Utrecht – the New Live Music Capital of Holland?

Over the last year or so, the Dutch live music scene has been encountering quite a big change. For many years, the live music hub in Holland had always been Amsterdam. With arena sized venues like the Ziggo Dome and the Heineken Music Hall, as well as a whole array of legendary venues such as the Paradiso and the Melkweg, Amsterdam has always been renowned as the city for live music in Holland. To an extent it still is, yet the last year has seen a definite gravitational shift away from Amsterdam to the city Utrecht. So much so, that you could definitely consider Utrecht as the new live music capital of Holland. But why is this so? Read on to find out more.

Utrecht is by no means a tourist hot spot like Amsterdam is, yet the live music scene there is starting to offer much more than the capital. What Amsterdam obviously does have in its favour is the sheer amount of classic venues (which vary from tiny bars to stadiums), yet Utrecht has now come to rival this with the TivoliVredenburg, a massive city centre venue which has is rapidly changing the Dutch music landscape. The TivoliVredenburg is a venue unlike no other, with 5 venues inside one compact building. It’s quite a compact building too, which makes it all seem quite like a cinema. Its main attraction is the 2,000-capacity Ronda room, a semi-circle room where the majority of large local and international acts come and play. Since it opened this summer, the likes of Marilyn Manson, The 1975 and Papa Roach have all played it. These are all bands that played in Amsterdam last time round. Lorde played there right after the venue opened (check out our pictures here), and the likes of local heroes Chef’Special, the outspoken Morrissey and chart toppers Clean Bandit are all appearing this year. Throwing some names out there to make Utrecht sound impressive isn’t the aim I’m intending to put across, though. It’s merely just an example of the sudden pulling power that Utrecht has developed since the inception of the TivoliVredenburg. Its predecessor, the Tivoli Oudegracht, closed in May with some spectacular performances from the annual Le Guess Who? Festival which occurs in Utrecht every year. Alongside the TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht also plays host to two more Tivoli venues – the 400 capacity De Helling and the 2,000 capacity Leidsche Rijn. The former is a small black box in a ghetto area of the city which hosts various hardcore and metal concerts, whereas the latter is a big red box on the city outskirts, hosting all sorts of genres. Aside from the tiny Ekko venue, all venues in Utrecht actually fall under the Tivoli name.

With four main venues in Utrecht and a whole array of big names playing here in the coming months (a list which also includes Warpaint and Metronomy), Holland’s 4th biggest city is certainly becoming the place to be. Amsterdam will obviously remain the city to go to, but the likes of the Melkweg, Paradiso, Heineken Music Hall and Ziggo Dome are now facing even more competition than before. And despite the massive names coming to Amsterdam, all Utrecht now needs is an arena and they’re all equal. It’s certainly exciting for live music in Holland, with the amount of live music at an all-time high.

All Things Loud covered shows at the Tivoli 3 times recently not only bring you coverage of those shows, but also to enhance our understanding of the live scene in Utrecht. The first of these 3 shows was Of Mice & Men’s August show at 400-capacity Tivoli De Helling. Here’s what we said about that show:

What the show lacked in length, it certainly made up for in power, energy and brutality. Austin Carlile is a true frontman, with his fellow band members being equally talented at their respective roles. Often, you get a band where one member stands out head and shoulders above the rest, yet with Of Mice &Men there is no standout member; they’re all equally as good as each other. And thank god for that, because that’s exactly what makes the band such an enthralling experience.

What followed last weekend was a sold-out show by The 1975 in the Ronda room, with the following being said about that show:

The show was fantastic from a musical and visual perspective, yet the crowd was absolutely dire. If you’re going to see The 1975 live, keep in mind that you’re going to have to be content with a crowd full of screaming ‘fangirls’ who will do anything to get as close to the stage as possible.

Admittedly it’s quite a negative standpoint regarding the crowd, but it’s expected with a band like The 1975. Finally, we also covered Chef’Special’s show in the Ronda room on 9 October especially for this feature, a mini-review of which you can read below.

2014 has become the year in which Dutch rock music has finally started to emerge from the small, sweaty clubs and into the big veues. In the last year, the likes of Kensington, Jett Rebel and tonight’s attraction Chef’Special have entered the race to the top as frontrunners, with all 3 of them having upcoming performances at the legendary, 5,000-capacity Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam next year. Where Kensington excel in making radio-friendly, 80s flecked stadium rock, Jett Rebel has mastered the art of mixing sweet indie rock with smooth funk basslines. Chef’Special, however, is a whole new story. They make radio-friendly music for the masses, but their roots lie deep in grooves and soul. Mega radio hit In Your Arms was considered by many to be the festival anthem of 2014, whereas Julie also received lots of airplay. Whereas Kensington is a band for the rock fans and Jett Rebel (who even supported Chef’Special a few months back) is an act for the indie kids, Chef’Special are the “people’s band”. Not that their super energetic live shows would give that away though, with tonight’s sold out show at the TivoliVredenburg consisting mainly of couple’s and groups of teenage girls.

The show, which takes place in the Ronda room, was the beginning of a new chapter in Chef’Special’s career as they took the step up from little café’s to sharing stages with Arctic Monkeys and Ed Sheeran. Tonight, singer-songwriter David Benjamin opened the show in what was one of his first performances with his backing band. His set started off shaky, with the band taking a while to gel and get into the swing of things. From there on, Benjamin got more comfortable and engaged well with the crowd during his short support slot.

A short 30 minutes later, Chef’Special take to the stage. They open with popular single Julie in a set of just over an hour which also featured the likes of Biggest Monkey’s RnB grooves and the Sunday morning jams of Scribblin’. The majority of the show leant heavily on 2014’s Passing Through album, with older cuts making appearances throughout. As with their set at Pinkpop Festival in June,  a brass band joined the band onstage briefly, as well as a talented 12 year old trumpeter. His skill brought a smile to everyone’s face as the show picked up pace and the groove’s got more intense. Aside from the intensity, there was also emotion as frontman Joshua Nolet requested complete silence from the crowd as he went on to sing an emotional song about his late brother. A cover of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ Can’t Hold Us made an appearance towards the end, with In Your Arms closing the show. Although the show was definitely a success, the only thing Joshua Nolet & co. need to avoid is having too many songs that sound similar. It’s a working formula, but after too many repetitions it will get boring and Chef’Special will hit a glass ceiling creatively. Having said that, tonight is still an unforgettable night for a band who have come so far in the last couple of years.

The above 3 examples aren’t the only ones that show how successful artists are coming to Utrecht and more often than not putting on amazing shows. It’s understandable that articles like these are very subjective and opinionated, especially when it comes to explaining why something is so good or important, but it’s true – Utrecht is slowly but surely becoming the place to be. It’s a city where small artists come to cut their teeth in front of a crowd who are considerably different compared to the tourist-heavy Amsterdam crowds. So if you’re debating who to see live next time you go out and see a show, spare a thought for Utrecht. Go bring the stellar TivoliVredenburg a visit and see for yourself why Utrecht is going to be the live music capital of Holland one day soon.