35 years Paperclip Agency – a story of ingenuity
Paperclip Agency was founded by Rob Berends in 1981, after punk rock and the punk attitude changed Rob’s life in the summer of 1977. In the years thereafter he had to travel to other towns in order to see the punk and new wave pioneers perform live. To bring his favourite bands to his home town Nijmegen, in 1979 Rob engaged in the newly started autonomous ‘punk-committee’ at the local venue Doornroosje. When the bands (punk rock, new wave, no wave, ska and reggae) were not offered by the existing Dutch booking agencies, and couldn’t come to the Netherlands for just one show, the ‘punk-committee’ looked for like-minded Dutch venues to cooperate with.
This cooperative grass-roots spirit was not a temporary thing, as it turns out later on.
One of the bands Rob helped bring to Doornroosje was the Belgian band Siglo XX. In 1981 they asked Rob if he could act as their Dutch agent. He accepted and it was the official start of Paperclip Agency.
Several people joined Rob and Paperclip Agency in the next few years, among them first of all his brother Ruud, followed by Rob Harink and a few years later, in 1989, Tom van Hemert and Camille Lemmens.
From the early years Paperclip Agency was, and still is, not only a full European booking agency, but also a committed, reliable and loyal Dutch booking-partner for agencies from all over the world.
Together the Paperclip team broadened the range of Dutch venues and youth centres they worked with and got engaged in the upswing and growth of the club-circuit all over Europe. Between 1981 and 1986 the company booked shows and tours in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany for bands from several European countries. The first full European tour they booked was for The Feelies late 1986; famous Dutch photographer Roy Tee put Rob in touch with this New Jersey based new wave band. The musical orientation now also included styles such as avant-garde, americana, singer-songwriter, guitar rock and EBM.
In 1986 and following years, Paperclip Agency was the only company outside of London (England) that booked European tours for artists from all over the world on a regular basis. The company worked with various national promoters all over Europe. These promoters shared a love for music, but often didn’t know each other.
In a time when SXSW and ILMC did not even exist, and New York’s New Music Seminar was the only serious showcase/seminar-event, in 1986, challenged by his friend René De Wever from the Limelight venue in Kortrijk, Belgium, Rob founded Network Europe, originally called ‘The Network’, to bring together agents and promoters from all over Europe. With two meetings per year in different countries all over Europe, it was a networking event with the focus on exchanging information on the business and watching brand new bands at public showcase nights, bands from various European countries and beyond brought to the event by Network Europe members. One of these meetings was in Warszawa (Poland) even, in 1988, before the Wall fell.
All in all a pioneering enterprise.
In the late ’80s, grunge became an important new focus for Paperclip Agency. The company booked the first European tour for many, many bands that became world famous, like Nirvana, Screaming Trees (feat. Marc Lanegan), Soul Asylum, Motorpsycho, Buffalo Tom, The Lemonheads and Helmet, to name just a few. The number of shows booked was up to 1.500 per year, across Europe. Most of the bands stayed with the company for many years. In 1995 the musical horizon broadened again to include techno when Maurice Spijker joined the company. Hilde Spille joined as office manager and created the necessary backbone for the agents, and she started working as a booking agent quite soon too.
Hilde and Rob were instrumental in helping Eurosonic Noorderslag grow to the international event it now is when they, in 1999, at the request of ESNS, were hosts to the first small group of international guests at the event, most of whom turned out to be ‘old’ Network Europe members. In 2000 and following years there was a huge increase of international guests at ESNS, in those years mainly thanks to the revived Network Europe.
In the late ’90’s several people at Paperclip Agency gradually started leaving the live music industry, and Hilde Spille and Rob Berends were given the chance to reinvent the company. Rob had already restarted Network Europe and Hilde put a focus on Scandinavian and Canadian bands like WE, Baby Woodrose and Sass Jordan.
At the beginning of the ’10’s the financial crisis in combination with personal circumstances were the start of a difficult period for Paperclip Agency. The two partners adjusted, developed new projects, and the company was able to survive. Rob partly returned to his passion for punk and new wave and currently presents bands from the ’70s like Buzzcocks and Television but also 10cc in the Netherlands. For Europe Rob currently represents bands like Blind Idiot God (instrumental metal-dub band from New York), The Nomads (guitar rock legends from Sweden) and Leeways (reggae/ska/rock from the Netherlands).
Hilde recently started combining her knowledge from her study in Cultural Psychology with her experience in the live music business in her blog Compass for Creatives. She’s also offering online mental coaching to musicians from all over the world and is a frequent guest-lecturer at colleges and universities in Nijmegen (the Netherlands) and Tampere (Finland) as well.
One thing Hilde and Rob have learned in the past 35 years is that you can never predict the future. It is important to follow your passion, to be committed to bands and artists and to all business partners, as well as to give your all in what you do. Ingenuity is needed to be flexible enough. This is something that keeps the partners going and keeps them enthusiastic, next to being able to work for and with some fantastic musicians and colleagues.
Nijmegen, December 2016