“Here I can breathe freely and I feel happy”, King William II is proported to have said of Tilburg, a town situated in the south of the Netherlands, close the Belgian border. A city keen to promote itself as forward looking and dynamic, it plays host this month to the week long Incubate festival. With a theme of Independent culture and DIY spirit, the town is filled positive energy and musicians from around the globe and musical spectrum giving their all. King William would no doubt have approved. Ro Cemm reports from Tilburg.
You can usually tell a good festival by the reactions of those playing and the number of artists who pin Incubate as being different is noticeable. This may come in part from the diversity of musical styles on offer: on arriving in Tilburg we stumble in to 013 (a venue that, from the outside, resembles a giant Chesterfield sofa bedecked in shiny CD’s) to witness Norwegian Black Metalers Obliteration bringing the heavy riffs from a smoke-filled stage. Just a few minutes walk away are Anne Frank Zappa, a trash-garage-punk outfit whose scrappy punk is great fun despite losing a little momentum during the elongated pauses every couple of songs.
Closing the night are Screaming Females, whose frontwoman Marissa Paternoster wrangles all kind of fuzzed out tones from her guitar, tearing up and down the fret board with ferocious energy while the bass holds down low and heavy churning riffs, part stoner rock in its downtimes, part explosive, exhilarating adrenaline fueled grunge-pop.
About 7 hours later (and with a few heavy heads obvious in the audience) the one day D.I.Y conference kicks off with a keynote speech from Michael Azzerard, author of Our Band Could Be Your Life. Drawing heavily from the book, he argues that, now more than ever, the DIY ethos is necessary: arguing it is so easy to be passive and accept everything. Perhaps due to it’s focus on the time period of the book, and the limited time of the speech there was little for those wishing to apply the DIY principles today, or indeed on DIY approaches in other musical genres, or the role women have played in the scene. However, it could be said that omission from the speech itself made those more prominent in the multiple conversations that fill the halls of the Midi theatre throughout the day.
Indeed, many of the conference panels go on to display how DIY methods have spread, with panels on DIY Media, Bass Culture mash-ups and more. Despite the idea of “Independence” being a key concept throughout all of these talks, it is a sense of the need and desire to feel part of a community that appears time and time again. That sense of community also plays a vital part in the festival itself – at what other festival would a farmer come up to the organiser and ask to collaborate? Having invited Dan Deacon to make a film at the farm last year, this year the same farmer plays host to Peter Broderick for three weeks. Broderick returns to the farm to play a special lunchtime session this year.
Speaking to the director of the festival afterwards, its clear that local community involvement is a key element that they try to incorporate: see also the “Play Me, I’m Yours” pianos scattered around the town for anyone to play, and the after-school improv sessions.
Friday evening begins in an electro-pop vein, with Miracle Fortress and Austra both building on eighties influences in their own ways. We’ve praised both in recent weeks on the pages of this site and justifiably so.
Austra’s performance follows a flight which saw their bass and effects ‘delayed in transit’ so there’s time to catch Berlin by way of Canada’s Nadja’s brooding experimental ambient doom, which reverberates the packed house, and then see that band’s Aidan Baker also play with Picastro. There’s also time for a quick jaunt in the direction of Ninja Tune artist Daedelus, whose set includes elements of tracks produced with students in Tilburg each day this week, all triggered by the constantly twitching, finely mustachioed electronic impresario.
With the largest amount of shows taking place on Friday and Saturday the most frequently heard complaint is that there simply isn’t enough time to see everything. Even the artists are keen to get around and see some shows -Little Scream’s drummer expresses unlikely regret at missing Black Metalers Aura Noir while frontwoman Laurel Sprengelmeyer tries to repair a string broken in a smoke machine fueled rock-out. Battling the same smoke machine later that day are Esben and The Witch, whose skittering electronics and minimal percussion draw in a curious crowd, to whom they’re veiled by an impromptu mid-song dry ice explosion.
“My two favourite creatures are MORTAL ENEMIES” Baby Dee announces with a wry smile as a mid-set segway between songs about slugs and robins. While her songs may not have the same lyrical content as some of the more hardcore bands present at the festival, there is an equal amount of theatre to their performance with Dee channelling classical knowhow, ‘Nawlinz Jazz and music hall in equal measure. Her beautiful piano playing is perfectly augmented by sensitive drumming, upright bass, flute and the occasional burst of musical saw.
The rest of the festival is about getting a little taste of everything- so there’s time to see Dubstep meet Zimbabwean Mbira, Monsters of Moombahton, Detroit legend Theo Parish, embrace the energetic madness of Man Man and the high kicking, falling over, heart-on-the-sleeve moments of Handsome Furs.
Elsewhere there’s free jazz from Chris Corsano and Mats Gustafsson, a show in a natural amphitheater by Battles and performances from punk heroes Crass’ Steve Ignorant and The Fall to round things off.
In the early hours of Monday morning, sitting in front of a family tree of metal bands while watching musicians of different musical persuasions dancing along with the crowd to Plastic Bertrand’s one hit wonder ‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’, it strikes you how well the community ethos works at Incubate. It’s truly a place where you’re invited to participate and explore the music, given impetus and energy by those who are willing to embrace a different way of doing things. Long may it continue.