Idiott Smith

Text by Maija Jussila
Photos shot by Isolde Woudstra in Groningen, the Netherlands

It’s early in the morning but I’m up and out, ready to face the full day ahead of me. I’m on my way up north to Groningen to visit Roy Veenstra, the visionary mind behind Idiott Smith. His lo-fi, synth-driven compositions clutch the heart, his staunch vocals melt it, and more than once we’ve stood before the two members of Idiott Smith in silent admiration. I set out to find out more about the man behind the enamouring songs next to a visit to De Gym, where a creative scene has been budding around the former William Louis Gymnasium, to which Roy’s strongly tied. By sundown I was well-versed on a couple of things; Roy is a genuinely sympathetic character, his spirit drawing similarities to both the music he makes and is inspired by. A visit to the local pool and all corners of De Gym were thrown into the bargain.

Roy opens the door to his house. He’s barefoot and wearing an unassuming smile, ‘Hi, come in’. He looks freshly showered, his silver hoop earrings shine in front of his carefully tucked-back hair. The scent of fresh coffee and the sound of Spooky Black graze our senses as we follow him into the living room. Roy shows us around. The tone of his voice is low, his strut unhurried. Printouts of album covers line up along the wall of the staircase leading up; pictures, posters and street signs dress up other walls of the building. We enter Roy’s crash pad – bare walls are a stark contrast to the chaos that’s hijacked the rest of his room. It’s a testimony to Roy’s order of priorities – nowadays his world revolves around De Gym, his HQ for making music. ‘I don’t spend much time here. I come here mainly to sleep.’ He explains his involvement in the organization of De Gym, tells me about his studio there, and the daily leap from bed to BED, De Gym’s newly renovated café Roy works at.

Did you read the letter I wrote? It’s all about hair

The coffee is ready, so we sit down while Roy prepares himself breakfast. It’s one o’clock in the afternoon. Roy clarifies that he has a hard time eating first thing in the morning as he slices pieces of cheese. In the middle of an otherwise average looking breakfast table, Roy’s Syoss Professional Performance hair care product stands out. Photographer Isolde’s seen it too and asks with a grin, ‘how’s your hair doing?’. There are a few things I’ve picked up on from Roy’s kinesics; he’s a laid-back, thoughtful character and regularly mindful of the disposition of his hair. When a strand of his chin-length hair escapes and falls in front of his face, he’s quick to move it back into place. ‘Did you read the letter I wrote? It’s all about hair’. There’s subtle humor to his tone while alluding to an Idiott Smith artist letter to our members, but I get the feeling that spending a lot of time at his uncle’s hair studio as a kid has rubbed off, at least a little.

It turns out the hair studio’s impact runs much deeper than instilled vigilance towards hair. Smooth, harmonious R&B grooves of the late ‘90s R. Kelly-era would coast through the hair studio, the remnants hover over Idiott Smith’s lo-fi, anti-pop songs like pieces of a tender fruit in the vicinity of the tree it first fell from. ‘I think the hair studio had a big impact because I was so young. That’s when your connotations are built.’ The hair studio is responsible for sparking Roy’s love for smooth tunes. I’m curious as to what music he was into in the early days? ‘I think it was Romeo, the Dutch band. I liked it a lot, I went to Videoland every week to get the chart of the Top 40 and I always asked at the counter if they had a new album. When I was 14 and 15 I was listening to Usher and Tupac all the time. I had really blonde hair and a piercing in my eyebrow, a really big one.’

To our delight, the pressing clouds from earlier in the day make way for rays of sunshine. It’s time to head out to Papiermolen, an outdoor swimming pool compound in the south of the city. Designed by architect James Koolhaas in the mid-1950s, the picturesque pool compound surrounded by green grass is now under the state’s protection as a national monument. It’s a first for all of us and by the time we’ve gotten changed and unwind by the pool, the sun’s come out to boogie. We chill for a bit before hitting the pool, and I take the opportunity to ask about Karel Hendriks, the man behind the electronic drum kit. ‘I’ve only known Karel for one year. Robert [Lalkens] said that if I want to have a drummer, I have to talk to Karel, so I went with that. I told him one week in advance, ‘I need you’ [laughs] and he did all the songs in one rehearsal. We practiced some more and I kept asking him to play shows. I consider him as a band member; really, it’s not a solo project anymore. I wanted him to be here but he had to work at the cheese factory.’ Roy speaks highly of his accomplice and it’s plain that together they’ve got great synergy.

It started out as a project… It was last year when Idiott Smith opened for Jimmy Whispers

After a refreshing afternoon dip, the time has come to pack up and walk to the newly renovated De Gym – the backdrop of Groningen’s spirited underground. Being the central part of Roy’s daily existence, De Gym’s been an inevitable subject in our chats, breezing in here and there throughout the day. We enter De Gym through its dim entrance. As our eyes adjust to the sudden change in lighting, Roy takes us through the multifaceted building, patiently explaining the roles of the three different spaces currently being used, two of which belong to De Gym – café BED, which actually has bunk beds for bands that visit, and De Gym, the venue space. ‘I remember when Утpo was playing there and the light was really nice, the place was packed and the atmosphere was just so good. It was the big opening of everything.’ It’s the very same spot where Idiott Smith got its start; ‘It started out as a project. The first show was in this venue. It was last year when Idiott Smith opened for Jimmy Whispers’. I guess it was unbeknownst at the time, but De Gym has creeped its way into the crux of Roy’s present existence. What started out as a solo project is no longer solo, nor is it just a project anymore.

Idiott Smith plays at L.A.N. Party at Melkweg, Amsterdam on Friday, 23 December. The event is free for Subbacultcha members