Where is Dokkum? Does it matter? As the old adage goes, it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. But if you must know, Dokkum is a small, unassuming town on the North Frisian coast of the Netherlands; a site of Christian pilgrimage that boasts a fort and a lot of windmills.
While it doesn’t sound like fun, it is necessary to know a wee bit about Dokkum if you want to understand one of the most exciting young bands to come out of the Netherlands in years. For one thing Dokkum is in Friesland. That fact means ready access to a proud cultural inheritance - often at odds to the mainstream - that can be exploited for “artistic means” and very similar to attitudes championed by self-styled “independent” cities like Glasgow, Liverpool or Manchester. Maybe more importantly, Dokkum is gloriously, defiantly, overwhelmingly, boring. No-one goes to Dokkum, unless you like 10th century Christian missionary history, or grey seals. But this is the place where The Homesick developed, pretty much in isolation.
The Homesick are a trio that have - through some clever self-promotion, no-nonsense song-craft, and hours of just keepin’ on keepin’ on - made Dokkum into a sort of mythological bolt-hole and used its indifferent surroundings as a wellspring for their sound. Ditching a proto-shoegaze sound, the trio began to develop a brilliantly flippant and tough brand of pop. Emerging from their bedrooms, they were snapped up by Dutch indie label Subroutine Records at a “locals-only” showcase in the provincial capital, Leeuwaarden. So far, so straightforward.
Their early pop sound reached its sticky-fingered apotheosis with their EP ‘Twst Yr Wrsts’ and their vinyl debut single, ‘Boys’. At that point they were quickly picked up in the country’s underground scene and seen as something of a novel hype and in danger of being trapped by their image. (The “snack bar thang”, played out in their early videos, is an image that they will carry around with them for the rest of their days). It would be very easy - as many here do - to chuck around the trope of chip-eating Frisian scallies who like to kick a ball about and don’t hold much truck with the foppish ways of those in the big Dutch cities.
There is some truth in the image they project; they do like snack bar food and their quiet, otherworldly drummer Erik does drive a decommissioned German military vehicle - an Unimog - around his hometown in between stints as a hotel chef. But, at time of writing, the band have morphed into something more armour-plated and far more mysterious and creative.
Their debut LP, 2017’s Youth Hunt, is a brilliant and sometimes dark alternative pop record, and channels acts like Jozef K, early Can and Julian Cope. The music has a chugging simplicity to it, with marvellous turns of phrase and no extraneous bullshit, and no feeling that the band want to prove themselves. Already their live set is changing again, courtesy of an even newer crop of strange, beguiling sounds.
Regardless, The Homesick are - for all their affability and poptastic catchiness - weird. Utterly Wyrd. There is a strong feeling (one which you got with British Sea Power back in the early 2000s) of mystery and remove. A bedsit-brewed “can’t-be-arsed” attitude; one forged by a constant musical inquisitiveness (they like the atonal rackets made by Conny Plank and Conrad Schnitzler) but a total disregard for any idea of being trendy (they like Beefheart’s later work). And, like British Sea Power, there’s a depth and self-reliance to them to them that isn’t so apparent in many of their Dutch musical peers.
They like to show off their eccentric side, albeit in the most mundane way possible. Erik’s love of driving Unimogs is further enhanced by a righteous enthusiasm for models made by the Reliant car factory. And gigs can’t start until an elaborate and silent ritual behind the sticks is completed. Religion pops up in their songs, too. Hardly groovy, but it plays a large part in their current musical myth. Their latest single is about St Boniface who got chopped up by the local pagans for having the effrontery to try to convert them to the ways of Our Lord. They have songs about falling in love with JC as a teen. Or being “half Aryan” [sic]. It’s not entirely apparent whether these songs serve as wry quips or reference a more profound hinterland.
But, increasingly, The Homesick are an international band in the making. They have learned to play on the road, plodding through showcase after showcase, playing support gigs for the likes of Franz Ferdinand (who are big fans), gigs in the disappearing Dutch squat circuit, gigs in posh cafes, gigs to 5 people and their mothers (whether in Hungary or Hull), or gigs to hundreds of Baltic and Balkan teens. Like other great live bands, I’ve seen them play some terribly flat, uninspiring shows but then these episodes seem to be preludes to startling new developments.
In essence they are an act that doesn’t mind growing up on stage. They thrive on these kinds of development in fact, regardless of whether it’s a warts-and-all process; just as long as it’s the three of them at the controls. After a recent British showcase, bassist Jaap told me about the post-gig shake down they’d seen involving another band on the bill, and his astonishment at that band’s passivity and dependence on others’ opinions: “They all stood there listening and nodding”. Jaap and Elias simply couldn’t believe it. The idea of being told what to do. The idea of projecting the “right” level of showmanship. The idea of not realising what to do.
They enjoy finding the quirkiness they project reflected in other places, too: playing to a family in a tiny Hungarian club was a personal highlights of a recent tour of Eastern and Central Europe. As was witnessing a marathon front-row snogging session during a Belgrade show.
The trio enjoy a standoff as well, albeit dressed as a form of cabaret. And in the nicest possible way, of course. At a gig in Ljubljana’s notorious Metelkova squat complex last February, singer Elias strutted around in what looked like pair of white Croc flip flops to ward off the local punks. Given the rest of his attire can be described as 60’s Ned, he resembled nothing as much as a dodgy middle-aged uncle on a golf course. It didn’t pass without comment. And the time (after being told they should play a bit quieter) the band decided to scream Tallinn’s Kultuuriklubi Kelm down with an angry blast of noise that literally shook the dust from the rafters. Countering Elias’s yowls and screams Jaap, aping Kim Deal with a cheery “thanks a lot” at the end of every song, grinned as if fresh from a temazepam and Haribo session. More dancing, and more grist to the mill.
The last time I saw them was at a remarkable gig in WORM, Rotterdam, with three other legendary Dutch bands: Stink Sisters, It Dockumer Lokaeltsje and The Ex (the latter possibly one of Europe’s greatest ever live bands). In a packed hall the band went quietly about their business, sanguine about “putting on a show” for the groovy, groovy people; seemingly on a planet of their own whilst dishing out their hard metallic pop. A gift of vision wrapped in casual attire. Did they contribute to a legendary night? Well, that was for others to decide. Level headed beyond their years, steadfastly independent and supremely talented, you could be hearing a lot more from The Homesick in the years to come.