There’s a curious tendency to almost wholly disregard European music, especially that sung in an alternative language to English. Of course, for native English speakers it’s natural to be drawn to music sung in your own language. Yet, I theorised that there had to be a wealth of great bands out there on the continent, and fully aware that I would have to wade through some fairly interesting bands in the quest, I set out to find them.
There’s something appealing to me about West Germanic languages, in particular German and Dutch. I may be sympathetic towards them because of the bad rep they get, but regardless, I decided to focus my search for European music on these countries in particular. This threw hurdles up straightaway – for someone who isn’t particularly into hardcore techno or aggressively German rap, the German music scene appears at first glance to contain almost no bands worth looking into. However, there are a few gems out there.
Cologne-based AnnenMayKantereit are my top pick of the bunch. Formed in 2011, Vertigo Berlin released their first EP Wird schon irgendwie gehen in October 2015, and around the same time they signed with colossal label Universal. Singer Henning May’s rough and powerful voice is the most recognisable thing about AnnenMayKantereit (in fact it’s so raw that it sounds like he’s been smoking since birth), but it’s a beautiful contrast to their simplistic musical setup. Their first single ‘Oft Gefragt’ reached 18 in the German chart, with their album Alles Nix Konkretes arriving this March. Also make sure to check out the beautiful ‘Barfuß am Klavier’ – it’s hard not to fall in love with May’s haunting vocals as he muses over a lost partner ‘barefoot at the piano’.
Bilderbuch are difficult to categorise, as German bands go. They’ve released 3 albums so far, each considerably different from the last. Fans of indie rock should give their first album Nelken & Schillinge a try, but it’s 2015’s Schick Schock that is the most interesting. A look at the video for ‘OM’ introduces you to eccentric lead singer Maurice Ernst and is probably the song most likely to appeal to the average English listener, having an extremely catchy chorus – don’t be surprised if you have German in your head for days after listening. Hamburg natives Fotos have also perfected the art of the hook, and their 2008 release Nach dem Goldrausch contains a number of solidly catchy indie-rock gems, although the German may be a little bit too aggressive for some listeners.
The Netherlands has introduced an almost unbelievable number of DJs to the world music scene, including huge names such as Armin Van Buuren and Tiësto. However, the Dutch scene has got far more to offer, in far more varied genres. While Jerusalem born, Amsterdam bred Dotan Harpenau (known simply as Dotan) doesn’t sing in Dutch, his music is far too beautiful to be disregarded. His 2014 album 7 Layers is a grand folky masterpiece, which quickly reached number 1 on the Dutch chart. Imagine a combination of Nick Mulvey’s harmonious guitar playing with the smooth vocals of Jamie Woon. Kenny B is another Dutch artist who’ll appeal to anyone with an interest in reggae. His song ‘Parijs’ is a lovely ode to the French city with a sweet video, and it’s definitely worth looking up the Dutch lyrics so you can sing along with the chorus. Other songs on his self-titled album such as ‘Neks Ne Tai’ carry the definite sound of his native Suriname, and you can almost imagine dancing under palm trees while listening to it.