Live Review: Grauzone Festival, The Hague, Netherlands, 10-12 February 2023

Grauzone Festival’s 10th anniversary took place last weekend in the heart of The Hague, Netherlands. Grauzone aims to present a diverse and cutting-edge programme where music, film and art complement each other. It features young talent as well as established names rooted in or influenced by the underground music scene from new wave, electronic to psychedelic and experimental. It has been classed as one of the events leading the way in the Dutch counterculture. With a complex line up spanning at least seven stages, with clashes kept minimal, I’m intrigued enough to make the journey over and check it out.

Day One

Friday starts off with Americans VR Sex on the main stage of lead venue Paard, the synth punk band of Drab Majesty’s Deb Demure (aka Andrew Clinco). Under the name of Noel Skum (an anagram of Elon Musk), VR SEX blend elements of death rock and synth/punk, post-punk and ambient into an audio/visual package. In 2022 Dais Records released their second full-length called Rough Dimension and are an intriguing proposition. Their set is high energy and low maintenance, they seamlessly traverse genres and create ethereal synthscapes anyone can fall for. A great opener for me and they have also clearly delighted the giddy crowd.

Sqürl is New York director / musician Jim Jarmusch and film producer Carter Logan. They combine to create experimental avant-garde with distortion, drones, tape loops, drum solos, and guitar feedback. At Cannes in 2014, Sqürl won the award for best soundtrack for Only Lovers Left Alive. Their appearance here is part of a small European tour and the packed room gives testament to their appeal. The music is painfully beautiful and evocative, and the talk between tracks is meaningful and informative. It’s a powerful experience for all who bare witness.


Time for something a little louder. Over at The Grey Space In Between there is the ‘Diluting Arcana’ exhibition by Julia Kiryanova, a stunning reworking of the major arcana from the tarot deck. In the venues basement, next up are Germans Rue Oberkampf who combine strong 80s electronic with dance templates straight from techno. They are known for intense strobe-lit performances wrapped in deep smoke haze, and that’s exactly what you get tonight as due to the venues low ceiling no-one further back than three deep can see a thing. With that in mind and eyes tightly shut, they’re great to drift away too and almost forget where you are.

Festival staples Lebanon Hanover are a British/German darkwave duo formed in 2010. Their music has been compared to 1980s Gothic rock/post-punk acts such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure and Bauhaus, and this is with good cause. Their set tonight is full of classics such as ‘Alien’, ‘Kiss Me Until My Lips Fall Off’ and ‘Du Scollst’, as well as the incredible ‘Gallowdance’. They’re not a high energy band, but the seduction is more for it. When looking around the cramped room, the respect for this band is clear to see and after waiting many years to finally see them, I can fully see why. Simply mesmerising.

Lebanon Hannover

A Place to Bury Strangers are always incredible, and always entertaining. New York City’s finest offering appear here tonight to much acclaim and known for their explosive live shows, they have been making said waves for over two decades. They open with ‘We’ve Come So Far’ from Transfixiation and treat us to ‘You Are the One’ from 2012’s Worship. Also on point are ‘Ocean’ from their 2007 self-titled LP and ‘Hold on Tight’ from 2022’s See Through You. There is the expected guitar smashing and dalliance into the crowd and as always, it stuns and simulates. Unfortunately, the volume is just not there tonight and the wall of noise you are usually assaulted with is sadly absent. This is not fault of the bands who executed their set with the usual lack of abandon, but fans who have seen them before are left sadly wanting.

Zanias appears tonight for the seventh time at this festival, yet that doesn’t put off the crowd who fill the small stage to capacity even before she starts. The Australian is singer, performer, producer and DJ based out of Berlin. She has helped curate this weekend’s festival as well as throwing in a performance herself. The set is alluring and transcendental, what more could you want.


Day Two

Opening up day two for me are Detroit trio Ritual Howls who create a cinematic blend of edgy industrial rock that could fuel a post-apocalyptic dancefloor. The band have plans to reissue their 10 year old self-titled debut and release a new album both later this year. Their set includes tracks such as ‘Alone Together’ which could come straight out of any psychedelic western, ‘Nervous Hands’ which shows their industrial edge to strong effect and they wrap up with ‘Turkish Leather’, with its intense percussion and sinister samples. The varied nature of their set has kept fans entertained, and gathered them some new ones as well.

Yorkshire bred but London based Deadletter are fast becoming one of the most sought-after bands from these shores. They don’t quite fit the bill somehow, but that only makes them the more exciting. Their sit is really quite something. ‘Pop Culture Connoisseur’ offers some serious funk and a dancefloor soon erupts. ‘Madge’s Declaration’ is spat out with gusto before they manage to evoke a full room singalong with ‘Fit For Work’, which may not translate the same but the feeling certainly does. ‘Binge’ is the type of track you are still humming four days after you heard it, it hooks so deep it won’t leave you alone and its inclusion here today is both pleasing and annoying as I’m still humming it, unsurprisingly, when I go to bed many hours later. Easily the band of the day with a jaw-droppingly good set that no one can touch.


Algiers span three cities over two continents, and this is represented in their music. They are a sprawling, multi-faceted project who deliver freewheeling rock‘n’roll energy, dashes of world music and sprinkle on some post-punk grit. They are a new entity to me and whilst I couldn’t name a song, their energy is enjoyable and they’re just what is needed at this point in the festival. Almost like a dose of fresh air but injected straight into the main vein.

Qual is the solo project of Lebanon Hanover’s William Maybelline. He offers up a darker, synth laden electro 90’s EBM sound which cannot fail to make you move your body. The small stage is packed to capacity before he starts, a clear fan favourite. He opens with his seminal track ‘Take Me Higher’ and the room erupts in movement. His set is perfectly placed in the day for maximum impact and despite being alone up there, he dominates with ease.

Rounding off the day are Brighton’s noise rock quintet Ditz, who are another very interesting offering making the journey from this side of the North Sea. They make angry music, there is after all plenty to be angry about but they do it in such a way its impossible not to be dragged into it without the kicking and screaming. Their blistering second set of the weekend is in the Café, on a stage that can barely contain them (and actually doesn’t in singer Anton’s case) and a room so packed there is a queue out of the door. They open with ‘Clocks’ from the LP The Great Regression and it’s a great marker for what this set is all about, blistering noise. Tearing through tracks such as ‘Summer of the Shark’ with its blisteringly ironic lyrics and ‘No Thanks, I’m Full’ which is always intense live, tonight is no exception. They end the set clearly quite knackered yet all smiles at what they’ve achieved this weekend.


DJs continue late into the night and tired feet go to bed knowing day three is still to come…


Day Three

Dutch brothers Pol draw deeply into the New Wave pool and pull inspiration from 80s greats such as Visage, The Cure, New Order and Duran Duran. When they came up in the playlist for the festival I was certain they were an 80s band I hadn’t heard of, so convincing is their sound. They fire through a thoroughly enjoyable set that’s so easy listening its impossible not to like and end with the brilliant ‘Comme ça’ which is dangerously catchy and ensures any feet not moving before, are now. A really interesting inclusion who I for one am very curious to see develop.

Over in the main stage are LA psychedelic garage rockers Death Valley Girls who combine the raw power of Iggy & The Stooges with the horror glam of The Cramps. They are opening their European tour with us today and you can feel their excitement even from the back of the room. Opening with the roaring ‘Abre Camino’ they grab attention and their set includes ones to dance to, such as ‘Disco’, ones to rock to such as ‘Disaster (Is What We’re After) and just generally brilliant tracks like ‘Death Valley Boogie’. The set is flawless and they have really upped the anti of what’s is now expected from the rest of the bands.

Death Valley Girls

One band to rise to such a challenge is fellow Americans Thus Love, who are described on the listings as sounding like Joy Division and Bauhaus (quite possibly my two favourite bands) and therefore could not be missed. Trying to review a band you have never heard of before, and then see live and literally blow your mind is almost impossible. So I’m no going to try, my advice is simply go and listen to them and have your own mind blown instead of me trying to describe mine. A voice like a young Peter Murphy, with the swagger of Tom Verlaine can never be a bad combination, right? Just incredible, thank you for giving Grauzone your music!

Dilating Arcana by Julia Kiryanova

I manage to catch sections of Ploho, Belgrado and Das Ding but not enough to give a meaningful insight as I decide to take the time at this late stage to look at the record fayre, admire all the venues in their own way and once again check out the art exhibition at The Grey Space in the Middle before the whole beautiful affair draws to a close and the afterparty sees those with any remaining stamina dance it out for the last time.

Grauzone may be into it tenth year but its not showing any sign of slowing, its popularity is only growing and with such a varied line up with the depth of talent on display, its only left to wonder where they can go next.

Previous Live Review / Gallery: Katatonia & Sólstafir - The Garage, Glasgow 13/02/23
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