By Benjie Beer
Sitting at the back of the crowded room in Lola, the esteemed music venue in the heart of Groningen, Hugo Erenmalm sips cider as he tries to articulate what it is that makes him create music.
“I’m studying medicine,” he says, “but music has always been there. I have to make it. I didn’t come here thinking I was going to make music, but when I realised I could, I just had to.”
He laughs at my suggestion that he’s some kind of hopelessly compelled, tortured artist, though as the open mic night we’re attending, rolls through its fourth and then fifth set of students covering Ed Sheeran with their acoustic guitars, the theme of tortured art perhaps is not misplaced.
The space is dark but colourful, the dimmed lights just revealing the extent of the elaborate, painted baroque ceiling, and through the dewy faces of the young people crowded around the front stage, you can just about see the other members of Hugo’s band hunched in the corner, nervously awaiting the start of their first ever gig.
An eclectic mix of cultures
‘Takeaway Spacewolf’, as the name perhaps suggests, is an eclectic mix of cultures, music and ideas melded together into one musical group. The five band members, all students at the RUG, originate from no less than four different countries: two from the Netherlands, and the rest respectively from Sweden, Lithuania and Turkey.
With almost all of them new to Groningen this academic year, these students kickstarted their Dutch music careers by joining the Erasmus Student Network’s (ESN) Music Project, which encourages students from abroad to play rock music together for just one night.
Lead singer Aisté Alisauskaite says it all really started when guitarist Ada Ossmann saw her performing the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ for the Music Project.
“He approached me and said he loved my voice,” she tells me out on the chilly evening street surrounded by young smokers.
As romantic a start as this may have seemed, however, everything was not quite as smooth as they might have hoped.
“The problem was that we all have different musical tastes,” continues Aisté. “Some of us are into funk, some jazz, some blues, I’m into rock… You name it and it’s there.”
“There was a moment when we decided to cover ‘California Dreamin’ by the Mamas and the Papas,” says Hugo with a laugh. “But we couldn’t decide which version to do, because we all have such different musical tastes!”
With this experience as the starting place, Takeaway Spacewolf came together in no time at all. Before the Music Project had even finished in mid-December, the as-yet-unnamed group were already rehearsing once a week, making the most of Groningen’s Viadukt rehearsal spaces.
An unforgettable performance
The crowd are loud and enthusiastic when the band take to the stage, and as the evening goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the music is impressing the viewers.
Takeaway Spacewolf are tight, rehearsed and energetic. Their set of four original tunes and a cover of Hendrix’s ‘Fire’, inspire ever wilder reactions from the audience. The music rolls deftly between classic rock, blues and funk, Hugo tapping out his jazz influences on the drums, Ada and Ezra gelling with their funk and blues backgrounds on the guitar and the bass respectively, Nadine Blaak joining with organ-voiced keys and Aisté establishing a firm and fiery stage presence up front.
The débutante show, in fact, proves to be so impressive that, come the announcement that they have just the one song left to play, the audience boo with disappointment.
“Encore!” shouts one onlooker, to the enjoyment and excitement of the rest. The band members, although flushed with adrenaline and thoroughly enjoying themselves, have to say no for now.
“But we’ll be doing this for as long as possible!” insists Hugo.