Spread over four majestic venues in the Dutch cities of Utrecht, Eindhoven, Groningen and Rotterdam, the Cross-Linx festival has brought together many of the indie scenes current greats and upcoming artists. Set in venues which would perhaps be typically be used for classical concerts or otherwise, this amazing festival, now in its eleventh year, saw artists such as Efterklang, Basia Bulat, Owen Pallett, Victoire, Sharon Van Etten and headliners The National perform, alongside lesser known performers such as Ben Lanz and Bram Stadhouder. However, more goodies where to be had, with extra special additions to the programme, such as a set from The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and DJ sets from various performing artists, such as Owen Pallett, members of Efterklang, and yet again, members of The National.
It’s hard to know where to begin when simply put – Cross Linx is a resoundingly well put together festival, with truly brilliant artists showcasing real talent, beautiful locations and an amazing atmosphere.
with The National, Sharon Van Etten, Buke and Gass, Owen Pallett, Efterklang + Daniel Bjarnason and their Messing Orchestra, and more.
If one is not familiar with the Cross Linx festival, a short introduction may be needed. This isn’t your run of the mill typical festival, set in European grassy fields – after all, February still isn’t the best weather for camping. This festival has carefully chosen venues, which are often used as concert halls of the more classical sort, and bands play throughout the evening in different venues within the building, or, in the case of Eindhoven, two venues. It may not seem all that exciting, but provides a captivating opportunity to be able to see more artists than one typically could in a night, and additionally creates an amazing buzzing atmosphere to catch as many artists as possible – some widely known, and some not so much so.
In terms of the more underground artists, Cross Linx has introduced an interesting original concept of ‘Music Mining’. Indeed, the title is slightly puzzling, but the idea is genius. Throughout each evening, there are a number of artists who play at hidden shows throughout the venue. However, these shows can be more than you typically think of as ‘hidden’ – think mini-trailers, broom cupboards, outdoors, in corridors. So how do you find these shows? Well, some are not as hidden as one may assume, and are on the timetable, as in Utrecht. Others, however, followed a slightly different tune: Groningen’s ‘Music Mining’ was underground indeed, with men and women dressed in jumpsuits and helmets (mining – get it?) with playtools which made noise to round up people, who would then be led to the secret location, to ‘music mine’ and discover new artists.
And it works! With a scramble for these limited tickets, people queued throughout the evening each night to catch some of the best upcoming artists.
However, attention must first be paid to the headliners: truly great artists playing this festival. Looking at the line up, the festival hosts of New York’s best, and unsurprisingly, Cross Linx 2011 has been part curated by The National’s Bryce Dessner – also noted composer and established curator of the MusicNow festival. Even on paper, this event looks astounding, let alone for one to experience it.
Efterklang + Daniel Bjarnason and their Messing Orchestra opened in majestic form playing material from their latest and greatest release, Magic Chairs, with a sprinkling of other magical material from their back catalogue. Even as a standalone band, Efterklang radiate incredible energy, but alongside a live orchestra, not much can be said to truly demonstrate how tremendous Efterklang performed. Renowned for their chirpy appearance and wide grins, Efterklang showed a much deeper, darker side to their music with sweeping majestic anthems laden with expression, with great thanks to Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason of Bedroom Community. A seeming match made in heaven, Efterklang and Bjarnason cultivated a well-balanced, emotional performance, nothing short of charming. Songs such as opener of Magic Chairs‘s “Modern Drift” fared well, with well placed drum beats and an unrivalled precision throughout the set, with all material being met by raucous applause and beaming faces.
However, it was not just the crowd who were beaming. Brooklyn’s hottest lady, Sharon Van Etten, shone likewise as she played material with her two-piece band. With a strong and earnest voice, Van Etten wowed the crowd performing material from her two releases, Because I Was In Love and Epic, as well as debuting material from her forthcoming release, which she is writing and recording with Aaron Dessner. Although many of the crowd were unfamiliar with Van Etten’s work, it was clear from the enthused reaction that she will live up to the hype. Honest and heartwrenching lyrics such as, “To say the things I want to say to you would be a crime / To admit I’m still in love with you, after all this time,” pulled at heartstrings of the crowd, combined with flawless delivery alongside Sharon’s ability to charm the crowd with a unassuming, radiant personality won the crowd over undoubtedly, and although the Cross Linx festival dates were the first dates Van Etten has played in the Netherlands, it likely will not be the last.
Sharon Van Etten was not the first to have never before graced the Netherlands; another set of performers who likewise hail from Brooklyn and had not visited the Netherlands was Buke and Gass. An inventive duo, there are no real words to describe the musical concoction that Aron Dyer and Aaron Scanchez put together. Dyer plays a ukulele and Sanchez a bass, but both are older, customized instruments, creating a unique, piercing sound which is truly recognizable and unique in the very best manner.
Although much of the audience also unfamiliar with Buke and Gass, perhaps the biggest crowd puller was Owen Pallett. Playing in a small theatre like setting, queues to enter in to see the Canadian composer, perhaps better known under the name ‘Final Fantasy’, stemmed far and there were many a disappointed faces for those who could not get in. However, QRO managed to get a sneaky glimpse of the truly talented violinist who played graceful, ethereal instrumentals with keyboards, loops and minimal vocals. Pallett seemed to showcase his talent without any great exertion, yet seemed to be transported to his own world, as he seemed to delve into his compositions in both mind and body.
If that wasn’t enough musical goodness, than The National really provided the cherry on top. Headliners of the festival, The National played a stunning set of a range of material. Still riding on the massive success of their 2010 release High Violet (QRO review), the band have been on the road constantly since its release in May, yet their live performances have far from dwindled. Opening in Eindhoven with slow mover “Runaway”, the band was met by excitement and wide eyes as perhaps the most hyped band of last year launched into their set. Frontman Matt Berninger cast himself into the emotive higher pitched vocals of the track, “What makes you think I’m enjoying being led to the flood?”, hitting pitch perfect each note, resonating perfectly, despite his slightly drunken demeanor.
The pace was not to be kept slow for long though, and rewinding to The National’s 2007 release Boxer (QRO review) was the lyrically ominous addition of “Brainy”. Although the band have been touring non-stop, promoting their latest album releases, older songs have not been neglected, and the band have been exceedingly tight musically. Combined with haunting, emotionally laden lyrics, The National provide a hard hitting, impassionedly effusive show, and despite the bands (failed) attempts at humour, not much can take away from the compelling and effective song writing and composition of the band.
Songs such as “Slow Show” remain favourites with the crowd, with sing-a-long lyrics, “You know I dreamed about you for 29 years,” and “Squalor Victoria” with its extended hypnotizing introduction. However, it was clear from the squeals, the tears and countless number of requests yelled at the band that everyone has their own favourite tracks. Fortuitous, Eindhoven’s crowd were lucky enough to hear some of the rarer tracks the band play, such as raw “Wasp Nest” off the 2004 Cherry Tree release. However, what proved a real treat, and which The National play more rarely was the opener to the encore, “Geese of Beverley Road”, which was greeted by great applause, admiration, and even tears.
This band has a special way of touching their fans, both new and old. Although The National have only truly reached the heights of fame with their last release, music fans are often quick to release the potential and delve deeper into their back catalogue, unearthing treasures such as “Abel” and “Mr. November”, which fast become favourites. Even so, a National rookie would be quick to pick up on these rockier tracks, which send the crowd into a real frenzy, as well as the band, with Berninger climbing into the crowd. Adoring fans surge, with it easy to see why, and it’s easy to get caught up in the all-consuming energy and intensity this band radiate. Berninger climbed on the stage and upstairs for “Terrible Love”, off High Violet, broadcasting his rock star swagger for even songs that some fans would claim are tamer.
However, it’s not just all onstage antics and clambering over fans that made the show. Closing with an acoustic version of the closing track of High Violet, the band ditched their gear for a couple of acoustic guitars and a few tambourines, joined by Sharon Van Etten and her band, the musicians encouraging the swept away crowd to join in for a completely amp free rendition of the heart wrenching ballad. The audience, captivated by the clumsy demeanor of Berninger, yet musical precision of the Dessners and Devendorfs, launched into unified song, a truly uplifting unforgettable experience for all present. Showing the rawer, unprocessed side of their talent, there really is no stopping this band, in any shape, way or form.
Eindhoven set list
The Cross-Linx festival was a truly tremendous event, and it’s no surprise given Bryce Dessner’s record, that the quality of artists was top notch. Regardless, it’s not all down to Mr. Dessner, the team who worked on the festival, alongside the quality of the venues, set up, locations all came together with faultless perfection which looks to remain unsurpassed, perhaps until next year.
Be ready for next year’s Cross-Linx festival 2012 – it’s guaranteed to only get better. With no boundaries, Cross-Linx sets to seek out the best of all musical spheres and given what Cross- Linx has achieved time after time, you won’t want to miss it.
-words & photos: Jayne Yong