There’s a curious tendency to almost wholly disregard music that’s sung in an alternative language to English. Of course, for native English speakers, it’s natural to be drawn to music sung in your own language but aside from the linguistic barriers you may face there’s a wealth of musical gems to be discovered in continental Europe. Start here with music sung in languages most closely related to English with our pick of essential German and Dutch artists.
Cologne-based AnnenMayKantereit formed in 2011 and Vertigo Berlin released their first EP Wird schon irgendwie gehen (‘It will work out somehow’) in October 2015, before they signed with colossal label Universal. Singer Henning May’s rough and powerful voice is the most recognisable thing about this trio (in fact it’s so raw that it sounds like he’s been smoking since birth), but it makes a beautiful contrast to the simplistic musical setup. Their first single ‘Oft Gefragt’ reached 18 in the German charts, and their debut album Alles Nix Konkretes (‘Nothing is ever concrete’) should drop this March. Also make sure to check out the beautiful ‘Barfuß am Klavier’ – it’s hard not to fall in love with May’s haunting vocals as he muses over a lost partner ‘barefoot at the piano’.
Bilderbuch are difficult to categorise. They’ve released 3 albums so far, each considerably different from the last. Fans of indie rock should give their first album Nelken & Schillinge a try, but it’s 2015’s Schick Schock that is the most interesting. A look at the video for ‘OM’ introduces you to eccentric lead singer Maurice Ernst, and is probably the song most likely to appeal to the average English listener due to its catchy chorus – don’t be surprised if you have German in your head for days after listening.
Hamburg natives Fotos have also perfected the art of the hook, and their 2008 release Nach dem Goldrausch contains a number of solidly catchy indie-rock gems, although the German may be a little bit too aggressive for some listeners. Their first self-titled 2006 album is also fun, and it’s clear that it was released in the height of indie in the late 00s – although not as slick as Arctic Monkeys’ or The Strokes’ debuts, it has that kind of feel to it.
While Jerusalem-born, Amsterdam-bred Dotan Harpenau (known simply as Dotan) doesn’t sing in Dutch, his music is far too beautiful to be disregarded. His 2014 album 7 Layers is a grand folky masterpiece, which quickly reached #1 on the Dutch chart. Imagine a combination of Nick Mulvey’s harmonious guitar playing with the smooth vocals of Jamie Woon.
5) Kenny B
Kenny B is another Dutch artist who’ll appeal to anyone with an interest in reggae. His song ‘Parijs’ is a lovely ode to the French city with a sweet video – and it’s definitely worth looking up the Dutch lyrics so you can sing along with the chorus. Other songs on his self-titled album such as ‘Neks Ne Tai’ carry the definite sound of his native Suriname, and you can almost imagine dancing under palm trees while listening to it.