Every year, Eurosonic Festival likes to shift its general focus towards a particular country, or set of countries, in promoting all of the music Europe as a continent has to offer. Last year, the Groningen bash paid additional attention to Denmark with performances by the likes of Sigrid, Velvet Volume and Iceage, with the former going on to dominate stages across the world. This time round, Eurosonic has shifted focus once more and headed for central Europe, more specifically the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Both nations will form 2019’s musical focus, meaning that more artists appearing at the festival will come from these countries over any of their continental counterparts. Today we take the first of two detailed looks at the Czech and Slovakian artists appearing across Groningen in January, starting with the six Czech acts we feel stand the chance of making a substantial impact.

HELLWANA

Kicking off this first list is Prague’s very own Hellwana who, despite a significantly sparse amount of streams on Spotify, sounds like a hip hop/rap star in the making. Her music is lathered with slick production, waspy synths and tight percussion, all of which intertwine to form a gritty urban mix incredibly complementary to her snide vocals. Key track Bump’n’Grime takes selected cues from grime, throwing another style into the mix as Hellwana displays her multi-skilled abilities with little difficulty and maximum impact. You don’t hear of many Czech hip hop stars, but Hellwana definitely possesses all the hallmarks of one.

BOHEMIAN CRISTAL INSTRUMENT

Are you sitting comfortably? Because Lenka Morávková and her Bohemian Cristal Instrument are about to take you on a ride. The Czech Republic-via-LA artist is perhaps one of the most intriguing and unique bookings Eurosonic has made this year, and most of that is down to the beautiful instrument Morávková centres her music on. The Bohemian Cristal Instrument is a Cristal Bachet designed and created by Morávková in conjunction with Spanish artist Martí Ruiz. The instrument was initially used for a performance in 2012, but has stood the test of time as Morávková incorporated it into her output more prominently. What does it sound like, though? Well, imagine a soundscape which encompasses the essence of a visceral dream world cloaked in sunlight and scattered waterfalls. Inject some intense percussion and orchestral vocals into the mix, and you have the Bohemian Cristal Instrument. It’ll be interesting to see how Morávková pulls it off in Groningen, so it’s sure to be a very special experience which demonstrates the fine line between its hollow acoustics and amplified soundscapes.

CIRCUS BROTHERS

And now for something completely different: the Circus Brothers. The Balkan disco collective are undoubtedly going to be one of Eurosonic’s most entertaining bookings, and it’s not hard to hear why. Popular single Sukničkář encompasses hummed melodies, a bombastic euphonium and occasional string flourishes, together forming an incendiary whole which sounds like the love child between Barcelona’s La Pegatina and Bosnia’s Dubioza Kolektiv. Balkan music can often follow oversimplified formulas, but the Circus Brothers have no time for underpinning sarcastic political diatribes with half-beat percussion and accordions; instead, they’re here to have fun and be honest in doing so. Every facet of their output is full-on enjoyment, even if some of their songs centre on creating a better life for yourself during troubling times. Circus Brothers are not to be missed in Groningen, so please do allow them to invite you into their fun-filled world.

PIPES & PINTS

Where the Circus Brothers make use of Balkan disco in getting a packed crowd on their feet, Pipes & Pints like to take a slightly different and heavier approach. That’s because the Czech hellraisers are punk through and through, injecting more energy into their music than Lance Armstrong injected into his veins. There are hints of folk scattered throughout, something which is emphasised by bagpiper Vojta Kalina, yet the focus remains solely on pulsating rhythms, gritty guitar lines and pounding percussion. The only example you need of this is standout track Karma Killer, which mains a constant pace throughout and doesn’t let go until deemed necessary.

LENNY

Lenny might just be the most successful artist on this list. The Prague-based hitmaker is currently working on a sonic reinvention which has seen her leave her folk-centric past behind in search of something which sounds like perfect pop. New single Enemy is a prime example of this, incorporating slick beats and tight vocals over a mix of sparse-yet-impactful sonic backing. Set this song aside cuts from 2016’s Hearts album and you’ve got an artist who couldn’t have reinvented her sound more had she tried. If Lenny keeps this trend up in Groningen then she’s sure to be one of the highlights of the week.

ZABELOV GROUP

Closing out this first list is Prague’s Zabelov Group, a duo whose sound slides nicely within the worlds of experimental jazz and abstract sound. Comprised of accordionist Roman Zabelov and multi-instrumentalist Jan Šikl, the Zabelov Group are slowly but surely working their way into the midst of public consciousness with their obscurely enthralling music. Key tracks For a While and Lemniscate each explore contrasting sounds of a wildly experimental free jazz world, further adding hints of dreamy ambience into the mix as they operate on a largely instrumental basis. It takes a little while to wrap your head around the quirks and offshoots embedded within Zabelov and Šikl’s music, but once it clicks you’ll have a hard time ignoring it.

Come back next week as we introduce you to the best which Slovakia has to offer at Eurosonic. Eurosonic Noorderslag 2019 takes place from 16 to 19 January in and around Groningen, and you can click here for more information.