ESNS Editorial: Local scenes, niche genres and revamped traditions shape the Eurosonic line-up


ESNS bookers give the stage to expansive and diverse border-defying European music

Since 1986, ESNS has been dedicated to uncovering and expanding the reach of the continent’s most exciting emerging artists. ESNS bookers spend their days digging deep into international knockouts and vibrant local scenes, collaborating with festivals and industry professionals – all to offer a platform to the broad diversity of voices that make up the most exciting artists in European music today. Now that the complete ESNS23 programme has been announced, what trends can be seen to emerge from the Eurosonic line-up? Which genres are taking centre stage? ESNS bookers Robert Meijerink and Oskar Strajn tell all.

Interview by Roxy Merrell

Queralt Lahoz (ES)

Local scenes breaking borders

In a hyper-globalised world, waves of a new sound often start local. Local scenes are where culture and experiment meet, creating a buzz around something that strikes a chord with your peers. ESNS wants to help these scenes, genres and artists break big, and that’s exactly what the annual focus country is all about. “Focus on Spain means we put extra focus on artists from Spain. That doesn’t mean just underlining them more,” Oskar offers a glimpse behind the curtain, “it means we dive deep into that market – look at more applications, invite more people. All 15 acts from the regions of Andalucia, Basque Country, Balearics, Catalonia, Galicia, Madrid, Murcia, Valencia and Navarra are acts we really believe in – and we think represent the diversity of music from Spain.” 

This is exactly what we want to do with ESNS: Share local perspectives more broadly.

Robert speaks on breaking local rap acts outside their own scenes. “Hip hop is one of the most popular genres for younger generations – and it’s been on the rise, along with rap and R&B, for the past 10 years. Each country has its own scene. What happens is, they thrive locally, and most of these artists never play outside their home turf. What we’re trying to do is offer them a platform with Eurosonic, to showcase for an international market. This is exactly what we want to do with ESNS: Share local perspectives more broadly.”

Niche genres take the big stage

The festival invites you to uncover exciting emerging acts that span from mainstream to niche genres. “What stands out this year,” Oskar remarks, “is a number of niche genres finding steady audiences.” 

In response to the growing popularity of electronic music at festivals, the genre finds a new home in the brand-new ESNS Friday night programme – next to having electronic artists playing the Wednesday and Thursday at ESNS. Robert is particularly excited about this new spin: “We have always booked electronic music, but we felt the genre needed to showcase in a more natural environment – the night.” That’s not to mention the expansive understanding of the genre: “Electronic music is not restricted to DJs and producers, it can also be full bands making electronic music – that is definitely a big one this year.”

The next niche to really leave its stamp on the scene is ambient music. “Ambient and neo-classical has been included in our programme since 2018 and has been on the rise since.” What makes the genre stand out? Robert offers an intriguing reflection: “I think with most of these artists that we’re including in this umbrella term, they’re often classically trained. They are rock ‘n’ roll people who make really quiet music.” When asked whether there is a new appetite for ambient explorations in recent years, Oskar outlines: “Like we described for hip hop, the genre picked up at a certain moment, and is now just a very stable niche. The same can be said for loud, which may be a more consistent thing. It's been happening for the past, what, 30 years? But the community is so strong, people will always go and see new metal shows.”

O. (UK)

Revamped tradition and new sounds

If there’s one resounding fact that the line-up shows us year after year, it’s that the ingredients that make up the European sound are incredibly diverse and that’s exactly what makes it so exciting. “Europe is such a small part of the world, but it’s so diverse and there’s so much going on,” Oskar details with tangible buzz for our upcoming edition. Folk music is strongly represented this year – a genre that speaks to the histories, mixed heritages and contemporary cultures of an artist. The bookers talk about how tradition is making its way back into popular culture. “A new generation is using these traditions in a very unique way. While we are embedded in a globalised music industry that everyone listens to, merging your traditions and influences into your music can offer you a really unique angle. We find that fascinating.”

The line-up boasts dozens of intriguing examples of folk, Oskar divulges: “Take Mary Wallopers who offer traditional Irish folk, next to Duo Ruut from Estonia who are doing something completely different using traditional instruments to create a beautiful sound – and Malta’s Monsieur Doumani offers a unique take from a Southern European point of view.” There’s much more where that comes from, and the bookers revel in the immense diversity of music. “Because all these artists are so different to one another, European artists from other countries are intrigued by these unique takes on traditions and influences they might know nothing about.”

Including different perspectives makes our understanding of European music more exciting.

It’s critical to note that while ESNS is committed to promoting European music, our understanding of what that entails is all artists from or based in Europe. The line-up represents the immense diversity of artists in Europe – a range that transcends any singular geographical background and includes traditional folk or progressive genres, divergent cultural heritages, different diaspora communities and intersectional identities. “We want to represent different voices that make up Europe,” Robert Meijerink explains. “Including different perspectives makes our understanding of European music more exciting. Whether it’s a new generation of artists that want to spread awareness on political ideas and lived experiences, or for example third generation and new Europeans who offer us with new cultural insights and revamped sounds, taking inspiration from their different cultural backgrounds.”

Monsieur Doumani (CY)

Giving the stage to expansive and diverse border-defying European music

“There is so much inspiring, exciting, beautiful music being made in Europe that is nowhere near visible enough,” Oskar explains zealously. The decades-old industry focus on American and British music seems to overshadow entire worlds of sound. “Even if we talk about just within Europe, it’s still incredibly difficult for artists to find audiences across the borders of their home countries. That’s exactly what ESNS is trying to do: To move past these invisible lines and to connect the local players across Europe – that means promoters, media, industry professionals – to give the stage to artists we believe in.”