- 18 Jan 18
The first day of Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS) is almost always the most frantic. Planes, trains and automobiles – well, one plane, one train, and one automobile – get you from Dublin to Groningen via Amsterdam. Find the hotel, dump the bags, and hightail it across town to De Oosterpoort conference centre to get registered and wrist-banded.
With more than 3,000 delegates attending the annual music festival, this usually takes a while. And given that your Hot Press correspondent apparently forgot to answer an important registration email, this year it takes even longer. (“Look, you sent me about 30 emails in the last week – how was I supposed to know that one was special?!”).
Still, it gets sorted. Another mad dash across town and we’re at the MartiniPlaza watching regular host Jools Holland presenting the EBBA Awards. EBBA, now in its 15th year, is an EU prize, set up by ESNS in co-operation with the European Commission (Creative Europe) and the European Broadcasting Union, supported by Buma Cultuur, the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the province of Groningen, the city of Groningen and MartiniPlaza.
EBBA celebrates new and groundbreaking artists who “create the music of today and tomorrow.” The list of EBBA winners features many remarkable European artists of the last few years: Adele, Christine & the Queens, Stromzy, Gabriel Rios, Hozier, Of Monsters and Men, Mumford & Sons, Aurora, Disclosure, John Newman, C2C, Tokio Hotel, The Script, Years and Years, Robin Schulz, Carnival Youth, MØ and Melanie di Biasio. The late Dolores O’Riordan bagged one for her solo material in 2008.
The EBBAs have become increasingly important over the last few years. They used to be held in De OOsterpoort before moving to a local theatre in 2013. Now they’ve upgraded again. This is the second year the EBBAs have been held in the cavernous MartiniPlaza, and the 600-strong studio audience has at least trebled from previous years.
Now widely televised across Europe, the ceremony has become increasingly professional, and the charismatic Holland whizzes through proceedings with ruthless professionalism.
Dingle’s Walking On Cars won a well-deserved EBBA last year, but there are no Irish winners in 2018. This evening’s show featured performances by Alice Merton, Alma, Blanche, Kristian Kostov, Off Bloom, Sigrid, Skott and Youngr. Portugal’s Salvador Sobral couldn’t attend the show due to ill health, and so his manager accepted the award on his behalf.
The EBBAs reflect what’s currently popular on European radio. Most of it is straightforward pop, but Denmark electro trio Off Bloom give the night a little edge. Norwegian songstress Sigrid and Germany’s Alice Merton are also impressive, but frankly the rest of the acts wouldn’t be out of place at the Eurovision Song Contest. Bulgaria’s Kristian Kostov – a runner-up in X Factor Bulgaria – came out as the big winner of the evening, taking away the ‘Public Choice Award’ after an overwhelming number of online voters chose him. Personally, I preferred last year’s winner: Dua Lipa.
The EBBAs promptly wrap up around 9pm, leaving Hot Press free to hit the town. With hundreds of bands playing all over Groningen over the next three nights, the Wednesday is usually the best – or at least the least mobbed. After tonight, things tend to go a little crazy.
There’s a decent turn-out in Der AA Theatre for wonderfully named Belfast act Robocobra Quartet. Featuring a singing drummer, a two-man brass section and a bass player, they make music that has been described as “Fugazi meets Mingus.” It’s an accurate description of songs that start off sounding like experimental jazz before gradually descending into something akin to death metal.
What’s confusing is that the singer – who looks like a grown-up Harry Potter – has such a chatty and beguiling state presence. One moment he’s cracking jokes with the audience, next thing you know he’s howling like someone doing primal scream therapy on magic mushrooms. Robocobra Quartet are definitely an acquired taste but, while some of the audience left, those who stayed really enjoyed their brilliantly bizarre set.
Another quick walk down wet cobbled streets takes Hot Press to Stadsschouwburg (try saying that after a couple of drinks!) to catch pint-sized EBBA-winner Sigrid, who’s signed to Island Records. Unfortunately, the venue is so packed out that the bouncers will only allow Hot Presssnapper Miguel access. That’s another problem with Eurosonic – even the biggest acts are often playing relatively small rooms. It can be great to see stars shining in such intimate settings, but you’ve really got to get there early.
Still, every cloud has a silver lining. Hot Press and RTE’s Dan Hegarty give up on Stadsschouwburg, and head up the road to catch Roe playing the basement of Vrijdag. Another Belfast act, Roe is the moniker under which pink-haired, 18-year-old, Roisin Donald operates. Young as she is, Roe obviously has serious talent. Her manager tells me that she wrote most of tonight’s set when she was just 17.
And what an impressive set it is. A solo artist using just a guitar, effects pedals and a drum machine, Roe combines sassy, streetwise pop with a voice that's reminiscent of Florence Welch. Songs such as ‘Fake Ur Death’, ‘Cheek, Boy’ and forthcoming single ‘Static’ have the small but appreciative audience entranced. Another number, ‘Hey Thomas’, takes a withering look at idiot men, and could well be the soundtrack to the #MeToo campaign (if it had a sense of humour).
Having only arrived in Groningen this afternoon, Roe will be playing another Eurosonic gig tomorrow night, before returning home to Ireland for a headlining Whelan’s show on Saturday night. You’re advised to be there…