5 min read

#5: it's raining in Brunssum

#5: it's raining in Brunssum

It's raining in Brunssum.

And it feels good. In the 1960s, Brunssum was one of the richest cities in Europe. During the 1970s it thrived because of the international community that worked for the AFCENT (Allied Forces Central Europe) HQ.

Growing up there in the 1980s was tough. Unemployment rates were high. The city slowly shrunk back to the village it once was. Empty buildings remained. Cinema's and clubs left. Big department stores closed their branches.

At the same time Brunssum flourished. There was so much pop culture around. My parents moved to the north of the city in the late 1970s. The international community of people was just a few streets away. It felt like living in an American suburb. Dodge Chargers, Ford Mustangs, Chevrolets - they were everywhere. I often took my bike to roll through the streets and watch people walk around with gigantic ghetto blasters, have massive barbecues, drive around on these weird looking bikes and breakdance in their front yard. Just like in the movies.

During garage sales of people moving back to the USA, I bought toys you couldn't buy in Dutch stores, cassette tapes and vinyl with music I've never heard before. Later, I met international kids in clubs like Sheltur and De Koempel. We never became real friends, but saw each other at concerts and in clubs. They just disappeared when their parents moved to another city to work at another base. I discovered the international radio channels that were broadcasted by the army radio stations. Probably I was one of the first in The Netherlands to hear music by Nirvana, Pixies, Sonic Youth, Public Enemy, and so on.

Still, I decided to move to Amsterdam as soon as I could.

I visit Brunssum regularly (my mother still lives there), but totally forgot about the crazy childhood I had there.

Until I heard 'It's Raining In Brunssum', a track on Subp Yao's new album Generation Loss. His track captures this nostalgic mood of being in a place that is dreadful and exiting at the same time. A ghost town filled with memories.

Gert-Jan van Stiphout (aka Subp Yao) is a bass producer from Heerlen. He moved to the region a decade ago. I never really talked to him, which is kinda weird, being a music journalist writing about electronic music. While living in the same city, I wrote about his work in Gonzo (circus), The Quietus and OOR without meeting him in person.

Heerlen has a similar history as neighboring Brunssum. Rich during the golden days of coal mining, center of unemployment, drug epidemics and street prostitution during the 1980s and 1990s. In his excellent book De Antistad: Pionier Van Kleiner Groeien (2016), researcher Maurice Hermans describes the city as a historical mistake. He uses the term anti-city: a place that does not fit the common definition of a city anymore. I wrote about the recent history of Heerlen in my article about the debut album of seeyousoon. You can read it in Dutch at FRNKFRT (or translate it with Google).

Together with Raadsel, Kijkeenster, Roestvogel, Luisterwaar, Oby Nine, Coreshift, ADNT, and others, Subp Yao took Heerlen by the hand around 2010 and gave the city a vibrant subculture of bass music that is still there. Early 2020 I left Heerlen for Eindhoven and now Haarlem. Since then, the city has become even more interesting. There is more graffiti and street art (and cool exhibitions), pop up art galeries show excellent work of local artists, and there are more places to eat vegan than in rival city Maastricht. I am so lucky that my office is still in Betahuis, in the heart of the city.

Generation Loss is released by the Hamburg based record label Saturate on cassette tape. The tittle refers to the loss of quality with each copy of a copy. Hence, the choice for tape. It is an interesting thought in our highly technological society. In the early 2010s the emerging art genre of New Aesthetics also dealt with the imperfections in technology, recently subcultures like lo-fi aesthetics, bleak futures and also vaporwave play with the reduction of objective quality when technology deteriorates and the rise of aesthetic quality with it.

In comparison to Infra Aqual, released last year, Generation Loss is less focussed, more open, and melancholic. It's also more diverse. 'Dayes', 'Beat 8 ft. yunis' and 'Alternative Brew' are minimalist and heavy dub-steppers that remind of The Bug. 'Orchid', 'Always', 'Jupiter' and 'Sense' represent the open, atmospheric ambient lo-fi sound. Subp Yao's tracks are relatively short here and that's a good thing. It gives the album a certain flow. Listening to Generation Loss feels like hopping from mood to mood. The tracks evoke some pretty intense feelings (try headphones), but don't last (too) long.

Personally, I like the casual nature of the album a lot. The format of a tape also works well here, the sequence of the tracks has already been decided. No shuffle function here. Best track for me is 'It's Raining In Brunssum'. Maybe because of the reference to my birth place, but I doubt it. The mood reminds me of one of my all time favorite genres that shortly peaked in the first half of the 2000s: a blend of turntablism, slow hiphop beats and atmospheric, dreamy synths, especially popular with some USA producers.

Next week I am going to listen to 'It's Raining In Brunssum' during my visit to Brunssum.

Still looking for an old-fashioned walkman.

I hope it rains.

Generation Loss by Subp Yao is released by Saturate and can be listened here: https://subpyao.bandcamp.com/album/generation-loss

Flana, Subp Yao's next album, is set to be released this month on the cool Yuku Wax label. Three tracks are pre-released, listen to them here: https://subpyao.bandcamp.com/album/flana

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No shorts this time. Next week, I promise.

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Highly recommended: debut Ku Mwezi by Congolese producer Chrisman. He is one of the people behind the Nyege Nyege/Hakuna Kulala studios in Kampala. On this cassette tape he blends gqom, trap, taraxina and Afrohouse to a dark and gloomy dance floor trip. https://hakunakulala.bandcamp.com/album/ku-mwezi

The Nyege Nyege studios are also active in bringing old local music back to live. On Buganda Royal Music Revival, the traditional music performed at the royal court since the 14th century is collected. The date of origin of the recordings range from 1947 to 2017. https://nyegenyegetapes.bandcamp.com/album/buganda-royal-music-revival

My all time favorite band Loop releases a new album Sonancy in March next year (the first in 30 years), and I am not really excited. New single 'Halo' sounds (too much) like 'Collision', one of my favorite Loop songs. Do we need a new Loop album? Let me rephrase that: do I need a new Loop album? I honestly don't know but I ordered it anyway. https://youtu.be/rrViQDlYxdE

Next Thursday, the exhibition Reasonable Doubt opens at V2 in Rotterdam. This lab for unstable media has an outstanding tradition in organizing thought-provoking exhibitions on relevant societal themes. This one focuses on  the role technologic, societal, educational and economic mechanisms and systems play in out society and what their consequences are. https://v2.nl/events/reasonable-doubt

Sucker for French pop from the 1960s and early 1970s? Duo Kit Sebastian did this amazing vinyl set for My Analog Journal. https://youtu.be/u0AM8N_H7wA