The VERA History
Vera has a rich history. ‘Veri et Recti Amici’ reads the emblem above the door of the stately building with a medieval basement. V.E.R.A.: ‘True and Sincere Friends’, an inscription that reminds the people of the reformed student club that Vera was about a hundred years ago. Upon entering the building the visitor gets overwhelmed by walls full of posters, newspapers, and pictures from a wealthy musical history, even though it wasn’t until the early 70’s Vera opened up for a broader audience.
Text & translations: Thijs ‘T-Ice’ de Groot & Carol van Gelder
1899 – 1969
At the dawn of a new century in 1899, V.E.R.A. was founded by a group of reformed students as a place for friendship and public debate. Back then the members weren’t so fond of materialism and outward appearances. There are some entertaining stories about how the people thought of the first cars and their pretentious, boastful owners. The reformed code disapproved of drinking, hazing, and music.
1954 – Offering of a banner during VERA’s lustrum celebration – Photo: P. Boonstra
The last-mentioned changed during the early 50’s. The formerly conservative Vera evolved more and more into a progressive club with room for culture. Vera gave entrance to different kinds of people, and even got their own drama club and choir. The 60’s were marked as a time with intense ‘debates’ concerning social issues and the question of if Vera was digging its own grave embracing the traditional student culture. Under the flag of the hippy movement in 1970, the ‘idealists’ of Vera decided to choose for acceptance: from now on everyone could become a member.
1964 – mensa VERA – Photo: P. Boonstra
1970 – 1979
It was in the early 70’s when promoter Syp Wynia started to organize concerts and cultural projects. It was mostly jazz, blues, and pub rock that was booked. Oddly enough, the punk scene that developed later in the decade never had its place in Vera (although Crass was booked), and could be found in Simplon and Huize Maas. Vera was for the hippies and offered film, theatre, music, political debate nights, and space for activist groups. As of 1974, Vera was also open for non-members. Due to the increased use of cannabis, the club also attracted bored and ‘troubled’ youth, resulting in wild nights that sometimes got out of hand.
September 2nd 1977: Mainstage concert hall – Photo: D. van der Veen
All activities were organized in groups. There was a women’s’ group, squatter group ‘the happy ox’, the ‘committee of suppressed people in Indonesia’, an activist group for native Americans, and more. Vera also accommodated space for activists from the city and leftwing political parties to organize meetings and events in the building. The youth center was a place that flourished with innovative culture, innovation in politics, and innovation in general. All was expressed in handmade silkscreen posters, still a characteristic feature of Vera (just like the self-printed Vera Paper between 1977 and 2013).
A problem that gradually came to the forefront was that Vera shuffled between two opinions: there was one political group that thought Vera was supposed to defend the oppressed in society. This group saw Vera as a place for youth to develop. In addition, there was a cultural group that wanted to offer a great program of concerts, film, and theatre. At first the two groups could easily co-exist, but the mutual criticism began to grow, especially in the early 80’s.
1980 – Joy Division – VERA Wardrobe – Photographer unknown
The promoter Frans de Haan booked, next to reggae and blues, more promising and upcoming new-wave bands like XTC, Gang of Four, The Only Ones, and Joy Division. Vera built a strong name in the field of music, and this was seen as a threat by the political group. The more successful the concert program was, the more fierce the resistance.
In 1980 Peter Weening was the new promoter. Initially this was a one year function, but he never left Vera. Under the moniker ‘Pepr’, which he goes by since a Prong concert, the program aimed the attention much more at the underground. In the first half of the 80’s the focus clearly shifted from pop to rock.
U2 – 16 oktober 1980 – Foto: Peter Weening
Bands such as Simple Minds and U2 were replaced by Killing Joke, The Fall, The Sound, Birthday Party (and later Nick Cave solo), The Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, and Sisters of Mercy. Many of these bands later, when they were actually too big for a small venue like Vera, returned to Groningen’s rock club.
Sonic Youth – 1983 – Photo: Carlos van Hijfte
1981 also marked the year of the first annual Vera Poll, in which the visitors were asked for their favorites. The first five winners in the most important category ‘Best Main Stage Concert’ were: DAF, Virgin Prunes, Kowalski, The Gun Club, and The Scientists. The shift to underground is clearly visible in this list.
Despite the success of Vera, the resistance rose again. The old ‘cultural group’ around Vera’s own ‘house dealer’ (the only one that was tolerated in the North) reacted fiercely on Weening’s new path. Weening had had enough of all the vague consultation groups and other weird characters that were attracted by the hash. In 1985 this resulted in a council crisis, with cursing and fights at meetings. Weening’s belongings and equipment were stolen from his house and were thrown into a ditch. The crisis culminated at the general membership meeting in 1986. Concert visitors with an annual card also had voting rights at these meetings. Weening managed to get about 200 people together and achieved a glorious victory. The cultural group disappeared and they got rid of the house dealer. Vera could finally become a true music venue.
Nirvana – 1989 – Photo: Willem Kolvoort
The Vera Poll winners in the second half of the 80’s were: Giant Sand, Naked Prey, Henri Rollins, Rollins Band, and Screaming Trees. All winners are listed on the ‘Walls of Fame’ at the Mainstage. The name Nirvana isn’t on there, even though they played a legendary concert as support for the band Tad. A lot of other, later on big and influential bands visited Vera in the 80’s, such as Soundgarden, the Lemonheads, Yo La Tengo, Slayer, Bad Religion, NOFX, Prong, and Buffalo Tom.
After Vera secured its cultural subsidies with the sensational protest ‘Don’t Fuck With Vera!’, the concert program could be further developed. The cornerstones of club Vera have always been the Mainstage concerts, the Downstage concerts, the Swingnights, and the Zienema. These four main elements are supported by Vera’s own Artdivision. Over 200 volunteers and a small paid staff work hard to ensure that Vera keeps its unique status in the pop music world.
A lot of memorable things have happened in the 90’s. Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, enjoyed his debut in Vera so much, that he returned years later by train to surprise the Vera crew and support the band The Fastbacks. It has also been said that Courtney Love of Hole proposed to Kurt Cobain by telephone from Pepr’s office! Weezer, Jammah Tammah, Descendents, The Posies, GWAR, and Man or Astro-Man? all provided a festive night in their own way. Motorpsycho, Unwound, Fugazi, Dinosaur Jr., and later Sebadoh became so-called ‘house favorites’, just like the Poll winners in those beautiful years: between 1990 and 2000 the bands Dead Moon, The Jesus Lizard, The Gories, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (2x), Shellac, Blonde Redhead (2x), Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Mogwai earned the highest of honors. An impressive list!
1996 – Eddie Vedder supports The Fastbacks (small: Pearl Jam in Vera in 1992)
During the renovation of the Mainstage concert hall in 1997, Vera didn’t follow the common trend of big-bigger-biggest, but kept its capacity at 500 guests. Since the renovation, Vera has its own artists’ residence, beautifully decorated by the Artdivision. Breakfast and dinner is served at Vera’s living room: the Kemenade, the beating heart of the club.
Popular concerts during this time were of typical ‘Vera-bands’, such as Afghan Whigs, The New Bomb Turks, NoMeansNo, Melvins, Nine Pound Hammer, Turbonegro, The Oblivians, the ‘Sub Pop Triple Bill From Hell’ (with The Dwarves, The Reverend Horton Heat, and The Supersuckers), and the ‘Re-Opening Party’ in 1998 with special guest Dirtbombs. Since the re-opening Vera is called Club for the International Pop Underground.
1998 – Opening Main Hall by The Dirtbombs (soundcheck) – Picture: Willem Kolvoort
During the 90’s, the Downstage programming evolved into a worthy part of Vera’s concerts and activities. Famous names that played in the legendary Kelderbar (‘Basementbar’) are Motorpsycho, Sebadoh, Dead Moon, Grandaddy, Karate, The Robocop Kraus, The Weakerthans, The Dismemberment Plan, Cosmic Psychos, and DeFacto (the band of Omar and Cedric from At The Drive-In and Mars Volta). Since the programming mostly consisted of local and national acts, we are most proud of artist such as Bettie Serveert, LPG, Audiotransparent, Feverdream, Voicst, The Apers, Human Alert, zZz, Green Hornet, Jimmy Barock, We vs. Death, and Face Tomorrow who played at Downstage. In his book ‘Kelderkoorts’ (‘Basement fever’) local hero Meindert Talma hilariously describes his first show at Downstage. The Kelderbar is at its best during punk- and hardcore shows: this is where ceilingcrawling was invented!
In the twenty-first century, Vera is a pop music temple that forms its own category in the Dutch club circuit. A beautiful book is published: ‘Rocking on Paper. The Vera Club: a history in posters’, full of concert posters and memorable stories. There are new collaborations including Eurosonic/Noorderslag, Noorderzon, Jonge Harten, and Verhip een Strip Museum (the comics that are exhibited inside Vera on the walls). The Zienema organizes movies in association with Forum Images (IFFR) and Amnesty International. Additionally, every three months, BreakFast organizes its drum&bass nights at the Club and the team of Loft hosts very popular and atmospheric dance-nights, as successor of the old Swingnight.
2000 – At The Drive-In – first Pollwinner new millennium.
The rise of the internet and the resultant transience of musical acts (every day a new band as Next Big Thing) did not go unnoticed. For one thing, there are more and more concert nights organized yearly, and there are no longer certain bands in the top of the Poll for years and years, becoming house favorites. This reflects in the list of Poll winners for the 00’s: the first part of the decade was won by bands that have been in Vera more or many times before (At The Drive-In, Zen Guerrilla, Prong, The Thermals, The Hackensaw Boys), but the last five only a couple of times (Omar A. Rodriguez-Lopez Quintet, Two Gallants, Black Lips, The Dodos, Health).
2001 – The White Stripes – Picture: Arnoud Heikens
All in all, there is no reason to complain. What venue with a 500 guest capacity can say they have had The White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, The Get Up Kids, Death Cab For Cutie, The Hives, The Notwist, Pinback, Les Savy Fav, The Haunted, Interpol, Editors, Elbow, Nada Surf, The Kooks, Band Of Horses, Ash, The Wombats, Blood Red Shoes, The Gaslight Anthem, Villagers, Beach House, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club playing on their stage?
2010 – now
The unstoppable globalization of the new century shines through in the program (and the Poll) of Vera. Davilla 666 from Puerto Rico won the Poll in 2011, and Los Pirañas from Colombia peaked second in 2017. The Ghanaian act Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band ended fourth in 2016. From Niger we welcomed Les Filles De Illighadad, Mdou Moctar and Tal National, from Togo Vaudoo Game, from South-Korea Jambinai, from Ethiopia Fendika and from Mongolia the rocking throat singers of Hanggai.
Against all popular music trends and against many people’s expectations, the 10’s saw a revival of garage rock and postpunk. At first Villagers, Davilla 666 and Triggerfinger won the Poll, but since Parquet Courts (2013) a whole lot of like-minded bands made their appearance. Together Pangea, Mike Krol and Protomartyr were immortalized on the Mainstage walls, the latter even two times in a row (not seen since Blonde Redhead). In their slipstream bands like Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin, Cloud Nothings, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Metz, The Men, Meatbodies and Groningen’s Traumahelikopter gained success. Parts of the best shows are releases as VERA/LIVE split singles and on video as Beauties of the Underground – LIVE.
The digitalization of society appeared inevitable though. A couple of years the Vera Paper and the website functioned next to each other, but in 2013, after 36 years of sharing underground favorites, the infamous music source blew out its last breath. In January 2014 a special ‘In Memoriam’ edition came out, and since then the artwork of the Vera Paper can only be admired in the archives or at the walls of Vera’s entrance hall.
Cover VERA Krant, de Historische Finale Editie (2014). Artwork: Johanna Wenke
Vera will always distinguish itself with unknown talent, new trends against the grain, and obscure sounds. ‘Small’ beauties like DD/MM/YYYY, Japandroids, No Age, Holy Fuck, A Place To Bury Strangers, Timesbold, The Hex Dispensers, Beach Fossils, Ought, Big Ups, Die Nerven, Wand, Meat Wave, Idles and Viet Cong/Preoccupations are consistently scoring high in the Poll, usually higher than the ‘bigger’ bands. Vera will always honor the name that was once given to the legendary ‘Live in Vera’-collection album in 1990: Beauty in the Underworld!