A wintry Wednesday night in western Holland, and at a large music venue called Vera a spirited, a multi-national crowd marvels at an indie-pop outfit called You Say France and I Whistle, who are actually Swedish.
"It's like we have an extra Christmas here!" laughs a sociable local called Bastian, and he makes a good point.
The festive season lasts a little longer in Groningen. As the rest of Europe wallows in the January gloom, this delightful Dutch city purposefully leaves the decorations in place for a few extra weeks as a huge record industry delegation hits town.
The event is Eurosonic Noorderslag, a four-day music festival and summit at which 3,000 industry professionals make crucial decisions by day, then scrutinise Europe's hottest new acts at night.
"It's a bit like Paris Fashion Week, where the established fashion houses are showing you what will be in the shops in six months' time," explains Jake Beaumont-Nesbitt, executive director of the International Music Managers Forum. "That's what's happening at Eurosonic, but with managers, labels, publishers, agents."
Unfashionable Groningen may seem an unlikely place to stage such an important event - Amsterdam airport is more than two hours away by train - but then it does boast an unusually impressive array of music venues, which are useful given the 300 acts fighting to get noticed. On the streets, the atmosphere is very much like a musical Edinburgh Festival: on every corner someone is lugging a guitar case or staring confusedly at the concert schedule.
At the big conference centre, De Oosterpoort, one of the industry's more dramatic innovations becomes apparent upon check-in. Eurosonic is road-testing a new take on the traditional festival wristband, complete with a computer chip that grants access to the various concerts when swiped across an electronic reader, like items in a supermarket. The system is already in use at several major US festivals and allows wearers to prepay for refreshments or merchandise and link to social networks, although it does cause a few minor hold-ups here. There are also more sinister concerns about whether the user's movements will be tracked.
"It's natural for people to be concerned about data, but there are no privacy concerns, as the fans can decide to stay anonymous at all times," insists Serge Grimaux, president of the company behind the idea, Intellitix. "Also, because they can't be copied, it wipes out the market in counterfeit and fraudulent tickets."
Once the delegates are duly chipped, the festivities kick off with the European Border Breakers Awards, a glossy cameo of what this week is all about. Here, several artists from last year's line-up - the likes of Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow and English retro rocker Anna Calvi - return to receive an EBBA for their subsequent career progressions. "A lot of European bands, which are big now, they played Eurosonic," says Marije Brouwer, who helps choose the acts. "I wouldn't say nine out of 10, but it's a good rate."
This year's hottest tip is probably the London band Tribes, who have featured in most "Big in 2012" polls back in the UK with their Nirvana-like grunge. More interesting are the acts who build an unexpected buzz during the event, however, such as Ewert and the Two Dragons, folk-rockers from Estonia who pack out their two shows and leave long queues waiting outside.
"We were confident on many aspects, but we weren't anticipating that much attention and positive feedback," admits the band's manager, Toomas Olljum. "It's meaningful not only to us, but also to the entire Estonian music scene."
Such overnight successes can take time. Olljum's band made their initial mark at Estonia's own showcase, Tallinn Music Week, two years ago, while another much talked-about act here, Denmark's Reptile Youth, made a big impression at a boisterous gig in Vienna. "I got the singer's shoe right in my face," recalls talent scout Brouwer. "I think we decided to book them just after that."
This festival has also grown gradually, beginning 26 years ago as Noorderslag, which was "basically a competition between Dutch and Belgian bands", explains Brouwer. Dutch acts are still represented heavily, the most promising being the oddly named Go Back to the Zoo, who make anthemic driving rock and - almost as importantly - clearly have a good stylist. One Belgian act breaks big too; a talented singer-songwriter called Selah Sue wins the most important EBBA, having already worked with the US soul star Cee Lo Green, and accepts the award with the demure self-confidence of a potential star. One to watch.
Less restrained are the staff of Budapest's Sziget Festival. They take the big prize at the European Festival Awards, which swiftly follow the EBBAs, and are unreservedly ecstatic. "We were absolutely hoping for it because Hungary doesn't really have good PR these days," says András Berta, Sziget's international relations manager, afterwards. "We are facing political issues, our economy is not doing the best, so we absolutely needed a boost."
This event is doing wonders for morale in eastern Europe. Meanwhile, back in the conference centre, the aforementioned managers, labels and publishers try to shore up another ailing economy: that of the record industry itself.
Making a profit in the age of illegal downloads can be difficult, and music-streaming sites like Spotify are just causing further disagreements, according to Beaumont-Nesbitt. He spends much of our lengthy journey home gamely explaining the complexities of modern royalty payments, and with further summits required it seems those rows will continue to rage in Groningen 12 months hence. Still, there are worse places for a debate in the deep midwinter.