If you’re looking to sniff out new artists before they go fully above ground, there are a host of events across Europe and beyond designed with exactly that in mind. In the UK we’ve got The Great Escape, Liverpool Sound City et al; over in Texas, there’s SXSW. Leaping into action with Christmas barely in the rearview mirror, meanwhile, ESNS is the first stop on the trail: a four-day fiesta of buzz bands, stomping a path through the quaint streets of Groningen with the hope of making their mark while the year is still in its infancy.
Here are ten of the best things we saw during the festival’s 2024 edition.
With a truly jaw-dropping vocal range that stretches from Nico-like sonorous baritone to the highest of falsetto via moments that are almost yodel-adjacent, Scotland-born, Denmark-based Clarissa Connelly is in possession of an instrument like no other. She uses it to full advantage, too. At points, the set is heady and heavy, bringing to mind the cerebral piano crashes of Radiohead; at others, her idiosyncratic melodies could be filed next to Aldous Harding or Cate Le Bon. It’s an amorphous canon that makes for a truly special moment against the backdrop of Stadsschouwburg’s theatrical stage.
Readers of DIY will know our pledge of allegiance to the church of CMAT by now. But nonetheless, there’s still something impressive about seeing Ireland’s most fabulous export winning over a crowd as initially arms-folded as this. Coming off the back of a sold-out UK tour, tonight’s gathering of the largely uninitiated is clearly a harder gig to work, but CMAT refuses to give in - rallying for whoops and cheers, and giving gags-a-plenty alongside a belting vocal performance. “I like cheese and stuff,” she nods of the region’s dairy predilection. “Speaking of cheese, here’s my music!” Campy it may certainly be, but there’s far too much meat on the bones of these songs for that.
So good we watched them twice, Cardiff psych-pop oddballs Melin Melyn have all the ingredients to become Wales’ next great hopes. Decked in matching outfits and visors, the six-piece are a riot to watch; a gang whose infectious energy is impossible to deny. In frontman Gruff Glyn, meanwhile, they have a centrepin whose natural strange humour is a perfect vehicle for raucous songs about obscure Welsh riots (‘Rebecca’) and a wild romp called ‘I Paint Dogs’. At one point, he does a fish impression; another track is an eye-wateringly high (yet genuinely impressive) rendition in falsetto. The spiritual successors to that other famous Welsh Gruff’s band Super Furry Animals, it’s impossible to leave their set without a massive grin.
Last seen fronting DIY Class of 2019 inductees Anteros, in the interim vocalist Laura Hayden has temporarily quit music, been lured back and changed her (stage) name to Lala. A projected designed - she tells us - to allow the most extra sides of herself to shine, she takes to the stage in a wedding dress and chains, slumped over a speaker as an iPhone voice note plays; the rest of the set, meanwhile, is a vibrant exercise in extroverted synth pop, replete with snatches of choreography and the energy of someone truly embracing the joy and freedom of performing.
Sonically landing in the hypnotic yet forward-facing realms of Yaeji, Finnish hyperpop duo (and Music Moves Europe Award nominees) Pearly Drops spend their Thursday night set clouded in a literal and metaphorical smoke. Though theirs is a particularly modern sort of synthetic sound, there’s a softness to Sandra Tervonen’s vocal that pulls them away from the 100 gecs end of the spectrum and into something that equally nods to hazy ‘10s bedroom pop.
Holding a late-night capacity Grand Theatre to pin-drop levels of silence between impeccably-performed songs is one mean feat by itself, but doing so while squeezing in a mini stand-up set makes Elmiene every bit a superstar in waiting. He begins not by introducing himself, but by using the moment to rid himself of the day’s earworm, a cappella. Later, he apologises for a set switch-up, comparing the apparently bolder number to a menthol-laced brick in the face (“It’s minty as well”). But it’s his voice - soaring, booming, filled with emotion - that can’t help but take centre stage.
Belgian indie-punk quintet Ada Oda personify the barrierless power of music in its most infectious form. Vocalist Victoria Barracato sings entirely in Italian, but with a set that ranges from Strokes-like hooks to bouncy, Le Tigre-esque party bangers via big, psychy wig outs, it doesn’t matter one jot that a large majority of the packed room can’t speak the language. Instead, clambering atop her guitarist’s shoulders and inciting an indie disco dance session, Barracato is the ringleader of a boundaryless, giddy knees-up.
Tall and lithe, with the sort of hair that The Horrors of yore would be proud of, it’s no surprise that the Netherlands’ own Tramhaus make the sort of darkly motorik post-punk best suited to low-ceilinged rooms full of monochromatically-clad goths. Hometown(ish) heroes, however, they draw a heaving crowd to MAAS’s main space. They might not be breaking wildly new ground, but their brittle, occasionally brutal wares are a worthy addition to the canon.
It is difficult to overstate, heading into English Teacher’s just-announced debut album ‘This Could Be Texas’, just how far the band have come from the slightly post-punky indie kids that first graced our stages only a few years back. The tracks that fall into that camp are evolved and multifaceted (see: last year’s ‘The World’s Biggest Paving Slab’), but Lily Fontaine’s vocals have stepped to the fore to enable the Leeds outfit to stretch far beyond those confines and into huge, affective, anthemic territory. Skyward new single ‘Albert Road’ is but one moment in a set of many that underlines the band’s equally limitless potential.
With an onstage mascot / mate / Bez figure who spends the whole set on his laptop, playing (we’re informed by some taller people at the front) video games, buzzy Hull types UNIVERSITY are an almost impossible proposition to pigeonhole. On one hand, their dense, mathy post-rock comes from the school (or uni…) of serious, head-down musicianship; on the other, clearly the trio have a self-awareness of the stereotypes such dispositions bring. Either way, they’re fans of big slabs of noise, delivered in uncompromising fashion.