The preselection nights are always hardest. You have to get accustomed to many bands you have never heard of before, you don't know always what to expect which makes writing about it later somehow harder, and with the constant slurping of beer from plastic cups, your bowels tell you anything but thank you the morning after.
I don't know what was going on tonight, but only 300 people made it to the Kulturfabrik, compared to the 500 the day before. Not that there were many other events going on this weekend, so maybe people are tiring already of the preselections, and it's a good thing that we have a break of something more than a month before the semi-finals start.
Opener today were Estrepito, a young metalcore band who released their debut EP about two years ago, and in the meantime have been constantly working on their material. Apart from the fact that they have two bass players in their line-up, they also didn't look like your typical hardcore band. Somehow people started to say that they looked rather like being members of the Providers cover band, and some were even wondering how such a young and nice vocalist can have such an evil voice. But hey, looks don't count (except for Vox Mobile), and Estrepito played a good show that maybe wasn't yet a milestone of originality, but their uncompromising sound left more than just a few people awed. Interesting moments were added by the bonga drums player whom I can't remember having seen with Estrepito before, but then this was only the second time I went to one of their gigs. Good stuff, and I am happy to see them back in the semi-finals.
Next up were Nomad's Land, who two years ago made it as lucky loser to the semi-finals. Already back then people were more than surprised of that decision, and nothing really has changed, as far as I could hear tonight. Nomad's Land are four elderly gentlemen (although certainly still younger than I am) that play the most conventional rock music possible. Where any other band that played the Emergenza could be put at least somewhere stylistically, this was really hard with Nomad's Land. Not that could be really cool, not knowing how to describe a band, but in this case it was just that there was nothing tangible about it. Two guitars, bass, drums and vocals, not loud enough to be alternative rock, but too loud to be pop. They are the kind of band, if they were slightly better from a technical point of view, that could be the opener for Bryan Adams when he plays again one of his over-expensive shows at the Coque. Nomad's Land's music may be well meant, but it was utterly bland, not convincing anyone but their friends and family they brought along, and that was not enough.
Nowhere Fast also played two years ago, and just like then they didn't make it to the semi-finals this year either. Like the preceding band, you can't really say anything bad about the people, except that their music is lacking tension. Nowhere Fast play mostly grunge influenced music, and you notice that from time to time they find moments that could start something, just to fall back into their routine mid-tempo song material again. The singer wasn't able to set any accents, he was screaming his way through the songs with no real charisma. They recorded an album last year, which is something not every band can say of themselves, but they should put a priority on playing more shows and gaining more live experience, something not always easy when there are students in the line-up, but other bands show that studying and rock'n'roll can be made together.
John McAsskill didn't sell that many tickets, from what I've heard, but as a band who played a lot of shows with a lot of different bands lately, it was obvious that a lot of people just came to see them. And why not? They may have been the only truly original band among the 24. Their combination of abrasive alternative rock with weird assrock elements (impossible to explain otherwise) with a considerable portion of humour makes every single of their shows an unforgettable experience. Unlike their show at the 911 a couple of weeks before, they had a more restrained set today, and the sound wasn't always perfect, which didn't keep them from delivering an entertaining show. They started their set with the short and nervous "Bleiwasser", segueing into "Summerday 2000 Two" before their epic masterpiece "Revolution Kids" set the third highlight. The funny "Zahnweh" and "Mr White" were the last two electric songs, before the semi-acoustic "Warum hast du das gesagt?" ended the set. That was maybe a bad choice for a last song, and I think that their grindcore number "Extra Portion Milch" would have woken up some people of their lethargy. Anyway, even if the direct vote wasn't sufficient, we will still see them in the semi-finals. So what is it, apart from the music, that makes John McAsskill so special? First of all it's of course Natalie or Jane McAsskill who is the coolest vocal performer this country has ever seen. She's chain-smoking her way through the songs, wearing this strange hat she must have salvaged somehow from the Seventies, then drinking cup after cup of red wine, even if she had to resort to Fanta (losing credibility, haha) because there was all of a sudden a shortage of alcohol. So Natalie is one of the few performers actually emanating an aura, creating a stage persona that captivates you for the entire show. Guitarist Mich is Mr Coolness himself, with his oversized vintage guitar seeming to crush his scrawny body, that is adorned by some of the scariest tattoos. And remember, he is the part time player of gore grind favourites Fetuxion. Yves on bass is just an animal, playing his instrument as if it were a guitar, making him the Lemmy of Luxembourgish rock music. We will see so much more of this band in the future!
Elysis Hyt from Belgium were next. Well, technically, one of their members lives in Luxembourg, so they had the right to perform here. And as Belgium doesn't have its own Emergenza festival, Luxembourg is the closest alternative. I heard already before that busloads of Belgians were expected, so when I arrived shortly before 9pm, I heard a lot of loud-mouthed German speaking people who turned out to be Elysis Hyt's support, as they are from the German speaking Eastern part of Belgium. Elysis Hyt were one of those technically flawless bands, with a drummer that used to play with the local prog semi-legend Jungle Juice and a bassist who truly knows how to slap his instrument, that I absolutely can't get into. The main problem was their singer with a blonde Pumuckl hairdo who thought he was so cool but came over like an obnoxious brat. The music was well played, but nothing you want to rock to. Let's be nice and call it musicians' music. At least it wasn't easy to find a style for them, so how about progressive pop funk rock? It was a strange music, and conceptually they reminded me of Puma two years ago who were also such great musicians with such a lack of good musical moments. The Belgian busses didn't get stuck, unfortunately, in the snow storms that must have raged in the Ardennes, so we will see Elysis Hyt back in the semi-finals.
Last band for the night were the great unknown Stories To Tell. It was know that their vocalist's brother likes to run around on local TV dressed up in silly nightgowns, singing to people that he's a "Botterschmier". Well, Stories To Tell show the more somber side of their family. Vocalist Rėsch used to be the guitarist for Luxembourg's best looking post rock band Drive Until He Sleeps (with sex god Emile on drums) and only recently founded the two-piece Stories To Tell that was upped to four members so that they could perform at the Emergenza. Their style was labelled acoustic rock, somehow an understatement, because this wasn't the reactionary hippie campfire sound we are used from several boyscout bands, but a very melancholic take on sad core, with lots of acoustic guitars (of course) and musicians that liked to sit on chairs. I felt so reminded of Sophia. In fact Stories To Tell can be the band of understatements, because only the day before Rėsch told me that their slow music had no chance, and with their comparatively elevated age, they were not likely to bring their friends from school. The audience's reaction was overwhelming, and it felt really good that eventually a local band won this evening. Not that we have anything against Belgians, I just didn't like their attitude on stage. And the rumours that Rėsch bought votes with free beers are slightly exaggerated (I only know of two cases who were too drunk anyway to hold up their hands when it counted).
The results were:
3. Estrepito (surprising, in my opinion, but well deserved)
2. Elysis Hyt (when everybody though beforehand that they would be first)
1. Stories To Tell (another big but pleasing surprise)
The Lucky Losers were for once a good choice, with two Northern bands. Disappointed played the first night, did a really good job but had the bad luck of playing last when a lot of people had gone home already. John McAsskill were another logical choice, and from what I have heard, the people of Get Up Music really digged their music. I don't want to imagine what could have happened if they had chosen a different band. Two years ago, the lucky losers were Nomad's Land and Soul Season, two bands with really average performances who obviously had no chance in the semi-finals. This year promises to be much different though, so a big thank you to GUM for having such a lucky hand.
I also want to make you aware of the fact that apart from Undone, all other first bands of the evening (Jay's Pub, Pubbles, Estrepito) made it into the next round. So I don't want to hear anymore whining that being first band of the evening is narrowing your chances.
The beer ladies also deserve a big thank you, because I don't know of any other place where you are served with such speed, dedication and friendliness, even when there are lots of people waiting to quench their thirst.
The German security people were not so cool. This Friday they didn't want to let in a young lady because she didn't have a ticket, and that was after the results had been proclaimed. What could she possibly have seen? Also tonight they were very adamant about getting people to leave after the results were out, even though people would have liked one last beer for the road, and it wasn't 1am even yet.
Apart from that Emergenza was fun. The music I not representative of the local level, because the really good bands don't see any reason why they should play there, and only a couple of bands are really good, with a lot of average performers and some really not so great bands. The rumours say that this is the last Emergenza, but we can hope that the future will have a similar festival, if under a different name, because as much as we dislike the idea of competition (we're a bunch of old-school socialists at DisAgreement Online), Emergenza was always the ideal place to hear and see new young bands.
PS: Did I mention it snowed again?