Why Do Heavy Metal and the Dutch City of Tilburg Work So Well Together?

From Incubate to Roadburn and now Netherlands Deathfest, what's going on in this metal festival-packed Dutch city?

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Sep 9 2015, 9:03pm

Tilburg is a raw city—ugly, people sometimes say. There are no canals or no quaint plazas, and the beautiful old buildings are usually accompanied by ugly new buildings. It's a tough town, where people are not afraid of work to be done—perhaps a holdover from the days when the textile industry is largely happening here. It is also an outstanding city for loud music, because when you say "Tilburg", you're saying "metal."

Roadburn, Neurotic Death Fest (now Netherlands Death Fest), Mario's Metal Meeting, the Little Devil: if you love loud guitars and long hair, Tilburg's the perfect choice. But why is it that metal and Tilburg go so well together? Did there something special happen in the city's history? Is there something strange in the water?

To find out what exactly is going on, I put the question to Koreman Vincent, artistic director at Incubate and connoisseur of loud noises.

"I would of course be able to write a long philosophical treatise on 'the DNA of the Tilburger', but I actually think it's because in the 80s, metal and hard rock was the dominant counterculture. At that time, there was a music venue in Tilburg, Noorderligt, which commonly hosted metal bands. In this way, many young musicians came into contact with the genre, and bands steadily increased their number of fans. The Batcave was another place that had a lot of influence on local musicians, since bands often played their fist gigs there. I saw Neurosis play there for seventy people."

Makes sense: the more often you see or hear something, the more you're going to like it, and if the conditions are right, and there is a place where you can practice with your band and perform, you've already come a long way. Now, the Batcave has been swallowed by 013 and is now called Stage01 (really, a much better name) while Noorderligt existed for almost twenty years more. But metal is still sways the scepter in Tilburg. What's up with that? Vincent Koreman has a practical explanation:

"In the concert hall Poppodium 013, metal is well represented, not least because there is a lot of beer drank at most metal concerts. In addition, the agents and the traditional metal bands are very realistic in terms of ticket prices. There are relatively few 'hype' bands, and ticket prices are usually determined by the number of tickets sold. It's a pretty solid business."


Neurotic Deathfest 2013, image: William van der Voort

So metal bands have an established fanbase in Tilburg, and concerts bring a lot of profit from beverage sales. Yet, there must be more behind the popularity than a good business model. I hoped Hoeijmakers Walter, founder and boss of Tilburg's internationally acclaimed Roadburn Festival (and subject of Noisey's Mr. Roadburn documentary), could shine a light into the icy darkness.

"I'm not a Tilburger originally, but I do know that in the 90s, there were many well-known metal bands from Tilburg. For example, you had Acrostic, one of the first metal bands with a female vocalist—that band has made ​​quite a name with their debut album Engraved in Black. But today there are bands running around that are doing very well internationally, such as Nihill and Dodecahedron. "

The success of Roadburn and Tilburg's other metal festivals provide ample inspiration for new bands: if you see that your fellow citizens are doing well and getting attention in the international press, you want to try your hand, too. Luckily, metal fans are friendly, and they give everybody the chance of success. This also shows itself as Vincent Koreman mentions the real power of the Tilburg metal scene: a good DIY attitude.

"For years, we had in Tilburg five to ten metal bands who did shows together and helped each other with deals and demos. In the 90s, we had the'"Musicians Service', a group of volunteers with extensive experience in the music business that helped young bands on the road with tips, contacts, and I'm talking about the pre-Internet era, so it was super nice that someone kept a database of important addresses. Unfortunately, that organization wasn't too strong after the merger with 013 in 1999, and once it disappeared, with it went a lot of knowledge about the Tilburg music scene, and also in the metal scene. Acrostic and Crustacean, two of the biggest bands, mainly pulled the cart, but with the aging of the veteran musicians and the lack of good, young growth, there was a big hole. Now, the scene around Little Devil fills that hole. You always need a place where people can meet and talk about music before they start a band."

Hoeijmakers adds. "Today, Tilburg metal bands are doing well. Nihill received a favorable review on Pitchfork, and bands like Dodecahedron and Ggu:ll are seen internationally as these very cool underground bands."


Incubate 2013, image: William van der Voort

In conclusion, Vincent Koreman offered up a few more wise words—not only on the metal scene in Tilburg, but for any music community anywhere in the world. Think of it as a checklist to see how to build up your own city's metal (or otherwise) scene enough that you will also be received by Thor in Valhalla, where the beer flows from massive tankards and you recline at the end of oaken tables with your comrades until the end of time.

Vincent Koreman's ingredients list for a fertile local music scene:

- A place where you can see great bands that could influence a scene. Generally this is not a big room, but a place that up and coming bands can fill.

- A small and tight group of fans, musicians, and music business people who works hard to achieve success.

- Veteran fans and musicians who have seen everything once and can share their experience

- A DIY attitude. Roll up your sleeves.

Incubate Festival is from 14 to 20 September, and will feature performances by Cabaret Voltaire, Converge, Necros Christos, and many more; 14-17 April 2016 is Roadburn and the newly-launched Netherlands Death Fest takes place between February 26-28, 2016.