To laugh at the heavy-touring novelty Dutch dance-pop group, who play in Dubai this weekend, is to miss the whole point
The Vengaboys in Dubai: 'Our music reminds people of the good old days'
I wonder what would happen if, thousands of years from now, someone discovered a Vengaboys CD (and it would definitely be a CD) buried beneath a pile of rubble. For the sake of argument, let’s just say that it’s been preserved, scratch-free, inside a Discman with a set of headphones attached. I imagine that person would quickly conclude that what they were hearing was a) dreadful and b) created by some alien race, which communicates only in high-pitched bleeps. But I also have a suspicion that, before long, this person would start smiling, then dancing like they had never danced before.
This is the thing about the Vengaboys: they are easy to mock, but almost impossible to resist. Since breaking through in 1998, the Dutch dance-pop group, whose earworm tunes consist of repetitive house beats overlaid with cheesy vocals, have sold more than 25 million records. The Party Album!, released in 1999 and featuring hit single We Like to Party! (The Vengabus) and We’re Going to Ibiza, reached the Top 10 in (deep breath) Australia, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. They are the most successful Dutch act of all time – incredible when you consider that their best-known song is called Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!.
Click to listen to We Like to Party! (The Vengabus):
What’s more, it’s not as if the Vengaboys’ extraordinary success was some collective, late-1990s meltdown, an embarrassing moment best forgotten. More than two decades later, they are still touring, still selling out venues and still making people dance. So what’s the secret? “Our whole concept is about happiness,” says founding member and lead singer Kim Sasabone. “People love to dance and sing. It’s hedonism. But now there is also the nostalgia that comes with it. For the crowd, it’s like going back to the ’90s.”
For many of us, the Vengaboys, who are performing at Zero Gravity in Dubai on Thursday, represent something of a simpler, more joyous, time. “Our music reminds people of the good old days,” Sasabone says. “You get all these people saying stuff like: ‘I used to love you guys. I was six years old when I entered the school talent competition as you’.”
The Vengaboys’ silly lyrics and even sillier outfits (sequins, big hats, leggings, more sequins) remind us of long summers and bad (but actually great) parties. “Welcome aboard Venga Airways / After take-off, we’ll pump up the sound system / ’Cos we’re going to Ibiza,” sings Sasabone on, you guessed it, We’re Going to Ibiza. To laugh at the Vengaboys is to miss the point entirely. No one ever took this band seriously, least of all themselves – they were always just a bit of fun.
But being fun for 20-odd years is hard work. With the exception of a brief hiatus in the early 2000s, when the group split up, the Vengaboys have been touring pretty much non-stop since 1997. Only one original member – Roy den Burger – is missing from today’s line-up (Sasabone, Denise Post-Van Rijswijk, Robin Pors and Donny Latupeirissa). However, the Vengaboys have released very little new music in that time (it’s best to ignore 2014’s collection of festive flops, Xmas Party Album). It must be exhausting, not to mention maddening, to churn out the same stuff night after night after night?
“As with any other job, it can be repetitive,” Sasabone says. “The core stuff is our old material, but we put some covers in, we do some remixes and update our dance routines. And then there’s the interaction with the crowd – we play games, things like that. Our look has evolved, too. We were in our early 20s when we started – now we’re all about 40, so everything changes.”
Not least what goes on backstage. Where once the Vengaboys would carry on the party long after the show had finished, these days it’s all a bit more restrained. “It would be really weird if we partied as much now as we did in the ’90s,” Sasabone says. “We have families, so we need extra energy to be with our kids.”
When the Vengaboys released their debut album in 1998, did Sasabone ever think she would still be performing in 2018? “Of course not,” she says. “When we were starting out, we’d see other artists, who were probably 30, and I’d say to my bandmates, ‘OK, if I’m 30 and I’m still doing this, you really have to kick me off stage because that’s too old.’ I’m now 42, so ... yeah. We never expected it. We thought every hit we had would be our last one.”
It is easy to be cynical about why the Vengaboys continue to tour. Nostalgia is big business. But come on, two decades singing: “The Venga bus is coming / and everybody’s jumping”? No, you wouldn’t do that just for the money.
“We just feel very blessed to have this job,” Sasabone says. “We are in the making-people-happy business – and that’s a really good feeling.”
Vengaboys perform at Zero Gravity in Dubai on Thursday. For more information, visit www.0-gravity.ae