Eurosonic boom: getting down low with the sound of things to come

Het is alleen rock’n’roll . . . but we like it. If it’s January, all roads lead to Groningen for the annual Eurosonic live music event. Here are 10 essential takeaways from this year’s event

If you want to see how a social network works in real life, Groningen was the place to be last weekend. The Dutch city is home to Eurosonic, a multi-limbed annual event that now encompasses an excellent showcase festival, an increasingly heavyweight conference and oodles of networking set-tos.

These include the European Border Breakers Awards ceremony (10 European acts are congratulated for successful debut albums and tours outside their home territory, with Hozier the Irish winner) and the European Festival Awards (gongs for the big cheeses on the festival sector).

Add in various music tech gatherings and informal fringe events and you can see why Eurosonic has become a major draw for anyone interested in live music in Europe. Festival bookers, promoters and agents are here because they know their peers are here and, at a time of year when things are relatively quiet on the gigs front, Groningen is a good place to come to take stock, kick back and talk turkey.

All of which is good news for the 345 acts from 42 countries who played at the event's 29th outing. There are representatives from 432 international festivals here so you never know who is going to walk into your show at De Spieghel, Huize Maas, Mutua Fides or any one of the 47 other venues in the city.

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Play a great show at Groningen in January and you could spend the summer on the festival circuit, thanks to the festival's European Talent Exchange Program (ETEP) scheme, which has been using EU cash to send rock'n'roll bands all over the continent since 2003.

Here, then, are our 10 takeaways from three nights and days in the Netherlands.

1 The Irish are here
There's a long-standing Irish association with Eurosonic, thanks to 2fm producer Ian Wilson, who has been responsible for the station selecting and supporting Irish acts at the event since the outset. In addition, an increasing number of Irish acts now also head to Eurosonic under their own steam as they've learned the importance of the event to their touring potential. This year's reps were All Tvvins, SOAK (there were huge audiences for the young Derrywoman at her shows), Kormac, Sisters, The Riptide Movement, All the Luck In the World, Talos, Orla Gartland, The Raglans and Gavin James.

2 Iceland moves en masse to Groningen

Iceland was Eurosonic’s focus country this year and it sent 18 acts to Groningen, from pop and folk to electronica and Viking metal, and many made an impression.

’s (above) massive sound was full of emotion and depth and

’s Icelandic and Swedish singers created glorious minimal folk full of warmth and atmosphere. Ylja’s lilting, dreamy, acoustic folk and country hit the mark, while Vök’s sax-powered slow-mo R&B and electronics was full of drama and intrigue.

3 2015 - the year of the Spanish
While Iceland and Ireland are known quantities when it comes to indie rock and pop acts, we've been waiting a long time for a Spanish act to make a breakthrough. 2015 could well be the year, with three of their acts playing well-received shows at Eurosonic. Hinds, the band known as Deers up to a month ago, had an underwhelming first night, but their second festival show was a far better showcase for their ramshackle, infectious garage rock. Mourn produced a compelling Catalan teenage freak scene with their scowling shoegazing, while Oso Leone's sun-blissed, tripped-out, slo-mo psych grooves found much favour.

4 Perfect poise
Melanie De Biasio has poise in spades. The Belgian singer exuded star quality from the very moment the house lights went down at the Huize Maas venue. There's a strong Nina Simone buzz to her far-side jazz sound, but that was just one of many touchstones to a set that left everyone crying out for more. The real deal.

5 WHY Iceland Airwaves IS Reykjavik's GPO 1916
The popular Icelandic festival began in 1999 in an aircraft hangar and, as festival booker Grímur Atlason commented at a discussion panel on the festival, half the country now claim to have been there. The panel explored just how important the festival and music are to Iceland's economy. Icelandic minister for industry and commerce Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir noted that the creative industries are now a hugely important contributor to the country's economic turnover. Iceland, it seems, is not all fish and aluminium.

6 Viva Italia!
Just as we've been waiting a while for Spain to produce a breakthrough act, the same applies to Italy, whatever the commercial merits of acts such as Jovanotti and Zucchero. Two promising Italian electronic acts stood out at Eurosonic. Bologna's Lorenzo Nada is Godblesscomputers, a man with a fine penchant for bright-as-a-button tropical sounds and whose deep bazaar-digging really does extract the funk. Digi G'alessio is also on a sample tip and his Clap! Clap! project reshapes various African sounds and singers into intoxicating dancefloor odysseys.

7 The art of programming festivals
One of the most interesting conference panels on paper, and one that attracted a full house, was a gathering of bookers from the Coachella, Glastonbury, Roskilde and Primavera festivals on how they booked their events. It turns out that it's more old-fashioned graft and common sense than art and magic, with most of the speakers agreeing that, these days, the event is often a bigger draw than any of the acts on the bill.

8 Token dude with guitar
Naturally, there are many men on stages all over the city armed with an acoustic guitar and a bundle of heartfelt tunes that don't quite cut the mustard. There are no such problems for London singer-songwriter Jake Isaac, who has the soulful voice, sturdy tunes and engaging, laidback stage presence to make it all work. Equally at home solo or with his band, Isaac has a sonic width reminiscent of Bill Withers or Willie Wright.

9 Up the Swiss
Geneva's Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp had us hooked on that name long before we walked into the Praedinius Gymnasium. This was a glorious display, full of dashing polyrhythmic intensity and dazzlingly free grooves, with Liz Moscarola's voice keeping it all in check. Check out their current album Rotorotor, produced by PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish.

10 The band of Eurosonic 2015
Dakh Daughters provided the event with its most spectacular sight and sound. Seven savvy Ukrainian women with the best use of miners' lamps since Orbital in their pomp, Dakh Daughters' fierce punk-rock cabaret was full of passion, vigour and excitement. A mash of burlesque, ballet, electronica, folk and opera, all executed with great finesse and skill, this was something you could see the more adventurous festival bookers in the audience gravitating towards.