Friday evening, January 25, 2019. It is freezing cold outside, but it is cozy in the upstairs room of 'nostalgic café' 't Rozenknopje (The Little Rosebud) in Eindhoven. Everyone sounds like local comic Theo Maassen and the bartender on duty has placed a bowl of cocktail nuts on each table. There’s magic in the air, understandably. But nothing indicates that one of the most important new wave bands of The Netherlands are making their comeback here. And yet this is Nasmak's grand return.
Written by: Dirk Baart
Photo: Peter Cox
The new Foals single, Parquet Courts’ hit songs and the latest album by Liars: post-punk and new wave are everywhere. Talking Heads, Joy Division and Depeche Mode are frequently cited as sources of inspiration in 2019. But many have completely forgotten about the thriving post-punk scene that once existed in The Netherlands. Bands like Minny Pops and Mecano experienced their heyday in the eighties – mainly outside their own national borders. The first even opened for Joy Division in 1980 and were, just like Ian Curtis & co., represented by the illustrious Factory Records. Now, they can only be found in neglected music encyclopedias gathering dust in the attic, turned into a footnote in a music industry that forgets a band for every one it discovers. Enter Nasmak.
Unlike Minny Pops and Mecano, this band does not come from the big city: the band was founded in 1978 as Nasmaak in the village of Nuenen, about seven kilometers from 't Rozenknopje. In its original composition, singer Truus de Groot – who was previously a member of the Doe Maar predecessor Foolsband – writes Dutch songs with Toon Bressers, Joop van Brakel and Koen Ankers from The Common Staircase and Aad van Vught from Flying Spiderz. Van Vught and Ankers soon leave the group, Henk Janssen (ex-Deirdre and Poemfield) joins in their place. Shortly afterwards bassist Theo van Eenbergen completes the collective. As a welcoming gift, he’s given a Talking Heads record.
The band take up residence in a large villa on Opwettenseweg and rehearse in a converted barn, the old chicken coop. Thanks to the social services of the municipality of Nuenen, the band members receive a volunteer’s status: they are not obliged to look for work and can make music 24 hours a day. This soon bears fruit: on Boxing Day 1978, the band perform for the first time, in De Boerderij (The Farm) in the nearby village of Deurne. The following year, the formation - who are still writing Dutch-language punk - feature with the song 'Hondepoep' (‘Dog’s Shit’) on Uitholling Overdwars (Transverse Hollowing), a compilation released by the Dutch Foundation for Pop Music.
In 1980, Nasmak Plus Instruments / Instruments Plus Nasmak is the official debut album of the band, who now sings in English and has changed its name to Nasmak. The record is released on Plurex, the label run by Minny Pops founder Wally van Middendorp, who also produces the album. The debut has two sides that give meaning to their name. At first, there is still a relatively traditional combination of guitar, bass and drums: Nasmak plus instruments, so to say. In the second half, the instruments take over. Particularly the squat box, an experimental wooden instrument with metal strips that was developed in the 1970s by Michel Waivisz of STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music). Waivisz moved from Leiden to Eindhoven to study and developed the instrument there in Philips’ laboratories, together with befriended avant-garde composers and scientists such as Paul Panhuysen and Remko Scha. Scha would eventually become a professor of computational linguistics at the University of Amsterdam, but was involved in musical art projects in Eindhoven, such as The New Electric Chamber Music Ensemble and The Machines, who made installations of mechanically played guitars and basses. In 1980, Scha founded the Apollohuis in collaboration with Paul Panhuysen, which, in addition to the Effenaar and café Poort van Kleef, grew into the most important meeting place for avant-garde artists, including the members of Nasmak.
On the other side of the North Sea, legendary BBC DJ John Peel falls head over heels for Nasmak. He calls Nasmak Plus Instruments / Instruments Plus Nasmak the best record of the European continent in years and invites Nasmak to come and do a Peel session in London, as the first Dutch band to do so. When the session finally takes place on May 19, 1982, Nasmak are no longer playing in the line-up in which Plus Instruments is recorded. After a tour with the German electro duo D.A.F. (Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft), Truus de Groot leaves for New York to found the band +Instruments. She shares the project with percussionist David Linton and Lee Ranaldo, the guitarist who will found Sonic Youth that same year.
Nevertheless, Nasmak cheerfully continue: De Groot's departure makes room for the new angles that the band are so diligently looking for. Henk Janssen becomes the new singer, Nasmak begin to experiment with synthesizers and place more and more emphasis on angular rhythm. The result is called 4Our Clicks, the best record in Nasmak's discography, with ‘hit singles’ like 'Pilot In Charge', 'Waiting Room' and 'I Hope I'm Gonna Rain Today'. The band sound like early Can, or like Talking Heads if they had exchanged all African elements for a sense of European darkness. Dutch music magazine OOR calls the album 'perhaps the best record ever made by a Dutch group'. In the election for the best Dutch album of the twentieth century that the magazine published in 2000, 4Our Clicks finishes in eighth place. Nasmak tour the the national pop venues successfully,, but then decide – surprised by their own success – to insert a period of reflection.
That period does not provide the much-needed ideas, but rather friction within the band. Joop van Brakel is still involved in the third album Duel (1983), but eventually gives up. The rest of the band have some success that same year with Silhouette, which aroused the interest of a number of major record labels. However, Nasmak are not interested in that: in 1984 the band decide that their drive for innovation has become saturated. Nasmak disband.
Back to the barmaid and her cocktail nuts, twenty-five years later. Because she will soon have a some sort of reincarnation of Nasmak in front of her. This is thanks to Jan Ensing, the founder of Collectable Vinyl, a label from the Dutch city of Alkmaar. A hobby label, essentially, which releases 300 vinyl copies of music that has never been released on vinyl before. Under the name Beautiful Obscenery, a compilation of Indecent Exposure, the three-part cassette series that Nasmak released in 1981 and 1982, will be released tonight in 't Rozenknopje. Performances, rehearsals and chance hits, sketches and unconventional impulses recorded on recorders that the band members almost always carried with them at the time. In the dunes of Den Helder, for example, or during a spontaneous xylophone session in a dressing room at Utrecht’s former pop venue Tivoli Oudegracht. Forty years after their recording, some of the fragments have been remastered by Fred Tabois, who also takes place behind the mixing desk during tonight’s release party.
The festive evening is opened by Joop van Brakel himself, with a brand new tape act. “We used to hate this, but now so many people have grown up with it...” The ban on dancing that he imposes soon turns out to be in vain. Just in front of the stage, a woman of about seventy jumps off her stool, only to start dancing frantically. While a few of his former bandmates join Van Brakel on stage, she receives support from a couple of fifty-somethings who suddenly feel twenty again. In the back, some local youth - children of Nasmak members, perhaps? – are nodding along approvingly. In the bar downstairs, no one has a clue what's going on upstairs. Nasmak meanwhile play as they always did. There’s no ready-made hits, but improvisations in which the audience can fill in how something could sound, or should have sounded. Every now and then Van Brakel shakes his head: “These were all good matches, musically, but not all at the same time.” Theo van Eenbergen, who post-Nasmak ended up in the band of Black Flag’s Henry Rollins, does not participate, but is a co-organizer of the evening. After the set of his old bandmates, he comes on to the stage to tell Van Brakel that he loves him. He doesn't seem completely sober anymore. Truus de Groot is also not on the podium. She still lives in America, but has made videos that are projected on the wall above the band.
“Remembering feelings”, that's what it's all about according to Richard Foster. The British music journalist and head of communications at the Rotterdam avant-garde temple WORM is writing a book about Dutch post-punk and has come over tonight to act as a presenter. He compares Nasmak with The Fall, reads from annual reports of the Effenaar, but especially gets the audience on board when he tells what Eindhoven did have and the big bad Randstad cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague) didn't. Ultimately, Foster makes way for Peter Sijbenga, the Frisian punk from acts like Deinum and It Dockumer Lockaeltsje, who has already collaborated with Joop van Brakel and Toon Bressers under the name Dish Hunt. Once the monitor is working, Sijbenga will play Nasmak classics on his own, with full dedication on just a bass guitar. “Because everyone who has been to a Nasmak show still remembers it.” During the most bizarre bass lines, Theo van Eenbergen, the man who came up with them, sprints to the edge of the stage to get completely absorbed in Sijbenga's playing. “Theo, you are a hero of mine”, Sijbenga replies.
As it should be, the most memorable news follows at the end of the evening. During the composition process of Beautiful Obscenery, things started itching. And so, Nasmak are writing a new record, for the first time in twenty-five years. Next Thursday, part of the band will record new material live under the name Nasmak Plus Minus - according to good practice in a line-up that has never made an album together - during a show at Eindhoven venue POPEI. A follow-up session with Truus de Groot will follow later in the year. The album will eventually be released by Excelsior Recordings, who are also re-releasing magnum opus 4Our Clicks. Jan Ensing hands the band members their copy of Beautiful Obscenery before Joop van Brakel takes the microphone one more time: “Let’s dance, god damn it!” The seventy year-old is still here.