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Dance Like It’s Ok: New Music From Netherlands, Belgium & Germany
Theo Ploeg , September 25th, 2015 09:32

Our Dutch Master Theo Ploeg returns with his ongoing search for the best new (electronic) music in The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium: to the lowlands and beyond! Portrait by Frank Egel

Last month German newspaper Der Freitag declared Deutschpop, a term for indiepop sung in German, dead. Ironically enough Firs the new album by Die Goldenen Zitronen (‘The Golden Lemons’) will be sung in English. Not that the two things are directly related. The former punks were one of the pioneers of Deutschpop back in the late eighties and early nineties. Being part of the Hamburg School - a term used to describe a new breed of pop band singing in German and using the social criticism of the Frankfurt School - the band became quite popular in Germany. But like the Melvins, the godfathers of grunge in Seattle, Die Goldenen Zitronen never reached the star status like Blumfeld, Toctronic and Die Stern. Despite experimenting with hip hop, electronic music and krautrock since the early nineties, Die Goldenen Zitronen still has the same vibe it had almost thirty years ago when the debut EP Doris Ist In Der Gang was released.

Mid september the first full English language album Flogging A Dead Frog will be released. Actually, not all songs are new. Most are reworked versions of the band's old songs. A sort of ‘best of’ album to get more publicity outside the Germany? Well, knowing vocalist and lyricist Schorsch Kamerun and his critical view on the world the choice for English is probably more of an ideological one. Communicating in English Die Goldenen Zitronen will be able to reach much more people to let them know how geopolitics are rapidly changing in our world.

First single 'If I Were A Sneaker' is a good example. It’s a reworking of 'Wenn Ich Ein Turnschuh Wär' that appeared on the album Lenin (2006). The theme? The refugees that are trying to cross the Bosphorus in search of a better life in Europe. A fine example of the aesthetics of Die Goldenen Zitronen where politics and pop are continuously blended together. That’s what Deutschpop used to be.

Before house and techno came to The Netherlands and Germany, Belgium had its own summer of love in 1987/1988. Electronic music has been part of the underground music scene since the end of the 1970s, with acts like Front 242 and The Neon Judgement becoming extremely populair during the eighties Their pounding drum machines and dark atmospheres became known as electronic body music (EBM). Front 242’s first single 'U-Men' (1982) became an anthem in Chicago’s Warehouse. The band from Brussels would later sign to Wax Trax! Records. EBM was the mainstream in most alternative clubs during the eighties. New beat was invented by accident. In club Ancienne Belgique, Brussels DJ Dikke Ronny (‘Fat Ronny’) played the 45 rpm single 'Flesh By A Split Second' at 33 rmp with a pitch control set to +8. Magic happened and within a year new beat was a club-standard. The genre was a big influence for nineties Euro-house, hardcore rave and Dutch gabber.

Recently director Jozef Devillé made a very good documentary about new beat called The Sound Of Belgium (2012). One of the key figures during the second part of the eighties was Ro Maron who began producing electronic music after he left the new wave band Twee Belgen (‘Two Belgians’) and became known als ‘the wizard of the Roland 303’. With this drum machine as basis he blends acid, rave, techno and new beat together. The original singles and 12"s are very difficult to get hold of. Luckily a part of his amazing output is now collected on a first sampler Collected #1 (only 35 tracks). Can’t wait for part #2.

The naïve experiments of new beat, early house and techno are the key-inspiration for Antenna, a Dutch/Ukrainian duo living in Amsterdam. Both Sasha Renkas and Eline Makker aim to bring the punk-attitude back to electronic dance music. Solo Renkas is making pure pop music, but together with Makker it’s more complicated. “Life is nothing but bittersweet. That should be reflected in our music. Some people are only concerned with the sweet. That’s only a façade”, Makker told the Dutch dance magazine DJ Broadcast. “Pop music nowadays, unlike before, is nothing more than escapism, disco was escapism as well, but I could still hear the hard worker's life”, Renkas adds. The blending of sour and sweet is definitely their trademark.

On their third EP, out on the cool Rotterdam based label Pinkerman in september, they certainly grasp back to the heydays of house, end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties. But, Antenna isn’t pure retro. Childhood is based upon the optimism and experiments of early house but also incorporates sultry Italo disco, dreamy new wave and early experimental electronic music. It’s old but in a way also new. Similar to what other Dutch artists like Legowelt and Xosar (who moved to Berlin recently) are currently doing. Later this year Antenna will bring out a new record on Clone Records, Rotterdam.

Dutch composer Michiel van Poelgeest is not concerned with the sour. He just wants to find the perfect pop song. After writing about the genre in different Dutch newspapers and talking about it on national television he is now, as Villeneuf, trying to compose it himself. The album Great Waste Of Time (2012) was a first attempt. It was a nice album, but maybe too strict and structured. Song length, choruses, bridges, vibe, everything seemed to come straight from the book. It brought Villeneuf to the finals of the Dutch music price De Grote Prijs van Nederland and a one minute performance on the Dutch prime time television show De Wereld Draait Door (The World Keeps Turning).

Its successor You And Me Galaxy is only released on the web, but buyers get a beautiful physical cover design of the Hague artist/graphic designer Julian Sirre. This second album sounds different, less fabricated and structured, more loose and thus more emotional. Opener 'Since The Start' is a sugar-coated and warm eighties pop song that reminds me of the Junior Boys. On 'Orange And Brown' the warm analogue sound is mixed with digital vocal techniques. ‘Lemonade’ sounds like a late seventies acoustic songs revised by American trance producer BT and ‘Little Man’ comes across like a new track by German pop-krautrockers Von Spar. And that perfect pop song? Well, Van Poelgeest is definitely getting there.

In the southern Dutch city of Heerlen nobody is interested in finding the perfect pop song. Since the mines closed in the late seventies the city is left with all kinds of social and economical problems. During the cultural spring a couple of years ago it seems to have revived itself, but after the city cut backs on spending on culture Heerlen is back were it started. That’s okay. With one of the most interested street art scenes in The Netherlands, a healthy hip hop community and some of the most innovative dance producers (Raadsel, Luisterwaar, Kijk ene Ster, Subp Yoa) the city is an interesting place for underground culture.

Artist, curator and producer Mike Kramer was born in the vicinity of Heerlen, moved to Amsterdam but came back. As the curator of the electronic art and music festival (h)ear - experimental audio research he is one of the key-figures in the Heerlen underground. After making some excellent techno-tracks for a couple of commissioned assignments, Kramer started producing experimental ambient techno as Core Shift on CD and cassette. CS² is his new moniker, combining his love for the dark and overwhelming sound of Godflesh, Scorn and various Kevin Martin projects as well as the alienating ambient techno of GAS and Basic Channel. The three tracks on Dark Dwellings sound uncanny, rough and, on the other hand, introvert, distant and reassuring. Even though it is full of tension, slow and estranging like a repetitive ritual to exorcise demons, it still carries a glimpse of hope.

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