Eurosonic – Groningen – 13/14.01.2011

This year we finally made it to the Eurosonic Noorderslag Festival in Groningen having wanted to attend for many years. It brings together more than 300 up-and-coming acts from around Europe, performing in 30 venues around a friendly university town in the far north of the Netherlands. It’s mainly aimed at industry types, with hundreds of festival bookers, broadcasters and record companies in attendance – a conference takes place in parallel. Ordinary festival tickets are sold too and we appreciated the fact that a friend and former EBU colleague of mine Gianluca made sure that a couple of tickets were kept in reserve for us.

The whole festival runs from Wednesday to Saturday, with the final day featuring mostly Dutch acts. We had tickets for Thursday and Friday, the Eurosonic part of the proceedings. Highlights were Danish chanteuse Tina Dico, Norwegian folkster Moddi, Icelandic Lára Rúnars and English indie-rockers The Crookes. Here’s a rundown on all of the acts we saw:

Thursday 13th January

The Green Apple Sea – a German trio playing uninspiring gentle acoustic rock. Didn’t set our world alight.

Květy – an unconventional folk-rock group from the Czech Republic. Took a little while to warm up but had some good lively tunes with Balkan/gypsy influences. The drum kit consisted of an upside-down table to the legs of which were sellotaped various things to bang, shake and rattle. Things got a bit weird when the drummer got out his yellow bird hand puppet to squeak along to one song.

Heathers – young Irish sisters with a nice line in close harmony acoustic pop. Tegan and Siobhán perhaps. Or The Indigo Cailíní. A few songs with just an acoustic guitar and the two voices, after which they were joined by cello, percussion and lead guitar. It all started to sound a bit samey after a while, but I could definitely see them having radio hits in the US. (Incidentally, Ian Wilson and Dan Hegarty from 2FM – which sponsored the band’s Eurosonic appearance – were sitting behind us, alongside Stuart Byrne from Hot Press.)

Diversidad – 20 DJs, MCs and breakdancers from around Europe coming together to form a kind of hip hop supergroup. It was a nice break from the sometimes over-serious indie stuff – lots of energy and good humour. Not something I’d put on my walkman, but very entertaining nonetheless. I expect they’ll turn up on a few festival programmes this summer.

Graffiti6 – plenty of catchy songs from this UK-based soul-tinged pop-rock group, but a strange lack of chemistry on stage. The lead singer is much younger than the rest of the band and it all felt a bit manufactured. There was a big crowd in the venue, but not much of an atmosphere. More James Blunt than Robbie Williams.

The Inspector Cluzo – “Zis is our 354th gig in 3 years in 23 countries – we are ze French bast@rds – f*ck you!”, was the gist of the charming greeting from the lead singer of this gallic metal duo. I’m not good on my metal genres, so I’m not sure how to describe this. Very loud, very fast guitar; a lot of shouting and high pitched screaming; and a drummer in a three-piece suit and a beret. Entertaining but only in very small doses.

Kid Adrift – the last act of Thursday night for us, a Scottish rock/dance/dub act. They seemed pretty good, but not really my cup of tea. We stayed for a few songs then headed for a nightcap with our good friend Julia at the Hooghoudt Cafe.

Friday 14th January

Lára Rúnars – there were free acoustic sets all afternoon in the Coffee Company, so it was the perfect place to while away the afternoon. Lára Rúnars was accompanied by an acoustic guitar and minimal drums. She played a good set of catchy folk-pop songs, reminiscent of a warmer, weirder Florence and the Machine. Given her nationality (Iceland) it’s hard not to think of Bjork, but she wasn’t quite in that league of strangeness. We saw her again later that evening with a full band. Somehow she seemed to get a bit lost in the fuller sound, but that could have been a problem with the venue too. Possibly one to watch.

Moddi – with his curly blond mop and woolly fisherman’s jumper, Moddi looks like an accordion-wielding folk-angel. He silenced a packed Coffee Company with strange gentle songs that built in emotional intensity as they went along. He switched between accordion and guitar, with a very talented cellist adding layers of interest to the mix. I expect to see his name cropping up again in future.

Tina Dico – a Danish singer-songwriter that our friend Julia had recommended. She’s very, very good. Her lead vocals and guitar were accompanied by an Icelandic chap on keyboards, trombone and lovely backing vocals. She reminded me a bit of Laura Marling, but being a little older than Marling, her lyrics and songs suggested more experience, both of performing and of life in general. She established a warm rapport with the audience in a packed room, and it was clear that everyone was very impressed. Worth seeing.

Sacred Animals – an Irish act combining vocals and acoustic guitar with drums and a vaguely Radiohead-ish backing track. Very flat performance in the same room that Tina Dico had previously filled with warmth. I was expecting more from my fellow countrymen.

Ginga – an Austrian rock band straight out of 1984, and not in a good way. They wouldn’t have looked out of place in a battle of the bands featuring a young Simple Minds and a young U2. One or two catchy rock songs, but nothing special that I could hear. Oddly, their bass-player was previously a member of Starsailor.

Golden Kanine fill the stage

Golden Kanine – a five-piece Swedish band squeezed onto a very small stage. Took a while to warm up but eventually hit their groove with some lively pop-songs with mandolin, banjo and trombone to the fore.

James Vincent McMorrow – an Irish singer-songwriter with one of those “is it brilliant or just annoying” falsetto voices. He sounded a bit like Ray Lamontagne or Bon Iver, but without the warmth of the former or the emotion of the latter. Also, the songs just kind of passed me by. By rights this kind of act should have some storytelling at its core, but I learned nothing from his songs. The between-song banter lightened things up a bit, but I was disappointed that he didn’t deliver more when it came to the music. I’ll probably look up some of his recordings to see whether I’m being a bit unfair, but I think Damien Rice can sleep easy for now.

Junip – I have no idea what José González was doing at a festival like this, where you don’t expect to find any act you’ve heard of before, but this band he was leading was one of the most talked-about acts around town. And also (for us at least) one of the least impressive. The recordings I listened to before travelling to Groningen just sounded like okay José González tracks, but they just didn’t work on stage with a full band. We moved on after a couple of tracks.

The Crookes – these English indie-rocking youngsters brought our festival to a lively end, with some good old-fashioned guitar-driven pop. The bass-playing lead singer looks and sounds a bit like the guy from Franz Ferdinand. Nothing groundbreaking about them, but a new crop of these bands comes along every few years and The Crookes will probably be banging out indie anthems at festivals across Europe this summer.

So that was that. Definitely worth the trip, even if it sometimes felt like searching for the one needle you’re going to like in a haystack containing 300 other needles. With so much music in so many venues, I’m sure we missed plenty of great acts. I’ll be interested to see whether any of those that we did see bubble through during the next year.