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Three Songs No Flash

Things Learned At Motel Mozaique Festival
Richard Foster , May 8th, 2019 13:18

Our Man In Rotterdam, Richard Foster, heads for Motel Mozaique and discovers Black Midi, Melanie de Biasio and Lubomyr Melnyk are highlights of a giddy showcase festival

Pictures courtesy of Jan Rijk

Bright Lights Big City / Cool Cool People

Rotterdam is often regarded as the working class city of the Netherlands, but the long established (and trumpeted) image of this gargantuan port on the Maas is undergoing rapid change. Rotterdam is trendy. Rotterdam is - dare we say it - increasingly swish. And, over the past decade many of the big civic music festivals - such as Metropolis, North Sea Round Town and Motel Mozaique - have begun to mirror the city’s upwardly mobile cultural ambitions.

Still the most cavalier of them all, Motel Mozaique has always been a festival where running around the city by the seat of your pants is part of the thrill. Even so, wider civic and societal concerns were noticeable during the three festival’s three days. Schlepping about the open plaza in front of the impressive modern Schouwburg theatre, one could take in dance troupe Liquid (boasting the sensational Gil The Grid) going through their remarkable moves, or stalls promoting the usual good causes such as sustainable eating, or smart recycling. It was all very commendable, of course. But this correspondent couldn’t help thinking the whole shebang was a classic demonstration of a very local pride, emphasising that the city has more to offer culturally than “that lot” up the road.

It’s all very well telling people to be good citizens for the future. But there’s nothing worse than being shown how to recycle your clothes only to watch a meat-and-two veg show by the latest hyped guitar band. Luckily a decent percentage of gigs were sensational; especially on the final day. A bravura performance in the Schouwburg main hall by Melanie de Biasio and band (from equally tough Belgian mining city of Charleroi) was a festival highlight. De Biasio’s cool rich tones and her band’s languid brilliance moulded a set that sounded off-the-cuff, but was a sublime demonstration of skill and empathy for the emotional spaces the music created in the hall. Their take on the sublime mini LP, Blackened Cities came across like a jazz take on the quiet bits off Autobahn.

Another incredible gig that was the perfect marriage of space and sound was the glorious, sun-kissed recital given by Lubomyr Melnyk in the stately Arminius Kerk; his continuous piano scores (one of them backed by a delightful recording of a Ukrainian bandura) somehow opening a portal into another - maybe more spiritual and humane - place and time. Later the church’s mood changed as it hosted the swashbuckling noise of Black Midi. Whether you see them as the latest, greatest thing about, or an impatient and shifting reflection of the increasingly diffuse and dissonant noises in people’s heads, can be debated. Their “quality of loudness” [sic] and almost petulant changes of tempo and tone (drawing maybe on Can, Young Gods, or Godflesh) was certainly refreshing and wiped away notions of a band concerned with a career arc. Earlier, Josephine Foster channelled WORM’s inner weirdness courtesy of a set that again seemed to commune with a parallel world; her remarkable voice ringing out and holding the early evening crowd’s emotions at knifepoint.

Basic Beats

There’s nowt wrong with a bit of grooving about let me tell you. Rotterdam has a legendary club, punk and underground heritage, and Motel Mozaique is often very canny at summoning up these wild spirits. Both legacies found shape in the tragically-condemned venue Bar on the Friday evening. Dollkraut’s splendid DJ zoomed right back into 1988 with its basic, shuddering beats and sharp fleeting points of melody, slipping past the listener like space junk. The set pulsated through the murky, sweltering atmosphere and the dancers shuffled around in that minimal-but-menacing way they do in this city, sharp sub-gabber gestures thrown in between the flirting. Later, Pig Frenzy played a wild, wild show, with singer Timo on the point of spewing up throughout. Pig Frenzy are a classic young Rotterdam band, built out of punk’s waste product and whatever they can find floating downstream from Europort. In the gloom of Bar’s small stage, their barked commands and washes of low-grade industrial noise made the cramped, jostling space a giant oven; the crowd acting as coals to be consumed by the fire. Elsewhere Taiwan’s Outlet Drift summoned up the spirit of Pinkwind now and again on the second day, the trio’s brilliant playing pushing their simple-sounding space rock to transcendental levels. Representing Rotterdam’s feisty, ever-curious and currently flowering urban and hiphop scene, the frighteningly young HUNNA organisation curated a brilliant display of “the now” in WORM; with spots for local teen heroes Elijah Waters and Amsterdam’s Smib collective.

Pop’s Weird Innit?

Even when pop’s pop, it’s weird. Motel Mozaique always has a weather eye on what’s achingly hip and happening, and looks to balance the new with home bankers in the alt-pop world, often to its own detriment. Still Panda Bear’s show did what it had to, Georgia’s set charmed and sparkled and Altin Gün, a formidable Dutch-Turkish showband, knocked out a great party-tastic set to close matters off in the Schouwburg. Audiobooks played a colourful, borderline riotous set in Bar, too; though this correspondent couldn’t help wondering if they deserved a bigger stage and a lot more PA oomph, to give their fabulously colourful music the sonic jet skis it deserved. For its part, Rotown hosted a host of hip names throughout the weekend, but this trendy/friendly place hit its apogee with the gig from Friesland’s The Homesick on the final day. The Dokkum trio have changed incredibly over the past year. Once a scruffy, charming provincial guitar band, now they are morphing into an incredibly sleek, supple psych outfit boasting cavernous pop riffs and a sky-high attitude. An increasingly hypnotised crowd bore witness to this during a tough, patient set full of new numbers that highlighted the band’s growing skill in making a near continuous pop groove. The whole gig brought up memory echoes of late Teardrop Explodes and maybe even the Soft Boys. So, uh, look out on that score!

So there we have it; a hectic three days running around one of Europe’s most intriguing and changing cities. And lapping up a giddy showcase festival to boot. All in the name of clever consuming. Motel Mozaique, just like Rotterdam (just like Das Gruppe), is always changing, and always the same.