Does Dutch music sound like eel?
September 27, 2008 6 Comments
“Bar the carnival songs and Dutch music is great,” I once heard an expat say.
Dutch music however is far more complex. Most of what we hear every day on various Dutch media is either the so-called Nederpop (Dutch pop music) or rock music. Naturally, other genres like classical music, folk, hip-hop and jazz also have their place in Dutch music and some pieces even break through to the main stream, while others stay strictly underground.
Generally, expats can form an idea about Dutch music by paying attention to the sounds that seem most typical of the region they’re living in. If you find yourself in Limburg like me, you’ll be exposed to the annual tradition of carnival and with it, to the folk or carnival music characteristic of the south of the country.
In Volendam, an old fishing village in the province of North Holland, you will probably hear a lot of (or at least about) the so-called “palingsound” (literally “eelsound”). This name is used to describe a type of music which comes only from Volendam. It also refers to another famous Volendam specialty: eel. Although the word sounds funny, “palingsound” really defines a genre of its own.
Jantje Smit – Mijn dorp aan zee (My village by the sea)
Regional Dutch music therefore – at least in my examples – sounds either like carnival or fishy, so what you can do to hear something else is turn on the radio. Then you will soon find out that it mostly offers very mainstream music. However it’s sometimes possible to hear genres as varied as traditional music, pop, rock, metal, soul or dance, depending on the radio station you choose. But before I start with examples let’s talk facts.
50 years of Nederpop
This year the Netherlands celebrated 50 years of pop music*, taking as a starting point the year 1958, when Rock Little Baby of Mine, by Tielman Brothers came out. That is how the so-called Indorock was born in the Netherlands, as a fusion of Western and Indonesian music. Indorock was influenced by Rock’n'roll and everything that was already popular in the USA or UK, but hadn’t reached this country yet.
The Tielman Brothers – Indo Rock 1959
Starting from there Dutch pop music went through various phases: a progressive rock phase in the 60s and 70s, a punk phase in the 70s and 80s, a DJ and dance phase in the 90s. Also in the 90s the goth/metal, hip-hop scene and indie scenes became very strong.
With the emergence of Bettie Serveert, probably the first indie rock band of the Netherlands, and the formation of an independent record label, Excelsior Recordings, a whole new era began. Excelsior released other indie rock bands e.g. Caesar, Alamo Race Track, Johan, Spinvis, Gem, zZz and many others. Bands like Voicst, still very popular nowadays, come from a similar, indie rock background. Voicst is a good example however of a band which manages to break through to a wider audience but still keeps the, so-called, indie attitude. The bands who grew in the metal or hip hop scenes in the 90s are also still active today (e.g. Within Temptation, Extince).
VOICST – Everyday I Work On The Road
Since the 50s and up until now the Netherlands has stayed tuned to the music coming from the US and UK. To me, this is a typically Dutch characteristic. Music fans are always up to date with the newest trends and Dutch bands often follow music genres from abroad.
One of the reasons why the Dutch are so well up to date with the latest developments might be thanks to the Noordeslag/Eurosonic festival, an annual music festival and fair focusing on emerging artists. The festival started in 1986 as a battle between ten Belgian and ten Dutch acts. In 1993 the initial figure of 300 participants exploded to around 1700 participants and during last year’s edition it exceeded 2500 participants. Noorderslag is now in the same league as South by Southwest in Austin or the Popkomm in Berlin, which makes it an important point on the map for music lovers and professionals. The festival is a big international happening. The first wo days are designed for international bands, with very different styles, and the third day is entirely Dutch and serves as a platform for Dutch bands who are either just establishing themselves or seeking a stronger position in the music scene.
The Dutch audience is a very good receiver of music. When the Dutch like an artist they know how to show their appreciation. This is why acclaimed artists like to play in the pop temples of Amsterdam (Melkweg, Paradiso), but also in Rotterdam or Nijmegen. They usually get an enthusiastic welcome and the performances are often sold out. Towards starting bands however the Dutch are much more reserved, and it usually takes a while to win their trust. But when they are convinced, their enthusiasm will compensate for their initial reserved reactions.
Like in other countries also in the Netherlands the measure of success for many artists is making it to the charts. The Dutch top 40 is usually taken over by foreign super stars. This week’s top charts show Madonna, and other artists like Enrique Iglesias and Rihanna. Only a few Dutch artists can be found, with names like Jan Smit (one of the eel sounding singers!), Anouk, Alain Clark and Gerard Joling. In most cases Dutch artists who reach the top 40 are very commercial and in general those who are considered “very big”, like the ones who sell out arenas (e.g. Toppers, Anouk) are quite mainstream in my view.
Anouk – Modern World
Dutch or English?
The language chosen by the artists doesn’t seem to make it easier or more difficult for them to reach the charts. Some musicians, like Anouk, sing in English, others exclusively in Dutch, and a third category of artists, like Gerard Joling, varies between Dutch and English.
In my view however Dutch isn’t the easiest language to sing. That may be the reason why many artists from the Netherlands choose to sing in English.
In fact, the new, emerging Dutch music, is often quite similar to the British or American sounds of the day. Needless to say that these new artists also choose to perform in English: that is the language that fits their genre.
Alain Clark – Blow me away
There is of course a very good, more underground scene in the Netherlands, but you need to look around to discover it (go to the more underground clubs? ask advice in record stores?). So this will probably not be your first impression of Dutch music when you arrive here, because you’ll rarely just hear it around… unless you quickly make Dutch friends with a very good taste in music.
I was lucky to get some good advice when I came to The Netherlands. The following are a couple of names which I have discovered or been recommended. Please follow the links and maybe you will find something for yourself too:
You might also want to check artists like Spinvis, Leine or Gem. There is much more music to be discovered but your choices will of course depend on the genre you enjoy the most.
GEM – Look
I guess that a newcomer in the Netherlands will think that the music played on the Dutch radio sounds as if it could come from any other radio in the world. And the first layer of commercial music is no different from anywhere else either. But if you dig in a little deeper you might find some very good music and also radio channels which offer a bit more than just the usual tunes. If you dig in the wrong place however you might discover something fishy and that will just be the “eelsound”.
By Misia Furtak
Misia Furtak graduated in MA Media Culture of Maastricht University. She is Polish and lives in Maastricht since late 2005. She is also the singer and bass player of the international band très.b.
NB: * It is still possible to get tickets for one of the celebrative shows in Amsterdam on 3 October.