At just 19 years old, Yellow Days has already gained a cult following. With two LPs under his belt, a contract with Columbia Records and over a million monthly listeners on Spotify, this talented musician is well on his way to conquering the indie rock scene. Kicking off his UK tour at Thekla, his sold-out performance made for an evening of heartfelt musical catharsis.
Making a peace sign to the crowd as he steps onto the stage, George Van Den Broek – a.k.a. Yellow Days - launches straight into his first track: The Way Things Change. Released in April this year, the single explores the volatile and unpredictable nature of life. Broek himself has certainly seen some pretty drastic changes over the past few years; from his humble beginnings, creating mellow indie rock in his garden shed in Surrey, he’s been catapulted onto festival stages and concert halls across the world.
The wibbly wobbly guitars accompany a voice that defies his years. He uses his deep vocal chords almost like an instrument, stretching them with remarkable elasticity. There’s perhaps a little too much squealing towards the start of his set, though he tones it down a notch as he carries on into the hazy ‘A Little While’, before announcing the more energetic ‘That Easy’ with its three twanging guitar notes. A girl next to me in the crowd turns to her friend to say “I should’ve worn my Mac Demarco T-shirt, I’d fit right in”. She’s right– the venue is packed with red-eyed dungaree-wearing hipsters. But maybe it’d be too simplistic to just write off Yellow Days as yet another Mac Demarco protégé… What sets him apart is his ability to capture the pains and struggles of 21st Century living while setting them to wonderfully nonchalant accompaniments.
There’s a maturity about him and it’s not just down to his deep voice. While it’s not always easy to make out what he’s singing, the lyrics that can be heard reveal a rather profound understanding of the human condition for someone of his age. He conveys a relatable sense of pain and his pure honesty makes his music really quite uplifting. There’s an amazingly cathartic atmosphere in the room, his fans blissfully swaying side to side to ‘Holding On’ as Broek sings down the microphone “I can’t help but wonder what’s the point”. A confrontation with his own mental health underpins his lyrics; making music is his remedy to the various bouts of depression and anxiety he’s gone through, something which he talks about openly in interviews. His words are peppered with references to his internal battles: “I’ve been trapped in my own mind, no escape I can find”, he sings on ‘I’ve Been Thinking Too Hard’.
When his sand-papery voice isn’t crooning down the mic, the band embark on some pretty spectacular jams. His smooth guitar solos contrast starkly with the raw vocals and the jazz piano solos are particularly impressive. Though even with these inputs from the band, this is very much Broek’s show. Indeed, Broek prides himself on his autonomy. In addition to his lyric writing, he composes much of the instrumentals and creates his own artwork. Even the name is personal to him; Yellow Days comes from his synaesthesia, a phenomenon where the sensations of one stimulus lead to perception in multiple parts of the brain. Put simply, he ‘sees’ sounds in colour. His musical rainbow may be lost on most of us, but even the layman can see the blues in his songs. Drawing inspiration from greats such as Ray Charles and Howlin’ Wolf, there’s a timeless quality to his music. A highlight of the night comes midway through the show as he treats the crowd to a delicious cover of Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, proving himself a worthy heir to the Matriarch of R’n’B.
Throughout the rest of the gig, he carries on through a nice mix of ‘Harmless Melodies’ (2016) and ‘Is Everything Ok In Your World?’ (2017). He even allows the audience a sneak preview of a song that he teases “could come out any month now. I hope you all like it, otherwise it’ll be awkward…” Entitled ‘What’s It All For?’, it’s an upbeat, funky number that explores the back-and-forth nature of relationships. They’re questions that he asks time and time again: “What’s the point?” “What’s a man to do?” “What’s it all for?” But as the spectacular night of musical melancholy draws to an end, he indirectly offers up one possible answer to his bleak question: the undeniable joy of good music.