A Nordic fairytale in…Utrecht?
As a Dutch copywriter – editor – journalist I don’t usually write in English, but when Nordophile’s Sarah Surgey – whom I ‘met’ on Instagram – asked me to cover the Nordic Delight Festival in my hometown Utrecht I thought: why not give it a try! The undiscovered culture of Northern Europe brought to an innovating local music venue in the centre of a historical university town. It might be a positive new experience to a middle-aged guy (54) like me, normally covering city development and architecture. Well…I can tell you now, it was an experience more than worthwhile.
Not only did the unexpected request from Nordophile’s Sarah Surgey to cover the Nordic Delight Festival trigger my interest, I was also intrigued as to the fact that the festival at first did not get any attention in what’s called ‘Uitagenda Utrecht’, which claims to give full insight in cultural events across the city. Woud this affect the success of this relatively small festival, still unknown to many? Probably not, with around 300 visitors the 2014 edition in EKKO was ‘utsolgt’, Norwegian for sold out! Not a mainstream festival, Nordic Delight isn’t the first that brings high-caliber performers to the picturesque city of Utrecht. Until recently it was Summer Darkness that turned Utrecht gothic-black in a more than special gathering of spirits once every year since 2003. And November this year it’s Le Guess Who? that again welcomes international upcoming bands and artists as well as international visitors. The initiative for a Nordic Delight Festival in Utrecht started in 2013. Founding fathers Arne Dee and Ad Pontier successfully organized two festivals and several events in Utrecht since then, always focused on Scandinavian music and culture. This September 26 Nordic Delight again offered a chance to experience the most talented upcoming music acts, from Norway this time, for the first time in the Netherlands.
Not being much of a Nordophile myself the complete line up was unknown to me. Live performances by Fay Wildhagen, Emilie Nicolas and Bloody Beach, names that did not ring any bells to me. Then again, set to play their first shows in the Netherlands it would probably also be a first acquaintance to many. I decided to check them out before visiting the festival and doing so l had to adjust all of my (somewhat mainstream) musicality to tune into the styles of music they represented. In that way, and perhaps in many ways, covering Nordic Delight promised to be like discovering an entirely new world. Seeing some YouTube vids of the young but already eccentric Emilie Nicolas for instance, made it clear to me that she could bewilder me even more performing live at our local music venue EKKO, famous for its widely renewing agenda. Nicolas’ enchanting, melancholy and sometimes ecstatic songs made one shiver inside. ‘Amazing work on sound, vocals, electro-pop arrangements and a great richness of colours, true emotion and sensibility’ someone strikingly defined her music. For instance ‘Psterio‘ from her 2014 debut album ‘Like I’m a warrior’ (released in the Netherlands June this year) brought Northern Europe straight into my living room the way only Volvo did before with their ‘Made by Sweden’ campaign.
Besides prizewinning Nicolas, without any doubt the most famous act in the Nordic Delight line up, the other acts deserve some special attention as well. Fay Wildhagen, the young singer-songwriter and guitarist with her impressive band brings songs with an organic mix of folk, rock and other genres. Straight from the heart and with a wide range of emotions, from small and modest, melancholy at times (as in this beautiful song), too loud and extrovert. Not always easy listening but pure, intense and very vivid. Her promising debut album ‘Snow’ was recently released in the Netherlands. And then there’s the five-piece band Bloody Beach with their self-proclaimed ‘tropidelica’, a colourful and warm cocktail of rock, psychedelia, dub, afrobeat, disco, punk, reggae and pop. Awaiting their final breakthrough with the release of their second album next year, performing at Nordic Delight might warm us up for what’s to come. But it’s not only the main acts that draw attention. The program contains music, a wonderful selection of short films and a Norwegian dinner. So, hungry in many ways, I headed for EKKO on this Saturday night.
Stunning and ecstatic
There I was in the midst of a mostly young, alternative audience that at first seemed to be more in place. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and obviously everyone was curious for what the night would bring. None of us, however, seemed prepared for the impact of this evening. Where the sit down Norwegian dinner appeared to be reserved for other limited guests and was not open for all of the media, I arrived just before the stage opened at 20.00 hours. With the short films and musical performances programmed at the same time, for me it was more than logical to focus on music this evening and I’m glad I did. Almost traditional at times it was the stunning and sometimes ecstatic performance of the beautiful Emilie Nicolas and her impressive band that brought up a variety of emotions to probably every single visitor this night. What can one say about an overwhelming first acquaintance with this group of very modest young artists that in my opinion deserve a world stage. I’m convinced we’re gonna hear more of them soon…
A warm embrace
Also impressive was the first Dutch performance of the somewhat unordinary but charming Fay Wildhagen and band. Don’t ask me why, but to be honest, I was not expecting them to be as convincing as they were this evening. I was wrong there! Coming in from Hamburg/Germany, where she and Emilie Nicolas performed the night before at Reeperbahn Festival, Wildhagen rocked the house in many ways. Modest and fragile, folky at times and then up-tempo, loud and strong with a great sense of musicality and impressive guitar playing by Wildhagen herself. It felt like a warm embrace with this talented and promising young artist. And then, closing up Nordic Delight, there was Bloody Beach that finally made the audience move with their down to earth mix of music styles. In many ways a somewhat peace loving hippie style, dreamy rock perhaps, rather than the heavy metal appearance they seem to have. They did great on stage and knew how to take the house along with their infectious music.
Looking back on the overwhelming experience that Nordic Delight was, it seems I’ve been missing out on the fast growing interest in Nordic culture. Working on this article, for instance, I discovered NordicVibes.com, a Dutch version of Nordophile.com which is, to my surprise, based in Utrecht. So without any doubt I’ve got some catching up to do and writing this article might be just the start of that!
Maurice Hengevel Twitter
All photos credited to Wim Pontier