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It’s nearly 15 years ago that Heerlen was hailed as the Seattle of The Netherlands. In a few years’ time, dozens of rock bands spawned from the city. The hype didn’t last. Although pop culture in the city definitely got a boost by De Nieuwe Nor.
The pop venue, only a few hundred meters away from our office in Heerlen, gave pop music underground in Heerlen the meeting place it longed for. Currently, De Nieuwe Nor is expanded with a bigger concert hall.
Rock music and Heerlen has been a strong combination since the early nineties. Influenced by New York hardcore and indie from the United States, a new scene emerged. Hardcore acts like Feeding the Fire and, later, Born from Pain became icons in the international hardcore scene. A few kilometers to the west, a similar scene emerged in Maastricht, that adopted the name M-Town Rebels. Acts like Right Direction and Backfire! would also become international icons.
Last year, a square in Maastricht was named after Richard Bruinen, a key figure in the scene that committed suicide in 1999. Journalist and drummer Niena Bocken recently made a fantastic podcast series about the M-Town Rebel scene. It is in Dutch and there are still a few episodes to be released. See the link below.
There always has been a healthy rivalry between the M-Town Rebels and the Mijnstreek Oost Crew (MOC, from the bigger area around Heerlen). The hardcore scenes definitely aren’t as big and influential as they used to be. This century, hiphop took over with Het Verzet (Heerlen) and Zachte G (Maastricht).
That doesn’t mean that there are no good rock bands in the most southern parts of The Netherlands. On the contrary. Maastricht has a lively indie scene (Ghost Bag, Grapevine, Baby Galaxy, Bawrence of Aralia).
A Minor Problem is one of the rising stars in the Heerlen region. In 2018, they reach the finals of the local pop music challenge. Debut Houston, We Have a Problem (2015) was a blend of indie rock, punk and a bit of hardcore. The combination of the guitar riffs and vocals sometimes reminds me of Arctic Monkeys during the period of their debut album.
Good Grief is even more diverse and ranged from punky indie rock (early Green Day meets Arctic Monkeys) in opener ‘Talk About It’ and the energetic ‘Whatever’, over hardcore/punk fueled ‘Positivity’, to current single ‘Sunk Cost Fallacy’ that combines all the elements and influences that makes A Minor Problem such a good rock band. Original? Maybe not, but the energy and directness of their indie-rock are extremely contagious. Don’t forget to listen to their self-titled debut album (2019) too. It’s here.
Good Grief by A Minor Problem is self-released.
The M-Town Rebels Talk podcast can be listened here (in Dutch).
Need a soundtrack of our collapsing western society? PYRE would be a good pick. Not only because of the uncompromising music. Glice understands the art of storytelling through different channels. The music, the moods they create, the names of the songs: these two musicians from Amsterdam are excellent storytellers.
Glice is Ruben Braeken and Melle Kromhout. Braeken is a well-known figure in the Amsterdam indie underground and is active in Apneu, Katadreuffe, and Eva Braun. Kromhout finished his PhD research into noise at the University of Amsterdam in 2017, did a postdoc at Cambridge University. His book ‘The Logic of Filtering’, based on his PhD research, just came out. Glice is releasing new music regularly, but PYRE is the first proper album since Cielo (2017). The question is if albums are of any importance in the niche Glice is in. It is interesting how the duo plays with expectations: prior to the release, two singles were released: ‘Blood Sky’ and ‘Korovyev’. Both around six minutes long. The third single ‘Gold-Bug’ just came out, a seven-and-a-half minute fountain of sound.
This is typically Glice: they are master in playing with expectations. PYRE is one of their more accessible albums. All thirteen tracks have a structure, even the short and eclectic ‘Rays’ is quite melodic. The recent single ‘Gold-Bug’ and the dreamy ‘Anemone’ remind a bit of the ambient by Brian Eno and The Field. The centerpiece (26 minutes long) ‘Constantinople, 541 CE’ is the passage from the first part of the album (‘CLEAVE’) to the second (‘COALESCENCE’). The title refers to the first plague pandemic that severely affected the Byzantine empire. One-fifth of the population of Constantinople was killed during the eight years the plague lasted. The track is an amalgam of styles, sounds, samples, and moods.
Braeken and Kromhout seem to have divided the album in a first part that represents chaos and a second part that represents order, but not in the way you would think. The chaos is hearable in the un-structure of the first four songs and in the songtitles. ‘Blood Sky’ for instance could refer to the rare gameplay in mass online games where the behaviour of mobs is changed by the decisions players make. A possible reference to the unpredictability of crowd behaviour. ‘A Screw Falls to the Ground’ could refer to the poems of Xu Lizhi who threw himself from a Foxconn workers’ dormitory building in 2014, thus creating a loud but short outrage over working conditions in electronica factories in China.
The second part of the album, after the plague so to speak, is way more unpleasant than the first part. The moods are dark, sometimes melancholic but distant. As if surviving the plague doesn’t bring relief, but steers us as civilisation in an even more unpredictable direction. That’s Glice at its best: there will be no salvation and Braeken and Kromhout are only too happy to share that story with us. As if they enjoy being the bringers of bad news.
PYRE by Glice is self-released. The Logic of Filtering: How Noise Shapes the Sound of Recorded Music by Melle Kromhout is released by Oxford University Press.
It took me a while to figure out why I like Introspective Acid so much. When I first listened to it, I knew the EP was one of my favorites. Since I heard the first releases by Juju & Jordash somewhere in the early 2000s, I knew they are amongst the true innovators of house music. Their albums Techno Primitivism (2012) and Clean-Cut (2014) are still in my list of favorite electronic dance music albums.
I was sad when I heard that the duo was planning on taking things slow, but the material that Jordan (Jordash) releases the last few years proves me wrong.
His Patreon followers get brilliant improvisation sessions from his home studio in Amsterdam. The tracks he releases are always pushing the boundaries of different styles. Still, Introspective Acid surprised me. The four tracks on the EP are typical Jordan GCZ: open, playful and exciting. But there is something else. I still can’t describe what that something is.
For a while, I thought Introspective Acid is Jordan’s take on vaporrave, a genre that blends the past and looks forward at the time, like Jeremy Gilbert and Mark Fisher’s acid communism, but I still not sure.
Then again, music isn’t about genres, it’s about emotions.
The way Jordan blends genres and influences on this EP, feels so smooth and plain. In ‘Spring Has Sprung’ the fast psychotrance-like beat seems to accelerate by the hihats and sound effects Jordan drops. It’s gives an excitingly rushed experience that feels like a strong adrenaline shot. Is this the new incarnation of micro house? I love this track so much. For me, it’s in the same category as the early Luomo work.
The other three tracks are nearly as good. The playfulness and open character is amazing: like Jordan managed to press everything that makes rave culture, and its 1990s ideology, so special in these tracks.
Actually, I think you could categorize this EP as vaporrave, but does it really matter? This is one of the best house (or techno if you want to call it that) I heard in years.
Introspective Acid by Jordan GCZ is released by Rush Hour.
One of the few positive aspects of the current covid19 lockdown, is that bedroom producers and musicians finally have the time to turn their experiments into songs. There is nothing else to do, right?
One of them is Goya van der Heyden, an art student at the Maastricht Institute of Arts and one of the curators of the experimental art space PAND in Heerlen, the city she grew up in. As GRAPEVINE, she has been making music for quite a long time, but not anything serious. Well, I mean: she didn’t released her musical sketches. Her backing vocals ramble the web on a couple of songs, like ‘In the Beginning was the World’ by Peter Polito.
Not able to use her studio at the academy, Van der Heyden was stuck at home with her musical equipment and ideas for songs in her head. To be honest, in the case of GRAPEVINE we are really lucky with the isolation and estrangement she went through during the lockdown. The result of that period is Intro: five relatively short tracks that reveal the enormous talent Van der Heyden has.
In a way, the tracks are still sketches. They blend different styles, moods, sounds and instruments. On the other hand: it is precisely this blend that makes this EP so extremely refreshing and promising. Van der Heyden musical dieet is broad, ranging from jazz to r&b, and capoeira to folk from Zimbabwe. They are added to the main ingredients of Intro: lo-fi hiphop, UK Grime, dreamy indie pop and triphop.
Although the main mood on the five songs is quite dark, melancholic and reflect her introvert mindset, there is room for experimental and even joyful play. Like in opener ‘Gelato 1’, where she adds field recordings of people skating, noises of busy boulevards and distant screaming on the beach. Sounds she recorded during her walks in her city Maastricht and probably Heerlen are present in all songs and give depth to the richness of moods her songs play with.
The most obvious influence on Intro is the lo-fi side of UK electronic music and new wave. Especially the way of singing, which is a mixture of talking, whispering, rapping and singing. The dark ‘Holdfast’ reminds of both ‘The City Never Sleeps’ by Eurythmics and MC 900 Ft Jesus’ ‘The City Sleeps’. It’s narcotic, dreadful and dreamy. In other songs The Streets, Farai Bukowski-Bouquet and Portishead resonate.
Like Mike Skinner of The Streets, Van der Heyden hails from a city that is know for its problematic social-economic situation. Both translate their background into a melancholic, gritty sound with a touch of irony to put things into perspective. But reality can sometimes be unmistakably cruel and direct. In ‘Bloodless’ she sings:
“Girl can’t you see
Bloodless people can’t be made to bleed
Not for you, not for me”
The five songs on Intro are her attempt to come to terms with this fact, and deeply buried within the songs, her disbelieve that it actually is the human condition. In contrast to the dark, melancholic mood, there is this openness, a glimpse of wonder, perfectly amplified by the lo-fi bedroom production of this EP (with help of Sachit Ajmani and Subp Yao).
In a way this freshness and honesty, reminds me of mixtape For Those I Love dropped last year. Intro has the same vibe, isn’t perfect either (in terms of perfect songs and production), but shows what incredible talent Van der Heyden has, not only as a musician but even more so as a story-teller who is able to blend styles, sounds, moods and beautiful lyrics to meaningful pop culture that modestly critiques our current society.
We definitely need more of this. Much more.
Intro by GRAPEVINE is self-released.
Eindhoven is no Rotterdam, although both cities have similarities: a lot of new buildings, wide streets (initially build for cars), daring architecture, rough edges and a couple of cozy working-class neighborhoods.
This morning I took a walk through Strijp-S and Woensel West with PLACE as a soundtrack. I was lucky: all the elements for a perfect experience were present. A beautiful low sun produced a warm glow and generated a bit of warmth and there were hardly any people outside.
Most of the names on this cassette tape, released by Rotterdam based cassette label No Hay Banda, refer to different locations. For me, the soundscapes do well with these far from polished cities. Maybe because it’s so obvious they aren’t perfect. While living in Cologne I used GAS and the Kompakt Ambient Pop series as a soundtrack for my city walks. Heerlen, for me, is a perfect match for the releases on Pollen Records and most of the Border Community stuff.
PLACE does a good job in Eindhoven. The seven tracks on this tape seem to be especially crafted with an eye for detail, but fact is that there are the outcome of an improvisation. Roel van der Meulen (active as singer-songwriter RoelRoel) and Jasper Boogaard (in Nagasaki Swim and founder of Front) gathered their machines and got together in their home studio and started building these soundscapes.
Seven beautiful time capsules are the result of this meditation. Flirting with the warm melancholy of La Düsseldorf (‘Nieuwe Westerdokstraat’), estranging and open (‘II’), pastoral, cold and slowly building toward a climax that never comes (‘La Vilette’, ‘Nieuwkoopse Plassen’) and mysteriously exciting (opener ‘I’). There are references to the Cologne ambient sound and releases on Border Community, but Van der Meulen and Boogaard definitely succeed in creating a sound of their own.
Love the fact that there are no beats present. It makes PLACE ideal as an environmental soundtrack, adjustable to the pulse of the moment.
Can’t wait to use this excellent tape for my walk or bike-ride through the dunes near Haarlem.
PLACE by J. T. Boogaard & R. M. van der Meulen is released by No Hay Banda.
This post is dedicated to Martin Ploeg who died in 2020.
Since I stopped writing for music magazine OOR, making lists seems pointless. My taste is changing constantly and I love so many different styles of music that it is impossible for me to do justice to the diversity of cool albums I listen to.
Why posting a list of best albums of 2020 then? Good question. Music journalist and longtime friend Harry Prenger asked me to compile one and I felt like making a list because of this crazy year of working from home, not going to concerts and using music to give structure to a new daily practice without one.
2020 was a rough year for me. I left my teaching job at the Maastricht Academy of Media Design and Technology and wasn’t sure if my own Studio Hyperspace would provide enough work. My father died after years of suffering from Parkinson’s disease and I found myself in lockdown in a new unknown city.
Looking for new challenges in a world that seemed to have stopped spinning is difficult. I started STASIS to have an outlet to keep writing about pop culture. In November the Fashion Institute Amsterdam (AMFI, a part of HvA) asked me to help them set up a new master programme for changemakers in the fashion industry and just before the Christmas holidays, I got an offer by the new International Music Academy Lab of Inholland to join them as a learning director. The coolest job ever. E.V.E.R.
So professionally, 2020 turned out to be a great year after all. Personally, it was rough. Music played an important role to keep me happy and focused.
The following eleven records were important for me during the numerous train travels to my father in the deep south of The Netherland and, after he passed away, making the best of the situation.
Special shout out to Adorno. You are my best friend. I absolutely love your hairy fur touching my cheeks when I’m half asleep.
Okay, let’s go.
Apneu – Silvester
Been following this indie band from Amsterdam since the beginning and their third album is an absolute classic. It’s catchy, moody, tight. The production by Ralv Milberg lifts the album to a next level. But it’s the songwriting that makes Silvester stand out. Read my STASIS review here.
Applescal – Diamond Skies
Not only the missing link between the ambient techno of the Border Community sound and Dutch trance, but also a perfect medicine for missing out on parties and concert. Diamond Skies captures the moment in which the rave becomes you and you become the rave. Read my STASIS review here.
The Bug & Dis Fig – In Blue
The only interview I did this year was a Zoom call with Kevin Martin aka The Bug. In Blue reminds me of other work of The Bug but also serves as a perfect sonic representation of being in lockdown. The thin, high-pitched and ghost-like vocals of Dis Fig, give the album a melancholic feel that triggers me to listen to it over and over again. Read my STASIS review here.
Jessy Lanza – All The Time
An absolute sucker for slick, catchy and sweet pop music with a microhouse feel to it. Jessy Lanza is the best. No idea why I didn’t wrote about this excellent album here at STASIS. Listen to All The Time at Bandcamp.
Hunter Complex – Dead Calm and Zero Degrees
Always loved the music by Lars Meyer aka Hunter Complex, but this album is different than his previous work because there is no nostalgia anymore. Meyer has found a way to use all kinds of sounds and tropes from the past to come up with something that is 2020 at its core: a post-nostalgic ambient synthpop masterpiece. Read my STASIS review here.
Coriky – Coriky
Maybe this is a bit of a nostalgic pick. Coriky is the band of former Fugazi (and Minor Thread) guitarist and singer Ian MacKaye. Got to think of it, my love for Coriky isn’t rooted in nostalgia: this debut album is indie rock at its best. Wonder why I didn’t write about the album for STASIS. Listen to the album at Bandcamp.
Vril – Bad Manners 4
Dancefloor oriented project by Vril aka Ulli Hammann for the Berlin-based Bad Manners label. The album is a registration of a perfect early morning set (think 3 am) in the ambient techno room of Dekmantal or another cool electronic music festival. Also, didn’t review this one for STASIS. Listen to the album at Bandcamp.
We Are Joiners – Clients + Carriers
Sort of compilation of the first two EP’s by an indie duo from the city of Groningen. Love the slacker atmosphere. Harry Prenger also can’t get enough of We Are Joiners. Really curious what they are up to in 2021. Read my STASIS review of Carriers here.
Europ Europ – Slow Train
Ancient and timeless, that’s Slow Train. It’s like It’s the musical expression of Das Abendland‘s struggle for survival. The soundtrack to go with the ritual cleansing of a romantic past that never might have existed. Maybe, Dutch anti-modernist politician, Thierry Baudet should listen to Europ Europ and fall in love with Europe again. Read my STASIS review of here.
Vladislav Delay – Rakka
For me, Sasu Ripatti never made a bad album. His work as Luomo is unique and unmatched. As Vladislav Delay, he is more experimental. Rakka is an exciting blend of ambient, industrial, techno and dub. A perfect soundtrack for an underground dance party in your mind. Read my STASIS review of the song ‘Rajaa’ here.
Hirashi Yoshimura – Green
Reissue of the 1986 ambient album by Japanese producer Hiroshi Yoshimura. The album sounds like it has been released on Kompakt records by a hipster Scandinavian producer who just moved to Berlin. Love it, even the green vinyl. Listen to Green at Bandcamp.
What are your favourite albums of 2020? Let me know.
Last year Julian Hermans died at the age of 12. A year earlier, he debuted with the bouncy fast dance track ‘Touwtjespringen’. Despite being ill for years, he worked together with bass producer Subp Yao and was planning a debut album. He also worked on the cover art of the album. Designer Guus Prevoo of Homo Ludens guided him in the artistic process.
His parents have been important driving forces of the creative scene in the city of Heerlen since the ‘culturele lente’ started in the early 2000s. Eva-Katrien founded important art and design initiatives like ‘Zachte G’ and ‘Dutch but not from Holland’. Maurice is a well-known local musician and debuted in the early 90s with the indie band Cowboys of the Sky.
Julian was a creative talent. In April 2019 he debuted as Puttylolian with ‘Touwtjespringen’. A few months later he was the youngest DJ ever at the local Daddy’s Cool festival. In the week before he died of the consequences of an acute cerebral hemorrhage, he came up with his moto be mad! Hence the title of his debut album: iDVW is like mad! upside down.
Heerlen-based and well-known producer Subp Yao aka Gert-Jan van Stiphout, took all the fragments, snippets, beats, and piano tryouts to his studio and, with help of Maurice, forged them together in sixteen tracks that do justice to the musical talent Julian had.
Although BE iDVW sounds like a collection of ideas, it clearly shows just how gifted Julian was. His influences range from hip hop, electronic dance music, piano music, experimental stuff, and rock. The dub in ‘Mijke heeft een leef Hoofd’ is incredibly poppy and gives a glimpse of what Julian could have achieved.
The making of this album must have been an intense, emotional, and painful process. The result is a beautiful tribute to Julian and an artifact that makes sure he and his budding talent will never be forgotten.
BE iDVW by Puttylolian can be ordered on Bandcamp.