What started as a side-project by musicians of various indie bands in Amsterdam, took shape in this debut mini-album. Global Charming is as Dutch as pop music gets: a bit clumsy, raw, uncomfortably comfortable. Mediocre, Brutal also marks a new peak for Subroutine. It turns fifteen this year and with excellent releases by Naive Set, Apneu and Global Charming so far the record label lives op to the expectations.
More about Subroutine’s anniversary soon.
Let’s talk about Global Charming.
Lately, The Netherlands are a goldmine for lovers of quirky indie rock. Global Charming is heavily influenced by Talking Heads and other no wave and postpunk from the late seventies, but sounds typically Dutch. Like Lewsberg, De Avonden, Rats on Rafts and Katafreuffe, the foursome sounds angular and direct. Like the famous Dutch literature in the 1950s and 1960s. There is also this hidden influence of the Dutch Ultra’s from the early 1980s. As Peter Bruyn wrote, echo’s of Dutch bands like The Ex, De Nits, Minny Pops and De Div are also present.
The details make Mediocre, Brutal so memorable: the synthesizer burps in ‘Soft Fruit’, the clumsy guitar solo in ‘Curveball’, Sara Elzinga’s vocals suddenly present in the background, flute in ‘If It Is’.
But it’s the overall vibe that makes this such a good debut. In the best moments, Global Charming sounds confident in letting go and play as loose as possible. ‘No Compromise’ and ‘My Turn To Sleep’, both under two minutes, are examples of this raw, a bit clumsy sounding style. ‘Celebration’ shows the future potential: a 4,5-minute motorik-driven, raw and direct rocker with a killer chorus that encourages to sing along. Reminds me of the best songs of LCD Soundsystem.
On the 16th of October the band, together with Apneu, will play at Patronaat Haarlem to celebrate Subroutine’s 15th birthday. Don’t miss it.
Mediocre, Brutal by Global Charming is released on Subroutine Records.
Apneu, my favourite indie rock band from Amsterdam, lost its uncomplicated catchy sound. At least, that’s what the leading Dutch music magazine OOR claims. Don’t believe the hype: Apneu still is catchy and uncomplicated.
Okay, I have to admit: my relationship with Apneu is a special one. During the perfect spring of 2006, I constantly travelled between Köln, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. With cut-up, we shared offices with the largest Dutch online music magazine KindaMuzik in the attic of the Nederlands Pop Instituut (NPI) at the Prins Hendrikkade. I used to be editor-in-chief at KindaMuzik and still worked for them and also worked for OOR, but cut-up definitely was my main occupation. I grounded the webzine for underground culture with a bunch of crazy friends in 2001. Around 2005 we had around 35.000 unique readers, which was a lot since we wrote about underground culture in Dutch.
We had some great writers and were exploring short videos (made by the incredible Maria Cristina Fazecas and Karianne Hylkema) when our new intern arrived. Joeri Joustra studied journalism in Zwolle and wanted to explore his role in contemporary journalism. He made some really cool podcasts for cut-up and wrote a couple of good articles. Near the end of his internship, I got a call from his mentor at university who told me Joeri wanted to quit his study. According to him a bold but stupid move since Joeri only had to write his thesis to graduate. If I could talk to Joeri and try to change his mind.
We talked. Joeri didn’t finish his journalism study (because he wanted to do stuff that we did at cut-up as a real profession) and went on to pursue his other dream: enjoying playing the bass.
He succeeded, made some good albums with Boutros Bubba, worked together with artists like Spoelstra and Kattadreuffe and became a key figure in the Amsterdam new dutch indie scene. With Silvester, he just released the third official studio album of Apneu, the band he co-founded a decade ago. So in a really indirect way, I played a tiny role in the creation of this album.
Trust me, that doesn’t make me biased (nah, maybe just a little). Having said that, Silvester is one of the best indie rock albums I’ve heard in years. My former colleague at OOR John Denekamp is right: this new Apneu album is darker and more coherent than earlier material by the band. The powerful production by Ralv Milberg adds a new layer. The tightness he added to the production of the albums by Die Nerven is also present here. Especially his gift to put the vocals to the background a tiny bit.
That doesn’t make Silvester less catchy. Quite the opposite: Apneu never has been catchier. The songs are more playful than before, the variety between and in songs higher. But it’s the songwriting that makes this album the best Apneu til now. They are a bit less explosive and direct, but the generally more introvert character of the songs, combined with the perfect melodies and catchy riffs makes the album stand out.
In ‘All These Sounds Rewind’, ‘Stay Stupid’ and ‘Porcelain’ the ghost of Evan Dando (The Lemonheads) roams. In his golden years, he wrote extremely catchy indie songs with fuzzy guitars as a contrast. On this album, Erik Schumacher’s vocals even remind me a bit of Evan’s (the desperate singing and murmuring). This is certainly not a lost The Lemonheads albums, but it catches the same playfulness, openness, desperation and melancholy.
That sound culminates in the last song on the album: ’20’. One of the best indie songs I’ve heard in a long time.
What a great record.
Silvester by Apneu is released by Subroutine Records.
In a way Slow Train is a typical Europ Europ release: there is no easy way to describe the music. Referring to older material doesn’t work.
Next year the band turns 25. Still, with every release, the Norwegian trio sounds different. This new one is probably the most accessible. The emphasis on rhythm and beats gives a sense of structure and flirts with minimal techno. It reminds me of Repeating Mistakes (2012) and Mellowharsher (2012), both blending lof-fi noise with a sort of utopian krautrock. It also has some similarities with the dancefloor-oriented Much More Ordinary 7″ (2015).
But… Okay, referring to older releases doesn’t really work.
Slow Train is a combination of the eponymous 8″ single and a handful of new songs recorded this and last year. Although the differences between the tracks are significant, there is a common factor. All eight tracks are moody, dark, slowish, experimental, exciting and playful. Especially the playfulness makes Slow Train so incredibly good.
Slow Train is rhythm and beats driven and resides in the twilight zone between industrial ambient and psychedelic drone-rock. Well, that deserves a further explanation. In the early 1990s, the term industrial ambient described a loosely connected group of artists that blended elements of dub, soundscapes and industrial music with ambient. The results were terrifyingly beautiful. Think acts like Scorn, Ice and Techno Animal. Producer Kevin Martin made a compilation series for Virgin records, but he called the music illbient, a term also used for experimental hip-hop from New York.
Some tracks on Slow Train sound like they have been made in Birmingham around that period of time. ‘Spider’ and opener ‘Desert Disco’ would fit on Scorn’s Evanescene (1994). Psychedelic drone-rock is a more complicated term. I’m referring to bands like Hair and Skin Trading Company here. Europ Europ is definitely not playing rock on Slow Train, but ‘Slow Train to Death’, ‘Hear! Hear!’ and ‘Slow Train to Drugs’ have that sluggish, dark dub structure that was so typical for the short-lived career of that band.
That’s not all. Underneath that sluggish, dark dub structure Europ Europ experiments with different layers of beats, bass lines, soundscapes, noise, rhythms and sounds. When I wrote about their MellowHarsher release back in 2012, I described the music as a blend of New Weird America, unpolished folk and industrial noise. Trying to grasp the essence, I wrote:
Europ Europ sounds ‘primal’, as if they are digging deep in the essence of Northern Europe. Industrial machines are buzzing, the occult gods from before the invasion of Christianity seem to emerge. There to haunt us. This is music for a continent adrift, a soundtrack of the demise of Europe. Beautiful, raw, grotesque, terrifying but also cathartic. Music that seeks to expel the evil spirits from capitalism by freeing the ancient demons, hidden deep within earth itself. And well, we also know: those demons are within us. Scary stuff. But oh so beautiful.
In another review (for Gonzo Circus or OOR, I can’t remember), I used the term New Weird Europe to describe their music. I guess that’s still the best I can come up with. In spite of the emphasis here on rhythm and beats, the essence still lies in the haunted character of the music.
Ancient and timeless.
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.
In Podcast Over Media, Dutch tech entrepreneur Alexander Klöpping admitted he is stuck in the 1990s. For me, his confession was an eyeopener. Suddenly I understood why I was so emotional after the recent situation at De School, a music club in Amsterdam, being accused of racism. I didn’t felt sad only for De School, but mostly because of the loss of my belief in the inclusive power of electronic dance music culture.
That feeling is soooo 1990s.
After the live-streamed podcast addressing the claims of racism at De School, I wanted to share my views on the matter but felt that it wasn’t my call. After all, I am a middle-aged white male living a decent life. I have been part of the electronic dance music culture since the early days. Wrote about it extensively and always from a sociological perspective of how alternative cultures change the status quo and can blend borders between race, gender, class, religion.
Since I became a vegetarian back in the mid-1980s, I’ve regarded humans and other species as equals. While that idea has become more common, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was still considered to be radical and extreme. As a strong supporter of the Animal Liberation Front, I participated in demonstrations and more drastic actions. I felt bitter, misunderstood and considered everybody with other thoughts to be my enemy. Hatred was the way to go.
Club culture changed my views dramatically. I experienced what compassion and genuine interest in the other can do. How it felt to be part of a family that wasn’t organised around hatred and nihilism. In the early 1990s race, gender, class, religion didn’t matter. Well, obviously they did, but we tend to talk about them a lot, have discussions and change our perspectives and take our words into action. Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto often was our starting point.
Coalition through affinity.
I decided not to get involved in the discussion about De School. Then a friend shared a link to a trailer of the 25th-anniversary edition of La Haine.
La Haine by French director Mathieu Kassovitz is one of the most disturbing movies I’ve seen. It tells the story of three friends growing up in les banlieues in Paris. Not going to spoil anything, it is a must-see because of the cinematic aesthetics and because of the message. Well, actually two messages. The first one is:
La haine attire la haine! – Hatred breeds hatred
The second one is even more critical and less visible: individual action matters. Maybe it’s the only thing that matters. We tend to think we are just pawns in a bigger play dominated by abstract organisations and systems. Well, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy: you’ll become that pawn, battling other pawns while the ‘system’ is watching your struggle with a smile on its face.
This is what Slavoj Žižek describes in his book Violence: Six Sideways Reflections as systemic violence. The abstract violence of the system is maintained by the subjective violence used against it by individuals or groups. The only way to counter systemic violence is to understand and dismantle it by altering the symbolic values it uses.
So, how does this relate to the situation at De School?
The live-streamed podcast was a sad representation of pawns battling each other. Instead of a discussion on values, it turned out to be more like an inquisition with the inexperienced and clearly nervous moderator Souhayla Ou-Oumar as both judge and executioner. Her suggestive way of asking questions caused fear, and the three representatives of De School on stage carefully choose their words looking for the only appropriate answer. And even that was the wrong answer.
I was able to stop the urge to leave the live-stream, but what was happening felt not okay. People that founded one of the coolest and most inclusive clubs in the world (and have been doing good work in the scene for over a decade) were portrayed as apparent racists. Cancel culture at its worst. There are serious allegations against the hired security guards and De School doing too little about it. That’s an organisational responsibility and needs to be dealt with immediately. Absolutely no doubt about that. The importance of fighting racism, gender discrimination and other forms of inequality can not be exaggerated.
However, during the podcast, the impression was given (by a small group that claimed to speak for the community as a whole but actually didn’t, as the comments in the live chat proved) that De School is one of the most unsafe places to be.
How did that happen?
Partly because during the last two decades an intersectional approach has been substituted for a sectional. Instead of the idea that aspects of a person’s social identity as a whole create unique modes of discrimination and privilege, the focus has shifted to taking only one aspect (like race or gender) and isolate it from the rest. Isolation is one of the most significant forces neoliberalism has (just read Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Mark Fisher for more insights). When people are isolated in groups, they are easier to control and manipulated to turn on each other.
That’s what happened during the podcast and made me so sad to hear people ditching each other that have so many values in common.
De School feels like a lost cause after all that has been said, but I hope we can learn from this and make sure that the electronic dance music culture becomes inclusive (again).
Meaning: rebuilding communities where everybody is equal, differences are celebrated instead of condemned and commercial and financial gain is secondary. That’s the only way to battle systemic violence. We should be aware of our differences (in race, gender, class, religion and more) and never allow the system to use them against us.
That’s in line with the messages of La Haine. The three protagonists in the movie have both similar en different backgrounds. They choose to focus on the similarities and make radical decisions as individuals.
Coalition through affinity, as Haraway wrote.
You have the personal power to change things. We all have.
Let’s start listening.
The live-streamed podcast by De School can be listened here.
It’s one of the best inventions of this century. For me, the platform functions as a time machine. With a few clicks, I can visit the 1981 concert of New Order in New York, see and hear AC/DC perform with singer Bon Scott back in 1977 and turn my living room in a club with a perfect DJ-set full of rare records by My Analog Journal or enjoy the futuristic 80s visions by Are Sounds Electrik?.
YouTube makes the world smaller.
James Hoffmann makes me extremely happy with his coffee fetishism and Will Yeung vegan ramen is delicious and so easy to make.
But the channel I love most is EELF.
Since 2017, EELF (Andrius from Lithuania) has been combining hand-shot video material from the 1990s that he finds on YouTube with new electronic music found on platforms such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud. The combinations are exciting and unusually beautiful. The EELF channel is already close to 22 million views. Despite the old visual material, the conjunction with new music (which often sounds retro) does not feel nostalgic.
Maybe that’s also because the nineties, like the eighties, never really disappeared. The 21st century is characterized by the lack of a narrative of the now and the future. In that respect, we still live in the eighties and nineties. That last decade was postponed in 2001. It looks like it’s starting up again.
EELF’s YouTube channel is a success. In the beginning, he combined lo-fi house with film scenes. It was fun, but something was missing. The combination had to be more than just a gimmick. Sound and image had to support one another, had to lead to something unique. It all came together when he started using found VHS material from YouTube. New lo-fi house with amateur video clips from the 1990s was a perfect fit.
Today EELF has a catalogue of about 800 of these combinations, the channel has around 147,000 subscribers, and Andrius spends two hours a day making new uploads.
Finding the perfect combination is a delicate operation. His latest upload is footage from a sailing trip in, probably, the early nineties. The camera is shaky. Clumsy zooming in and out too fast, too unstable. The soundtrack is provided by Carmel & Salomo’s ‘Happy Hour’, released two weeks ago on vinyl by the label R.A.N.D. Muzik from Leipzig. It fits perfectly.
Andrius’ tagline is ‘EELF is creating nostalgia’, but his combinations are beyond nostalgia. Yes, his video material is from the past and the brand new music he uses flirts with the heydays of rave and electronic dance music. However, the combination isn’t referring to the past. It’s much more an alternative reality, a representation of a world that could have been. Could have been the present. I would suggest calling this post-nostalgia: EELF’s productions make us aware that we can approach things today in a more open, conscious and naïve way without losing ourselves in the past or the future.
This is a new sort of pop culture that doesn’t fight the status quo but creates a different world. YouTube is full of channels like this, and they all deserve our attention.
The city is known for its alternative music culture. Vera is one of the oldest and probably the coolest Dutch music club. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was a haven for indie culture. All the cool national and international bands played shows there for all the cool kids. Double cool. Although it suffered from the changing live concert policies by MOJO (part of Clear Channel) in the early 2000s to only program one or two shows by international bands preferably in the Amsterdam region, Vera managed to stay relevant.
It is not a coincidence that Subroutine Records, the leading Dutch indie label, was founded in Groningen. The label gave a face to the rising New Dutch Indie scene. With pioneers The Sugarettes and Nikoo, both from Eindhoven, the scene skyrocketed in the late 2000s. In the 2010s it established a network of independent labels like Narrominded, Geertruida, Snowstar, Smikkelbaard and more. New exciting bands emerged from Maastricht to Groningen, and from Goes to Enschede.
In January 2017 indie culture took over pop club Paradiso in Amsterdam for 24 hours and over a 100 Dutch indie acts. The festival’s name was Van Onderen: from the bottom (up). Traditional media like Vice’s Noisey had a hard time dissing the festival (writing about a cult, sect and church of indie) and failed miserably.
Back to Groningen.
Two acts from the local indie scene just released new material. Avery Plains is a so-called supergroup: its members used to play in bands like Dandruff, Moonlizards, Meindert Talma and Audiotransparant. The band debuted on Subroutine, made a first album and were the support act for Dinosaur Jr. Their second SoOn has just been released on Flat Plastix. In the press sheet, the band mentions Swervedriver and Wipers and driving a rusty Ford Mustang in search of lost love.
Great metaphor and pretty accurate. SoOn is the soundtrack for an alternative reality where time doesn’t exist. Dusty roads and rusty muscle cars are everywhere and love is only an excuse to keep on driving. Interrupted for a half-warm beer in a shady truckstop. I could wander there forever.
Musically Avery Plains is a colourful blend of all edges of indie rock from the late 1980s and early 1990s. A bit of early Screaming Trees, Swervedriver, The Feelies, Kitchens of Distinction and The Afghan Whigs. Absolutely love the noisy guitars and crusty vocals. The twin guitars (and flanger) in ‘A Song of my Own Rising’ are magical. Reminds me of, well, drinking a half-warm beer in a shady truckstop.
In many ways, the debut ep Carriers is the opposite of SoOn. We Are Joiners are two lads recording their songs in the bedroom with just a Boss BR1180 recorder, cheap microphone and guitar with nylon strings. Sounds like early 1990s Sabadoh and has that typical slacker atmosphere. No Ford Mustang here, but a bicycle with a flat tire. And it’s beautiful. Three out of four tracks are under two minutes and sound raw, fresh and lively. Love it.
Funny detail: the duo is now working on their second ep that will be mastered by Pim van Werken, who wrote the underground diss in Noisey. Luckily he is a better producer than a writer ;- )
SoOn by Avery Plains is released by Flat Plastix, Carriers by We Are Joiners is released independently.
There are so many layers to discover on Diamond Skies.
Let’s start at the beginning.
In a way, Applescal is the missing link between the ambient techno of the Border Community sound and Dutch trance. Like his other records, Diamond Skies lacks the strong melancholic element of Cologne ambient scene (The Field, Popnoname) but is full of grand gestures. The optimism and directness of James Holden are never far away. The trance influence takes the edge off. It never becomes sentimental, like for example Nathan Fake’s ‘The Sky was Pink’ does.
Applescal is Amsterdam based producer Pascal Terstappen and Diamond Skies, released on this own Atomnation record label, is his sixth album. This one is his most coherent and direct.
That’s the second layer.
The album sounds like dancing on a house festival somewhere in the woods near Amsterdam while the sun is fading away into the night but still feels warm on your skin. It makes you long for those golden moments. The moments you become the rave and the rave becomes you. Terstappen captured that feeling all too well. Maybe on purpose, because he finished Diamond Skies in Covid-19 lockdown.
In that sense, this a nostalgic album. Well, let’s replace nostalgic by the German word Fernweh. It’s not so much the longing for what once was (house festival in the woods, etc etc) but for what we’ve lost and eventually will get back if we’re lucky. The mood on Diamond Skies is that of longing for an alternative reality where we are still able to dance, watch the sun disappear, sip cold white wine, dance some more, and witness a beautiful sunset.
That makes me both sad and happy. That’s layer three.
Playing Diamond Skies loud on my stereo makes me long for a summer full of dance parties so much, but also makes me feel like I’m there. Opening tracks ‘Incognitana’ and ‘Legobeats’, played on high volume, suck you in and drown you in rave aesthetics. The subtle piano chords, playful synths and clouds of ambient melodies are incredible addictive.
Diamond Skies might be the most coherent and direct Applescal album, it is also his most sophisticated. Beneath the superficial and linear structure of the tracks, hides a moody and strong sentiment.
Come to think of it, maybe Diamond Skies is Fernweh because it emotionally connects to the best house party you’ve ever been to, and that might well be one that you’ve only imagined in your dreams.
This is an album for dreamers.
Diamond Skies by Applescal is released by Atomnation.
For me, Manchester and Amsterdam are connected since the mid-1990s. I used to purposeless walk the city with my walkman. I taped the Second Coming album by Stones Roses and loved every second of it. Extremely underrated album. In ‘Straight to the Man’, Ian Brown sings ‘Amsterdam is Sodom and Gomorrah’. Don’t know why but since the first time I always heard ‘Amsterdam in summertime’.
But, for me, that vocal line connected Manchester and Amsterdam. By that time I travelled a lot to London, Manchester and Birmingham. As a rising music journalist, I tried to experience pop culture from where I thought it happened. I was extremely Britain oriented. Well, let’s be honest: the first part of the 1990s is dominated by British pop culture. Right?
Long story short: Amsterdam felt like a bit like Manchester. I know, also back then, the cities where each other’s opposites: neoliberal, rich, a bit fake versus working class, recovering from economic and social depression, honest. But feelings don’t mind facts.
Since that moment in 1994, the two cites were connected.
In early 1990 there were a couple of Dutch bands that embraced the new exciting sound from Manchester (Charming Children, Pearls For Swains, Eton Crop), but by 2000 focus shifted to the new emerging post-punk scene in New York.
Except for Lemon.
Four lads from Amsterdam madly in love with Manchester.
On their debut album, Lemon took the early 1990s sound and transformed it into something new. Same like Kasabian, The Music en Viva Stereo also did around that time.
From their second Hey… (2006) on they moved towards a more laidback sound, honouring Madchester pioneers Happy Mondays, Stereo MC’s and The Charlatans. They called one of their later albums Nedchester (2011).
And now Lemon is back with an awesome new song.
‘Love Can Take You Places’ is a monument for both Nedchester and Madchester. It embodies the essence of the sound, the blend of northern soul and indie rock, the idea that maybe life isn’t fair but that we still have our music. The ultimate escape.
Scene icon Cath Coffey of Stereo MC’s is present as a guest vocalist and takes the song to a higher level, but it is the excellent songwriting that makes ‘Love Can Take You Places’ stand out.
There is only one possible improvement.
Well, actually two.
We need a way much longer dance version of the song. Like eight minutes with an Andrew Weatherall like touch.
It’s also time for a sixth Lemon album and I want to suggest a couple of new collaborations, including New Order and Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream. Maybe Eton Crop (back together again) also want to jam.
For now, I’ll enjoy the excellent quality of ‘Love Can Take You Places’.
Love Can Take You Places by Lemon is self-released.