Most of Le Guess Who?’s venues are right in the city centre, but two main ones stand out on either side. To the southeast De Helling provides an alternate location for more abrasive bands less suitable for their main Vredenburg complex. On the northwestern side of the centre a large industrial warehouse is situated, called the CAB-building, containing amongst others a brewery, a film studio and dB’s, one of a handful of truly independent venues in the Netherlands, acting both as a recording studio and a performing stage for many upcoming bands. So it’s no wonder a handful of this years youngest and brightest bands wound up playing there to instill the festival with some of their unhinged energy.
Text: Wybren Nauta // Photography: Sabrine Baakman & Jelmer de Haas
Initially seeing The Glücks, it’s hard to resist rolling your eyes at yet another boy&girl/drum&guitar duo. Although the hype has died considerably over the last ten years, a lot of the prejudices against this genre, or more specifically against this specific type of formation, still remain somewhere in the back of the head. Thankfully most of these are swiftly dispelled by Tina and Alek and their unmitigated adrenaline. There’s something simply irresistible about the sheer energy and force on display here. Both being vocal advocates of the idea that everything’s already been done in music and were just simply remixing existing elements, they seem hellbent on simply playing the most sleazy and vile rock-n’-roll imaginable with little regard for any kind of pretense. This attitude of not caring and just wanting to play loud and fast music can become a kind of pose of its own, but their performance is so ruthlessly all-encompassing that it quickly becomes impossible to doubt their sincerity. It doesn’t mean they are lacking in variety or ability either. Generation Undefined is a roaring and spacious anthem of the lost and damned, as powerful as anything a nineties disenfranchised punk band ever came up with and Cu Cu Cool is a manic bluesrock rollercoaster, akin to the zaniness of bands like The Black Lips. Without hesitation the duo tear through their entire set like a pair of feral rabbits, driven by pure lust and hunger, ready to devour anything in their path.
Long gone are the days where being presented with a new English guitar band meant having to deal with overhyped NME-fodder. Over the past few years a new wave of English bands have risen up, eschewing the typical lad-based machismo that plagued the country’s music scene for decades, chief amongst which are bands like IDLES and Shame. It isn’t hard to place London’s Italia 90 alongside them, their virulent postpunk tracks grappling with many of the same themes of questionable politics and the abuse of power. Though this four-piece consisting of Captain Acab, J Dangerous, Les Miserable and Bobby Portrait do seem to mean more business. Addressing injustices is one thing, but it isn’t hard to envision this group of gruff looking youngsters actually in the streets, face to face with riot police, shouting many of the same slogans that make up their tracks. In this sense they almost feel like spiritual descendants of anarcho-punk bands like Crass whilst reciting anti-capitalist sentiments like “freedom to choose/freedom to lose”, glaring unmovingly at the audience as if accusing each and everyone of us. But besides all the political grandstanding, it’s important to recognize the quality of the tunes underlying all these messages. Unflinching bass lines steadily rumble through an array of demented guitar and drum lines. The tracks all hearken back to the golden days of postpunk with acts like Gang of Four and PIL, especially closer New Factory, a scathing burner on the troubles of blue collar work. With their insistence on blithely tackling modern day societal issues and having the songs to back it up, they’re bound to make a buzz.
Sounding all over the place is something of an understatement for the Philadelphia based noise rock group Empath. During the first few minutes we have to check whether a different band is playing as through the jangly indierock and swooning disco vocals nothing close resembling noiserock can be made out. That is until drummer Garett Koloski really starts bearing down on his kit, furiously launching an array of distorted kicks and drumbeats that quickly purge us of our doubts. The total array of influences on display here truly is something to behold, but always finds itś place somewhere halfway along the road from rebellion to romance. The freakishly resonating synths often produce a kind of starkly abrasive sound that even tests the limits of genre enthusiasts. Luckily there’s enough variation in sounds and smooth, ambient transitions to keep the overall experience feel innervating instead of excruciating. The similarities with bands like Perfect Pussy and Drahla are definitely palpable, be it that Empath does feel a lot more sonically unfocused, but also more adventurous and lively. After a solid thirty minute set of the allotted fifty the band decides it’s been enough and unceremoniously walk off stage. In any other show this might have felt abrupt, but I ḿ not sure another ending would have made any more sense.
For the past days of being in dB’s for Le Guess Who?, it’s very noticeable that the energy of the bands doesn’t just come from the stage, but also from the entire venue itself. Whether you’re just having a nice lunch during the day or seeing an exciting live show in the night, the place always feels vibrant and alive. During these days I’ve seen twelve year old kids breakdancing to The Cramps, groups of men huddling together to see a football match, families having a simple dinner together and unfathomable amounts of musicians moving in and out, stopping by to make some smalltalk or grab a quick beer. It’s not hard to see why so many people are attracted to this place, it’s one of those rare locations that feels homely and comfortable without trying overly hard to be. After attending a show in lots of concert venues you either tend to be greeted by an environment like your old elementary school hallway, saturated with sterile rubber and primary colours, or an overly hipster decor with an abundance of carpets and extraneous decoration. The interior here feels somehow natural and practical, probably partly thanks to the industrial design, but never cold or impersonal due to pleasant lighting and art designs. It’s especially ironic that where many city governments are struggling to create artistic hotspots, failing to create places even halfway as amazing due to lack of vision or practicality, there are talks of repurposing this building and moving dB’s elsewhere. These people have to fail in understanding the importance of places like this or are simply ignorant of their rarity. Let’s hope that never happens, because even after having been here for two days, I’ve slowly come to love this place, the building and the people that inhabit it. It would be a damn shame if anything would uproot it, even with the best of intentions.
Read more articles of this edition of Le Guess Who? on our website:
- LGW2019: Industrial grooves and psychedelic sounds – Exploring The Bug’s Thursday curation at Le Guess Who 2019?
- LGW2019: The Sweet Release of Death & blissful noise
- LGW2019: Who needs eardrums anyway? Lightning Bolts addictively destructive party at the end of the world
- LGW2019: Timeless post-punk in a packed Pandora with The Raincoats
- LGW2019: How Mythic Sunship became one of this editions highlights
- LGW2019: A celebration of psych with Moon Duo, Acid Mothers Temple and Acid Rooster