Leuk en Ko: Fun Has No Punchline

A few years ago, my label partner forwarded to me some music by Leuk en Ko, wondering if we should be getting that out. Just where the music fits between camp, pop and sarcasm, it was difficult to say. That it then turned out to be an old project by Jan Duivenvoorden and Richard van den Bogaert, veterans of Unit Moebius, a techno conglomerate in The Hague, only added to the confusion. How could Unit Moebius possibly be cut from the same cloth as Leuk en Ko?

Since last year, there appears to be a growing interest in Leuk en Ko, and with that comes the desire to better understand what their project was, and now is. The public at present remains shrouded in a cloud of bewilderment, not that it makes any difference to the duo.

The blandness that is Zoetermeer

It was in high school where the camaraderie between Jan and Richard was forged. While most their peers were interested in sports and the usual boy-and-girl stuff, the two were instead oddballs who found Ronflonflon interesting.

The Bande à part filled their days up by drawing, making comic strips, and recording tapes. These were accounts detailing how suffocating school and parents were or about stuff the boys had heard or seen on radio and television. The recordings would be cut or looped before the results landed in each other’s mailbox.

Drawings of “bugs” like benser or gaskever 14 that would later become band names or track titles
One of the boxes of exchanged tapes via the mail box

There, in the sleepy city of Zoetermeer, the absence of an inspiring (Dutch) musical landscape sparked the creation of one’s own music. Together with friends Bart B. Siuli, Rob, Kyril and Edwin, the duo founded Aars Rugklachten. Their instruments consisted of broken stuff like jerrycans, oil drums and a lame bass guitar. In place of percussion, they resorted to slamming the door.

By the end of high school, Aars Rugklachten had transitioned into Minigod. A friend came into possession of a SH-101 with multi-echo effect, so Jan and Richard had to have the gear too. Minigod was an upgrade in equipment but also in its compositions; they now came with a structure featuring a head, body and tail. This was mostly Richard’s contribution, due to his past involvement with the Dutch children’s choir Kinderen voor Kinderen. Despite having been left to their own devices, Minigod’s music was reminiscent of the more alternative Dutch wave and synthpop of the time. But it was the high school prom that would eventually give birth to Leuk en Ko.

 

No fun

The prom was the time and place to bid a proper farewell to the endlessly long high school years. There, a performance would come to pass; one that the audience might not necessarily enjoy, one that they could even walk away from. That performance would both succeed and fail at the same time: although the vast majority couldn’t really relate to it, a few had found it simply amazing. With this unusual ratio both bearing weight, Leuk en Ko became a fact in 1988. Roughly translated as “Fun and Co.”, Leuk en Ko is about making statements that are above all else fun for themselves, while keeping at the back of their minds the existence of an alienated audience.

What followed was a remarkable string of performances. At a metal stage in Terneuzen, the audience was split into two camps: one group wished death upon Jan and Richard while the other worshipped them. At Paard van Troje, a pop venue in The Hague, Jan miraculously survived a complex act of dancing, classical music and stacked boxes. And then again in the Breehuis, under the influence of LSD, they almost stepped on the long toes of a humorless and touchy left-wing audience. Even more priceless were the blank stares of the audience as they looked on apathetically.

An important formula used in Leuk en Ko’s performances was calculated chaos. Every performance had to be a brand new act made up of components such as music, poetry, stunts, play and dance routines, and, in the absence of new material, a provisional puppet show called Poppenkast De Tepel (Puppet show The Nipple). The “sketches” were meticulously recorded as a script, yet there was nothing resembling a punchline to be found anywhere. A performance would start out clean, only to end with water and flour. That an act could get out of hand and how they then can run with it and keep it going; that’s what provided the kick. It’s a tightrope balance between the audience and the performer: how can you manage to perform completely for yourself in the presence of an audience?

 

Building sandcastles

This mentality also shines through in their music. Concerned only about making each other laugh, the resulting intoxication created a situation in which the audience was no longer relevant. Perfection barely had a place here. The best songs were made within an hour and new takes were rarely improvements. This approach of self determination and imperfection presented a safe space where errors can happen and from where unexpectedly interesting music could emerge. Numbers like “De Snoei I” are catchy regardless (or precisely because) of the fact that they are made up of ramshackle sound samples and a channel that drops out.

Their repertoire was largely put together in a matter of days. If they could get a good thing going in the morning, they might get to complete one half to a full tape that weekend. And so, within a short few days, they’d usually have enough material that they can then reprocess and screw up live. Between the two, Jan was assigned the unofficial role of producing the music, a skill he had briskly learnt from his famous uncle Nico Haak. Richard would compose the lyrics either around the same time, or after the piece had been finished.

The ground back then stood fertile for more projects than just Leuk en Ko. There was also Benser, a tape-exchange project where Richard did the even-numbered tracks and Jan the uneven. The result: uncompromising experiments falling somewhere between minimal and synth wave. Or Popquilbeques, a more poppy and melodious follow-up of Benser, with as masterpiece, their own version / megamix of “Smalltown Boy” to “Blue Monday” and back to “Smalltown Boy”. Or IMP Electronics for Defense, Jan’s solo project of instrumental noise in which the first connections to Unit Moebius (Anonymous) was audible. And not to mention: wedding band Funky Sobrietas. Named after an album by Ad Visser and Daniel Sahuleka, this was an attempt to make smooth German Italo / Synthpop.

Band photo of Funky Sobrietas
Performance by Funky Sobrietas at De Blauwe Aanslag

But of course, what then came after was the aforementioned Unit Moebius, The Hague’s acid-techno act. The most commonly mentioned members were Menno van Os, Guy Tavares, Jan Duivenvoorden and Ferenc van der Sluijs, but the band has garnered a handful of members over the years, Richard also being one of them.

Offline

The rise of Unit Moebius, however, meant that Leuk en Ko was temporarily put on the backburner. Richard was involved with Unit Moebius for a year, moving thereafter to Spain in 1994. With over 1500 km between them and no internet access for Richard, communication between the duo has been few and far between. Richard has his life in Spain and while Jan has his in the Netherlands.

In 2000, Jan founded loslaten.tk. The blog offers the world a platform to view snapshots of a “brown” The Hague. And whenever Richard does find internet, the blog is a source of memories, but also a way for him to catch up on what’s been going on in the city.

True collaboration however, didn’t quite happen, with the exception of some video clips made during a brief visit Richard made to the Netherlands.

Reunion

The Summer of 2017 was when Jan and Richard would finally resume their long-time collaboration. Reason: Unit Moebius had been invited to participate in an original live performance at The Crave Festival. Jan, Richard and Guy hauled their brown sound from the shelf onto the stage, demonstrating that the Leuk en Ko genes were still well and active. Equipment had been impractically connected in a slipshod way, lending itself to a host of probable problems during performance. The calculated chaos made for some blood-pumping action and the audience didn’t have much choice but to take it.

Leuk en Ko, too, is enjoying some renewed interest. The Hague label RUBBER recently issued a compilation of previously-unreleased Leuk en Ko material. At the upcoming Amsterdam Dance Event 2017, they will be performing again for the very first time on an evening dedicated to Dutch underground music culture. The duo are bowled over by the appreciation for their work, and that might just provide them with the push to have another go at it. Old tapes are being digitized and there are once again talks of recording sessions in the air. And if they ever become too old and fat, they’ll be looking out for stand-in actors for their clips.

At the moment though, they won’t be looking much further than their upcoming performance. There isn’t enough time to prepare, so a complicated script is being put together via the internet. From everything that comes their way, anything can go south. Just so long as they like it.