Popronde Haarlem 11/9/2014

I tell you now; if Yuko Yuko ever got managed or advised by someone from Entertainment Land here in the Netherlands, they'd be fucked. Fucked. I'm tempted to go and dig up Tony Wilson and say, "come on love, one more time."

This is a picture of your new favourite band.


Ah Haarlemtown! That's nicked from my good mate and Supreme Head Josh Baumgarten, but I'm sure he won't mind. It's a great moniker, and sums up this lovely sleepy well heeled place to a tee. (PS if you're ever in Haarlemtown, be sure to pop in his amazing shop/community resource The Irrational Library.) ANYWAY, it's not a place I can imagine seeing a Popronde in, so I suppose that's why I've turned down four or five offers for gigs elsewhere, including an amazing show at the Generator in Leiden.  

First up it's time to check out poncey but nice bar Koops to see Naive Set play their beautiful pop. On first glance you'd assume that they were nothing out of the ordinary. All of them rock that nice college boy look; legs together, slim jeans, nondescript but probably expensive leisurewear that's meant to look unobtrusive. That look. The look that a million Dutch mothers want their daughters to clothe their BFs in. So you'd think, oh well, a band that reflects the state of the Netherlands. Settled, nice, charming at times but ultimately there to keep the economy going and to cheer up the ambtenaren in the pauses between number crunching. But you'd be wrong, as Naive Set are totally different.

For one they have the most bittersweet songs in the Netherlands. With Reclining Nude they've made one of the greatest pop records this country's heard in decades (not that anyone noticed) and tracks like Like That and Honest are gems; songs that, if you listen really carefully, reveal a whole other set of mindscapes. They have real rock and roll soul in the way Johnny Richman has soul (their track that sounds like Roadrunner also hints that the band play on this too) and they have a brilliant understanding of how to make the most out of very little. They also have this brilliant, "friendly aloofness" about them as well, they're not here to please you, they're here to make you think.

There's a lot of new stuff thrown into the set too; long extended jams balancing on shimmering, quicksilver washes of controlled, looped feeback and punctuated by half songs that float in and out of the sound. These excursions are fabulous and hint at a new, inspiring direction. It really is the way they should go as a band, as they are adept at control; after all they're one of the few bands about who can do vocal harmonies and can use the guitars as a true rhythm instrument; not as something to make a racket with. Imagine if they extended that concept over 20 minutes; mindblowing.

I really want them to make a triple album; a children's opera, a teenage symphony to God, something like Der Jesus Pils by Withuesser and Westrupp (but 10 times LONGER) or at the very least to go and take enough acid that makes them think that locking themselves up in a bunker in Switzerland to record is a good idea. Then they can go and marry toy boys and live on the Seychelles and read about the Tarot, their lifework done.

Time to go to Pitcher, to see what the lads from the inspiring and smart Geertruida label are up to (Geertruida are seal of quality if ever there was one).  Time to chat to Marijn from Those Foreign Kids about the links between football and underground music. And time to p­ay a little less for my beer than what the well groomed middle class of this town are paying (be careful, these cunts are appropriating beer drinking into their frame of reference, fucking it over with their values of craft, exclusivity, tatse and good manners. Why can't they leave shit alone?). But yeah, time to go to Pitcher. Time to see the lads from Geertruida. Time to chat to Marijn. Time to see Yuko Yuko who have two members of the brilliant The Homesick in their ranks. And whilst watching Yuko Yuko, time to get my arse handed back to me on a silver plate.

Great bands always, always, always have a gang mentality. It helps set your picture, helps form some kind of a rudimentary outline around what you are watching. Helps you get your shit together to form your own thoughts, start your own mental conversation with the band in question. Now, Yuko Yuko have this gang mentality in spades, each one a character, but each one fitting seamlessly into the bigger group structure. The drummer could be Animal out of the Muppets; he's first to take his kit off, smiling maniacally all the time. The guitarist thinks he's Will Sergeant from the Bunnymen. The bass player's a geek who could still knock you out. The girl /  boy singer duo are the sort of winning, cheeky provinical scruffs with that homemade star sensibility that basically rewrites the rule books for the Hilversum robots. I tell you now; if this lot ever got managed or advised by someone from Entertainment Land here in the Netherlands, they'd be fucked. Fucked. I'm tempted to go and dig up Tony Wilson and say, "come on love, one more time." No, this band are like a Soviet who set their own rules and won't take any shit. More than anything they remind me of seeing an early incarnation of a brilliant Manchester band from the late 80s early 90s; like World of Twist or the Mondays round Squirrel and G Man, or Paris Angels. Especially Paris Angels. They really have that band's dreamy, street urchin charm. I'm certain there's a song that references a bag of crisps too.

And given the fact that their songs are incredibly strong and "instantly" recognisable (balancing singalong chorus lines that turn on their heads, and then on top of brilliant switches of tempo and texture) I'm smitten. They also have this gloopy, swimmy guitar sound that circles round the rock steady beat; a sound that Ariel Pink and Connan Mockasin do but in fact goes back to earlier bands like New FADs or, yes, Cow's Mondays guitar sound on Bummed or 1982-3 era Bunnymen; the time when Will Sergeant was knocking shit out of every pedal in front of him. Whatever, it works and brings an incredible punch and grit to their psyched out pop sensibility. Half way through the singer loses his yellow truckers cap and wonders where it is. The girl singer nabs it and sticks it on her head, laughing, looking like a divvy but at the same time the queen of the room. Only great bands pull off daft little things like that.

By the end, the room, full of cool Heads and band members from cool cool bands (Sweet Release of Death, Those Foreign Kids, Space Siren, Treasure of Grundo, Naive Set) is indulging in a sort of collective, knocked out gawp. This is the real deal. I buy the merch. I tell the girl singer that they sound a bit like Happy Mondays. She says "Who? Never heard of them." Amazing, best thing I've heard, probably ever, till next time that is.

Off they go, back to Dokkum to hang out round Febo.

I stick around to take in Sweet Release of Death who are a different band from the arty, removed existentialists I could never quite get from two years ago. Since then they've been bullied into exploring and expressing their potential by the great Corno Zwetsloot at Next to Jaap studios, and learned that playing tours in places like Poland helps them come together as a real band. That's what they are capable of becoming; a real band who can be appreciated on their own terms. They've outgrown the Netherlands, which clamped their sound down in the wrong way. Now, their dynamic is so much stronger, and harder. They are on the verge of becoming a true independent hard rock act of the old school; the sort of Blast First band that used to shred ears round 87. They just need to go further, and get wilder.

Playing in a sort of inward looking triangle really helps their sound too; as it bounces like a pinball between the three of them. Martijn's guitar is tremendous now, knocking out white hot, searing slabs of sound; like strips of molten metal being dragged out of the furnace. Alicia's bass runs are a great counterpoint; adding little painterly stabs here arnd there to puncture the flow of white heat that Martijn's laying down. Sven's drums clatter and rap out a set of insistent commands. Fuck me this is good. Their material, drawn mostly from their LP, Bulb, also has a few soundscapes thrown in; I really wish they'd work these up into something else as they have the potential to make a great, tough weird sound that is also beautiful.

Ears ringing it's time to go back to the train. A skip and a stride home, and Febo shame ahead. It matters not. Great night, and Popronde in Haarlem no longer seems so weird.