• 17
  • 05
  • 2016
  • 07.30
  • pm


Please note this is an 18+ event

“It’s been a long old journey to get to where we are now, and a pretty strange one, too. I literally jumped in at the deep end.”

Rupert Blackman, lead singer of CAUSES, remembers vividly the day he decided to up sticks and move to Holland. After studying music in Leeds, busking its streets and recording a debut EP under his own name, he fell in love with a Dutch woman, who eventually decided that living in Britain wasn’t for her. “One day,” he recalls, “she said: ‘I’m going back to Holland. Do you want to come with me?’ At that point, I hadn’t really made any significant progress in terms of what I dreamt of doing. She told me that in Holland about 90% of songs played on the radio were in English. And I thought, ‘Okay, that’s interesting. Maybe I could work with some artists over there.’ But I was running towards where my heart led me.”


Settling in the central city of Utrecht (“It’s such a beautiful place, like a smaller Amsterdam”), Rupert awoke to the reality of his new life in a foreign country. “There are people I know that have tried something similar, been completely disorientated and come home. For me, it seemed natural to just dig my heels in and get on with it.” He was soon a regular on the streets of his adopted city, busking, attracting attention, and selling home-recorded CDs. “I owe a lot to playing on the street and I was determined to do it my own way, I wanted to lay down real foundations, even if it took more time.”

During this period, Rupert’s songwriting was going through a process of what he calls “stripping everything back.” He put up a card in a local shop, hoping to attract some like-minded musicians. The first person to respond was a guitarist called Jan Schroder, with whom Rupert would go on to form CAUSES. Jan had visited Rupert’s website to check out that first EP, and was immediately drawn to what he heard. “What attracted me wasn’t so much the songs, although they did, but the aesthetic. I knew immediately it was something I wanted to be part of.”

The pair set up a meeting, started writing together, and quickly recruited Simon Boeing-Messing and Robert Pronk on drums and bass guitar respectively. They soon began busking as a group: “We went to Germany for three weeks,” says Jan, “and instead of just turning up for a show, which would have meant we’d probably have played to about 20 people, we’d set up in the town square during the day, and perform. We’d busk two sets, and then in the evening, we’d play to 80 people, and we sold hundreds of CDs when we were there.”


It was at this point that Rupert’s burgeoning reputation on the Dutch music scene came into play. He’d met Anouk, one of Holland’s biggest stars, by chance one day in Amsterdam. “She saw me playing on the square, and bought a couple of CDs. Her management then invited me to support her on tour and about six months after, someone from PIAS records saw me play, and signed me.”


Another developing strand was Rupert’s work writing for other artists. “I was asked if I could top-line a dance track for a DJ. It was incredibly instructive, and it has definitely fed into our songs; you learn so much about economy and immediacy. You’ve got a couple of minutes on a dancefloor, so, melodically, the songs have to be absolutely direct.”

Teach Me How to Dance With You, their debut single, was a huge hit in Holland, as was its follow-up, Walk On Water. And both epitomise Causes’ credo about songwriting and dynamics. “There’s a tendency nowadays to take a fairly average song and, if you throw enough production at it, it can become a really good track. But if you strip that all back, the song’s not really there. We try to do the complete opposite of that: strong hooks, minimal production; if someone is walking down the street listening to a song, they’re not beat-boxing the drumbeat, they’re whistling the melody. Melody is everything. You should build from the hook, not the other way round. When we wrote Teach Me How To Dance With You, Jan had put down a very basic guitar part, and I got him to play it back. I came up with the chorus instantly.”


Working with producer Ian Grimble (Daughter, Bears Den) was a game-changer. “We went to London and recorded four tracks with him, including Teach Me How to Dance With You, came back buzzing,” says Jan. “The first thing we did when we got back was write Walk On Water, ditching everything else.” “We went over to London as one thing,” adds Rupert, “and came back as something else.”

Finalising their debut album, Causes watched as Teach Me How to Dance With You gained an extraordinary momentum. “The phenomenal thing is the song hasn’t been pushed outside the Netherlands yet, but it’s taken flight anyway – it was top 3 on the viral chart in the US, and that’s just mind-blowing. The song took on a life of its own,” says Rupert. “For me, the reason it’s resonated so much, with a real cross-section of people, is because it’s a song that can be heard in lots of different ways. If you’re feeling down, you can listen to it and it will make you cry; if you want to dance, it will make you do that; if you’re full of longing, it will make that more intense.”


“The space and breadth are crucial,” he continues. “That mix of warmth and austerity, that slight sense of reserve, of holding something back: it’s a paradox that became a conscious thing, although it wasn’t to begin with.” “I think it’s slightly a reflection of our characters, too,” suggests Jan. Rupert looks mock-outraged. “Well, I’m extremely agitated and an over-thinker, and Jan is incredibly relaxed.” And the rest is lost to laughter.