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Things Learned At: Motel Mozaïque
The Quietus , April 23rd, 2013 08:45

A trip to Rotterdam's Motel Mozaïque festival harboured a selection of audio treats, communal sleeping and a giant statue of Santa Claus "wielding a 10ft butt plug"

Photo by Fred Ernst

Earlier this month, the Quietus visited Rotterdam for the thirteenth edition of Motel Mozaïque, a 36-hour arts and music festival scattered around the heart of the city. Along the way we encountered an excess of excellent music, performance art, and delicious croquettes that any hygienically inclined person would run a mile from, were they not so overcome by the excitement of acquiring the piping hot breaded roll from an on-street pigeonhole. So, without further ado, here follows a summary of the things we learned at Motel Mozaïque.

It's Good To Keep It In The Family

Ah, the image of the family band: practicing from an early age in the living room, proud parents watching on fondly at first, a little more strained after many late night thumping practices, casual sibling rivalry giving way to on-tour bust-ups and eventually, at the peak of success, wielding guitars at each other like axes and going to court over "swearing and screaming, and shouting about journalists and generally not making any sense" in first class lounges of airports.

At Motel Mozaïque, the family duo is something of a staple. First up there's Los Angeles 4AD signees Inc., who play at BIRD Jazz Club under the arches of the Hofbogen. Brothers Andrew and Daniel Aged pillar each side of the stage, swathed in black, one with his head shaved, the other wielding an undercut and greasy topknot combo that could easily rival Lisbeth Salander. On aesthetic alone, it doesn't take much to concoct a series of preconceived notions about this duo – think The xx if they'd been bullied at school and listened to Silverchair on the bus on the way to get matching tattoos. In actual fact, their music sounds like they spent their youth driving girls around in a BMW E30 listening to D'Angelo; it oozes and leaks out across the tunneled venue, serenading anything in its path with a slick slow jam of bass and velvety vocals.

Across the city at Rotown, Drenge's Eoin and Rory Loveless are unapologetically drumming up something a little more frenzied, more than enough to drown out the sound of any ill-advised moron still shouting about the apparent death of guitar music. Unapologetically, that is, until Eoin inadvertently rams his own guitar into an unsuspecting crowd member with all the grace of a rhino, after dropping off the front of the stage mid song. "Sorry about the beer," he mutters into his microphone.

Drenge's sound is so brilliantly deafening that its relentless noise punches its way through your chest and won't leave you until long after you've climbed into bed. Eoin pummels at his guitar, clambering onto his brother's drum kit as they thrash their way through an ear-splitting set. He threatens to swing off an unstable looking drainpipe that hangs from the ceiling, thinks better of it and neatly jumps back down onto the stage. A middle-aged woman collects the set list, quickly stuffing it into her jacket pocket.

"No Thanks, I'm British"

After an exhausting Friday that involved a 5am start, a traumatically delayed train down to Heathrow and a day stumbling around Rotterdam, the familiar feeling of battered insteps and aching knees eventually kicks in on our way to The Sleeping Project in the early hours of Saturday morning. An instated part of Motel Mozaïque ever since its conception over a decade ago, the project embraces its 'stay over for the weekend' motto quite literally, having previously created sleeping places in churches, hospitals and even shop windows. This year, the project acquired a floor of de Doelen concert hall, and as Sleeping Project virgins, much of our day had been spent speculating as the nature of what was to come: shabby-chic refugee camp? Kumbaya-humming hippy commune? Sweaty youth hostel? Bacchanalian orgy?

In actual fact it turned out to be none of the above, or at the very least a failed attempt at the latter. After we had 'surrendered' our shoes, clothes and belongings to the all-white, hooded nymph-esque collective, we were led upstairs to find a 'special place' to get ready for bed, which after several awkward "what do they mean" side-eyes, incidentally turns out to be the toilet. Once tightly tucked into our bunk beds we managed to catch a few hours sleep before being terrifyingly risen at 0900 hours by the cold and wet reality of a stranger whipping off our eye masks and enthusiastically patting down our faces with a sponge and brushing our matted hair. Whilst this may initially be a little disconcerting for the sleep-loving, ever-prudish Brit, once you know what's coming it's actually a little less startling. On Sunday morning we embrace it heartily, only to draw the line at toothbrushing.

Photo by Fred Ernst

Strange Occurrences, Quotes And Other Assorted Items Of Note

Created by American artist Paul McCarthy in 2001, Rotterdam's finest piece of public artwork is a statue of a giant Santa Claus proudly wielding a 10ft butt plug in an apparent ode to modern consumerism. We can't get a photo for a while due to the amount of kids 'playing' on it, so as we wait we stare wonderingly at the colossal amount of bird shit that seems to have been ironically magnetised to the tip of Santa's pleasure stick.

Thrusting your AAA wristband at an attendant and garbling in very fast, authoritative English is the easiest way to waive 50-cent toilet fees.

On a Craig David soundtracked boat tour of the second biggest harbour in the world, we pull into a nautical-industrial cul-de-sac of sorts and watch from the deck as three women dressed as airhostesses open their coats to spell out 'Motel Mozaïque' with coloured letters struck onto their t-shirts. There is an almighty cheer from the boat, as if this is in fact what we have sailed halfway down the Nieuwe Maas for. The women smile and wave merrily before climbing back into a Jeep, which swiftly drives off.

"If in doubt, it's art," – The Fly's Lisa Wright on the questionable cultural status of a collection of giant, pastel-coloured, slug-shaped objects abandoned by the side of a canal.


Everything Sounds Better With An Orchestra

It begins on Friday. In the magnificent Rotterdamse Schouwburg, experimental jazz lords Jaga Jazzist play with the Britten Sinfonia as part of a series of live orchestral arrangements, which are to culminate in the release of a collaborative live album. A self-proclaimed 'psychedelic Bond soundtrack', the collaboration sends a ripple of electric anticipation across the room, encouraged by Martin Horntveth, who keeps leaping up from his drum kit in between every piece and exclaiming how excited he is.

It sounds clichéd, but you feel like you can literally hear every individual note of each member of the arrangement. Rather than creating a wave of noise, the compositions are carefully woven together into a chasm of sound that seems to gather in every pocket of space in the building.  During 'One Armed Bandit', with its introductory, spine-tingling bass clarinet solo, each player seamlessly connects the threads of their instruments: from the throbbing of horns, to the textures of electronic synths, to the occasional flutter of flute, to the warm tones of xylophone, all converging into a delicate yet powerful contour of sound that rises cinematically to the ceiling.

On Saturday afternoon, whilst sitting outside the closed doors of the same venue, we hear what presumably is Woodkid rehearsing with the Sinfonia Rotterdam Orchestra, in preparation for the second orchestral alliance of the festival; great big hulking slivers of noise that you would never imagine could have come from a selection of string and wind instruments. Later, after seeing Brooklyn girl group Teen – a sort of more nervous, similarly psychedelic Warpaint who occasionally border on early New Young Pony Club – we find out Woodkid has been hospitalised and psych-inflected pop purveyor and Dutchy original Jacco Gardner has been drawn in at final hour to take his headliner spot. He plays in front of a set of mesmirising black and white Carrollian film clips, all Addams family chord sequences and trippy guitar lines. It's amiable and good-natured, and whilst he manages to create a magical, self-contained 60s microcosm that renders every iPhone in the vicinity pocketbound, Jaga Jazzist still seems to echo resolutely from every corner of the room, and Gardner somehow doesn't quite manage to fill the giant orchestra shaped hole that gapes in the Schouwburg's cavernous roof.

Rotterdam Has Scarlet Fever

Whilst Amsterdam might be Holland's vice capital, Rotterdam's own crimson glow brings a whole new meaning to the term red light district. By day, the red badge of the Motel Mozaïque logo beams down from outside every venue, giant red night lamps leer ominously over the city square where the festival is predominantly centered, even the festival program cover is tinged with a pinkish hue. By night, Rotterdam's rosy complexion intensifies, swathing the city in deep red tones right down to the small red spotlights embedded in the pavement to mark the areas of land that were demolished during WWII.

Rays of red lighting also shine down onto Matthew E. White, who plays at the Gouvernestraat Zaal 1 on Friday night. We catch him towards the end of his set, in which he plays a large portion of his debut album Big Inner, accentuating and modifying the tracks from sultry wraithlike country-soul into intensified climatic grooves. "It's so great to be able to come to a country so far away and see people who are into your music," he beams to the crowd with irresistible charm, before breaking into a final hurrah of 'Brazos', which puffs and swells into a tremendous hell-for-leather crescendo that has one crowd member swaying so spiritedly that at times her torso is almost parallel to the floor.

Anywhere else it wouldn't be out of the ordinary, but as it stands movement seems to be something of a dirty word in Rotterdam. The crowds that fill each venue are scattered, polite and often eerily stagnant. There's a moment over at Rotown where one eager foot stomper is told in no uncertain terms to "calm the fuck down" by a bouncer in finger wagging body language universal to all, but otherwise, the festival goers trace a delicate path through the city all weekend, not a distasteful heckle nor plastic cup of piss flying through the air in sight. It isn't until Sunday night that loutishness rears its ugly familiar head, as a group of inebriated middle-aged men hungrily sniff at poppers as they dance on the seats of a Hull-bound train home, inappropriately exposing themselves to defenceless ticket staff who eventually manage to throw them off at Doncaster. Their coarse chants reverberate back into the train from the platform until the doors finally hiss and close, and their Dutch courage is reduced to silence.