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After making Coachella history, Klangstof are blazing a trail for other Dutch indie bands

KlangstofPhoto by Jack McKain // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Those of us who have been attending Coachella for a while know how difficult it is for artists filling early-afternoon slots to draw large crowds at the Empire Polo Club. The sun, for one, is usually scorching hot by then, and most of the acts performing between the hours of 12 and 3 p.m. are still relatively unknown.

But for some on the come up like Klangstof, who this year became the first Dutch band to ever perform at Coachella, just the opportunity to play one of the oldest and biggest music festivals in the U.S. has already paid huge dividends back home.

“We’ve never really been big in our home country,” says bandleader Koen van de Wardt, who started Klangstof as a solo project when he was 14 years old and living in Norway at the time. “Being the first (Dutch) band to play Coachella gave us that boost.”

It’s only been a little more than a couple weeks since Klangstof hit the stage for Coachella’s second weekend, but since returning home to Amsterdam, van de Wardt says the response has been palpable.

“I hope it’s a start for more Dutch bands to play big U.S. festivals,” he adds. “We have a pretty cool indie scene. I hope we’re a band that can get things going for Dutch indie culture.”

So far, they’re off to a strong start. This month van de Wardt (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards) and his colleagues — Wannes Salome (keyboards, vocals), Jun Christian Villanueva (drums, programming) and Jobo Engh (guitar) — kick off a 21-date North American tour that will see them open for The Flaming Lips and Miike Snow and make appearances at other major U.S. festivals like Sasquatch!, Bonnaroo and Firefly along the way. That’s not bad for a new band with members who have only been playing together for a year.

As van de Wardt explains, turning Klangstof into a touring outfit wasn’t his intention. When he first started writing the demos for what would become — over a seven-year stretch — the group’s 2016 debut LP Close Eyes to Exit, it was simply “out of boredom.”

Yet, everything changed for van de Wardt when he uploaded “Hostage” as the first Klangstof song to his Soundcloud account in 2015. Two days later, he picked up the phone in the middle of the night to learn it was David Dann from Mind of a Genius, the London/Los Angeles-based indie label that has ZHU, Gallant, THEY. and KWAYE currently signed to its roster. Dann liked what he had heard and saw Klangstof as the next addition to his growing list of clients — and van de Wardt was more than happy to oblige to deals with Mind of a Genius and subsequently Warner Bros. Records months later.

“I never thought something like that would’ve happened,” the 24-year-old frontman admits.

It was from that point that van de Wardt had to consider something he hadn’t had to quite yet: How was he going to play his music live? He spent the next six months searching for the right musicians to join him before settling on Villanueva and Engh, two of his friends from Norway, as well as Salome, whom van de Wardt had only “met” through Facebook but knew to be one of the “top synth wizards in The Netherlands.”

“It has been a pretty weird journey because I never wrote the record as something that I was going to play live,” he says. “I just did everything myself.”

And while turning his solo project into a live band was an adjustment for van de Wardt, it’s not like he hadn’t played in bands before. In fact, just a few years prior, he had moved from Norway to The Netherlands to join Dutch indie band Moss, which he says ultimately helped him decide if he wanted to pursue music as a full-time profession or not. Even more, it gave van de Wardt the confidence to start his own project and eventually assemble his own band, the same one that he’ll bring this week to The Theatre at Ace Hotel in LA and Fox Theater in Oakland as opening support for the three-time Grammy-winning Flaming Lips.

“I feel now after one year with the band, I know what the Klangstof sound is,” he asserts.

Such a sound, with its alt-rock roots and electropop tinges, has drawn lofty comparisons to Radiohead, a group that van de Wardt cites as one of his major influences, but you can also hear hints of other prominent UK “indie” bands, from alt-J to Foals, in the finished product. Meanwhile, onstage it’s been an exhilarating experience for van de Wardt, who can’t wait to jump back in the studio with his bandmates once they’re off the road at the end of this year.

“I’m really excited to go in and record the second album because I feel like all four of us know what we’re doing and how it should be sounding now,” he says, and hearing that from van de Wardt should be music to any Klangstof fan’s ears.

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