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October 2017
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Rotterdam: Why the City is Becoming Holland’s Heaviest

When you think of Rotterdam, Holland’s “harbour city”, the first thing that comes to your mind isn’t exactly a heavy music scene. In fact, you’re more inclined to think of stuff which you can’t pair with the capital city, Amsterdam (everything which isn’t drugs or prostitutes). However, Rotterdam is far more than just an industrial hub, it’s a city with a (mainly underground) music scene so exciting that you’d be mistaken for assuming that Amsterdam or Groningen was Holland’s musical nucleus. Following a whole spate of positive stories, we decided to investigate further and check out what is making Rotterdam such a heavy city.

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The Rotown being christened by rock heavyweights Nothing But Thieves

Our main focal point during the four days we spent investigating Rotterdam is the Baroeg, a 400-capacity underground venue in the heart of the South. The pint-sized blue rectangle is the only venue in the city dedicated solely to heavy music, describing itself on Twitter as specializing in “Underground, Metal, Rock, Industrial, Gothic, Punk, Hardcore and Drum ‘n Bass”. Being the only heavy venue in the city doesn’t mean that metal is an isolated genre in town, though. On the contrary – wherever you look, you’re bound to see something to do with metal (and the Baroeg) in Rotterdam. Once a year, some 7,500 people descend on the Zuiderpark for Baroeg Open Air, a celebration of all things loud in the city. What started off as a small event, has now grown into one of Rotterdam’s biggest alternative musical gatherings, settling in nicely alongside Metropolis Festival in July, Motel Mozaique in April and the much-famed North Sea Jazz Festival.

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aroeg from the outside

Flying beer and light ships
Although the Baroeg may be small in size, the artists that it pulls, and its subsequent impact on the city of Rotterdam, are big. Not too long ago, former Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Olivieri appeared in a new incarnation, with black metal legends Gorgoroth also taking to the small stage soon (13 December, to be precise). For every crowdsurfer or flying beer cup that the Baroeg has seen, a new sense of rocking energy has docked up in the city’s Leuvehaven. In an interview with Vers Beton, Baroeg’s PR manager David Kuiper said that the blue sweatbox “takes metal very seriously, and not as a gimmick”. The fact that the Baroeg knows what they’re doing says enough about the continual rise of heavy music in Rotterdam. Baroeg has started to open its doors to other parts of the city, including the small-scale Eendrachtsfestival (near where indie venue Rotown is located), and on the small stage of V11, a light ship in the heart of Rotterdam’s harbour quarter. The development of the V11 as a small metal venue has presented the Baroeg with an opportunity to slowly but surely monopolize Rotterdam’s venues and make the city “Holland’s heaviest”. To this day, there is not one city in Holland with a designated ‘heavy’ culture. Most of the country’s best either breeds in the countryside, or pops up over a whole selection of different cities. You can’t pin the genre on one city, but maybe this is a good thing. Maybe it means that nobody is afraid to start a band, leading Holland into the position it finds itself in today.

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The Rotown

Rotterdam: a rich musical history
Although metal and Rotterdam aren’t synonymous with one another just yet, the city does already have an extremely rich musical history. Away from the chugging guitars and brutal screams, the likes of soul, jazz, punk, and hip hop have all had an impact on what gives Rotterdam such a rich musical history. Sometimes, these styles are even combined. Take De Likt for example; this rap trio combine punk, hip hop and a born-and-bred Rotterdam accent to give off something quintessential to this city. The Kik are another example, with frontman Dave von Raven not just the leader of this outfit, but also the reason that 60s beat music has made a comeback in Holland. All in all, Rotterdam probably has a musical history richer than Amsterdam, The Hague and Groningen combined.

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V11

The Rise of the Counter Culture
Why has metal become so popular in Rotterdam, though? According to Kuiper, the economic crisis is a big factor. Still talking to Vers Beton, he said that times of dire need breed an increase in the “counter culture”, meaning that your average goths, emo’s and punks all rise up and support what needs supporting. Rotterdam has always been a city centred on culture and freedom; all you have to do is either a) walk around the centre to see how many punks and goths study at the Grafisch Lyceum, or b) go to the Rotown every Thursday night. Music is everywhere, and Rotterdam has always been important for everyone who’s ever picked up an instrument and seen themselves as part of a counter culture. Amsterdam, as your average ‘Rotterdammer’ will tell you, is where the “normal” people go. They’ll then tell you that Rotterdam is a city for the outcasts, the creatives, the people with nowhere left to go. Throw a bunch of these people into one city, and what do you get? You get venues like the Baroeg, where true metal and hard rock still breed. You get a cultural boom inspired by a youthful generation, which sparked the creation of both Motel Mozaique and Metropolis Festival. Essentially, you get a city like no other.

Metal may not be the first thing you think of when Rotterdam comes to your mind today. However, come back in five years and you’ll find that all of this has changed. Who knows, maybe we’ll have another behemoth (pun unintended) on our hands. It’s not exactly going to morph into some sort of Beatlemania, but it’s a start.

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