Tamino, Pitou, Nana Adjoa: 3 Reasons Why ESNS 2018 Was ‘Magical’

ESNS 2018
Jan Lenting/VPRO 3voor12
– ESNS 2018

The 32nd edition of Eurosonic Noorderslag went down in Groningen, Netherlands, Jan. 17-20. Pollstar was on site to talk to the industry and capture some atmosphere.

There were, of course, more than three reasons that made the trip to Holland worthwhile: the ability to meet with some of the 4,092 international delegates, for instance, in a completely revamped, thus much larger, networking area. In total, 420 international festivals were represented at Eurosonic, of which 103 take part in the conference’s ETEP program.

ETEP festivals pledge to book acts they like at Eurosonic immediately after the event for the upcoming festival season. One of this year’s most requested names is Tamino from Belgium: a male voice unlike anything you’re likely to have heard.

He performed his heartbreaking single “Habibi” at the European Festival Awards on the opening night of Eurosonic, and played a full set a day later at Stadsschouwburg, where he went through his self-titled debut EP. His remarkable vocal range over well-crafted compositions has already earned him spots on the festival bills of Down The Rabbit Hole (Holland, June 29-July 1), Rock en Seine (France, Aug. 24-26) and Le Printemps de Bourges (France, April 24-29).

Pollstar reached out to Tamino’s agent, CAA’s Ryan Fitzjohn, who first saw the live show at Rock Werchter 2017, and has been working with the artists ever since. “He played an early slot in front of 10,000 people and had everyone’s focused attention, it was very special,” Fitzjohn remembers.

He added: “As Tamino was such a huge success in Belgium and Holland in 2017, the focus this year is to build and strengthen his presence in the other European markets and beyond. He we will have his first full international release this Spring which will be the perfect start for us to achieve this.”

Tamino himself enjoyed playing Eurosonic Noorderslag, according to his management at Musickness in Belgium: “He thought the venue had a unique setting with the theater itself as backdrop. There was a good vibe in the room and it was nice to get so much positive feedback.”

Fitzjohn thinks “there is no other act like him, his mixed heritage and international mind set brings a unique voice to contemporary music. He has a song writing talent well beyond his years and is just at the beginning of his journey.”

ESNS 2018
Bart Heemskerk
– ESNS 2018

352 acts played 52 venues across Groningen over four days – 22 of them hailing from this year’s partner country Denmark. This review is far from complete. But there were some stand-out moments in several of the pubs, theaters, tents and concert halls worth mentioning.

The entire Saturday program traditionally takes place in Eurosonic’s central hub, the Oosterpoort, which is converted into a 10-venue multiplex for the occasion. In one of them, around 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, Pitou from Amsterdam hit every single note in her wonderfully complex songs as if it were nothing. Her self-titled 10“ conveys this quite well, although her live band and back-up singers took it to another level.

Earlier, in the same venue, Nana Adjoa had the crowd mesmerized by her soulful, melancholic, and at times trippy dreampop, which one can check out on her new album Down at the Root (Pt. 1). Like the acts mentioned earlier, Nana Adjoa has incredible command over her voice, best experienced live.

Pien Feith, from Dutch entertainment company Friendly Fire, is the booking agent for both Pitou and Nana Adjoa. She met Pitou at the annual Muzikantendag in Amsterdam, a day of meetings between musicians and industry professionals, and remembered:  “She sat down at my table, gave me her first EP and told me what her plan was for the next months. She was very confident, calm and seemed to know what she was doing. That impressed me and made me listen to her EP and check out her live show. When I saw her live I knew I wanted to work with her right away. It does not always happen that way but Pitou just blew me away.”

Nana Adjoa was the bassist in the band of one of Feith’s friends. “She always stood out as a tasteful and very good musician so when she started her own project I think a lot of people where curious. When I heard the first stuff, I was pleasantly surprised especially by her voice, which I had not heard before because she mainly played bass. We have been working together now for about a year or so and the band has evolved beautifully and is just getting better each show.”

Pitou is represented by UTA outside of the Netherlands, and Feith is in talks with international partners for Nana Adjoa as well. Playing festivals to introduce both acts to a wider audience is a big part of their live strategy. Feith thinks playing ESNS 2018 “was definitely worth it, yes. Both artist got amazing responses, and there were international agents and promoters at both shows, who we will follow up with. Pitou’s show got named third best show of Noorderslag by Dutch Music platform 3VOOR12, and because of this she will be playing national radio 3FM tonight.”

And the artists? Nana Ajoa told Pollstar, “it was a real nice show with a good vibe. The room was full and it felt like the crowd was really listening and feeling it the whole set trough. We were obviously a little bit tense in the beginning but after one song we felt more focused and in to it, just good, and had fun playing the rest of the songs. The end was quite epic, because all these strangers, and most people hearing the song for the first time, dared to sing along. A very, very nice feeling.

“I hope we made a good first impression. Now we’ll just have to see and hear in the coming weeks, and connect with the people who were interested and felt the same vibe.”

Pitou said, “I definitely feel that my show at ESNS will help my career in some way. The most obvious way it’s helping is people from the music industry seeing your show. People that maybe wouldn’t have the time to travel to one of your shows in a regular club tour. I had a lot of fun at my Noorderslag show, which I didn’t expect since it’s such a busy and important event.

“But it also helps in a practical way. It’s amazing that almost everyone working in the European music industry is present in the same city at the same time. I got to sit down with my whole team, which usually is divided between Amsterdam and London. And we got to meet people from Denmark, Norway and Germany and others, whom would’ve been way harder for us to meet if there wasn’t such a thing as ESNS.”

ESNS 2018
Bart Heemskerk
– ESNS 2018
Part of the new networking area with table service

Pollstar reached out to a couple of other agents to find out what they had gotten out of this year’s edition. CAA’s feedback was that ESNS 2018 was “extremely productive for CAA as a whole. I’m not aware of anyone signing a new act (yet) on the back of the festival but all our showcases were very well attended and there have been multiple offers received on the back of the festival.”

Agents at ATC Live confirmed that they started early-stage conversations but no signings yet. Likewise, there was some strong feedback from bookers at our ATC shows,  but it’s just too early to have had any offers in yet.

Only few of the 52 Eurosonic venues are also live music spaces during the year; and each January, the team around musical director Robert Meijerink virtually rent out the entire backline supply of the Netherlands – and some of Belgium’s – to transform them.

Severe weather prevented planes from landing in Amsterdam on the Thursday, which meant that a couple of speakers – including MCT Agentur’s Scumeck Sabottka, who was supposed to be interviewed by CAA’s Emma Banks; highly anticipated given his notoriously low profile – and artists couldn’t make it to Groningen in time for their gigs.

Meijerink told the story of how his team managed to reduce the number of 15 possible cancellations to two, thanks to partly chance and partly fate (two planes got redirected to Groningen, making the journey even easier, some acts got picked up by a nightliner).

The well-anticipated performance by Janice from Sweden got delayed by the storms, and had to be moved from the Grand Theater, which holds some 475 people, to the comparatively tiny News Café – where the sound engineer thought Meijerink was kidding when he first suggested moving Janice’s eight-piece band in. But he made it work in the end.

One of the big changes of this year’s event layout concerned the media compound, which was moved into the city center. Passers-by could catch glimpses of artists being interviewed in several of the transparent radio booths belonging to some of the 37 radio stations reporting on site, including BBC’s Radio 1 and 6Music from the UK, ARD from Germany, and Radio France.

ESNS 2018
Bart Heemskerk
– ESNS 2018
CAA’s Emma Banks interviewed by ILMC’s Greg Parmley

According to Meijerink, Eurosonic Noorderslag saw “the most live broadcasts ever,” with 41 combined hours of “live-live broadcasts” that included interviews and live performances. In total, 40,288 people visited the festival, including 4,092 conference delegates.

The event’s founder Peter Smidt told Pollstar: “With lots of outstanding performances of great new European artists, fruitful panel sessions and a record number of broadcast and media attending, I think this years edition of ESNS marked the next step in music crossing borders and better circulation of European repertoire.”

Conference coordinator Ruud Berends called this year’s edition “magical indeed. Magical artists and magical delegates we can be proud of.”

The next edition of ESNS will take place from January 16-19, 2019 in Groningen, the Netherlands. For more background on the event, head to Pollstar’s video interview with founder Peter Smidt.