooklyn-based electro-pop duo MS MR is next up. It’s a trio of tracks from their ‘Candy Bar Creep Show’ EP that really resonate with the crowd: ‘Hurricane’, ‘Bones’, and ‘Dark Doo Wop’. During these songs keyboardist Max Hershenow’s stylishly textured instrumentation melds best with Lizzy Plapinger’s anguished and tormented vocals.
They turn in a dark and brooding electro-sheened cover of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Do I Wanna Know’, which the audience eagerly drinks up. After this comes a barrage of lesser-known songs, but Plapinger’s boundless energy, magnetic confidence, and penchant for sexually charged dancing keeps the crowd transfixed.
She lets herself completely succumb to the beat for penultimate track ‘Ash Tree Lane’, during which Hershenow leaves his bank of electronics to join her for a centre-stage dance-off – which Plapinger wins, hands down.
Then we’re done! The bewildering bombardment of short, varied sets is a lot to take in, but London Calling lives up to its promise of showcasing some fine new talent. Who knows, if the Dutch football team assembles a squad as ripe with flair and as eager to please as this crop, then the World Cup might finally be theirs for the taking in 2014…
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Words: Benji Taylor
Photos: Willem Schalekamp
The Pop Issue of Clash magazine – featuring loads of yummy pop, obviously – is out now. Why not have a gander over here?