The same procedure as every year? The important part of Europe’s music industry gets together in the cosy city of Groningen to start the new year at Eurosonic Noorderslag, take a look on some of the continent’s most promising new artists and close a few professional deals. Bands find new distributors, PR agencies look for new projects and festival organizers try to find fitting additions to their line-ups. And us media folks? Well, we are here to increase the buzz on certain artists, convince ourselves of their live qualities and drink way too many free beers at various receptions. Well, it’s indeed a joyful experience to stroll around the city quite tipsy, run into colleagues and – in the best case – fall in love with bands you never seen before.
Still, in an age of a drastically changing society and political decline even the music industry can’t go for ‘business as usual’, so you find panels about big dada, blockchain, sustainable festival culture and how political music should be these days all over the event. All those new bands suddenly find themselves in a whirlwind of international relationships, changing paradigms and new rules which aren’t fully defined yet. Especially for all women the past months have seen a lot of encouraging empowerment. Still, it’s a fact that the majority of the music industry in the 2018 is still quite male.
A stroll through the Oosterpoort conference building during the day should be proof enough: It’s a man’s world, often an elderly white man’s world, to be more specific.
But of course, it doesn’t need to stay this way. Breaking the habits needs time and usually the leading positions are the last ones that do get affected by such a fundamental change.
However, the foundation for that change in the music industry, the music itself already sees the signs of the time. Especially in the indie music section women recently delivered the more exciting and vital releases as they burst of creativity and fearlessness. Eurosonic 2018 underlined that assumption as I quickly realized that almost all impressive performances from those three days in Groningen were delivered by women; some solo, some as part of a band. They might not dominate the line-up yet in terms of numbers but in terms of creativity they surely do. In the wake of that impression and the necessity to move things forward I decided to recap the most memorable performances of this year’s ESNS by focussing on the strong female protagonists that crafted them. The men only play a minor part in this list but I think we can all agree that they earned themselves a break, right? The future of music is full of excitement and these women will hopefully play a crucial part in shaping it.
Fenne Lily (UK)
Bristol-based songstress Fenne Lily was keen to point out that she specially dressed up for her ESNS performance, only to quickly realize that her choice of a fluffy sweater and stylish beret wasn’t the best one. ‘I’m never gonna wear this again’, she quickly realized as sweat was pouring down, even stopping her from properly starting a song. Well, she smiled it away with that lovely British charm and dry humour and that made her already pretty wonderful performance even more memorable. Following the footsteps of her British colleagues Laura Marling and Marika Hackman Fenne Lily provided delicate, haunting, raw and just really really good songs. It’s the sort of sound that doesn’t grow old. Don’t miss her debut album this spring.
Ellis May (DK)
A seated theatre felt like a fitting setting for mysterious Danish artist Sophia Maj and her alter ego Ellis May. Together with two fellow musicians the singer from Copenhagen delivered nocturnal blues vibes, performed over an often techno-driven foundation, perfectly mixing the raw nature of her sinister soul songs with a cold electronic sound design. She hasn’t released that much so far but I’m pretty sure we’re gonna see her ending up on the next Trentemøller album. Can somebody please give him a call?
Believe the hype because the critics’ new darlings might even convince the hardest non-believer after a performance… or at least put a smile upon their faces. Superorganism are a band for the here and now, featuring members from England, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The art collective makes indie-pop for the digital age, their stage show is packed with all sorts of craziness, music videos, choreography, costumes but also really good pop songs that tend to hide themselves behind all the colourful craziness. Japanese lead singer (well, for most of the time) Orono Noguchi is the unintentional centre of it and definitely too cool for being your ‘next door indie sweetheart’. I really like her for that attitude and in this bleak world it’s just lovely to see a band that spreads positivity and naive joy. Maybe our desire for something less dull explains the hype. Their self-titled debut album arrives in March via Domino.
Ankathie Koi (AUT)
If you decide to go full 80s you better do it with consequence. Vienna-based artist Ankathie Koi took the second option which you immediately sense once you witness her entering the stage. Epic mullet, shoulder pads, solid dance moves and a sunning voice, riding on a wave of sharp and tight synthpop. Ankathie Koi celebrates the heydays of synthetic sound design with dignity and no intentions of giving it any ironic twist. Austrian techno legend Patrick Pulsinger is responsible for the authentic retro feeling on her 2017 debut I Hate The Way You Chew and her live presence really made a difference, once again showing that Vienna’s music scene is full of exciting craziness and talent.
Of course, it would have been too predictable to have a band like Hater actually sound … ehm, hateful in any way. Coming from the camp of beloved Swedish DIY label family PNKSLM the four-piece from Malmö isn’t interested in any bad vibrations. Lead by the delightful Caroline Landahl the group delivers that sort of lush and slightly melancholic sun-drenched indie pop you’ve come to love from Alvvays or Japanese Breakfast. It creates a homelike notion that never gets bored for me. Their debut album You Tried was released last spring but they already delivered a follow-up EP called Red Blinders in December. So, please be kind and let this group become your favourite new indie music crush this spring.
As you know NBHAP featured Danish dynamite Soleima quite a few times in the past and judging from her performance at Eurosonic 2018 we weren’t entirely wrong with the early praise. Performing live you get an idea what defines her genre-bending self-proclaimed ‘Garage Pop’ – Soleima perfectly represents that new generation of artists which doesn’t care anymore if they mix R&B with DIY bedroom mentality, piano ballad with synthpop and proper hooklines with a raw punk-like mentality. Her songs got all the right grooves, she got the perfect moves that kept the crowd going on that Thursday night. There are many worse ways of how mainstream pop music could sound like these days, trust me.
Berlin-based post-punk four-piece Hope really wants their music to do all the talking. They don’t like to show themselves on photos, they keep their artwork minimal and the information sparse. It sometimes feels as if they specifically want the audience to experience that heavy sound in its purest possible way. We already recommended you their magnificent debut album a while ago, now I also recommend you to see the band live if you can. Especially lead singer Christine Börsch-Supan delivers an outstanding presence with her determination being sensible via her physically performance and in her charismatic singing which is pretty close to Savages‘ Jehnny Beth. The dark and noisy rock anthems of Hope are of existential nature and raw beauty. It’s quite a monumental experience and it was simply a pleasure to witness that.
Pale Waves (UK)
Oh Manchester, nothing to answer for. The iconic hometown of Joy Division and The Smiths continues to deliver quality with their latest hype. Supported by fellow Mancunians The 1975 the group fronted by the charismatic Heather Baron-Gracie (who looks like Robert Smith’s forgotten grand daughter) already created quite a buzz and loyal following in their home country, being named one of the UK’s best new bands. Seeing them live you get an idea where that comes from. Pale Waves sound indeed like a female-fronted version of The 1975, delivering a similar mixture of posh and shiny pop hooks with indie spirit. Okay, they might play a bit more with the whole ’80s goth’ aesthetics but in the end it’s just really catchy and well crafted pop music that just happens to be way less annoying than, let’s say, Taylor Swift. They might probably become friends with Lorde soon and play Wembley in about two years and that’s actually meant as a compliment. Their fist EP All The Things I Never Said arrives on March 16.
Following our recent feature as Daily Tune Portuguese artist Débora Umbelino also managed to deliver a lovely performance at Eurosonic 2018. The fragile electronic pop of her alter ego Surma is quite spectacular while actually not attempting to sound like that at all. It’s a more complex and gentle affair, built with twists and turns that don’t necessarily head for the simple way. It’s the sort of sound that takes a moment to fully get you, and sometimes a performance can help with that. I was especially fascinated by the fact that she managed to do all this without external help on stage. Don’t underestimate this young lady!
Following years of other projects, mostly her joint venture with Bon Homme, Danish artist Jenny Lydmor recently – sort of – relaunched her solo career here on NBHAP with a delicate new single called Helium High. Seeing her perform on the final night of Eurosonic Noorderslag left no doubt that this young lady got it all mapped out and a clear vision of what her solo career should sound and feel like. Performing alone in the middle of a self-constructed LED light system, she took care of the machines, the audiovisual aspect, the performance and the black light body painting (well, she might got help on this one) to deliver a fearless and furious artistic rebirth. Her sound feels partly like a dark-twisted take on Robyn‘s catchy electro pop concept, something that even gave the old Blur classic Girls And Boys a new twist when Lydmor performed it while walking through the audience. There is a fearless madness in her that might have waited for too long to finally break out. I’m quite excited to see what comes next for her.