BLACK CURRANT MAG
THE STORY BEHIND
They hang out with Lydia Lunch and Peter Hook – just to name a few – and are quite the rock stars and artist themselves too. Natasja, also a visual artist, and guitarist Marc, are the masterminds behind our country’s best multidisciplinary underground festival. Every new Grauzone edition leaves us wondering how they will get a better, more legendary line-up next time. but then they do it again. Curating a space where music, film and art complement each other perfectly – but never too perfect. because even after selling out from the start they never lost their DIY touch. We got a peek into these creatives history, future and more.
The first Grauzone moment
Natasja: “I was already organizing one-off-shows in Amsterdam when I told Marc; can’t we just create one home for all these different nights? It was 2012 and I just graduated at the Rietveld Art Academy. Marc’s response was that he knew Edwin – promotor at Melkweg in that time – and maybe we could ask him. Together we wrote an enthusiastic mail, it convinced them straight away and I made an appointment. The first edition in 2013 was sold out immediately. We we’re quite blown away but also knew that it was what wasn’t there yet before. From that point onwards we just never stopped. Marc has always been in the background a bit, but he has been there from the start, that’s why he definitely should be here doing this interview with me.”
Marc: “Yes, I actually don’t need or want this interview,” he laughs. “But we did write that email together and always go for it together. We complement each other. I just don’t like to belong to a group too much. We had great ambitions from the start, or maybe I should call it dreams. I just believed that this could really be something that we could go through with. And we did.”
Natasja: “We welcomed everything with open arms and minds. Not really knowing in what direction it would take us in the beginning. I honestly had no idea what I was doing, but you get very far with just plain enthusiasm. I don’t really remember what I thought would happen at the time, I just went for it, no preconceived plan. I knew nothing about organizing festivals. We had to do everything ourselves because, of course, had no budget to begin with. At our first location, in the Melkweg, they thought that I had a lot of experience, but that was just bluffing. Sometimes you need to do that a bit to get people to believe in you. And that worked out very well. I think purely by enthusiasm and love for the whole idea.”
Marc: “Things like this just go the way they do, and besides hard work it’s also a bit of luck, but especially hard work. Look at the organizers of the largest dance festivals in the Netherlands. Those are now established names that nobody has doubts about, but I once read an interview about the initiator of one of those dance festival. He also just started somewhere with his brother together because they had a good idea. The first edition of that, now extra-large party, was also somewhere on a field in Amsterdam. They were expecting a few hundred people and then thousands came. Great success, but they poured the coffee themselves and cleaned up the field afterwards. That is perseverance.”
How much luck is there involved in you selling out at the first edition?
Natasja: “There was just a real need for a festival like Grauzone. We knew that. There was no such thing yet. Festivals such as Fuzz Club in Eindhoven and Le Guess Who?, with a nice diverse line-up where people still discover really new things, that is very strong now, but not at the time.”
Marc: “There really was a gap to fill, and we responded to that. There were just a lot of people around us who regularly said they missed a place or a show like that. Where everything they liked came together, and with good music. So someone had to do it anyway.”
Natasja: “Our first line-up was very strong immediately. We had Echo and the Bunnymen, who were on the top of this Wishlist of names we wrote down. That name just speeded things up. We managed to get quite a lot from that list. It took care of putting the festival on the map straight away. I think that’s our strength from the start. Not just book what lands into your email, the bands that are already on tour, but really who you see as the perfect picture. As much as possible…To be realistic, that is – of course – not always possible. But we are so lucky that for us many artists come to play a separate show because we ask them too. In the beginning that was certainly because they were friends of us, or we knew them via via, but now we also do it with people we know less well or we just try.”
Marc: “The Chameleons also just got back together and for our first edition we booked their first show back then. I think they were the biggest drew next to Echo that editi
Has it always been sunshine and rainbows then?
Natasja: “No, of course not. There have definitely been some moments where I thought ‘I quit’. But when I think about what I would do without all this, I just don’t even want that. The first time I really had some serious doubts was after about three years of Grauzone at Melkweg. Our ideas no longer matched with the people and the space of the venue. I ran into things that I probably hadn’t been so emotional about in a ‘normal’ job. Things I really wanted but just didn’t work. Or the people we worked with disagreed on this idea that I felt was amazing. I had a really tough time and for just a little while I didn’t know if I could handle it all. In the end we searched for other options and locations that better matched our identity at that time. Although that felt strange after 3 years, to move away from the place where it all started. If you are involved in such a project as Grauzone, and you have put your whole heart and soul into it, it is very difficult to let things go and leave it to others. But if you continue to grow, then you have to, you cannot continue to do everything yourself. No one can benefit from overwrought.”
Marc: “It’s always been a combination of varied factors. Because we are a multidisciplinary festival, which is becoming even more important every edition, we need certain types of spaces. That didn’t go well in the Melkweg either. There was literally no room for growth anymore. We were stuck and searched for more creative spaces with more options. At a certain moment I was a visitor at ‘Ein Abend In Wien’ in de Doelen. They also had several rooms, with an insane line-up. I’d seen everything I ever want to see on my wish list in one go. Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and more, they were all there. But their concept was a kind of overall experience which made it even better. All employees, and also a number of bands, were wearing some kind of white hospital suits. There were things to discover and art to see all around you. I was completely blown away. I remember thinking; I want that too. We have to look for spaces where we can create such a vibe. And I’m very happy to say that that worked out well. Sometimes a little crisis is needed.
Dreaming about the future, no limitations, where would you wanna do a Grauzone edition?
Natasja: “New York and Berlin. I think New York in particular. We are a good with match those cities. Beautiful, raw and spacious. With a story to tell. Somewhere in a large industrial warehouse would be cool.”
Marc: “I don’t care that much about location to be honest. Besides from it having a certain type of spaces for your needs. It’s what you put down there. If you do that well then it can be fun everywhere.”
Natasja: “A friend of mine always talks about the ‘Grauzone Cruise’. But that seems very tiring to me. Maybe we can do the NDSM ferry. Nice and short.”
Marc: “I will leave the wild dreaming to Natasja. That’s why we were planning to have the Grauzone Summer special at the beach. That was one of her dreams. Unfortunately due bad weather prospects we had to move this one but we will probably still have a beachy one somewhere in the future. I prefer to concentrate on ‘the big Grauzone’. We are now going to do the festival two days instead of one and that is a lot of work on its own without too much dreaming. Natasja is better in doing that and also doing a lot of work, while her head is still in the clouds.”
Natasja: “I grew up there, on the beach. My parents had a bookshop there and I used to be on the beach all the time. So for me it is really special to host a show there sometimes.”
Marc: “We are now doing so well that we can no longer cope with the two of us, and really have to focus. It is fun but also stressful because in a short while it means asking for help and finding someone who is a perfect fit in working with us. That is not easy at all. We are not good at handing things over. Not yet anyway. “
Natasja: “And then you also need to keep having fun along the way. That is so important and sometimes more difficult than you think. Remember yourself why and how you started. The amount of fun that you are having and had before. Also because I need my mind and emotions for my work as an artist as well. It’s needs to be in good shape. If I only did Grauzone, I think I would be very different. But I also think that we look at things better and more interesting because we do other things, such as making art or playing in a band ourselves (such as Marc). The multidisciplinary aspect, and the view from multiple sides, it makes us different and works out great. Maybe that’s not what attracts the biggest chunk of visitors. But for me that is extremely important.”
Marc: “But I am always busy with Grauzone. I am never ‘switched off’ or just thinking about something else. Whenever I play somewhere or when I am on tour, I always try to hang out and speak to people who seem like a great fit to me for Grauzone. Those connections are super useful. Sometimes I call Natasja at very weird (nightly) times because I have a spontaneous idea or just spoke to someone who wants to do something super cool with us for Grauzone.”
Favourite Grauzone Moment
Natasja: “The Shellac show at our last edition was certainly a highlight for me. Suddenly I thought about how great it is what we all do and create. I was standing in the big room and everyone was going wild and then I just thought; This is because of me. I worked towards this. That feeling was so good.”
Marc: “I have experienced so many great things, I really couldn’t pick just one. Every time there’s a new Grauzone event, I just get excited from the prospect of new adventures coming up.”
Natasja: “I remember one that is a real ‘Grauzone’ moment for me. I’m not sure how this comes across, but the memory is so funny and positive. Grauzone was still in Melkweg at that time, so it was one of the first ones. And at that time we had invested so much money, that we were completely broke. After the shows finished, we ran into the backstage to eat snacks left over from the artists, our kitchens at home had no food because all our money went to Grauzone. It may sound silly but at that time we had so much fun just laughing about our own broke-ass actions.”
Marc: “For me, my favorite moments are when I meet and work with people that I once dreamed of being close to at all. Such as Mark E. Smith from The Fall. A very characteristic figure that I used to be a fan of, and I’ve now experienced some crazy things with. Stories you used to hear about bands that don’t show up for shows, having crazy after parties, that sometimes happens.
When The Fall played at Grauzone in 2015, singer Mark E. Smith showed up 45 minutes late for his show because he was having such a good time with his wife in the hotel room. The audience started throwing hundreds of plastic cups onto the stage… When he finally appeared on stage, he didn’t give a fuck and started playing. And that playing was so good that after a few minutes everyone had forgotten he was so fucking late, and they were cheering like crazy. That image, of Mark playing in this rain of cups, will never leave my mind. Certainly because it was one of his last shows in Europe ever.
Natasja: “Throwing cups at Mark, that was of course not really how things were supposed to go. Also because the staff of Melkweg really didn’t like it. They didn’t know how to react and were not used to something like it. While things like this are not as shocking in more alternative places. When we were looking for other locations, we really took that into account. That the venue is not too polished and commercial, that it’s allowed to get dirty . Keeping it clean doesn’t fit with the bands that we book and the shows that we want to put on. I really want to keep that DIY feel. Especially for the audience. But the production cannot be a mess. My visitors should not be ‘bothered’ by anything. Once I was at a festival in Berlin where the power went out all the time, and bands just started playing 2 hours later, it was complete chaos. That’s a bit too punk for me. There were super nice bands on that line-up, but as a visitior you were only waiting and guessing when you could see something again. I could only think; we will do this differently. Although we come from the ‘DIY’ corner, where sometimes it can really go that way, I really like to have some structure. Secretly just as neat and tight as possible.”
Marc: “But in comparison to many other festivals, we certainly work in a much more ‘guerrilla’ way. We often book directly with the artist, for example. And have exclusive acts. We almost never just accept acts that are offered to us via email, that is too easy and often not the best. We go after the bands ourselves most of the time. Because we have made up our mind and know we specifically want them. Sometimes they were not going to play at all during that period, but for us they will come anyway. It also creates a completely different ambience in the backstage when the bands come especially for us, instead of accidentally fitting into the tour schedule. When we invited The Messthetics (the rhythm section of Fugazi!), they in turn were super happy that Shellac was there. For them it is always extra special, to play a show like that. A large group of people who all support each other and are happy that they are there. You can feel that throughout the festival. Our audience is always very nice and super diverse. For example, we also have a large foreign following who really come to the Netherlands for a weekend Grauzone. And that backstage atmosphere, that is also there among the audience in the room. We are very happy with that.
Disclaimer: This Saturday the Grauzone Summer special was supposed to happen on the beach near The Hague. Due to unforeseen circumstances the location has been changed to Grauzone’s home, ‘t Paard. The Dutch weather was not going to be pretty anyway, so a little crisis might be avoided for now. Although we might think the backstage will be chaos with the bands Whispering Sons, zZz, Uniform and Pasiphae.