New wave poses. Art rock techniques. Cyberpunk poetry. Gothic moods. Alien synths. Caterwauling guitars. Scrap yard funk. Tractor tire basslines. Abandoned factories. It’s post-punk, it’s Holland, it’s the ’80s.
From 1978 to 1988 Holland joined the transatlantic fray. There’d been a few new wave bands in the Dutch pipeline by ’78, but the country’s ultramodernen scene really sparked with the avant-garde post-punk club ULTRA, which ran from 1980 to ’81 in Amsterdam. The term often used to describe Dutch post-punk as a whole, ULTRA was taken from this one short-lived party.
Focused on the more challenging acts, the original night was put on by many of the musicians and writers that would go on to work at Vinyl Magazine and the broadcaster VPRO, both champions of the Dutch wave for most of the decade to follow. Sharing label rosters and venues with the scene’s core avant-garde after 1981 were other, somewhat more sophisticated if not more accessible acts who would experiment less with a “cringe” aesthetic than with music composition. As in the post-punk scenes internationally, bands didn’t even put out records of any note for the most part until after 1981 or ’82. Earlier recordings tended to sound rough, gritty and dissonant, while later projects from ’82 and after moved toward accessibility and maturity.
In the long run, sonic cross-polination was a sort of death knell for the original underground, but looking back it resulted in some of the era’s best releases — similar to how early US and UK punk and industrial bands were hugely influential, but the new wave and post-punk bands that followed (often featuring musicians from the earlier bands) bested them by expanding their sound. After all, purity is boring.
DIY and the general milieu of awkwardness didn’t necessarily go away, though. Often, the more “accessible” stuff could be really weird: You had bands like Kiem, who sound like a bizarro world Kraftwerk, or Moroder, blending completely homemade percussion with thick, arpeggiating synthesizers and a skronking saxophone.
To the mixes, then.
First in the Dutch Waves series, Chase Horizons offers a sweeping collection of truly compelling songs, sounds and perspectives. Next week is Short Memories, focusing on uptempo beats and the dance-oriented vibes underpinning many of the period’s best tracks. The final installment, Building Brains is a definitively bi-polar view of the scene’s outermost creative edges: industrial noises, compositional indulgences and acoustic gems.
Though honestly, they all kind of overlap.
Stream it here or listen on iTunes.
Mecano – Autoportrait
The Tapes – March
Coitus Int. – Bonanza
Nine Circles – The Rose
Mekanik Kommando – Money For Pleasure
De Div – Lichaam Op Het Laken
Kiem – Time Doesn’t Heal
Das Ding – Makimo
Vice – Stirring Up The Fire
Ensemble Pittoresque – Lovesong
Minny Pops – Ice Cube Wall
Nasmak – Duel (With Unequal Arms)
Mick Ness – You In Me
De Div – Marianne H.
Neon – Standing On The Other Side
The Gentry – Escape
Storung – Radio Lines
Sammie America’s Mam – Find a Form
Vice – The Beast
Flue – Esmafarja
Edward Ka-Spiel – Tick Tock
Tent – Chase Horizons
Mekanik Kommando – First Reprise
Nasmak – Silhouette
Stephen Emmer – Teracotta Trimmings
Mecano – March of The Iron Workers
Ensemble Pittoresque – Ash Grey As Sunday
Nine Circles – What’s There Left
Tent – You Will Fall
Sammie America’s Mam – It’s Slipping Away
The Gentry – Senses