Live Report: Eurosonic Noorderslag 2020

Live Report: Eurosonic Noorderslag 2020

A showstopping journey to the Dutch showcase...

New music festival giant Eurosonic Noorderslag continues to evolve and influence, and it has become the diverse genre melting pot it deserves to be.

Loyal to the original vision, ESNS’s goal is to provide a showcase platform for new European live music, showcase it to the industry and act as a network for the 42,000 visitors. In its thirty-fourth year, the focus to promote upcoming acts, place them in front of audiences, media, agents, labels and publishers is roughly the same.

Wealthy and idyllic, it is likely to be Groningen’s north-easterly position, the cooler winters, the winds and gales that foster the chilled, calm nature of its local people. Patient, helpful and unassuming, it takes less than a couple of exchanges to zoom right in on their friendly, down to earth psyche. It has a university, the shape of Groningen supports the sympathetic collective, inclusive mentality. Each architectural component contributes to the functional and aesthetic value of the Dutch city. Environmentally sound, the reality is that cycling is the most popular mode of transport.

Inspiration, ambition and diversity are key drivers in everything that unfolds at ESNS, but as Booker and Head of Programme, Robert Meijerink, sees it, the ongoing pursuit of ambition does come with its own challenges.

“One of the challenges is to give a relevant overview of what is happening in Europe, it is big and diverse and consists of many different countries with strong cultures and history. A diverse market, the European development is going well, but it needs more time to professionalise. We still have a mission to fulfil.”

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The ambition to accurately reflect European music is demonstrated across the showcases with a large majority of the forty eight participating venues and 347 acts being reachable within walking distance, and in most cases they are no more than ten minutes away. This type of layout is not just a great idea, it is hugely convenient.

Wednesday evening offers a vibrant performance from Parisian singer Crystal Murray, who is playing her first gig outside France. Her vocal style is a fresh take on traditional jazz styles, with instrumentals that meld elements from soul and funk. It is hard to fathom that she is just in her teens, but she is making waves in France and probably soon further afield. This is intelligent, varied and surprising, and the prospect of following her journey is exciting.

Next up is West Yorkshire’s Working Men’s Club. With some inspiration from bands like The Fall and Soft Cell, it is obvious that they have their own sound, and their neo-industrial imprint blending 80s new-wave and post-punk is well suited to the venue space. Their delivery is intense, haunting and raw and must count as one of their strongest shows.

Hailing from Budapest The Qualitons are an astonishing force live. They already have a KEXP session under the belt; not exactly the worst place to start. Psychedelic rock is at the core of their repertoire, but it comes with a unique edge. Nuanced and colourful, their rock soundscapes show depth and range, and their hypnotic sonics leave a strong, lasting impression.

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Inhaler show that they are the real deal and have what it takes to go all the way. Elijah Hewson is a natural, and the group’s synth-laden indie anthems conjure up dreamy soundscapes and vivid spells of magic. Opening with the brand new ‘We Have to Move On’, the set is stronger than predicted, and includes tracks such as ‘Ice Cream Sundae’, ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ and ‘My Honest Face’.

Each Eurosonic Noorderslag act is there for a reason, with much work and thought being applied to each booking. Seeing things from a British perspective, a quick historic search will bring up names such as Dua Lipa and Royal Blood. They weren’t always established, but they played ESNS quite early on. To see an artist perform at the festival and subsequently pick up festival bookings elsewhere is rewarding for everyone involved.

“We do count the bookings and try to visualise what the artists get out of the showcases”, explains Meijerink. “When they get a team together, a booker on board, maybe an agent, a manager or sign a record deal then that becomes a big achievement.”

This year Switzerland is the focus country but getting the go ahead wasn’t quick or straight forward. Meijerink had to reach out a couple of times before he was finally given the green light. “As a booker I feel responsible for the decisions made, so I try to avoid booking artists too early, but there’s a very thin line between artists who are ready to perform and those who are not ready. Sometimes, you just don’t know”, he says.

Thursday night sees accomplished guitarist and singer Oscar Jerome showcase his idiosyncratic, autonomous jazz fusion. From Norwich, the gifted songwriter offers a smooth and groovy take on the old genre and live it works wonders. Deep and focused while retaining some playfulness, this set is celebratory with ambition and drive.

Then it is time for indie-pop sensation Violet Days from Sweden who offer infectious melody blended with a personal, autonomous delivery. The set consists of original material and two covers including Tame Impala’s ‘Let It Happen’, and unpredictably, Alphaville’s ‘Forever Young’. This is more interesting than the average Scandi pop act and hopefully there is far more to come from this lot.

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Pizza Pizza is the name of their independent label, and Just Mustard are known for their loyalty to DIY culture back home in Dundalk, Ireland. This rare, authentic noise-rock outfit sound more relevant and important than ever, and frontman Katie Ball’s voice supports and defines the band’s sound with clarity and imagination.

Friday includes the otherworldly Austrian avant-garde sensation 5K HD. Their vocalist Mira Lu Kovacs’ voice is of a high-pitch, and her vocal gymnastics show style and ability. The mix of dub and jazz with elements of funk, prog rock and pop makes for a multifaceted and unusual combination.

Nevertheless, charismatic and eclectic to the bare bone, Pongo is the name circulating on everybody’s lips that day. The Angolan born singer grew up in the outskirts of Lisbon where she became involved with music. Her unique freestyle incorporates elements as wide as breakbeat, Kuduro and electro pop. At times resembling acts like Major Lazer and Buraka Som Sistema.

The same night, the winners of the annual Music Moves Europe Talent Awards are revealed at a glitzy, high-tech extravaganza. They include Meduza from Italy, Norwegian Girl In Red, Anna Leone from Sweden, Portugal’s Pongo, The Netherlands’ Naaz, Harmed from Hungary, 5K HD from Austria and Flohio from Britain. Eurosonic Noorderslag 2020 is an ambitious, manifold feast that celebrates new music from vast parts of Europe, and its ongoing journey of successful music discovery continues..

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Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Jorn Baars + Ben Houdijk

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