London Calling is a two day musical extravaganza that takes places in Amsterdam, every Spring and Autumn. The Dutch city is blessed with a couple of beautiful music venues, and the Paradiso, a converted nineteenth century church is no exception. Split into two rooms, the main room over three levels allows spectacular views and a smaller upstairs hall, which leads on to the debate is this a festival or is it just a supersized gig?
Well its all self contained within one venue, there’s no mud or over priced €15 beers so there are few signs of the stereotypical festival. However, it would be grossly unfair to describe this just your typical run of the mill Friday night out. There is no other gig you could have attended this year and seen up to a dozen hotly tipped new acts one after the other.
The pace of the evening is unrelenting. We all know that one of the most annoying things about a gig is the half an hour waiting around between acts. London Calling does away with that frustration. As soon as one act ends in the main hall, the first note is struck in the upstairs hall. Even better, if you do just fancy sitting in the main room, a 25ft cinema style screen slides down in front of the stage between acts and broadcasts live what’s happening upstairs. This is not exactly cutting edge technology, but works incredibly well, keeping the audience engaged no matter where they are in the venue. You wonder why it hasn’t been thought of elsewhere.
Comparing my usual British gig going experience to this Dutch affair, the other main difference is the complete and utter absence of stewards or any security. Far from causing anarchy, the diverse crowd just look after themselves and concentrate on having a great time. The only downside is that there is no one to manage the crowd numbers in each room. Particularly in the smaller hall upstairs, where the crowd reaches a dangerously high level, in anticipation of Canadian electro star, Grimes.
On to the music then, and FOE are first on to a decent sized crowd considering its only 6.30pm. After travelling eleven hours in the van to be here and playing their first gig outside the UK, lead singer, Hannah Louise Clark, commands their attention with a PJ Harvey-esque performance. However, the quality of their songs struggles to lift above pedestrian, one-dimensional affairs. In a scene, positively bursting with female fronted bands or solo artists, it takes a lot to stand out.
Blending into the background, is not something that can be levelled at London based, five-piece Citizens! With debut album, Here We Are, out in a fortnight, their tight, polished performance and in particular the sock-less, front man, Tom Burke help captivate those that have assembled in the main room. The album has been produced by Franz Ferdinand front man, Alex Kapranos and some of the best bits of Franz, an ear for a hook, dueling guitar lines and a confidently delivered vocal, have all found their way into the Citizens! DNA. They have also added keyboards and synths into the mix on stand out track – True Romance.
King Charles certainly has a unique look amongst the other performers tonight. The set tonight seems front loaded with the short, snappy, fun folk songs before diverting off into over-wrought and self indulgent territory. There was a mood in the crowd that felt they were with him after 25 minutes but had long lost patience by the final psych jam session ended 45 minutes.
The number of bands playing tonight that you can put in the box marked “They’ve been tipped by all and sundry, I should definitely check them out” continues at pace. Brooklyn’s Oberhofer take the crown for most energetic performance of the evening, Matthew Scheiner bouncing around the stage and getting the crowd moving, especially on popular single, Away From You. I choose to watch Zulu Winter on the aformentioned projector in the main hall and despite a supersized screen, the performance really struggles to get going. It is all far too easy to just let their thoughtful but ultimately bland songs pass you by without really grabbing your attention.
The evening comes to an end with the most hyped.
Pushing and shoving through the sweaty mass of revellers, it seemed strange that Canadian electro-pop favourite Grimes was chosen for the Upstairs Room, whereas relative unknowns, Foals-a-like Breton were struggling to keep a mass crowd engaged. There was barely room to breath in the night club like environment, which suited Claire Boucher’s act down to the ground. Oft-atonal though still accessible electronica was the signature sound, despite the rigid keyboard laiden set up, Grimes commanded the stage. The promoters could have done themselves a favour by swapping these stages, as sadly I was forced to watch the majority of the set on the main stage screen due to pending squishing and lack of oxygen.
US brash rockers Howler were met with swathes of a young crowd determined to stick the ABC of going to a gig: drink all the beer available, chuck some on your fellow gig goers and knock out all your brain cells in the circular mosh pit. The bright, brazen sound of songs from America Give Up set a different pace for the night, demonstrating the diversity of the London Calling line up.