Edwin Hofman talks about the book Freethinkers in music


After the beautifully documented Adventurers of Nederpop Edwin Hofman now brings you something equally beautiful Free thinkers in music on the market. This reference work is a nice addition to the first part. Even more personal stories from well-known names such as Spinvis and Gruppo Sportivo, but also post-punk core members such as Truus de Groot of Nasmak, Erwin Blom of Eton Crop and contemporary innovators such as Rats On Rafts and Personal Trainer. Written In Music delves into the background of Freethinkers in music – Alternative Nederpop from 1980 to now and let the pop journalist tell his story.

WiM: Edwin, nice how you open Freethinkers in Music with Hans Vandenburg from Gruppo Sportivo. Everything comes together there with that band; fame, disappointment, the do it yourself principle. You could fill an entire book with the stories of Hans Vandenburg. A conscious choice to open with this?
I write about artists who are somewhere between fame and underground. There are a number of names that also appeal to a larger audience. Hans Vandenburg is a striking figure, a fascinating personality to start with. He has had a long career, done a lot, relatively poppy, but in the alternative corner. In terms of brand awareness, it is quite large and as you indicate, everything comes together here. So I deliberately put a more well-known name at the front. Last time I did that with Henk Hofstede from the Nits. People like that are important to you Free thinkers in musicmusicians with a rich past.

WiM: Once again, a lot of attention is paid to musicians who are in your area Post-punk in the Netherlands special have already been discussed. How does it feel to interview personal heroes like Truus de Groot (Nasmak) and Dirk Polak (Mecano)?
Above all, it’s a lot of fun. You only realize later that they are people who only existed in your head. I notice that they are especially enthusiastic and cheerful. Dirk Polak produces moody intellectual music, Truus de Groot makes quite special, sometimes pleasantly crazy, music. They are very open people. Amsterdammer Dirk Polak talks with passion and enthusiasm, Truus de Groot is from Eindhoven and currently lives in America, I contacted her via Zoom. Don’t forget Marc de Reus from De Div. It is important and good to speak to these people again, they shaped an influential, fascinating time. In the past, with the greater availability of youth centers and vertical programming on the radio, there was more attention for deviant music. It’s nice to make that connection. The books take the early eighties, the artistic ones do it yourselfperiod, just after punk as a starting point.

WiM: I am still amazed at the openness of the musicians. When I speak to artists myself, they often say afterwards that they would rather I keep certain passages to myself. I get the impression from you that you are given permission to include everything in the book.
With good preparation, quite a lot will come to light in a conversation. They don’t tell everything, but I’ve never been interested in digging into psychological backgrounds and focusing on raunchy stories. I also don’t think it’s appropriate to jump head-on at a first meeting, especially because you don’t know someone personally. What I do want is a more in-depth conversation that goes beyond just the press bio or the information from the pop encyclopedia. Dirk Polak briefly mentioned his drug history. I’ll mention that, but I won’t go into it, I don’t want to make it into a sweet story on that point.

Musicians are really disappointed that record sales have been disappointing since streaming, that’s normal Adventurers of Nederpop already discussed, but at the same time they do not want to radiate too much negativism. There is little room for these musicians on national television, unless they are asked to play their hit or a cover. They are also concerned about what we, as dedicated fans and pop journalists, are concerned with, but they are reluctant to see a whole story about it in black and white, on paper. It can sometimes come across as nagging. A band like The Ex is quite autonomous, but the majority have been more dependent on the media for a longer time, but things have become a bit safer there.

WiM: The chapters are generally even longer than in Avonturiers van de Nederpop and provide a more complete picture and focus less on a specific period. A conscious choice?
No, not so much. The setup is basically the same, with the difference that I now enter into the conversation more openly and am less dependent on the preparation in my head. As you noted in the book review, the pieces are slightly longer and wider. This all depends on the interlocutor. Artists generally have plenty to say. Chantal Acda focuses more on the personal experience, something you also hear in her music. Hopefully her interview will finally ensure that she receives more recognition in the Netherlands.

WiM: Now more attention is paid to record labels and you even focus a little more on music venues. People often forget how important these are in the development of alternative Nederpop. Thank you for paying attention to this. They all depend on each other, right?
Yes, and that is obvious to me. On the one hand, I have a number of musicians that I would like to speak to, but what if I let those spiders in the web, who have helped a lot of bands and know a lot of people, have their say? Then you very quickly end up with Josh Haijer of Top Hole Records, the label I grew up with. Jan ten Boom has been very important as a booker for a long time and represents the same feeling that I want to convey with the book. And they know a lot of people, so it’s nice to have them there. You will then have slightly different conversations and they will also provide the necessary input afterwards so that there is still a line in their chapters. The Josh Haijer chapter discusses his band Social Security, his label and other bands on his label and the music landscape. So you need each other and can help each other. The live circuit is quite okay now. People of our generation in particular now often buy tickets quickly and consciously.

WiM: More family ties are now being strengthened. The connection between Erwin Blom (Eton Crop), his daughter Pip Blom and her friend Willem Smit from Personal Trainer is also discussed. Coincidence or well thought out?
Perhaps well thought out, but more so because all three have a wide scope and appeal to several generations. I was not able to get hold of Pip Blom directly, but fortunately the band was named through Erwin Blom. Eton Crop is very suitable for the book because, like Hans Vandenburg of Gruppo Sportivo, it goes international and covers a longer period. I also look at newer bands such as the stubborn and popular Personal Trainer, who attract an increasingly larger audience, but where that alternative character is strongly present. Willem Smit’s father, John Cees Smit, is featured in the previous book with Scram C Baby, so that family link is even greater.

It’s nice how some types of bands were and are also picked up in England. Eton Crop made five appearances at the BBC, joining John Peel, and Personal Trainer signed with Bella Union. If the international aspect is there, I will certainly try to point it out. Rats On Rafts also have that contrarian aspect of Personal Trainer and as contemporary innovators they rightly get a place. The alternative guitar scene is alive, with young bands such as Tramhaus and Marathon. These types of acts are still emerging and it is still too early to give them a place in the book. I do give space to younger bands that have been making records for a while and also have the necessary audience. Moreover, the book-buying public is often a bit older, so you also have to keep that in mind.

WiM: Adventurers of Nederpop focuses mainly on events up to the turn of the century, Freethinkers in music enriches themselves with artists who made a name for themselves in this century. This makes it feel like a sequel.
In any case, I also wanted to mention current events and contemporary developments. But then musicians and bands who have generally been active for a while and who will not be dated in ten years, such as Willem Smit and Rats on Rafts.

WiM: There is a real need for these types of reference works in the alternative scene. Do the musicians themselves also indicate this?
They are often pleasantly surprised by the amount of text in the piece, so it is not a press talk. Sometimes you get so much information that you have to structure it a lot, but most of it remains intact. Almost every musician approached cooperated. I almost always had the opportunity to speak to them on location for an hour or two. My first book makes it easier for me to convince musicians and they take it more seriously. Due to tour or other busy times, receiving feedback on the completed interview sometimes takes longer than expected. Compared to large national media, the urgency to collaborate on such a book is perhaps less great…

WiM: Did you work in the same way as in Avonturiers van de Nederpop or has your approach changed?
No, the original setup works fine. You rely a little less on what you want to hear and let musicians fill in this themselves as much as possible. Let it go and focus mainly on the spontaneous interaction. I was less concerned with points that are mainly fun for myself, otherwise it is comparable. I invest in bands in advance, and have collected all the necessary material over the past thirty years, which creates a band. If it’s feasible, I’ll also attend a concert. For example, I spoke to Spinvis just before the soundcheck in the Patronaat.

WiM: How do you view the future of Nederpop?
I deliberately call it the alternative Nederpop. I dare not say whether musicians can make a living from it. As an artist you can be popular on Spotify, but you still have to have the necessary performances to make a financial profit from it. The attention remains there, but it is increasingly fleeting. You really have to win over the audience, especially with live concerts. That works well, as I have seen in recent years. Podcasts also take a small share. Nowadays, national television often lags behind the times because the alternative music media and social media are more current and faster.

WiM: What else would you like to say about Freethinkers in music?
I think the target group of music lovers is quite large. The share of those who actually buy a book and immediately read it in its entirety is of course a lot smaller. I hope that the ‘right’ media picks it up, so that fans of more alternative Nederpop are at least familiar with it. You naturally hope that a widely read newspaper will also pay attention to it. The sentiment behind the book is felt by many people and it would be great if you could reach them. You have to invest in that yourself, there is still profit to be made by selling the books through record stores and thinking less from the bookstore perspective. The target group is more likely to be found there, although, as I indicated earlier, a younger generation is probably less likely to purchase a book. I would like to point out that there is plenty going on in the Netherlands and that one should not only focus on abroad or the dominant domestic offering. Despite their alternative character, my books create a beautiful and broad picture and every reader can extract enough beauty from them for themselves.

Photo Personal Trainer: @marieke_amplify

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Edwin Hofman talks book Freethinkers music


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