A lot of things have been said about this year's edition of the Emergenza newcomer contest, and I think it was even the first time that Get Up Music requested a radio interview at Radio ARA to dispel all kinds of misconceptions and rumours. So everyone was looking forward to the finals, which couldn't have hit a better day. With temperatures above 30 degrees, and a warmness that stayed in the late evening hours, the sold out Kulturfabrik never seemed overcrowded, as about half of the people preferred to stay outside near the beer and thuringer booths.
To clear away any misunderstandings (like: you never watched a band because I saw you drinking a beer outside), I will tell straight away how we dealt with the bands today. We always only watched two to three songs from every band, enough time to shoot some photographs and to get a general impression of the band's mood tonight. If I didn't like a band in the preselections and the semi-finals, I don't see the point sitting or standing through another set just to confirm my opinion. Also we missed the two last bands, Breet and Ill?, because we think that Emergenza is just too long of an event, and us being not that great admirers of those two bands and not putting much hope in them anyway (with good reason, I need to add), we preferred getting home earlier to be able to write a sober report of what we actually saw.
And what we saw were many faces that were not on any of the previous shows. I met people who told me they always only go to the finals, so that they only have to watch the best bands. This is weird, because as a discoverer of music, I always have to be at the preselections. Everything after is only curiosity.
But let's get straight to the music. The evening was again started by the Pubbles, whose percussion show started slowly but steadily to wear out the crowd. What they do isn't too bad, but seeing the more or less same show three times in a show time span is just too much. It's more a performance than a regular concert gig what they do, and therefore probably can only be savoured in small doses. Anyway I had the impression that not every song was fully composed. The opener for instance was a fascinating cross-cultural journey through the world of percussion, with the different instruments (regular drumkit, bongos, industrial appendages and melodic elements) building a rich world of beautiful tribal sounds. From there on it all became wilder, more elemental, and if you closed your eyes, it all sounded like drum solos. This needs some working.
I saw a bus standing in front of the KuFa, but I don't know if Elysis Hyt brought with it their fans along. There have been many rumours about this East Belgian rock band, and it won't make sense adding some more, so let's stick to the music this time. Elysis Hyt are perfect musicians with no skill how to write a memorable song. I don't understand how a band with two guitar players can build so little pressure. The vocals were too upfront, the song material reminded of everything we have already heard, and eventually it all came down to a soundtrack to a mid-Eighties TV movie like you can watch on late night French private TV. Come back to the future, guys.
It was somehow funny that the lucky losers all played in a block. After Elysis Hyt, it was Fast Friday's task to show that the semi-finals jury had a good reason to see them in the finals. I missed most of their show, but avidly followed their last ten minutes. I can only say: amazing! Fast Friday had severe sound problems in the semi-finals, resulting in a somewhat frustrated gig, but tonight, everything was perfect. The venue was full, the kids were moshing, there were photogenic stagedivers, the band was moving professionally on stage. They had a trillion times more power with only one guitar than the preceding Elysis Hyt. The bass guitar was pounding like mad, the drums just kept pushing forward, and Jan, who always acts nervously before shows, was stamping like an enraged bull. The songs sounded much more dynamic than on their CD. Best band of the night!
Last lucky loser were Triad, and all of a sudden I felt sorry for this German geriatric unit with their young Luxembourgish nurse. Everything they did tonight was just so clumsy. Their pop songs have melody (more so than Elysis Hyt who nobody else seems to like either), but the way they play them is so passé, that even in the Eighties they would only have provoked a mild smile with the fans of Kim Wilde and Banarama. The venue was emptying like crazy, and there were only about eight fans who were dancing desperately to the music, trying to infect the fleeing crowd. This was a sorry attempt of a show, proving once and for all that music school owners don't necessarily have the talent to make a good band.
The young Jay's Pub took advantage of the situation to get the people back inside again. It was really cute how nervous they were before the show, but then it was already a tremendous success for them to be standing in the finals, as they have played next to no shows before Emergenza. Although they were not able to better their semi-finals performance, their moving indie-folk-rock has as much potential as an unpolished diamond. The times when parts sound slightly skewed are the ones that make my heart smile, because there you have a motivated young band that is avidly looking to play a not too original style, but with the strong intention of making it their own, of not falling into clichés. Where most folk bands have this terrible retro approach, Jay's Pub have long song structures, a vocalist with a high registered voice that needs some development but showing already true potential. If this is the future of Luxembourgish folk rock, we definitely are on the winning side.
Everybody's darlings Blue Shade then crowded the stage with a brass section, at least for the first two songs. The opener was really great... hey, that's because their singer wasn't there yet. Adding swing and soul to their music, Blue Shade are able to transcend the borders of regular blues music, showing huge improvement to the first time I saw them playing with Couchgrass at the Rox Bar half an eternity ago. The second song was still alright, because the brass section did their best to overpower the weak vocals. The third song was a blues ballad, sounding suspiciously like Led Zeppelin's "Since I've Been Loving You", but where Robert Plant's legendary screams even got men horny, the Blue Shade singer won't even get girls horny with his uncharismatic rasps. The guitar player is considered to be the new star in local blues heaven, which makes sense, because he really has a feeling for blues. This doesn't change the fact that I still don't like that genre very much.
Stories To Tell were the last band I watched tonight. Like I said before, it was just too good outside, and the subtropical temperatures and humidity inside made it hard to follow any one band for more than ten or fifteen minutes. STT are nice and everything, but I don't understand the hype surrounding them. Acoustic emo pop is a genre that is still rather unpresent in Luxembourg, but then that kind of music is best heard late at night when you are drifting off to sleep alone, half-lying in your sofa at night, and not with a goblet of beer in your hand and ounces of fun and madness in your belly.
I can't write anything about Breet and Ill?, although the latter would have been an interesting subject. I was even told by one of their female fans (that's one of the advantages about being a rock star) that she didn't like at all what I wrote about her favourite band. Well, that's the problem with sincere journalism. Just as an anecdote: the Ill? singer told me earlier that night that they would certainly be among the first five bands but that the jury would put them last. He wasn't so wrong there!
And here are the results:
3. Jay's Pub, a young and very promising band, who more than deserved this high ranking
2. Blue Shade, to satisfy the local beer belly fraction, but at least they didn't win
1. Fast Friday, a total surprise, as they only made it as lucky losers to the finals
Best looking band were the Pubbles (no surprise here either), whose VoxMobile prize gets them a professional photo-shooting. Ample opportunity for some posing. Sacem Award (1500€) for best song went to Elysis Hyt (and why is that???), who also won the award for best bass player (also no surprise here, although I would have preferred to see that prize go to Fast Friday or even John McAsskill). The Tageblatt media award went to Stories To Tell, again no surprise, as they were already featured with an interview a couple of days ago. The GUM/WPA award went to Ill?, who can record a single with Gast Waltzing (hooray, now you made it!!!) and can play at the Terres Rouges festival so early that they can watch the first people come to the venue. Ill? also received the award for best guitar player, which should have gone to Blue Shade, I guess. Fast Friday received best drummer award, and that award could have gone to the Pubbles.
So how did this final Emergenza make me feel? The finals will be remembered for the great weather mostly. I can live with the outcome, and I am especially happy that the only participating metalcore band finally won the Emergenza, proving that hard music is still best suited for a live stage. Mellow pop rock bands like Ill?, Triad and Elysis Hyt may have made it to the finals, but none of them were able to convince the foreign jury. Now we have to wait for two years to see with what concept Get Up Music will come to replace Emergenza, and if they will be able to make it something less controversial. It was still a very nice (if too long) evening with 1.000 people having fun with the music, the beer, the weather and of course the thuringers.