Up the stairs of a smoky Amsterdam pool hall, a small stage with thick red curtains became the unlikely venue for an organic classical music salon series that revolutionized Tuesday nights for as long as it lasted. While that was nearly a decade ago, the ConFuse series became a platform for its founders that not only blossomed into a community of lifelong friendships, but also landed them a paid weekly televised gig they’re still playing to this day.
Julia Philppens of Fuse, the band and brains that spawned the ConFuse series, is hardly your traditional classical instrumentalist. She picked up the violin at 4 years old and went on to study at the Conservatory of the Hague, but soon learned her true passion laid in improvisational jazz and went on to study it at the Amsterdam Conservatory, where she graduated from in 2011 just one year before ConFuse was born. “Most people don’t know how to behave at a classical show, when to clap or not – the classical world can feel a bit elitist if you didn’t grow up in it. But this was a club not a concert hall, so everyone could behave how they wanted – they could flirt or smoke or walk away, people were free.”
Originally conceived as benefit concert because her newfound band Fuse needed to raise funds for a website and some new equipment. The concept rapidly evolved once they were given carte blanche at a free venue one night a month with virtually no rules or expectations. “We decided we needed a different scene for each night and different kinds of performers, like a painter or tap dancer or rapper or spoken word poets. We even had a ‘scent DJ’ who would put different scents into the crowd so you could feel like you were in another place.”
Looking through photos of this party, it’s impossible to shake the FOMO. “It was an explosion of creativity that could only work because we didn’t have any money, but the artists were excited to work together,” she recalls. Self-described as “an unusual ensemble,” Fuse got the opportunity to fully live up to their own hype with a blank canvas of a venue and dozens of excited, mega-talented friends. The venue that made it all possible, Club 8, is the last place anyone would expect classical music, which Julia said made these parties all the more charming.
But after the club went out of business ConFuse was moved to another venue, but it lacked the character of Club 8 and ultimately the series was retired. Lucky for Fuse, by then they’d been asked to do a T.V. pilot for a live performance show called Podium Witteman. The pilot was picked up and the show still airs to this day, which has given Fuse a platform to not only showcase their own music along with classical and jazz standards, but also to work up arrangements of unexpected covers of famous rock and pop songs.
“So many of the artists we put on stage together back then still play together,” Julia says. “We all live in our own bubble, so do musicians, but what I like is that Fuse consists of 3 jazz musicians and 3 classical musicians, we really bring those people together. So people meet who wouldn’t normally meet, they get to know each other and now they’re still working together.” That last sentence is the alchemy of salons in a nutshell, when you bring groups together from different walks of life the connections made often take on a life of their own, and that’s just the beginning!
The amount of work that went into producing the night was unfathomable, every single artist involved worked themselves to the bone, but as Julia insists, “Because I did this I now know for sure, anything is possible.” Reflecting on life after Covid, it’s obvious that most of us relied on outside entities to create experiences for us. ConFuse’s story is an extraordinary reminder that not only can we create totally unique experiences in our own communities, but it’s likely to be even more rewarding and potent than anything else we might engage with.
While live music venues have yet to make their comeback in Holland, Julia has taken matters into her own hands by hosting her first in-home music salon this spring. Her clarinetist friend Levan Tskhadadze, who also owns a delicious Georgian restaurant in Amsterdam and makes is own wine, is going to cook for her guests as well as perform. Are you inspired to try your hand at hosting yet?? If so, read on for specific tips on How To Host a Music or Poetry Salon.