Mar 15, 2023
By Dom Gourlay
Photography by Minja Sarovic
The Netherlands underground music scene has long been the envy of Europe, whether it be the DIY philosophy that stretches to the attitudes and mindsets of all those involved. So, it’s perhaps fitting that Under the Radar’s musical journey this weekend starts in one of Leiden’s newest DIY ventures, Resistor. Situated in the larger Vrijplaats Leiden complex, Resistor is a volunteer led operation that doubles up as a cafe, bar or rehearsal/meeting space as well as a live venue. Formerly known as the Vrijplaats Koppenhinksteeg and occupied as squats for over four decades until its purchase then renovation in 2012, Vrijplaats Leiden serves as an integral part of Leiden’s thriving arts and music scenes.
Delayed flights and connections mean Under the Radar arrives just in time for the Peel Slowly And See Pre-Party to witness the last two songs of Rotterdam duo VULVA‘s set. Nevertheless, their brooding intensity and precise musicianship makes them a fascinating watch. Even if one is only left imagining the prior build-up. Using visuals to convey their message alongside powerful music that fuses the brutality of No Age with the sentiment of Crass. Tonight isn’t the first time we’re reminded of the latter this weekend, which again reinforces the left-leaning, socially and politically aware attitudes of this scene. Guitarist Kim Hoorweg and drummer Nadya van Osnabrugge share vocal duties, leaving no stone unturned.
Following VULVA proves an almighty ask although both SNACKBAR The Ambassador and Lik De Kikker give as good as they’ve got. While the latter duo’s Spiral Tribe down the student union toytown rave complete with tickertape and all sorts of props proves a hit with rockers and ravers combined, the former’s electronic one man band is perhaps the more enticing. Essentially the alias of Den Haag resident and music experimentalist Matthias König, SNACKBAR The Ambassador thrives on a subtle charm that leaves the audience gasping in anticipation at what he’s going to play next (the wasp synthesizer? the cymbals? the guitar?) while eliciting a playful demeanour that breaks down any immediate barriers between artist and throng.
Lik De Kikker
The festival itself starts the next day, taking place across six spaces all situated a stones throw from one another on the same street. While the larger Gebl. De Nobel boasts three rooms (Nobel Grote Zaal, Nobel Kleine Zaal and Nobel Lounge respectively) playing host to some of the more established names on the bill, the more intimate confines of Scheltema (Theaterzaal and Expo O) and Bethlemkerk – essentially a converted church – provides a stage for some of Peel Slowly And See’s most diverse bookings.
It’s in the salubrious settings of Bethlehemkerk where Brazilian duo Caeso & Paulo Dantas played an improvised set of electronic and acoustic music, using keys and guitar to elevate their soundscapes into ambient skyscrapers. Playing in conjunction with The Academy for Performing Arts (ACPA) of Leiden University as part of the festival’s ongoing partnership with that body, they provide an soothing introduction; almost like a calm before the storm for what lies ahead.
Under the Radar are also suitably impressed by what’s become the now customary, energetic festival performance from Pip Blom. Arguably the Dutch musical underground’s most successful global export in recent years, the Amsterdam-based four-piece play a set that’s heavily slanted towards their two albums on Heavenly Recordings – 2019’s Boat and 2021’s Welcome Break – with a couple of early singles “Babies Are A Lie” and “School” thrown in for good measure. Closing on the now familiar strains of “Daddy Issues” off their aforementioned debut, it’s always a pleasure to see Pip Blom and band loving life (and no doubt thinking about album number three) in such a welcoming environment.
The one thing that sets great festivals apart from the rest is the amount of clashes that occur between unmissable artists, and Peel Slowly And See’s decision to pit The Notwist head-to-head with KOIKOI proves arguably the biggest dilemma Under the Radar faces all weekend. Nevertheless, the close proximity of both rooms (the former in Nobel Grote Zaal, the latter Nobel Kleine Zaal) means we get to witness thirty minutes of each. While The Notwist – approaching their thirty-fifth year in existence – are still as adventurous and mischievous as ever, its Serbian four-piece KOIKOI that prove to be the revelation of the evening if not the entire festival. Musically reminiscent of first wave post-punk outfits like Talking Heads, Devo and the Go-Gos, all mixed with a pop sensibility and infused with dance rhythms that make it impossible to stand still. KOIKOI leave the packed room shouting for more at the end of their twelve songs set (and duly oblige). If you haven’t heard them before, make sure you check out most recent long player Pozivi u stranu as it is almost certainly one of the finest records to emerge from Eastern Europe in recent times.
Sticking with its eclectic nature, Dutch supergroup of sorts GEO, who feature Lewsberg guitarist Michiel Klein among their ranks, and Utrecht outfit Terzij De Horde keep all and sundry entertained, whether your musical palette of choice takes the shape of loose limbed angular post-punk (the former) or progressive black metal (the latter). It’s also worth mentioning at this point that every single room is packed to the rafters with punters giving it their all off stage to whatever is happening on stage.
Terzij De Horde
But we’re most taken aback by Polish duo SIKSA, whose brand of confrontational noise and spoken word angst represents one of the most brutally unique performances we’ve witnessed in a very long time. The duo – Aleksandra Dudczak (voice) and Piotr Buratyński (bass) describe their sound as “polemasty” and take their name from Polish slang for “naive and sexually attractive young woman”. Musically and aesthetically reminiscent of Lydia Lunch, Sleaford Mods and Crass were they ever to become a hybrid. Dudczak’s captivating penchant for confrontation omnipresent throughout yet utterly engaging to the point no one dare look at their phones or take their eyes away from her for fear of missing what might happen next. One of the most engaging live acts on the planet right now, it’s perhaps fitting that their performance and VULVA’s the previous night bookend Under the Radar’s weekend of musical delights at one of the most diverse and eclectic festival line-ups we’re likely to endeavour this year.
For more information on Peel Slowly And See visit their Official Website