ESNS Editorial: Tramhaus winning hearts in Groningen and beyond – and they’re only just getting started


You know you’re in for a good time when Rotterdam-based outfit Tramhaus are on the bill – they boast a reputation for taking even the toughest crowds along for the ride with their high-energy and captivating post-punk sound. “That’s exactly what they set out to do,” frontman Lukas Jansen beams when we speak the day after their ESNS24 show – which pulled a devoted set of ESNS audiences and professionals who braved -1 degree cold for over an hour just to get a chance to witness the magic. The secret to their understated appeal? Tramhaus reveals that vulnerability and optimism fuels their new wave of spellbindingly sharp and propelling post-punk. Against a bleak backdrop, “we make beautiful stuff too” – and so the band sets out to cut through the noise, speak directly to the heart and win us all over.

Feature by Roxy Merrell

Photography by Niels Knelis

We meet Tramhaus at Stadsschouwburg, the grand location of last night’s MME Awards ceremony, for which they were one of fifteen nominated acts. Missioning out to snap some portraits, the band immediately reveals their close friendships and fun-loving demeanour. No dreary post-punks dragging their heels, this a band out to win smiles. Last night’s show was a thing to admire, winning a tough crowd. Lukas, frontman of the band, kicks off: “It took us a while before we were fully comfortable, but in the end I think it was a really cool show.” Drummer Jim Luijten paints the scene, “we rushed on after three days of parting at ESNS and the MME Awards. We were pretty wrecked.” The band was up late having a spur-of-the-moment midnight snowball fight with friendly strangers on the streets of Groningen. The fatigue never wavered the outcome they’re known for: a great live show. Julia Vroegh, on bass, muses “I hear it’s tough to get moshpits going at ESNS, tough crowds to win over.” Lukas lands the punchline: “but boy, did we get them!”

This was the third year Tramhaus has made the ESNS line-up. First featured in 2022 on a digital edition during lockdown, having sent in a video of their live rendition. Last year, the band played the iconic Groningen venue Vera during the ESNS23 and then again at the end of the year. “That was really amazing,” Lukas recalls. Word’s out: That verdict is across the board. Tramhaus was voted Vera’s best show of 2023 – the annual tradition marked by a band’s name being placed on the main concert hall’s Wall of Fame. The five-piece were surprised on air of the VERA Weekly poll special the day before – and now all beam proudly at this victory. “It’s all been a blur since then, like everything has been a dream,” Julia remarks with a sparkle in the eye. Guitarist Nadya van Osnabrugge jests “I can die happily now!” They are the first Dutch band to make the ranks since the polls started in 1981, to which Lukas responds: “it’s the ultimate recognition.”

Photography by Niels Knelis

Tramhaus has been dubbed a lockdown band – born from the desire to create in a time of isolation and the prolific creative grounds of Rotterdam. The members knew each other from different bands in a tight-knit community in the port city. When asked how their lockdown origin story affects how they approach things, Lukas reflects: “I think that it taught us to really take our time, in everything we do, without pressure.” It’s no surprise then to learn the band has yet to release their debut album, despite two and half years of trailblazing their brash post-punk sound. Nadya tags on: “That time wasn’t about playing gigs, or rushing to play big shows. It was all about doing what we wanted.” That dedication to authenticity still undeniably runs through the band’s veins. They gained a cult following by releasing videos of live sessions, earning their stripes for a rowdy live gig from the start – even online.

When asked how they feel about their reputation for wild live shows, the band chimes in unison: “Cool!” “Great!” “Vet!”. Lukas: “That is what we do best I think, just play good shows that people really want to go to and lose their shit. That’s pretty fun to see unfold from the stage.” Jim adds: “the fact that word spreads that you gotta go see Tramhaus for a guaranteed good time, means people show up with a certain energy. We feel that! Often if we feel like going for it, and you sense the crowd loosening up, we feel like there’s a green light for us to just give it our all.” Speaking about their ESNS show at MAAS, Lukas reflects: “That’s something I experienced yesterday. It’s fun to do, to win a crowd over, but also tough. You gotta work hard, do your best.” The commitment of the hour-long line in freezing conditions catches the band by surprise. This is exactly the allure of attending a showcase festival is all about – see them here first.

People say they really get taken along for the ride – and that’s exactly what we set out to do

Between crowd pleasers ‘Karen is a punk’ and the moody atmospherics of ‘I Don’t Sweat’, Tramhaus’s live appeal lies in the delicate art of balance and intensity in their set. Jim: “Sometimes I get the impression that people think we’re a diehard punk band but realistically that’s about three songs in a set of an hour.” The band works towards that tension, the build up, the break – in speaking on the nuance in speed and sound, the group reveal their synergy. Nadya: “If we were only playing one intense note from start to finish, that would be boring.” Jim: “You lose impact then.” Guitarist Micha Zaat: “It stays dynamic!” Julia: “It also gives you energy during the show, when it’s time to dial it up.” Their album promises to deliver the same magnetic blend, Jim: “The record has fast and hard parts, but that’s not all we deliver. It’s not all Karen-like and mindless blasts of sound, volume dialled up to one hundred.” To which Julia puts the cherry on top: “We made some pretty beautiful stuff, too.” The biggest compliment they’ve gotten, according to Lukas, is “when I get compliments on the full set. People say they really get taken along for the ride – and that’s exactly what we set out to do.”

Where previous tracks and EP Rotterdam (Subroutine) speak of the rampant gentrification and everyday life in the city, the new album ventures to much more personal grounds. Lukas: “The new record really explores more personal matters. I feel it’s a logical step in our own growth and finding our own way” – hitting closer to home, instead of their hometown. Jim: “When we started, we were writing about Rotterdam. In lockdown times, that’s where we spent all our time. Now we spend most of our time on the road, so I think our lived experience has shifted too. We played thirteen countries last year!” Lukas chimes in: “We are of course still a Rotterdam band, but when we’re home we do everyday things. Going out is now pretty much when we’re on the road, after our shows.” We joke at the fitting title for this article: Tramhaus only parties abroad. Growing out of their roots and into their heads is the opposite of what I see before me – a band as real as they get.

I think that nihilism is easy to turn to. Outlooks are grim right now, but that doesn’t make us want to give up. We gotta try.

Musing on the revival of post-punk as not just a question of bringing a genre back to life, but rather a more contemporary resurrection, the band have much to say. Micha: “I think people are angry and frustrated, and that a lot of post-punk speaks to those feelings. We’re not living in a hippie era – what with climate change and horrible political situations. I think that’s where urgent music like post-punk comes in: it’s sharp and critical. To use a difficult word I think it’s also more holistic. So when we think about queer making its way into post-punk, it’s a sign of the times: those movements are part of our music now too. So I think it’s got to do with the world we’re living in. People want to express that or feel those things.” Tramhaus is the living embodiment of this – a new wave of sound that bridges political frustrations and personal experiences. Julia: “People are looking for release and a shared experience – to feel we’re not alone in this.”

If we’re talking signs of the times, we put forward to the band: No future, or one slightly brighter? Lukas shares with a smile: “I think we’re all really optimistic people, actually. Whenever we’re together our spirits are high and it’s a good time. That doesn’t mean we shy away from tough topics but that’s my feeling.” Nadya adds: “I think that nihilism is easy to turn to. Outlooks are grim right now: threats of a third world war, climate crisis, growing right wing, Netherlands is going to be underwater in a matter of years. If you’re realistic and look at the state of the world, it’s easy to conclude there’s no future in any of this. But that doesn’t make me want to give up. We gotta try.”

Following a smashing edition of ESNS, what does the band dream of for the year ahead? Nadya: “We’re dropping an album this year and obviously we’re hoping it’s well-received and tour it extensively – it can be a stepping stone for your future.” Julia responds: “We’re only reflecting on expectations, because we really didn’t worry about it while making the album. That makes the moment of sharing our work with people all the scarier.” Jim jokes: “it’s authentic as hell!” and the band laughs and nods in loud unison: “yeah yeah yeah!” Stay tuned for more – Tramhaus is only just getting started.