The Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS) will be back in full bloom in the Dutch city Groningen from 18th to 21st of January 2023. After the digital editions of the last two years, the showcase festival is happening live again with now 240 confirmed artists performing plus many conferences on urging topics concerning the music industry like sustainability and mental health. Focus country of this year’s edition is Spain, putting an extra spotlight on Spanish newcomers and collaborating with The Spanish Wave, a talent export programme.
First, some general facts on what the festival is all about. It was introduced by ESNS Exchange, formerly ETEP (European Talent Exchange Programme), in 2003 and is designed to introduce and accelerate European artists outside their home countries by working with different cultural institutions, promoters, festivals, and media all over the continent. Every artist who wishes to showcase their work can apply and will be considered by the festivals booking team who receives around 4.000 applications each year. The booking team selects the best acts while trying to keep a balance when it comes to genre and then creates the timeline of the Groningen stages. Funded by the European Commission’s cultural programme Music Moves Europe, ESNS has built a platform for newcomers to be seen and heard by festival bookers and media outlets who can then decide which acts they’d like to add to their line-up or publication. In 2022, 129 festivals in around 30 countries have discovered and added artists to their program through ESNS.
The success of the selected acts can not only be measured by the amount of bookings they’ve accumulated through the festival but it has proven to be a reliable indicator for young artists’ rise of popularity. To continue the tone of 2018’s report on ESNS, I’ve curated a list of female artists of last year’s showcase who’ve not only gained audiences but were able to push their creative output and presence all over Europe. The 2022 edition with 148 performers in total, saw 80 acts with at least one member being a woman and one non-binary artist. Many of the artists have become NBHAP’s favourites in their short time on the musical landscape, some I’ve known for a couple of years, and others I’ve discovered in the research process of this piece.
CMAT – Ireland
CMAT, short for Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson, is an exemplary success story. With only a handful of singles out before her showcase, she got 10 bookings through Eurosonic, resulting in gigs, for example at Live at Leeds and Primavera. The Dublin singer-songwriter has since released her debut album If My Wife New I’d Be Dead (not a typo) on CMATBaby under exclusive license of AWAL Recordings and accumulated a loyal fanbase, especially on Twitter. CMAT’s music is best described as clever pop country with classic Irish self-deprecation and a wink wink-element. In one of my favourite songs No More Virgos, she pouts “My mental health is banking on my chastity / And you’re bad for me / Although / I only made that deal with myself”, while being held back by a group of drag queens in the accompanying music video. In November 2021, she first appeared on one of our Listen Ahead – playlists and the amount of interviews between then and now praising her charm account for a bright future. You’re great craic, CMAT!
Priya Ragu – Switzerland
Throughout this summer, Priya Ragu must have been one of the busiest newcomers playing shows at Melt Festival (Germany), Down the Rabbit Hole (Netherlands), The Great Escape (Ireland & UK), Szene Openair (Austria), Parc Del Forum (Spain) and many more. The Swiss-Tamil artist has an RnB sound with Tamil instrumentation and lyrics. She convinces audiences easily while at the core of Priya Ragu’s success is her self-determination and will to experiment. Other highlights of her career so far have been praise by M.IA as well as touring with London’s Jungle. She was nominated for SRF 3 Best Talent at the Swiss Music Awards which she ironically had to miss because of her supporting gig. Her debut album damnshestamil feels like a collage of genre, language, and freedom , and her stage presence, tough hiding behind sunglasses at Eurosonic’s showcase, is warm and energetic.
Ultraflex – Iceland/Norway
In 2020, the duo created a Disco Mix for NBHAP and only last month, Ultraflex’s new record Infinite Wellness was featured in our monthly selection. Their first album Visions of Ultraflex has been a stable part of my workout routine since its release. The two women, Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir or Special-K from Iceland and Kari Jahnsen or Farao from Norway, started their creative journey as Ultraflex at the beginning of the pandemic and have created an intriguing combination of kitsch, sex, and disco. Both have been involved in projects of their own over previous years. Special K as part of the hip-hop band Daughters of Reykjavik (Reykjavíkurdætur) who performed at the Icelandic Eurovision Finals and Farao who has released two records of her own. Their performance for ESNS 2022 shows them in golden sandals and leopard bodysuits eating chips on a pedal boat and was followed by gigs at Iceland Airwaves, Rotterdam’s Left of the Dial, and Reeperbahn Festival. NBHAP interviewed Ultraflex a little while ago, so for more on these interesting women and their process, check it out here.
ENNY – UK
Jump-starting her musical career in the UK with the single Peng Black Girls, ENNY has now risen to further-reaching acclaim. The London rapper performed I Want, Bernie Mac (feat. Odeal) and Same Old for her showcase which warranted her the stages of Barcelona’s Primavera, Manchester’s Parklife, Dublin’s Longitude and Hamburg’s Ms Dockville as well as several other festivals in the UK. Her lyrics focus on the realities black women face in the UK, on her psyche, and the dreams she’s nurtured of peace and success. ENNY’s delivery is quick, never mumbling though always with a highlight on her South-London accent. She hasn’t released a full-length yet but the trajectory points towards many more moments of wish fulfilment.
You might wonder why UK artists and festivals are part of ESNS after Brexit. This is of course, on the one hand an economic decision since festivals like Glastonbury or The Great Escape have been active bookers since the beginnings of ESNS Exchange and artists from the UK have scored highly throughout the years. But it is also a general statement against the political situation and a wish to support UK artists who have been drastically affected by the governmental stupidity. In a statement published in July 2019 Greg Parmley, chairman of the UK Live Music group and International Live Music Conference comments:
“The UK has always punched far above its weight musically, and Europe is an incredibly important market – ten percent of the UK music industry workforce is European, while Sixty percent of PRS for Music’s international revenue comes from the continent. It’s too early to understand the full impact of Brexit, but UK artists will be wanting to hone their skills in clubs from Amsterdam to Zagreb for many decades to come.”
K.ZIA – Belgium
The Brussels-born, Berlin-based singer and songwriter K.ZIA walks the path of soul, pop, RnB and afro beat with a perfectionistic edge. Last March, NBHAP talked to her about her debut album Genesis, her mother, and the two personas, English-singing K.ZIA and French-singing ZIA. Her soft performance of I Got Your Back at 2022’s digital Eurosonic earned her shows at Dour Festival in Belgium, Meadows In The Mountains in Bulgaria, and Melt Festival in Germany. At the most recent edition of Berlin’s Pop Kultur, she headlined with a few other names included in ESNS’s 2022 selection like Anna B Savage and Alyona Alyona.
Meskerem Mees – Belgium
Another Belgian sensation enhancing European festivals is Meskerem Mees. Her biting though homely voice accompanied by acoustic guitar and empathetic song writing works in intimate settings as wells as big stages as she has shown over the past months. She describes her style as minimalist folk pop music and manages to balance personal and universal experience. An outstanding example of her lyrical skills is The Writer where she sings: ”I am but a writer and have something to state / Not much of a fighter though I love a good debate / Can’t be bothered to leave the house on any given day / For I am but a writer and that’s the writer’s way”. Beside the gigs at Motel Mozaique in Rotterdam, Immergut in Germany’s north, Les Nuits de Fourvieres in Lyon, Turin’s Apolide, Haldern Pop Festival and many more she’s gotten through ESNS, Meskerem Mees won the festival funder Music Moves Europe’s Award. All of this has hopefully set up the 20-something musician’s fortune for the coming years.
Not that anyone would need a reminder but there’s still a war happening in Europe right now and the Ukrainian people are fleeing, fighting, and doing their best to spread their stories around Europe and the world. Two artists who’ve gained a larger platform through ESNS and are working hard to support their nation in the hardest times through their music, strength, and message, are Alyona Alyona and Go_A. Earlier this year, NBHAP reported on Tallinn Narva Music Wave, so for a closer look read it here. Also, check out our playlist “With Ukraine”!
Alyona Alyona – Ukraine
The former pre-school teacher Alyona Olehivna Savranenko released her first music-clip Rybky in 2018. From then on, she’s gained attention with each year. Now, with Ukraine becoming a focal point of current debate for the most horrible of reasons, the rapper Alyona Alyona describes herself as a music soldier. Her lyrics are sharp and precise, often accompanied by absurdist visuals. These characteristics form a perfect blend for someone thriving during crisis because all that one really can do in the face of war is focus and make fun of the irrationality of it all. This musical soldier stayed in the warzone to organise and volunteer until her tour started in April this year. Since then she’s graced the stages of Ment in Ljubljana, Melt in Hamburg, OFF festival in Katowice and also at above mentioned Berlin’s Pop Kultur festival in November 2022. In the same month, Alyona Alyona travelled to the US and will certainly return, not only with a greater fanbase but with resources, be they in the form of story, money, or wider awareness to share with her country. If you’d like to learn more about Alyona Alyona, read this interview at The Face which provides a perfect overview on the artist herself and her country.
Go_A – Ukraine
The first time I came across Go_A was while watching the winning performance of 2021 POSA World Pole Art Championship by Olena Minina. The song accompanying the performance is Go_A’s most popular track Shum which they’ve performed at the Eurovision Song Contest 2021 and placed fifth. The lyrics are about the awakening of spring, a new dawn with fresh life – a vision to be held onto in dark times. Since last year’s ESNS rendition, they’ve played at Glastonbury, Metronome Prague, Portugal’s Festival Med and Summer Sound Festival in Latvia. At first, the band wanted to cancel all shows but eventually decided to play and collect money for Ukraine. In total they’ve played in over 30 cities and continue the conversations about their homeland’s future wherever they can.
LNDFK – Italy
The last artist of this selection is Tunisian-Italian producer and songwriter Linda Feki, working under her moniker LNDFK. With her combination of jazz and neo-soul flowing into ambient spheres, she performed in front of a completely black background at ESNS 2022, letting her movements and sounds speak for themselves. Feki’s music exudes a cool synth-y big city vibe which was, though of a quieter nature, a triumph. After the showcase she was invited to play at Dour Festival in Belgium and Milan’s EDIT. Her debut album Kuni released in February 2022 is not necessarily an easy first listen if you’re not used to experimental ambient but it is worthwhile to give it an honest chance since it creates a hidden path into natural versus industrial landscapes with its synths, beats, and LNDFK’s sparely and effectively added voice.
Considering the journeys of these 8 artists and their fellow performers at ESNS, it is exciting to see who of the newcomers of 2023 edition will reign at next year’s European festival line-ups. A few names I hope to see succeed are Alina Pash (Ukraine), KOIKOI (Serbia), Robin Kester (Netherlands), Tautumeitas (Latvia), Uche Yara (Austria), Σtella (Greece) and Albertine Sarges (Germany). There are tickets as well as more info available for Eurosonic Noorderslag in January 2023 on their official website. I might see you there!
If you’d like to stay up to date with current rankings, the ESNS Radar is a new tool which analyses the European charts and can show you which newcomer ranks highest at the particular week. Though NBHAP hasn’t been particularly interested nor influenced by chart positions, it a useful website to discover new artists which are part of ESNS Exchange.
Finally, I’d like to mention that the workload, bookings as well as expenses of artists have risen exponentially after the pandemic and the start of the war. I’d like to encourage everybody to purchase tickets, merch, and vinyl through bandcamp or the artist’s individual website instead of the usual candidates. It truly makes a difference. It proves to artists that their efforts are not forlorn and that it is still possible, even though we’re bombarded with content, to build a loyal fanbase who truly cares.