Amsterdam gig guide: What to see in December
Don’t let Christmas get in the way of your gig-going. The holiday season may well be a weird time for gigs but fear not: Steven McCarron is here to make it all better with his pick of the month’s musical delights.
Ash: the 20-year flashback is a thing
If you happened to spend your teen years in the ‘90s, this modern era of music is something of a boon. Not only are the latest generation of musicians, be it guitar pop or even electronic, flashing back to the ‘90s to nab grungy guitar tones and glitchy drum & bass samples, but there’s been an ever-rolling slew of 20 or 25 year anniversary releases loaded up with unreleased material, as well as adjoining reunion tours. Although they’ve never actually gone away, for a band like Northern Irish trio Ash, a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of their debut is a no-brainer. ‘1977’ was recorded when the lads were barely out of school and its power pop chords and earnest teen lyricism (not forgetting its ‘Star Wars’ samples) recorded a snapshot of ‘90s youth. Tracks like ‘Girl From Mars’ and ‘Kung Fu’ reflected their unbridled energy, while ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘Oh Yeah’ left more space to tackle the confusing transition into adulthood. Either way, this run through ‘1977’ in its entirety should be a blast, with the likelihood of a random scattering of hits and other surprises to round off the night.
Thursday, 8 December // Tolhuistuin
Video: ‘Girl From Mars’
Throws: throwing caution to an icy wind
As the end-of-year album polls start to emerge, it’ll be interesting to see how many appearances Throws garner. Their self-titled debut eased out in summertime without any major fanfare, although for fans of English prog-folk-electronic outfit Tunng, this was certainly one to look out for – especially as they’ve been laying low of late. The band features Tunng co-founders Mike Lindsay and Sam Genders (who actually left the band before moving onto Diagrams). Anyhow, Throws has been a way for the two songwriters and old friends to reconnect, creating a compelling blend of chamber folk, light electronica and some surprisingly uplifting pop choruses (notably in opening track ‘The Harbour’, which could’ve and perhaps should’ve been a much bigger radio hit). When making the album they brought in collaborators like Múm vocalist Sigurlaug Gísladóttir and the Amina string quartet who work with Sigur Rós, adding a colder, northern European feel at times. Overall, though, ‘Throws’ is both a catchy and intriguing album, and if you’re totally new to these songwriters, it may well ensnare you into their main projects.
Monday, 12 December // Sugarfactory
Rats on Rafts & De Kift: brassed off
These two Dutch outfits are a generation apart but have struck up a truly great friendship in recent years. De Kift have been on the go since the late ‘80s and are one of the Netherlands’ top art rock innovators, burying themselves between brass fanfare and staccato (post) punk, and driven by vivid storytelling – although it’s hard to truly immerse yourself in their world without some understanding of Dutch. Rats on Rafts are the youngsters. This Rotterdam outfit immersed themselves in post-punk and quickly became masters of short, sharp bursts of atmospheric, in-your-face music. It’s not necessarily music to set the charts on fire, but their DIY underground spirit has already found them plenty of fans abroad. The two bands initially got together for some festival shows a few years back and that friendship has now blossomed into a celebratory mash-up record – a sort of live studio remix of each band’s songs. The results bubble with energy, and with its taut basslines, angular guitars and danceable blasts of brass, it’s actually hard to tell where one band begins and the other ends. But that’s certainly no bad thing. And by the time these two outfits cram themselves onto the Tolhuistuin stage, it’ll be following two or three months of intimate club gigs, guaranteeing that all of them be in the zone.
Thursday, 22 December // Tolhuistuin
Video: ‘Last Day on De Zon’
State-X New Forms: daring to be different in another city
The holiday season is a weird time for gigs no matter in which city you live in. Understandably most bands don’t want to be on the road, which leaves space for all those big hometown gigs – in Amsterdam this inevitably leads to a spree of sold out Nederpop shows. But if your desire for something different doesn’t diminish in December, a weekend trip to The Hague will just about sort you out till January. The State-X New Forms festival has been behind a wealth of talented, challenging and interesting line-ups for 13 years already, but they’ve just announced that this upcoming edition will be its last. Although a sad state of affairs, they’re going out in style with a top collection of out-there rock, underground electronica, independent singer-songwriters and weird and wonderful treats from around the globe. The festival is probably worth it just to catch Wrekmeister Harmonies on the Saturday night, as they’re one of the most mesmeric heavy experimental rock projects on the go right now, currently featuring members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But for softer, hypnotic stuff, you can’t go wrong with the likes of Marissa Nadler, Ryley Walker and Julianna Barwick.
Friday, 9 & Saturday, 10 December // various locations in The Hague
Video: Wrekmeister Harmonies tour trailer