Located in the south of The Netherlands, the relatively small city of Tilburg (around 210,000 people according to wikipedia) hosts Incubate, one of the largest (in terms of participating acts) annual line-ups of the country. The festival focuses mainly on music though there is a (yearly increasing) number of other artistic activities (film, theater, debates, visual arts, contemporary dance, etc). Approximately 350 artists participated in this year’s edition, which took place across 39 small and big venues around the city’s center, between the 14th and the 20th of September. The complete list of all participating acts is to be found in the festival’s official page.
The agenda of Incubate is rather diverse, yet the organizers focus on projects beyond the outskirts of mainstream commercialism. The music style is what I simply call eclectic alternative. The organizers prefer to identify it as ‘cutting edge’. But then again, when it comes to music, what really makes music sound eclectic alternative, or ‘cutting-edge’, or even left-field1? Far ahead of the glamor of other large-scale music festivals2, Incubate’s best ingredient is quality. It comes as no surprise that indie culture website The Quietus have called Incubate their “favorite festival”.
As always, I chose the
more obscure less traveled path, and in the following lines I’ll unfold what I experienced. Unfortunately, it was impossible for someone to follow all performances, mainly because they occur concurrently, or with significant timing overlaps. At this point, I should stress the fact that music taste is highly subjective, implying that the words you will read below are seasoned with my own spices.
Note 1: All photos you see in this page are shot by Aleh & his Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 camera. They are displayed in low quality for the sake of bandwidth optimization. You may want to click on each photo for a higher quality variant. Aleh says you should feel free to redistribute his photos, but you should reconsider your actions in case you intend to make profit out of his work.
Note 2: By any means, always show your support to independent artists and labels.
Note 3: If you enjoy this kind of music then you may also like Innersound Radio.
⨳ Monday, 14 September
My agenda opened with an artist I already had seen live. Lavina Meijer is a Dutch harpist with increasing popularity. The first time I heard her live was at Eindhoven’s Cross-Lynx festival, in February 2014. I was impressed, back then, by her talent and particularly by her Radiohead’s Karma Police cover. Lavina openly admires Philips Glass (seems at least we’ve got something in common here) and has already covered many of his piano songs (Metamorphoses being one of her best known). With her harp, she covered among others songs from Ólafur Arnalds, Wim Martens (what a masterpiece the ‘Struggle for Pleasure’!). In her performances, the last track is always the moment of surprise. This time, she covered part of the Apollo 13 film soundtrack (adding her own talents and spices to it). As I couldn’t resist, I made a little video, which I embedded below.
Not only ‘Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat’ (KTAOABC) is a band’s name, but actually it is one of my favorites. They are Belgian people, thus nice people. I knew them as a dark-fork, dark-rock band. Lately, the attempt to preserve their dark rock character while replacing the folk elements with more electro, post-punk and darkwave sounds, industrial synths and a lot more drums. Anyhow, the band is not Stef Heeren’s solo project any longer but a full band. In Incubate 2015 they performed mostly their last album (‘Weltuutergangsstimmung’, 2012); I guess the title translated sounds something like gloom and doom.
Mark Kozelek is f*cking Mark Kozelek, as he called himself during his show, and I bet there’s nobody to argue about the fact. He performed solo, he was simple, honest, and in very good shape (at least acoustically) and there is nothing more to be mentioned. I honestly feel lucky to have seen him live, even from a distance…
The Soft Moon is a relatively new post-punk band from the US. I’d heard their work before, but since I don’t follow this music genre, I’d never paid enough attention to them. Of course, as pretty much always, it is enough to attend a first live performance in order to change one’s mind. They performed (no news here) most songs of their third and last album (‘Deeper’, 2015), yet honestly I’ve no clue how much and which of their older releases. Their energy and dynamics both are clearly captured in the photos.
According to legend, people who started listening to folk music first, at a certain moment they turn into rock/punk music and vice versa. I started listening to rock, moved to folk and seems I’m becoming a punk. I hope in the end I’ll be left with some hair to paint.
Among others, French are good in shoegaze & post-rock bands, and one of their best representatives is Alcest. Their album (‘Shelter’, 2014) remain eminent in my own shoegaze hall-of-fame. The performance took place in Dudok, an old chapel that nowadays serves as concert & wedding venue. Dudok is ideal for shoegazing, in which actually Ι got engaged. I spent some time, indeed, staring at those boots without laces… Alas, I had to leave the venue halfway (to catch last trains and all), so I can’t have a reliable opinion on the entire performance. The sound was superb, though, as beseems to a superb band.
⨳ Friday, 18 September
When one listens to a song like this, one expects an indie, krautrock band. It is hard to accept the fact that all those sounds come from machines and instruments controlled by a single person! British artist William Doyle is the one and only member of ‘East India Youth’. Maybe he is looking for someone in his song, but certainly he does not need anyone for his band. He satisfied both himself and his audience all alone. Actually you can enjoy him in action, performing ‘Turn Away’ (live on KEXP) right below.
Husky is an indie-folk band from Australia, and as I always have been saying, there might be something in the waters of Australia which renders people into great folk songwriters. The band’s frontman Husky Gawenda wrote the songs for his band while walking around his neighborhood and sitting at local coffee shops. Among other stories, he confessed that his song ‘Hunter’ (see below), is a product of his recurrent nightmares related to a certain girl!
I would never have known House of Wolves, if I didn’t follow certain people on-line (this time credits go to Alevizon for this video). I was severely attracted to their first album (‘Fold in the Wind’, 2013), especially the tracks “50’s” & “Ageless”. The name of this Californian band comes actually from the singer’s Spanish last name (Rey Villalobos). In Incubate 2015 they performed without trumpets and pianos, which rendered their sound even more delicate than it is already. Despite the fact that I missed both instruments, a sweet melody was flowing in the air. You may want to check below their live performance of “50’s”.
TORRES (aka Mackenzie Scott) is only 24 years old. I was expecting a timid ‘brunette’ girl, or something close to that. Well, nothing like that, at least in the appearances. My expectations matched the facts, though, when it came to sound. I know her since her first album (‘TORRES’, 2013) which I really enjoy. TORRES knows well how to balance between darkness and light, between sadness and joy, and I believe this is one of the key elements in her music. The band performed songs from both their first and new album (‘Sprinter’, 2015). By the way, I honestly loved Mackenzie’s socks!
There comes a moment when one realizes there is an 80’s band which everyone (OK, almost everyone) knows, yet one completely ignores. This feeling becomes even more devastating when one enters the venue and faces around 3000 people listening to Mercury Rev. That is the so-called WTF moment. From Incubate’s site, one reads: “Plenty of bands advocate anarchy, but few have practiced it with the single-minded determination of Mercury Rev, a psychedelically inclined sextet given over to every-man-for-himself excursions as open-ended as ‘pop’ music has seen in many years. At Incubate, Mercury Rev plays an exclusive show together with the Tilburg Conservatorium orchestra.” How could I miss all this? Perhaps because the band’s name was one of those front ‘big letters’ that I deliberately skip. This American alternative-psychedelic-indie-pop-rock-whatever band has a long history and is all future to me… During the concert, the band’s frontman Jonathan Donahue narrated stories, stirred up with emotional abundance, behind his songs. I recall particularly the story behind “Opus 40” from the ‘Deserted Songs’ which was written during a heavy storm, and in (yet another) period of their darkness.
⨳ Saturday, 19 September
A double drumming band is something not to be missed. K-X-P, one of Finland’s best dark-electronic/krautrock bands, consists of three members, two of which hit the drums. They call their gender ‘esoteric space rock’, a term that initially made me laugh, yet five minutes of live performance was enough to be convinced of the validity of the nomenclature. I tried hard to decode some of their lyrics, but I gave up choosing to get lost deeper in their rhythm. I was waiting patiently for the lovely moments when they occasionally cross hands or drumsticks.
What would be a better place for Thomas Jefferson Cowgill’s (aka King Dude) show than a real church! Although a protestant one, thus minimalistic and void of ritual paraphernalia, PaulusKerk in the center of Tilburg is still a fully operational church. And is out-of-question that the church has never been so crowded before. King Dude calls the music genre he advocates as ‘Luciferian’, actually a mixture of folk, neofolk, and dark-folk elements. He loves spirituality, good or evil, and many of his songs are inspired by both sides. Yet, one wonders whether spirituality is all about good or evil. One thing is certain, King Dude’s musical sermons are spirituality good. The concert opened with sounds coming from the church’s organ performed by Clay Ruby, band member of Burial Hex. King Dude with his guitar performed solo with noticeable “Jesus in the Courtyard”. Lights and acoustics not being optimal (strange enough for a church), I listened to him describing the difference between modern Baptist churches (those he is familiar with) and the one he was singing.
Sóley Stefánsdóttir and her band from Iceland performed almost concurrently with King Dude, thus I had to steal the last 15 minutes from the later; both artists are hard to resist, so the choice was tough! During her performance, Sóley asked the attendees whether they are going to have fun that night. Someone replied with a “certainly” word, only for her smiling ‘Pretty Face’ to change expression as her thoughts were openly back to her newborn daughter whom she left (I bet in very good hands) in Iceland for the sake of the band’s tour. Their performance was not only flawless as expected but also delectable. Supreme (almost like studio) sound quality even in the open air! “Ask the Deep” is the title of their new (2015) album.
Cabaret Voltaire is nowadays just Richard H. Kirk, his machines & multi-screen projections. I was expecting a revival, but the performance featured exclusively new material (flamboyant noise better said) and nothing from the great avant-garde past, not even a minute of nostalgia (I have to admit that I missed the organizers warning). I spent 20 minutes listening to this only to realize how lucky I am for my ears are not made for this.
I’m not really fun of Funk or R&B music, yet it is the psychedelic/lo-fi element that attracts me to ‘Unknown Mortal Orchestra’. This rather new band from New Zeeland/American band attracts more people by day. They played “old” and new songs.
In a line-up with more than 300 acts, it is normal to surpass a name in those long lists. On my way back to the train station, I passed by the pub “De Harmonie” and looking through the glass I saw a familiar face on an ad-hoc stage. Without a second thought, I looked at the agenda, only to realize it was Corrina Repp. Within seconds, I was already sitting inside the bar. I had heard her work in the past, even liked her facebook page, but for some reason I hadn’t realized she was performing in Incubate. I still hold the opinion that her performance was among festival’s best. After her show (unfortunately I missed the first part), instead of disappearing, Corrina came down the podium and offered drinks to some of her acquaintances. It was the only moment in the whole festival I could exchange a word or two with an artist.
⨳ Sunday, 20 September
Canadians Great Lake Swimmers opened my last day’s performances at Incubate. I love this folk band as much as I fancy the sound of the banjo, and particularly the sound of their banjo. In their last album (‘A Forest of Arms’, 2015) they have given the banjo a
bit of rest. They started with their new album with most noticeable ‘I Must Have Someone Else’s Blues’, for which frontman Tony Dekker asked the audience to sing along. Well, absolutely nobody wants to mess around with someone else’s blues, but still there were some of us singing along. At this point, dear reader, you ought to congratulate me for keeping my body still and managing to record (see below) one of my favorite songs (‘Your Rocky Spine’) from their third album (‘Ongiara’, 2007). Alas, I had to leave before their finale so as to attend the subsequent show (about 15 km away). I was waiting patiently, in fact, to hear my all time favorite ‘I could be nothing’ but (I hope and I’m quite sure) they kept it for the very end. Perhaps the next time… If only I could spend a bit more time with them!
At this point, I moved from Tilburg to Oisterwijk, a nearby village, for the remaining two performances. Unfortunately, I could not attend the performances of Kathryn Joseph, The Black Heart Rebellion, and Circuit des Yeux. And I’m very much regretful about this…
I take for granted that all dark music lovers met or at least know Kim Larsen (aka :Of the Wand & the Moon:) from Denmark. He performed solo with his guitar, at which I was staring for almost all 45 minutes of his performance. I wonder whether someone is capable of decoding the runic script on his guitar! With his exceptional talent, Kim captured his audience’s attention even of those not attracted to his style. The venue, an 80 years old, open air amphitheater in Oisterwijk, was absolutely the best possible setting for this performance. The alluring voice of Kim mixed with the shadows of the surrounding trees harmonically composed a lovely sunset setting. He played songs from various albums with most noticeable ‘I Crave For You’ and ‘Lost in Emptiness’. Kim was apparently thirsty during his concert, for he was drinking a sip of beer every other song saying “Drinky time!”. I admire both his spirit and his voice…
Empyrium is the band that gave birth and shape to Prophecy productions, a record label associated with lots of artists in the dark-folk, dark-rock, post-rock and neofolk world (KTAOABC, Alcest, Vàli, Sol Invictus, Tenhi, Lantlôs, Les Discrets, Darkher, are just a few to name). Moreover, is the band that made me appreciate deeper metal music. Their third album (‘Songs Of Moors and Misty Fields’, 1997), although is considered as their last ‘doom metal’ album, I consider it as one of the most melodic metal music albums ever written. Empyrium performed full band, right after Of the Wand & the Moon. Most of the songs were from their latest albums, whereas one of them entitled ‘Mile’ is released just a day before the concert! Needless to describe the infinite joy I felt to the sound of their last song, my favorite waltz ‘Many moons ago…” reminding everyone patently that “Life is, and will always be a waltz…”.