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What made The Hague into a place that could produce such worldwide hits as Venus and Radar Love? According to social geographers Robert Kloosterman and Amanda Brandellero, it was a combination of influences from the former East Indies and informal meeting places that turned The Hague into ‘Beat City no. 1’.

Cover Venus of Shocking Blue
Cover Venus of Shocking Blue

In the 1960s it was not Amsterdam, the cultural capital, but The Hague that gave rise to the liveliest beat scene in the Netherlands. Young people from the former colonies in the Dutch East Indies, who were already very familiar with the American popular music of the day, laid the foundations for the city's musical character.

Social geographers Robert Kloosterman and Amanda Brandellero demonstrate that these populations, combined with socio-demographic trends (the baby boom), economic developments (the post-war boom) and spatial changes (vacant properties resulting from urban degradation), are what put The Hague firmly on the popular-music map.

Billboard Hot 100, 7 February 1970
Billboard Hot 100, 7 February 1970

What is ‘beat music’?

Beat music was a major music movement in the early 1960s. It is a sub-genre of rock, consisting of a blend of rock-'n’-roll, doo-wop, skiffle and R&B. It originated in Liverpool with the Beatles, in whose wake came bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Kinks and The Who.

In the Netherlands, where the style was also known as ‘Nederbeat’, bands broke through such as The Motions, Golden Earring, Shocking Blue, Q65 and Sandy Coast. All of these successful bands were based in The Hague, which also became known as ‘Beat city no. 1’ or the ‘Dutch Liverpool’. ‘But it wasn't the similar sound of these groups that joined them together – rather, it was their geography,’ Kloosterman and Brandellero propose.

Why research a music scene?

The research by Kloosterman and Brandellero is part of a centuries-old question in geographical studies: what is the relationship between creativity in cultural industries, and urban environments? ‘Cities are important settings for the creative sector, because they usually provide all the necessary ingredients: cities make it easy to encounter a wide variety of different people, and there are many informal meeting places,’ says Kloosterman. Since the music scene forms part of the creative sector, it is not such a strange idea to research what made a certain music scene so successful, in order to learn how to better support the creative sector.

How do you research a music scene?

Kloosterman and Brandellero analysed the social and networking aspects of the local music scene in The Hague, and cross-referenced them with the locations where key figures met each other. To gather their data, they consulted various written and recorded sources: ‘In those days, lots was written about the clubs in The Hague where the music scene was based. They were mostly informal accounts of the musicians who attended, performed and interacted with each other, but as geographers, they also provide us with additional elements for analysis.’

Kloosterman and Brandellero constructed a micro-geography of innovative spaces where musicians, managers, gatekeepers and colourful groupies met, shared information, inspired one another and launched successful artists – in some cases even internationally.

Why The Hague?

 ‘As the cultural capital, you might expect Amsterdam to have been the best place to get involved in the beat-music scene that originated in England and swept the world in the 1960s. But no, it really was The Hague,’ Kloosterman explains.

‘One key factor in the spread of this music scene was access to the American radio stations that were playing pop music. In the Netherlands, the one doing that was the (then) illegal radio station Veronica, which broadcast from offshore. Because of its coastal location, The Hague had good reception.’

‘However,’ Kloosterman continues, ‘in The Hague there was also a group that had already been listening to the American stations for some time: the younger generation from the former colonies in the Dutch East Indies. They had a far greater knowledge of the pop music coming from the US, including how to play and perform it. They were the ones who laid the foundations for a lively era of musical creativity in the city.’

‘Another condition satisfied by The Hague was the wide range of informal locations for people to get together. Places like De Marathon, a family-run business and skating rink, and the Houtrust Rotonde, a club and restaurant situated beside a football field. It was there, on 20 November 1965, that Golden Earring got the opportunity to perform when The Kinks never showed up. Golden Earring later became one of the era's most successful bands, both in The Hague and the Netherlands.’

Lessons for today

‘What this analysis shows is that an informal or tolerant atmosphere can be crucial to the creative sector. Such an atmosphere can also be viewed as a form of innovation: it creates opportunities to meet lots of people from all walks of life, for them to develop an affinity with one another and to exchange ideas. These facets are the basic hallmarks of an urban social economy, and serve to foster creativity. Modern cities must therefore also cherish and nurture their informal and traditional meeting places,’ Kloosterman concludes.

International research on the creative sector

Kloosterman is the coordinator of a large-scale European project titled CICERONE: a partnership between research and socio-cultural organisations, aimed at developing a better understanding of how the creative industry is embedded within local contexts while also forming part of global networks.

Prof. dr. R.C. (Robert) Kloosterman

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

GPIO : Geographies of Globalizations