I tipsily make my way from one venue to the next, stumbling over loose cobbles and canal bridges lit only by a string of fairy lights, stopping a Dutch bouncer during his cigarette break to ask for directions. As I thank him and head on my way past coffee shops and floor-shaking clubs, I hear him call over: “You know, there are no closing times in this city. We party all night!”
Stories quickly sprang to mind. Bygone Eurosonic attendees not quite making it back to their hotels, passing out under streetlights, waking up with a raging headache, but ready to do it all over again. Dutch students, wearily riding their bikes in zig-zags from the clubs and venues in which they stayed long after dark and back to their homes as the sun creeps up.
“All night” sounded like quite the exaggeration for Groningen—a tiny student-city perched on the northern shores of The Netherlands—but the mysterious Dutch bouncer certainly wasn’t wrong. Eurosonic Noorderslaag was a neverending well of infectious parties where newfound (or occasionally more familiar) bands, artists and DJs took a step in the right direction.
Spanning the entire city, yet still somehow holding the feeling of a small village, ESNS saw 42,000 people pass through its nearly 50 different venues this year to catch everything from shoegaze-funk to death metal.
Playing chess master in a game of who-to-look-out-for-next, Eurosonic never fails to catch an early prediction of the next-best. Perhaps the festival bookers have a sixth sense for noticing the otherwise unnoticed. In previous years, ESNS has seen artists such as Jorja Smith, Mura Masa and Stormzy roll through its doors as mere cracks in the wall of the pop scene and spat them back out as soon-to-be chart-topping successes.
As I stood and watched Portugal’s Pongo play a colourful, energetic set amongst the brick walls of the Grand Theatre, I found myself singing along to unknown words and humming them repetitively over the next few days. With 33 countries to choose your artists from, this seemed to become quite the recurrence.
A very short walk down the road to the next venue, native Netherlands artist Benny Sings brought his lo-fi pop to the table. Uplifting and soulful beats resonated with a slightly drunken crowd, who lapped up the music with dancing tongues and jiving feet. ‘This is the world premiere of ‘Music’!” he shouts to the audience, before playing a song called ‘Music.’ Very clever, Benny.
Many more local artists cut their teeth in the action over the course of the week, with Saturday being a specifically Holland-centric day. Naaz won two awards and a grand total of €15,000, including the coveted ‘People’s Choice’ accolade at the Music Moves Europe Talent Awards held each year in Groningen as part of ESNS. Clad in long satin gloves to accompany her silken voice, the 21-year-old took to the stage to perform a post-prize-collection show, still trembling from the thrill of it all.
Snippets of chaos came parallel to the more experimental music of the festival. Cobrah’s sweet, FKA Twigs-akin vocals rest on top of a dark, PC-music inspired sound. The avant-garde popstress didn’t miss a beat during her 20-minute performance, using the table as a platform to dance, and a Heineken as a shower to cool herself off. In the same venue, French-born Oklou sported a pair of wellies whilst performing a set crammed full of ambient electronic accompanied by ethereal backdrops.
Not forgetting the U.K. favourites of the weekend, Georgia returned to the festival with what can only be described as a one woman band. Smashing the electric drums while simultaneously singing, dancing and playing synths should be a recipe for absolute mayhem, but Georgia effortlessly pulled it off.
Arlo Parks was another particular favourite of the week, especially amongst the more indie-inclined. Flared trousers scattered the room while her honeyed voice complemented gorgeous guitar riffs. “I’m so thankful to be playing to all of you lot at 19 years old,” she told the crowd before playing her quite relevant “Super Sad Generation.”
“More women need to pick up guitars and start making music,” TRNSMT’s festival organiser Geoff Ellis said recently. As the carrot of musical opportunity dangled over Groningen’s head for four days, women appeared to be dominating what might just become the next generation of spotlighted stars.
ESNS 2020 proved that no matter what country, genre or familiarity with the industry, there’s always room for more.