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ESNS Diary: Euronews Culture's top picks for new European music

ESNS Diary: Euronews Culture's top picks for new European music

In Groningen, at the snowy-cold northern tip of the Netherlands, ESNS is the place to see the best up-and-coming artists of Europe’s music scene as industry delegates showcase new talent.

Alongside the ESNS industry conference and award shows, all this talk of “delegates” starts sounding a bit like an extracurricular mock UN activity. In actual fact, ESNS delegates are a ragtag bunch of bands, singer-songwriters and performers coming from every corner of the continent to prove they might be the next big thing. Euronews Culture was on the ground to separate the wheat from the chaff for you.

Day One - Dutch dancing

In true ESNS fashion, my first stop was the result of meeting a bunch of delegates (musicians and promoters) from the Faroe Islands. The tiny Danish archipelago half-way between Norway and Iceland has a population barely over 50,000. Between the musicians on stage and the supporting crowd, it feels like a full percent of the territory is here to watch festival opener jazzygold.

Hailing from Tórshavn, the capital city of the Faroe Islands, jazzygold is far from the Nordic hinterland vibe expected from a territory with barely five hours daily sunlight this time of year. Her R&B stylings, candid lyrics about love and loss, and commanding stage presence make jazzygold feel like Faroe's answer to SZA.

For an even more surprising genre to come out of the area, her partner performed later in the festival as part of AGGRASOPPAR, self-defined as “flower-punk/axekiller-pop”. Rap in Faroese isn’t exactly clear to me, but they manage to channel aggression and taper it into a prism of fun.

Running across the city – not too fast, the streets are laced with the icy remnants of the previous evening’s snow – we bundle into the MachineFabriek venue to check out London-based, Tel Aviv-raised jazz pianist Yoni Mayraz. Playing tunes from his album ‘Dybbuk Tse!’ that combines jazz with 90s hip-hop and Jewish mythology to create something altogether unique.

Living somewhere in the space between recent Mercury Prize winner Ezra Collective and nominee Moses Boyd, Mayraz entrancing jazz formations feel like they could soon feature as the award’s annual obligatory jazz nomination.

Playing at ESNS’s most impressive venue, the Stadsschouwburg, was arguably the evening’s headliner – although the festival isn’t organised like that. Ireland’s CMAT has already built herself a dedicated fandom over her two critically acclaimed albums, and it's clear she's the real deal.

CMAT
CMAT - Ben Houdijk

Much like previous ESNS “finds” like Dua Lipa and Benjamin Clementine, CMAT is already fully formed: a taut band, choreography in tow, backing confident vocals that hit the record’s high-notes and a swagger that gets the whole room smiling.

By this point, the combination of beer, the filter-less cigarettes I’m nicking of my Faroese friends, and a slew of less-than-great acts we won’t name here, tempt me back to my hotel room. A final burst of energy takes us to Portuguese electronic dance fusion group Bateu Matou.

The perfect way to end the night, Bateu Matou perform the impossible – through sheer energetic force of will and their heady mix of African and Brazilian music – they manage to get a majority-Dutch crowd to dance. Sure, half these 6ft tall bambi-esque Aryans are completely out of time, but it’s an impressive image to finish day one.

Day Two - Pick 'n' mix

The first major stop on the second day of ESNS was the Music Moves Europe (MME) Awards. The annual event lines up some of the most promising names across Europe’s music scene. Five winners take home jury prizes of €10,000, with a grand jury prize worth €15,000 and a public choice award worth €5,000 handed out – essential to early career artists looking to tour internationally.

Just the nomination for the MME makes an artist one-to-watch, but the dominating focus at this year’s ceremony is Zaho de Sagazan. The young French singer-songwriter took home both the grand jury prize and the public choice award before stunning the crowd with an emotional show.

Zaho de Sagazan
Zaho de Sagazan - Niels Knelis

Reminiscent of fellow French musician Christine and the Queens’ early work, De Sagazan is all gut-wrenching evocation over sharp production. At first hidden in silhouette, she strides out of the shadows to bring the whole Stadsschouwburg into a dancing frenzy by the end of her performance. Since the show, I’ve had her 2023 album ‘La symphonie des éclairs’ on repeat.

The key artists on today’s line-up are all MME nominees and the main dilemma of the evening is picking which ones to watch. Bracing the cold, I rush over to one of the venues in Groningen’s impressive Forum venue to catch Norwegian rapper Ash Olsen.

Swaggering on stage after her hype-man has moved the crowd and having witnessed a suitable amount of body popping, the diminutive Olsen exudes confidence – and a huge puffy coat reminiscent of Michael Dapaah’s ‘Man’s Not Hot’ comedy rap song. All attitude, Olsen presents a hit-laden set of English-language hip-hop, breaking into singing on occasion. Rapping about everything from same-sex relationships to style – everything is a veritable bop.

Ash Olsen on stage
Ash Olsen on stage - Casper Maas

The crowds amass to see Elmiene, a promising jazz singer hailing from England at the Grand Theatre. Not wanting to wait in line though, I duck into a smaller art venue to catch Ana Lua Caiano. The Portuguese electronic musician creates a unique live show by fusing looped digital tracks with acoustic folk instruments. Without a greater backing band, it’s the best way to port her complex tradition-infused sound to a stage. The result is a hypnotic journey into Portuguese folklore via banshee wails and intoxicating percussion.

Once again, I’m spoilt for choice on who to see next. There’s promising offers from MME up-and-comers as well as a high-intensity set from 2022 Eurovision victors Kalush Orchestra. Something new wins out again. Thursday’s final set comes from Ireland’s MME nominee yunè pinku. The half-Irish half-Malaysian London-raised garage musician’s star is in ascendancy ever since some early career sessions with Joy Orbison.

yunè pinku
yunè pinku - Se7en Betaubun

Delivering on all her promise, yunè pinku filled the Grand Theatre venue with her rave-inspired electronic tracks. Transfixing the crowd into controlled ecstasy, her knack for compulsive melodies in intricate rhythms are a perfect nightcap. Well, my actual nightcap is a Guinness or two at the Irish pub on the way home, but that’s beside the point.

Day Three - Leading from the front

Clad in matching retro sun-visors, the Welsh folk six-piece Melin Melyn are the first band to blow the cobwebs off of the previous night. Suitably bearded and a tad older than the average ESNS act, my first instinct is they’ll be a decent-if-unnoteworthy pub band. Anything but, from the moment they burst into their energetic ska-inflected, punky folk sound, they galvanise the room into action.

Every detail is a joy, from the slide guitar sweeping in the background, the forcefully precise keys to the fizzing rhythm section. At the centre of it all is brilliant frontman Gruff Glyn. Through charming patter he explains the political stories behind songs – often performed in Welsh – and at one point delivers the most impressive falsetto of the entire festival.

English Teacher
English Teacher - Stefvan Oosterhout

Staying in the British Isles, indie band English Teacher – from England! – deliver an impressive set showcasing a stunning range. Lily Fontaine is another powerhouse lead singer and has a cool confidence as she leads her genre-blending band to finish on brand new single ‘Albert Road’ from upcoming album ‘This Could Be Texas’ instead of their most “famous” song.

There’s a touch of proto-Dua Lipa energy about Serbian Iva Lorens’ following set. The Balkan singer-songwriter lays on the 80s backing as she prances around stage. Her strong voice and slick pop production continues to prove that Serbia is an exciting font of musical talent.

The running theme of Friday is powerful frontmen and women, and the next act threatens to take home the crown. This metaphorical crown would sit quite comfortably on Irish artist Chubby Cat’s shaven head. Part-glam, part-euphoria, Chubby Cat is a sensational performer. At this point in a music festival, I’m usually skulking around in the back of crowds, nodding along to the groove. But here I’m wading my way to the front to get involved in the dancing.

Peace in our times

Keeping that energy going, the final act of the festival for me brings the house down in the most impressive way I’ve seen at ESNS. English rapper/pop svengali Master Peace acknowledges that the odds are against him. At the best of times, northern European crowds can present a cold reception, but the number of jaded industry folk in the audience can take that to a new level.

It’s no bother to indie-sleaze champion Master Peace, who seems intent on taking everyone back to the days when Calvin Harris and LCD Soundsystem ruled the charts. ‘It Was Acceptable in the 80s’ jumps a few decades forward to a straight-up 2006 nostalgia trip. Alongside a shredding guitarist and a hyperactive DJ, Master Peace fizzes like a fusion reactor as he runs into the crowd to organise an impromptu catwalk. It’s no easy feat to get ESNS dancing, but he takes the win for the most stamped feat of the festival.