Eurosonic Noorderslag 2013 festival review

'Doctors would recommend it'

Eurosonic Noorderslag 2013 festival review

Photographer: Matthew TurnerChris Swindells on 16 January 2013

One of the officially "happiest" countries in the world, the Netherlands, naturally hosts a good party. In the sobering month of January the call for frugality, moderation and, worst of all, teetotalism is best avoided then with a trip to Eurosonic Noorderslag, and the city of Groningen.
 
The one canal that encircles, encompasses and contains central Groningen seems to hold in energy, a continental way of enjoying life, and a passion from the locals for the art of live music. But this festival is not just about the locals, it's about industry, big musical industry and the place is crawling with labels, press, festival-bookers and managers.
 
The Dutch city has welcomed Eurosonic Noorderslag every year since 1986 and is perfectly sculpted to host it too. The central square and the myriad of lanes and roads that skirt off it will lead you to every venue, from the pub backroom to grand concert hall, the church to the museum, and they neatly frame a ragtag bunch of international artists and performers. French four-piece C2C (9/10) and their animated funky electronica could hardly make any less sense following 20-year-old folk troubadour and darling of the press, Jake Bugg (7/10).
 
Come Thursday the schedule has expanded and far from the bustling centre appears a familiar face. Selkirk's Frightened Rabbit (8/10) have seduced the UK and US with their heart-through-a-mangle brand of alt-rock but within Europe they're still very much the insider's tip. With their fourth full-length on the horizon their set of largely unreleased material does just enough to keep the early evening crowd tuned in. Frontman Scott remains largely mute between highlights like 'The Woodpile' and 'Living In Colour' but his constant energy and darting moves around the stage suggest a band reinvigorated by a new album.
 
In the epicentre of the city another band is ditching their early material, this time in favour of their latest and third full-length release 'Out Of Touch In The Wild'. Dutch Uncles (9/10) might have been overtaken by their Mancunian friends and colleagues Everything Everything but have undoubtedly closed the gap. Recalling the moments of musical grace from Devo and Talking Heads it's the most assured set you'd have seen from these five and it doesn't lull or wain.

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The majesty of snow can't stop the show on Friday and weather-hardy cyclists continue the daily spin in increasingly blizzard-like conditions. Inside a warm theatre voices shuffle round the silences as the latest in a long line of well touted UK singer-songwriters takes to the stage. Luke Sital-Singh (8/10) has just one four-track EP to his name but with Radio One airplay and a bit of love he's shown given a new breath of life to the solo musician mould. Hype is equally as attracted to Alunageorge (7/10), and the pair have much to prove to the full capacity venue they walk out to. They're following closely in the footsteps of SBTRKT, Jessie Ware and Disclosure but the set suffers with more filler than killer.
 
The 'featured' country of Finland has, unsurprisingly, a good roster of acts to call upon. Rubik (8/10) prove to be a highlight as they shake up the Beirut formula with moments of crazed sideways musical attack. In the hallowed hall of Vera another Finnish act, instrumentalists Siinai (5/10), have a harder time of it, without the energy or intensity to meet the venue and the late night slot.
 
The final say comes from returning Irish troupe Villagers (10/10). Led by 29-year-old Conor O'Brien, the Dubliner has succeeded in a follow-up worthy of Mercury Prize nominated and Ivor Novello awarded debut ‘Becoming A Jackal’.  As new numbers 'Waves' and 'Earthly Pleasure' attack the senses, hitting high and fast from the walls of the packed theatre, O'Brien looks like a giant as his silhouette haunts the walls and his voice rings loud across the space.
 
Leaving Eurosonic into the cold light of the January day will always been a sobering experience but, like Robbie once said, you got to get high before you taste the lows. If you make one New Year’s resolution let it be to indulge yourself in this festival and the new bands it hosts. Doctors would recommend it.

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