Today was one of those foggy days that are uncommon where I live. The kind of day when the sea blends with the sky and you could be anywhere in the world. I relate this very much to music of a certain kind, just think about the cover of the Drama record from 1979 I just wrote about.

The Grauzone festival is all about this mood: dark, dreamy and sullen – but also with the encouraging silver lining that you don’t know what’s on the horizon or what the future might bring. Coldwave, dark disco or whatever you want to call it has a tendency to focus on the bleaker aspects of life, love and politics. But coming to Grauzone is as far from a downer weekend as you can possibly imagine.

Malvina from France playing at Paard

On the contrary, it’s a place for likeminded souls to gather, and to get exciting about all the amazing art being created within this and adjacent fields at the moment. While goth and New Romantic styles definitely aren’t becoming trendy again to any extent, it’s a sub culture that is so much more accessible today and not a creed you have to live and die by.

I love the curators of Grauzone because they have a human face, and it just feels like the dream festival line-up you might conjure up on a day when you’re really bored. While there is guitar music side by side with dance music, it all has a red thread, in that the styles hark back to punk, industrial and the post-punk era of the early 80s. Coupled with a malleable strand of cyber themes, influential groups like Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle and D.A.F. have inspired a new generation of composers to whom drum machines and computers are just as readily adopted as guitars or analogue synthesisers.

Dream Wife at Paard

The last two days of Grauzone were quite naturally dedicated to some of the big headliners like Cold Cave, The KVB and She Past Away. The latter is a group they’ve tried to get to come over from Turkey many times before, but this was the first time it worked out.

The KVB show was especially poignant because they stepped in as replacements for The Soft Moon. Naturally that performance was cancelled the minute news of the frontperson’s death became known. But I admire the way the organisers handled it. Not like a company or promoters, but as the friends of the band that they are.

No big announcements were made and instead they reached out to some other friends of the band – The KVB – who were happy to step in. But of course there had to be a time for the emotions to flow free. As the crowd were waiting for The KVB to come on, a slideshow with photos of Luis was projected and some fond words were spoken. Not only by the organisers but also by the band’s drummer and manager who had both been invited to participate in Grauzone once again.

After a silent minute The KVB played. It was the only sad moment in a festival that otherwise was all about celebrating the legacy of people like Luis and his friends who passed away with him. It was heart-warming to see a lot of fans wearing The Soft Moon t-shirts each night.

Lucy Kruger & the Lost Boys

But again I chose to see as many as possible of the lesser known artists as possible. Several were much more popular than anticipated, resulting in crazy long queues to get inside the venues for Buzz Kull from Australia (even though he played twice during the festival) and Dlina Volny from Belarus. Luckily both acts came through Scandinavia before or after the festival on their own tours.

Sophia Djebel Rose in Barthkapel

Dlina Volny are now based in Lithuania and have switched to singing in English. Musically similar to Belgian duo Ultra Sunn who also played the same day, they released a great album on Italians Do It Better in 2021. They played in the small chapel called Barthkapel a block away from the main venue Paard. They’d taken out the chairs that were there for French artist Sophia Djebel Rose’s concert – allowing people to dance. But due to venue restrictions only 80 people were allowed in, resulting in a half empty space.

Another show I was lucky to get in to see was that of Los Angeles-based duo Spike Hellis. I wasn’t very familiar with their output before but they definitely nailed ‘most energetic set of the festival’ in the basement of the Grey Space. They played in the middle of the room, standing on a wooden structure that looked like it had come together in twenty minutes. They were just centimetres away from the crowd who seemed, to appreciate the cathartic release.

Spike Hellis at the Grey Space

Spike Hellis’ only album so far is from 2022 but last year a remix version came out, that opens with Silent Servant’s remix of “Control”. Yet a sad reminder of the artists we lost in January. Another favourite set of mine was Cate Hortl’s in the same basement. She had been invited as a part of the Ritmo Fatale residency. That’s the label founded by Kendal, who played both this year and last.

Cate Hortl at the Grey Space

Hortl did a live set (she’s also an excellent DJ) that included vocals and reminded me of the fine EP she did for Warriorecords. She also played the single she released last year for Club Forever. It was a perfect set for electro fans and she had the crowd dancing throughout.

That Saturday was full of highlights actually, as I finally got to see Los Angeles and Bologna italo lovers Nuovo Testamento. They’ve gained a large following worldwide due to the amazing quality of their songwriting. Both their albums so far are classics and they commanded the big stage with conviction. Mostly, I think it was the best concert to dance to at Grauzone – perhaps ever.

Drahla at Paard

Drahla was whom I’d been looking forward to seeing the most. Especially since the English group have not been active for a few years and they’ve hardly toured as far as I know. They have a new album on the way and while they were relatively static on stage it was just so great to hear their songs live. They were also unique in being the only no-wave inspired group on the line-up.

Skemer at Paard

Finally, I think Ireen Amnes’ DJ set was a the perfect way of ending on a high for me. I’d just come from seeing Belgian duo Skemer close the small stage in front of a packed audience and it as a relief to get some more room to dance. Amnes has been picked as one the new residents at Tresor this year and she also released a fantastic split with Chloe Lula for the Berlin club’s own label in 2023.

Die Verlierer at Zwarte Ruiter

There are so many more acts that deserve a mention but Dream Wife earned a shout out for their high energy afternoon set and Die Verlierer earned one for a set that was so hot it actually melted my jacket (don’t wear plastic to punk shows). Local punks Lifeless Past also handled the honour of being last on before the afterparty with grace and attitude, finishing on the minute of their allotted time.

See more photos from the 2024 Grauzone festival here.

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