Eurosonic Noorderslag 2014 festival review

'New music at your fingertips'

Photographer: Trevor EalesVirtual Festivals on 28 January 2021

Whilst the ravaging floods of recent weeks begin to drain, at just above sea level, the Dutch city of Groningen is awash with talk of an imminent wave of talent. The modestly sized city, in the north east of the Netherlands, is welcoming back EuroSonic Noorderslag for its 28th edition. 38,500 visitors from 39 countries, more than 300 artists playing across 36 venues central to the city and all of this in four busy days with a backdrop of music business and discussion in the conference venue of De Oosterpoort.

London-based duo Jungle (10) are raising their enigmatic stakes at Eurosonic Noorderslag early on this year, making one of their first live performances as a full band, and it's just subliminal. The mysterious pair, flanked by backing singers, percussionists and stringed maestros, have only to press play and their funk-laden trip-hop work is doing magic in this full-to-capacity basement venue. Their classical R'n'B sound is held with almost cinematic reverence, it's a beauty to hear such rich harmonies, pulsing bass riffs and style in this intimate room. You know with larger festival fields in their sights for 2014 it can only build momentum. Jungle is massive and Jungle will be massive. Mark these here words.

Across the road, Slovenia's answer to Slick Rick is holding the stage, mixing old-school hip hop with some new-school synth pads. N'toko (8) might not have an arena to command but his message of hope, heroism and individualism is fierce and theatric, never less so than in set closer 'Superhuman'.

Brummy starlet Lulu James (9) has the most obvious talent of anyone you'll see all week at Eurosonic. A souring, soulful voice and an instantly magnetic personality, her garb is rather Grace Jones and even the repertoire seems referential, particularly one motoring number rather close to 'Bumper to Bumper'.

For many artists here, trying to ride the hype wave, it's just a game of patience - waiting for that perfect break. In the case of Sam Smith (6) you feel that perhaps the 21-year-old has been pushed a little early, spurred on by label budgets behind the singer-songwriter with two top 20 singles to his name, including the chart-topping 'La La La'. Sadly both these singles have seen his vocal talent nurtured behind the safe, button-pushing fingers of Naughty Boy and Disclosure, respectively. Now his debut solo album, 'In the Lonely Hour', is on the horizon and on this showing the esoteric singer has little more wonder to turn to. Songs meld without meaning into one another and the whole spectacle seems distant, hollow and without substance.

If the festival thus far has felt a little like a nostalgia road trip, taking in everything from Grace Jones to Kool & The Gang, George Michael to KRS-One, then Tourist (9) is about to blow the cobwebs of history into your unexpecting face. Method Records signed William Phillips is the natural point where house and electronica meet, enough Jon Hopkins for the puritans and a touch of Disclosure for the dance-floor. There's plenty to get your teeth stuck into: waves of golden notes and splatterings of vocal samples that sounds like Toro Y Moi giving Gold Panda a french kiss.

Where these wet lips part the finale to Friday night, the last major night for music at the festival, is nearly upon us. Lonely The Brave (8) give the British post-hardcore sound a much needed makeover with brushes of post-punk style that explain why Jazzcafé De Spieghel is heaving as their security stick to letting one fan in as one goes out.

It's hard to imagine many British cities with comparatively as much infrastructure and passion to host anything like Eurosonic Noorderslag. From the pop-up cafe shows during the day to the buzz of the cellar-like venues late at night, Eurosonic Noorderslag is pulling together the purity of new music and, unlike so many other city-centre festivals, it's all at your fingertips. Very few queues, no fuss and a refreshingly continental way of enjoying it all; with a fresh helping of curiosity in one hand and a frothy beer in the other.


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