What I learned at Eurosonic 2019

photo by Jorn Baars

Once a year, a parallel universe that only exists ephemerally for three to four days sees the European music industry gathering in a seemingly unsuspicious Dutch town. That phenomenon is called Eurosonic.

Primarily seen as a networking battlefield for press, labels, PRs, managers, bookers, and every other weird creature attempting to feed off this demanding, sometimes even ungrateful lover that is the music business, the three-day festival is held in Groningen, a student city very close to Denmark — something you’ll literally feel in your bones if you don’t come properly equipped — that in mid-January is massively invaded by this strange yet adaptable fauna.

The format of the festival, which roughly consists of multiple showcases across an impressive number of venues, might be reminiscent of the likes of SXSW, but the secret weapon of Eurosonic (and what ultimately distinguishes it from similar events) is this amazing convergence of a multitude of languages, nationalities, and cultural references that inevitability make you reflect on what it means to be “European” — especially in this day and age of paradoxes that juxtapose hermetic nationalism with a growing transversal tolerance.

The focus is obviously the music, and with a massive number of bookers coming to do their shopping at Eurosonic, it also works as a preview of the upcoming festival season both act and trend-wise. As this was my first time at the event I tended to see the whole thing as a socio-anthropological study of sorts, and through a highly scientific method of (nearly) neutral observation, I seem to have reached a couple of primary conclusions about this fascinating ecosystem. Here’s what I learned:

Pip Blom by Jorn Baars

- You can easily tell some of the stuff you’ll be seeing a lot in the next festival line-ups: Fontaines D.C. are going to be huge and you’ll hear about them everywhere. Boy Azooga are also part of The Next Big Hype™, as are Pip Blom and Black Midi.

- Some artists you were excited to see live will disappoint you and others you actually bumped into by accident will become instant crushes, which in spite of being a natural consequence of any live music festival is more deeply felt at Eurosonic.

- There will be sets whose music will hit a bit too close to home: I cried twice, at Michelle Davis & the Gospel Sessions and at Kompromat. I was sober(ish) on both occasions.

- Three pairs of socks is definitely the way to go. It’s gonna get very cold and humid so prepare to feel like you’re wet all the fucking time (not in a sexual or comfortable way).

- You’ll inevitably end up missing some acts from your list due to physical needs alone: I had to give up on seeing Gurr (even if I caught a bit of their afternoon set at Martinikerk) because I desperately had to eat and was too far from the venue. No use crying over these decisions, you have to stand by them. So in a way Eurosonic is also a crash course on how to deal with music FOMO.

Gurr by Jorn Baars

- Ireland always seems to bring a group of incredibly eclectic, melody-driven acts weirdly non-proportional to the country’s relatively bite-size area — no wonder they’ve won Eurovision so many times. My selection included a force of nature called Vulpynes, the feel-good Celtic-driven vocal harmonies of Pillow Queens, and of course Fontaines D.C. who I was unfortunately unable to see due to the ridiculously huge queue.

- Depending on your personal preferences and the way you craft your schedule, it can be both physically and mentally exhausting at times: you jump from bright, uplifting things directly to overwhelmingly downward-spiral ones, and the emotional rollercoaster can feel emotionally draining: going from Alessio Bondi’s ray of sunshine vibe to Free Love’s in-your-face energy was like temperature shock.

- You’ll be checking stuff out due to their name alone: I kicked off day one with a band from Belarus called Weed & Dolphins who play a fun-paced Soviet stoner and regret nothing about my decision.

- Some acts will send you back in time for half an hour. That was the case of The Grand East, one of the many Dutch bands making a Eurosonic comeback, who built an ephemeral time machine to the 70s “I Am A Golden God” era, or personal favourite Juniore that brought massive 60s French surf vibes in their valise.

Juniore by Jorn Baars

- You might feel old at times when faced with some of the young performers’ professionalism and maturity. Icelandic Kaelan Mikla look and sound like they’ve been doing this for twenty years and they’re barely out of puberty. Seeing such a young band this tight and shit-serious about their métier definitely gives you hope for the future.

- Afterparties have an organic way of imposing themselves on you: they will never happen the way you planned them to, and the best ones are those you suddenly find yourself at four in the morning, not quite remembering where you are or who brought you there. You must accept that it is so.

- Genuine fusion is replacing careless cultural appropriation throughout, with musicians respectfully recovering their own roots to reflect these uncannily global times we’re living in: Portuguese Scúru Fitchádu mixes punk and metal with Cape Verdean funaná while Swiss duo Cyril Cyril delve deep into the singer’s Lebanese ascent to bring an Eastern flavour to their psych melodies.

Cyril Cyril by Bart Heemskerk

- Some of the best acts are the least consensual ones: Le Villejuif Underground played the late night slot at the legendary Vera and dragged a very impressive crowd, but most of the people I talked to after the show either loved it or hated it. From my experience, it’s always a good sign whenever a band is this divisive; I personally loved the Primal Scream’s Screamadelica vibes and would be up for more in a second.

- But as every rule has its exception, the opposite also happens. Any Other’s set at Vera was one of the festival highlights and a name everyone kept dropping throughout the evening (and over the following days). Although she has been frequently compared to Joni Mitchell and other folk singer-songwriters of the like, Adele Nigro is an artist in her own right and not a cheap wannabe pastiche. You’ll be seeing her name soon enough as it’s fairly obvious she’ll be featured on major festival line-ups everywhere.

- You won’t be sleeping much, so try to eat, stay hydrated, and rest whenever you can. The lack of sleep associated to the overwhelming number of concerts happening literally EVERYWHERE across town will contribute to the hallucination feeling you’ll experience when you finally get home.

- Even if some things don’t go according to plan (after all, does anything ever?) you’ll be forever thankful for having taken part in such experience, and will vow to return the following year. With even warmer socks and possibly thermic underwear.

Yes, of course I gathered every artist I mention here in a single playlist so you don’t have to. You can explore the full Eurosonic 2019 line-up over at esns.nl.

Originally published at https://www.thefourohfive.com.

Paris-based trilingual music journalist. fingers in other pies include film, psychology, history, politics, social dynamics, gender issues, tarot and astrology.

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