We went to Groningen for Super Soakers full of vodka, gothic architecture and Icelandic music
In November, we travelled to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves, a gloriously debauched trip to the country's beautiful capital. Eurosonic Noorderslag is the second leg of Airwaves, the festival we visited last November, and a chance for Iceland to export its homegrown musical talent abroad, this time to Holland and the city of Groningen, a notorious party town boasting the country's youngest average population.
Everyone speaks English, everyone rides a bike, and you can buy burgers from vending machines: these are the three points that most people made when telling us about the small, somewhat unknown city which plays host to the event. We visited the town for four days to immerse ourselves in the Dutch way of life, and here’s what we learned.
GRONINGEN PAID RESPECT TO CHARLIE HEBDO IN A PRETTY AMAZING WAY
In a show of solidarity after the shootings in Paris last month, Groningen's iconic Martini Tower was lit up to look like a giant pencil. As the tallest building in Groningen, it provided a pretty amazing backdrop to the festival. Especially if you're a If you're a fan of gothic architecture or stationary.
WE GOT ALL PATRIOTIC ABOUT ICELAND
Iceland was chosen as the "focus country" of this year’s Eurosonic, which means they had the chance to show the Dutch public a shit-tonne of music and prove that there’s more to their country than just Björk and Sigur Rós. Thursday night’s Icelandic Invitation at the Stadsschouwberg was the perfect education, which alongside with music featured some of Iceland’s favourite cuisine – you know, like the rotten shark, boiled lamb, raw puffin (jokes), all of which tasted great, aside from an ominous shot of liquor that tasted a whole lot like ethanol.
The night was introduced by Illugi Gunnarsson, the Icelandic minister of culture, who gave a brilliantly passionate and inspiring speech on how music in Iceland has developed thanks to the introduction of music teachers into every school to make sure children understand its importance from an early age. I spent most of the night feeling emotional about Iceland while taking in some wonderful music ,including the hugely talented (and very Fleet Foxes-esque) group Arstidir, and the intensely atmospheric Samaris, who with the help of some dark, brooding synth sounds combined with soothing clarinet, offered up one of the best sets of the festival. It’s impossible to ignore the singer's Björk-influenced vocals, but they’re from Iceland so it’s all cool.
ACID ARAB WERE UNLIKE ANYTHING ELSE AT EUROSONIC
Acid Arab are a French duo that mix Lebanese and Egyptian genres with electronic beats to create dance music that's unlike anything that we heard at the festival. They topped off a great night at Platformtheater after a sweaty set from the Belgian band STUFF. They told the Guardian last year that that they're not "flagbearers of exotic shit", but "want to be representative of our days". So that's good.
BAD BREEDING COULD BE THE FUTURE OF PUNK
OK, OK: time for a shout-out to some British punk. Bad Breeding ripped through their set of noisy anthems at breakneck speed, occasionally sounding like the British cousin of Danish brats Iceage. The pure energy that comes from this band is utterly intoxicating, and standing at the front next to the speaker is the perfect way to enjoy "Burn This Flag" and "Age of Nothing", two of the best British punk songs of recent years. It'll make your ears bleed, but it's worth it.
DE SPIEGHEL IS AN AMAZING PLACE TO WATCH BANDS
This little jazz cafe is the spot to watch music in Groningen, with Temples a huge talking point from last year. We were so entranced by the venue that we even found ourselves enjoying Catfish and The Bottlemen, FFS - you know, that band who've been hyped by Fearne Cotton and some guy from One Direction. Whatever you think of them (and I hated them before I saw them in Groningen), it was kind of cool to be able to watch a band in a tiny space who are going to headline Brixton Academy next month.
IF IN DOUBT, BRING BELLY DANCERS
It doesn't take a genius to realise that without a decent light show, a load of beers and possibly some class A narcotics, watching someone play music out of a laptop can be fucking dull. Cairo Liberation Front have obviously noticed that if they want their audience to really enjoy their frantic techno, or as they brilliantly put it, "Egyptian wedding rave", they're going to have to pull out all the stops. These stops come in the form of a wild-looking hype man armed with a Super Soaker full of vodka, and two belly dancers that seem to never, ever stop dancing. Boring DJs take note, this is how you can get a crowd going.
GRONINGEN IS THE PERFECT PLACE FOR A FESTIVAL
We had no idea what to expect from Groningen, this mysterious city that throws such an almighty party. But seriously, we can’t think of a more perfect place to hold a festival. The town is completely overrun with venues, bars, record shops, and coffee shops, and all you have to do is walk down a strange side road to bump into a band that you’ve never heard of before but you’ll later fall in love with.
One of the town’s most loved record shops is Plato, a great little vault of vinyl which doubles as an intimate venue. Whilst trawling through the punk vinyl looking for Dutch exports of Clash records, a French artist called Mina Tindle took to the stage to deliver a soothing set of charming pop songs. I strongly recommend standing in a bustling record shop in the heart of a beautiful city while French pop songs wash over you. It will improve you as a human.