Coming to Grauzone is like entering a parallel world. These days we hear a lot about the dangers of a parallell society, but much less about the possibility of configuring society in a different (hopefully better) way. That’s what the Dutch festival stands for to me. Spending time with so many strangers who just know what you’re going through.

Even finding ways to deal with all of the pain this world is feeling right now. Perhaps putting it into use, making music that is supercharged with anger, anguish but also hope. Or making zines, putting out records or something as humbly life-affirming as dancing.

Harsh Symmetry at Grauzone 2024.

It’s no wonder that we’re seeing a notable nostalgia for the early 80s – 40 years ago and also a time during which many of the Grauzone visitors weren’t born yet. It was a time of mass unemployment in Europe, tha fall of industrialism and the technology boom facilitated by computers was yet to come. A time when there was still several political alternatives open to those willing to take a stand.

We need a time for big musical revolutions. The latest big revolution in music had already been commercially appropriated, packaged, and sold back to a new generation of young professionals: punks. Underground music was once again being marginalised, treated as dangerous. New electronic instruments were changing the way music was produced.

Suddenly you didn’t need to be a trained musician to produce music. Sampling, sequencing and synthesis meant music could spring from anything – from industrials sounds to ambient noises and programmed beats. Hiphop, house music, synthwave and EDM were all starting to crop up.

Today underground music is similarly marginalised because whatever isn’t formulaic algorithm fodder doesn’t agree with the idea that preferences can and should be predicted. At Grauzone preferences and knowledge of artists and music, as well as of art, is challenged and expanded. It’s difficult music that never tries to be easy – for difficult, uneasy times. Especially so for queer, bipoc and trans people as times like these breed fear, xenophobia and yes – let’s not shy away from the word – fascism.

Slow Crush at Grauzone 2024

It became especially poignant this year due the tragedy that befell the frontperson of The Soft Moon, who was supposed to be one of the headliners. More about that in the next part, but all of this set the scene for an emotional and cathartic weekend.

The first day of Grauzone started with the sounds of Slow Crush for me. The Belgian shoegaze band took to the main stage with more energy than a late afternoon slot called for. They haven’t released much recently (their last album Hush came out in 2021) but played with inspiration and the sound at Paard is amazing.

One of the acts I’d really been looking forward to was Los Angeles-based Harsh Symmetry, who have successfully encapsulated the coldwave sound on their new album Imitation. They played at the Grey Space, which is my favourite venue at Grauzone, in the small basement with its low ceiling. This time they even had a small stage to stand on, so the band could be seen by more than just the front row.

They played a great set as a duo, with Julian Sharwarko on keys and vocals and another musician on guitar. Always great to see artists who have a sense of style as well, with their unique take on The Cure/New Romantics aesthetics.

Desinteresse at Grauzone 2024

Another young band with a similar style, but from The Netherlands, also played the same evening. Desintresse also performed as a duo, in the new venue for this year, called GR8. There were a lot of people who wanted to get into the small room, despite the band having just played a free show across the street the day before.

The room felt at bit too clean and fresh for Desintresse’s murky blend of minimal wave and death rock. But I loved their austere looks and demeanour and the fact they had brought a tape deck for their backing tracks.

SDH at Grauzone 2024

Another highlight, and a band that also played at the free Thursday event, was Barcelona duo SDH. SDH have released some brilliant music lately – both the Maybe a Body 12″ and last year’s album were a lesson in creating danceable electro with techno beats. The duo is mostly (and rightfully) known for their charismatic vocalist Andrea Latorre, who performs with such conviction you’d think you were watching a movie.

Their set reminded me of the great Rue Oberkampf who played last year, and they really had the crowd dancing in front of the small stage at Paard. Föllakzoid’s show also veered into confrontational and celebratory theatre, but on a similar note I enjoyed Bestial Mouths’ set more. They closed the first evening at the Grey Space and they definitely weren’t a crowd-pleaser.

The main member of Bestial Mouths is the now Berlin-based Lynette Cerezo. Seemingly in anguish for most of the show, her ghostly frame walked up and down the stage – personifying their dark and powerful music. Most recently heard on R​.​O​.​T​.​T. (inmyskin) from last year, Bestial Mouths sound like a coven conducting some dark ritual. The remix version of the album came out the very same day they played.

A couple of bands played two nights in a row, which was very generous of them. But also much needed because the pressure was high for some gigs you simply couldn’t get into the room to see anything. I skipped out on headlines Drab Majesty and The Underground Youth to see Spanish band Melenas.

That’s a band I’ve followed for years and who’ve recently turned towards a more synthesizer-based sound. Did they get booked just because they covered “Eisbär” by Grauzone? Probably not, but they played another new venue called Zwarte Ruiter – essentially a traditional bar by Grote Markt. It was chaotic and not the best sound, but I’m so glad I finally got to see them play.

See more photos from the festival on our flickr.

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