Fresh from this year’s Eurosonic festival – the annual shop window for the best new European musical talent – JIM CARROLLpicks a dozen of 2013’s hottest, loudest prospects
THERE’S A reason why Eurosonic has made Groningen its home. In truth, there are many reasons why this excellent festival brings thousands to the north of the Netherlands every January to catch the best of new European bands.
But the main reason for this annual migration of bands, entourages, managers, booking agents, festival promoters, journalists, radio DJs and other music industry ner’er-do-wells to a city far from the Netherlands’ cultural centre has to do with Groningen’s live music infrastructure.
Within a few city blocks, you have more than two dozen premier league venues, from the mighty Vera club and the elegant Stadsschouwburg music hall to sweaty venues such as Huize Maas and De Spieghel. It’s hard to think of any other European city which has so many top-class venues located within easy walk or cycle of the city-centre.
You can thank the Groningen city fathers for this bounty. Back in the 1950s, according to Eurosonic creative director Peter Smidt, local laws were passed which allowed Groningen’s bars to sell alcohol until the wee small hours as long as there was live music in the venue. A rash of clubs opened up to take advantage of this ordnance, musicians moved to the university town to take advantage of an abundance of paying gigs and many new bands were formed.
When it came time for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to pick a permanent home for Eurorock, their annual travelling showcase festival, they chose Groningen in 1999 and Eurosonic was born. Since then, the festival has grown in profile, prominence and size.
These days, there is also a significant industry convention, the European Border Breakers Awards ceremony, where 10 European acts are highlighted for successful debut albums and tours outside their home territory, and the European Festival Awards, which hands out gongs to the festival sector.
However, the main action happens on 36 stages around town with more than 35,000 punters wandering around checking out the 304 acts playing. Most of the acts, though, have a very distinct audience in mind: the people they’re here to impress are the festival bookers. Play a storming show at Eurosonic and you could find yourself with a healthy dance card for the summer festival circuit. This year, there are representatives from 417 international festivals in town looking for talent – so you can understand why Eurosonic is an essential date for many acts and agents.
There were good early indications of a busy summer ahead for the Irish acts who played in Groningen. Little Green Cars (who were one of this year’s 2FM nominees at the event, along with Kodaline), MMOTHS, Adrian Crowley and Girls Names were mentioned in the despatches by festival bookers.
But the Irish act who topped many of those post-festival lists were Villagers. Back in 2010, Conor O’Brien’s first Eurosonic show as Villagers was a solo gig in a small room to about 20 people.