Incubate Festival 2016

Dead Neanderthals by William van der Voort (Image courtesy of Cloakture Photography)

In these times of distrust and ongoing cutbacks in cultural spending, tides are getting rough for small indie festivals. Dunk! lost their government funds this year after their 13th edition, and so did the Dutch Incubate festival lose their government support after this year’s 14th edition. Splitting the festival in three separate editions worked to no avail and creative director Vincent Koreman promptly left the organisation, right before 2016 edition #3. Incubate was started in 2005 as a multidisciplinary festival named ZXZW after the renowned US festival SXSW, but following complaints from the aforementioned festival, the organisation changed their name to Incubate in 2009. Under this new moniker, Incubate grew out to be one of the countries most lauded cultural events, and remained highly successful until the coming of this year. The future of the festival is now uncertain, but nevertheless this last edition was a smasher to behold, with nothing but great acts and a cool format.

The backstory of this review is that I really wanted to see Heads. live again. When I heard they were playing at Incubate—a festival I have been keeping half an eye on for a while now—I immediately hit up a friend and we agreed to go together. We decided to drive from his house in Belgium, because staying overnight in Tilburg would prove too expensive, and we’re both of that age where excessively drinking has become redundant (probably not but let’s pretend). The first day was dominated by typical Dutch weather, which is quite significant when the festival is not taking place in one venue, but in stead is spread out over several small cafés and venues throughout the town. Take it from me, eight hours of walking through a cold, drizzle-ridden provincial town in Brabant is not the most pleasant activity one can imagine. Luckily for us, all of that misery was made up for by a beautiful morning drive through the Dutch countryside, and not in the least by a great line-up of bands waiting for us at the festival.

Day 1

Känipchen-Fit (NL)

The first act to play on Saturday were Dutch band Kanipchen-Fit. Crammed on the small podium of the Cul-De-Sac cafe, these guys brought the crowd some cool post-punk with rock ’n’ roll vibes. Vocalist and spoken-word artist Gloria pulled off some crazy dance moves on stage, while guitarist Empee delighted us with some unorthodox guitar playing. The set was short but sweet and it left me excited for what was coming this day.

Condor Gruppe (BE)

This band made me proud to live in Antwerp, Belgium, even though me shouting “Antwerrrrrpe!” with a very Dutch accent didn’t sound very convincing. Using a great variety of instruments, Condor Gruppe played a set of Moondog covers taken from their latest record, conjuring the American underground culture of the 1950s and 60s. Having discovered the music of Moondog myself just a few weeks before, it was a great surprise to see his material brought to live with such conviction. The succession of movie clips playing in the background showed that Condor Gruppe really immersed themselves in the world of the blind and underestimated, yet visionary poet, who spend the majority of his life busking on 6th Avenue between 52nd and 55th Street.

Sturle Dagsland (NOR)

He was the man who gave himself up completely. The Christ of experimental music. Being already impressed by his Björk-on-acid single Guaifing, I expected him to play a DJ set. Instead I was confronted by a stage floor covered with great number of instruments—a guitar, drums, cymbals, rattles, MacBooks—and two men buried somewhere among them, frantically working to reproduce the sounds of the record. Frontman Sturle was a beast to behold. He sang, he screamed, he ‘did’ little voices, all the while banging his guitar, shaking his body, and clapping his feet. It was a show unparalleled.

Oathbreaker (BE)

Expectations were high for Oathbreaker as their latest record Rheia had gathered the band quite some attention. Of course, half of the crowd consisted of Belgian metal heads (lesson 01: the Church of Ra is everywhere) ominously head banging to the dissonant tones the band brought forth. The rest of the crowd was made up of British and Dutch fans who were loudly talking throughout the set, but that didn’t bother me so much. What was more off-putting here was the terrible sound quality and the loathsome light show. All instruments were muddled up and the lights were not at all in sync with the music. The band, however, courageously wrestled themselves through all of that and managed to play a very impressive set.

Oozing Wound (USA)

The complete surprise of the day. Oozing Wound are a crazy ass band from Chicago, who broke all the rules of what is considered decent. Bass playing? Only with wobbly effects and more than three fingers. Thrash metal drums? Only with one bass pedal and a giant smile on your face – and that giant smile was nothing but justified. Oozing Wound were full of energy and fun. Sure they were lame, sure I hated them, but they were a great ending to the first day. Their merch sported some great illustrations and graphic design by Chicago artists Sam Nigrosh and Bill Connors, so I went and grabbed myself a copy of their latest record Whatever Forever only to be greeted by this awesome, super lame inner gatefold sleeve.

Gatefold digipack of Oozing Wound’s Whatever Forever.

Wobby comic fair

Other lame artists and geeks could be found at the Wobby comic fair, just across the train tracks at NS Plein 16. A hall was packed with people selling their work, but who were also keen for a chat. Amidst the posters and stickers, as well as “special offers” that are higher than the normal price, we found an unpretending duo selling some excellent biological and vegan lunches, and we ended up visiting the fair on both days, spending more money on illustrations than on music-related merchandise.

Day 2

3((0)),((0))((0))((0)) M((O))NKIES (BE)

Driving to Tilburg for the second day, I felt I was scared to go and see the bands. Day one had set a high standard and I did not want to be disappointed after a string of excellent acts. Luckily for me, Belgian doom outfit 30,000 Monkeys did put on an amazing show, as what seems to be an alter-ego band called 3((0)),((0))((0))((0)) M((O))NKIES. With four guitarists, two bassists, and a drummer – all clothed in bathrobes – they were opening the Tartarus Records showcase, filling the V39 basement with thunderous and long-held chords. Émile Durkheim talks of the dichotomy of the sacred and the profane in life, and 3((0)),((0))((0))((0)) M((O))NKIES definitely were part of the sacred. The ritualistic atmosphere of the set was however soon dispelled with a burst of confetti spouting across the front row as the singer started screaming. Half of the people moved to another part of the room to avoid the little paper shreds, the other half of the people remained, not knowing what to do with their feelings, and whether to shake off the confetti, or to let it crawl into their underpants to signify their understanding of the act. An hour and four songs later, 3((0)),((0))((0))((0)) M((O))NKIES ended their set with a noisy synth outro that would fill our ears, and leave our hearing quenched.

3((0)),((0))((0))((0)) M((O))NKIES by Jurgen Van Hest (Image courtesy of V39)

Menhir (NL)

The second act of the Tartarus Records showcase where a Dutch band called Menhir. Again this band had a very unconventional line up of two bass players and one drummer, all of whom were singing. The guys put on a tremendous show with songs that shoved dirt like a gravedigger. It was one intense ride from beginning to end.

Thaw (PL)

I had carefully made my schedule before going to the festival, but right before leaving I put on Thaw’s Earth Ground. Half-way through the record I wrote TERRIFIC in all capitals behind their name and crossed out a few other bands I wanted to see. These Polish guys were definitely something to look forward to. Alas, their presentation on the 013 Jupiler stage was far from ideal. From the beginning of the set, the band were covered in smoke, with strong strobe lights making it near impossible to see any of the band members. On top, the sound was sub-par as all the instruments were (again) blended together like cake batter. The band however were on fire and they played an excellent set, captivating the audience despite the average sound and lighting.

Year of No Light (FR), or rather a droll anecdote

The festival organisers proved to be cruel as they programmed Heads. to play at exactly the same time as Orson Hentschel (who produced my #3 album of the year). Earlier that morning, we spend a part of the afternoon together with the band on a terrace, catching up with each other, talking music and recounting memories. In the end friendship won over fandom as we decided to skip Orson Hentschel and go to Heads. later in Cul-de-Sac. Going over there early, we ordered an expensive glass of whiskey to celebrate the afternoon. At the bar, we met a man named Max, who was obviously flabbergasted by the Dutch menu card he was given to by the bar lady, at which I heartily laughed. After apologising, and him feigning anger, I went over to help him. Upon asking where he came from he proudly proclaimed, “Today I am from Tilburg!” Turns out he comes from Canada. He didn’t need any translating as his eye fell on a Jack Daniels-burger which is supposedly all a man needs. So we set to talking whiskey and he produces a metal flask with American bourbon — “The same family has been making this stuff since 1734!” — from his inside pocket. After a polite taste, we said our goodbyes to return to the Wobby comic fair for some more graphic goodness. After staying at the fair for about 30 minutes, we decided it might be a good idea to catch the last part of Year of No Light, which proved to ring true as the band debuted a new song with their session drummer on vocals. However, the performance was again tainted by bad sound and lighting, so before the set ended we hurried back to Cul-de-Sac to catch Heads.

Heads. (DE)

The band for whom I initially made the trip. These three friends of mine came all the way from Berlin for what would be their first sober(!) show ever. They opened with a new song, which was characterised by a more diverse songwriting and a lot of start-stop riffing. Afterwards they launched into playing Soothe from their split record with Closet Disco Queen, and a handful of songs from their self-titled debut. I caught myself thinking, this might not have been the best band I’ve seen live this year, but it definitely was the concert I enjoyed the most!

Vampillia (JP)

These Japanese weirdos have always been on my radar in one way or another, but i’d never gotten round to properly listening to their work. Nonetheless my heart was set on seeing them, as their mix of black metal and strange beauty had always been something that attracted me. The room was about two-thirds full when I entered and the band were playing some instrumental opening track. When I go to a show I somehow need to be at the front, or at least have a full view of the band, otherwise my enjoyment-level goes down by at least 50%. This time I didn’t care to intermingle with all these sweaty bodies, until a small Japanese man started pushing everybody into each other towards the front of the stage. I simply laughed at this funny man, until it turned out to be the bands singer “possession mongoloid”, who, after he climbed the stage motioned the crowd to come even closer. I had never seen this thing before where an artist expressly asks people to crowd up on him, but somehow I had always been waiting for someone to tell me to come closer at shows. So I wholeheartedly heeded his call and scrambled to the first row. There, I spent the whole gig standing with my head barely touching his belly, at least, at the moments he was standing  on stage, because half of the gig he was stage-diving, standing on a ladder in the crowd, or just laying on the ground and kicking the audience in a savage frenzy. For an hour, possession mongoloid and his band guided me through a world of vivid colour, rough texture, and violent passion. The wild activity and (at times) heartbreaking candour made this gig one of the most unforgettable of the year.

The Verdict

Taken all together, this edition of Incubate 2016 was a great experience. There was literally no band that disappointed. The line-up was a collection of excellent mix of “local” bands and international greats. The format is of a kind that could hit both ways. On the first day, the weather was unforgiving so going from venue to venue was tedious, but the second day was fine, and the variety of stages was nice. Some venues were better-suited for gigs, which of course depends greatly on the combination of sound/light engineer and stage, but overall it were the smaller cafes (Cul-de-Sac, Little Devil) that had better sound and atmosphere than the bigger rooms (013, Extase). Tilburg as a town is nice enough. It’s typical rural Dutch town, so there’s nothing much to do outside the festival, so the Wobby comic fair is a very nice distraction from all the music. Such variety is definitely appreciated in the future.

That future is as of yet uncertain for Incubate. In a recent interview with Never Mind the Hype, ex-creative director Vincent Koreman says the fate of the festival lies with the municipality of Tilburg, but there are also rumours of the festival continuing to exist in 2017 with four weekends spread out over the year. In the meantime let’s hope and pray for a miracle that will make this treasure of a festival live on.

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