Niels Philipsen Niels Philipsen Sacha Ruland

The very sexual researcher

Written by  Annelotte Huiskes Wednesday, 20 February 2013 15:59

The band The Very Sexuals was formed in 2008 and released their first album, Post-apocalyptic Love,online in that same year. The album was downloaded 20,000 times and picked up by music forums in countries as far flung as Brazil, Japan and the United States. A tour was inevitable, the record company agreed. Niels Philipsen, drummer for The Very Sexuals and researcher at the Maastricht Institute for Transnational Legal Research (METRO), looks back at this exciting time with a touch of melancholy.

In the end, The Very Sexuals never toured. “We were all too busy with work and other stuff. My first child had just been born, so the timing was less than ideal. We made lots of plans, but they just never worked out. You put something off until tomorrow and then tomorrow never comes. It’s too bad, because now we’ll never know what could have been. I’m actually the only band member not working full time in the music industry. The others joined new bands and projects, all with some success. Our singer Pien Feith and the singer/guitarist Joep van Son both performed on the Dutch TV show De Wereld Draait Door with their new bands.” 

Childhood friends

It all started at the high school in Venray where Philipsen and his friends, including the guitarist Van Son, formed the band THUSS. “Unlike The Very Sexuals, this was a terrible name. Typical teenage behaviour – just look up some difficult words in the dictionary and you’ve got yourself a band name: The Unpredictable Sense of Secrecy (THUSS). We did some successful shows in high school and later at university as well, playing the student and youth circuit in places like Amsterdam, Eindhoven and Groningen. Even though our studies took us to different corners of the country, we’d come home every weekend to practise. We even released two CDs, which we produced ourselves. Of course I dreamt of becoming a big rock star, but it’s almost impossible to make a living with music in this country. I quit in 2006. I was just too busy. I had just finished my PhD and I figured I was headed for an academic career.”   

Rock star

And there’s nothing wrong with this, Philipsen now realises. He gets a lot out of being an academic. His work includes contract research for institutions such as the European Commission, various ministries and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). He is also a regular visitor to China to hold guest lectures on legal economics. “I’m satisfied with my work and I wonder how great the life of a rock star really is anyway, with all those long waits and having to drag your gear around everywhere. But the playing itself is fantastic – there’s nothing better than making music.” Philipsen started playing instruments at the age of seven, first on an electric organ (“I could play a whole song on my own”) and then on drums. “Mostly I was self-taught, spending endless hours playing along with every song. Whenever I hear something, I always want to see if I can play it.”


While drummers tend to be somewhat hidden behind the rest of the band, they play a crucial role. “If you make one mistake, you throw everyone else off. You’re the foundation of the band. I still think it’s the most beautiful instrument. The drummers I like aren’t necessarily the best, but they all have their own style. Take the drummer from Calexico, who combines elements of jazz and pop, or Dave Grohl from Queens of the Stone Age, who marries rock with musical innovation. But the best drummer by far is Danny Carey from the American band Tool. His rhythms are extremely complex and he can even play two rhythms at the same time.”

Philipsen and his friends were inspired by the alternative pop music of the 1990s – their high school years. “Like the Pixies and other Indie pop influences; those are styles you can hear in our music. We’ve also been told that we remind people of the later Beatles stuff, The White Album in particular. That could well be, because they were definitely a source of inspiration for us. I still think that’s one of the most multifaceted albums of all time.”


Fortunately, Philipsen got another chance to perform last year, thanks once again to his friend Joep van Son. “Another childhood friend of mine, Miel Blok, published his debut novel Arie-Wubbo: The ultimate road movie (on paper) and wanted a song to go with it. I put him in touch with Joep and they ended up making an entire soundtrack, which is available on Spotify. Joep is a genius, if you ask me. He’s constantly writing lyrics and making music, but he never finishes a song. My role – and that’s why we work well together – is to listen to all those fragments, choose a select few and elaborate on them together with the other band members. That’s how we did it in THUSS and The Very Sexuals, and that’s how we did it this time too.”

The book launch called for a special performance. “It was in the Effenaar in Eindhoven, one of the biggest and best shows of my life. That was the first time my wife saw me on stage. I go all out when I play. I always try to add a little something extra; just playing the off-beat is boring. She’d never seen me like that before, and luckily she liked it. My work and my music are two separate worlds that complement each other, but without music I couldn’t survive.”   

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