Here's a game you can play: say the words "polar bear" and then try not to think about a polar bear. You can't not. It's impossible. You'll always think about polar bears when someone says "polar bear." The same goes for the word 'Vengaboys' except you'll be singing "Boom boom boom boom, I want you in my room," rather than thinking about polar bears. Try it right now. Think about the Vengaboys and try not to sing one of their smash hits in your head. Can you do it? Unless you're a cyborg bereft of what us humans quaintly consider emotions, then the answer's a big fat no.
If you actually are a cyborg, then a tiny bit of history: the Vengaboys are a Dutch dance-pop foursome that ruled the airwaves in the late 90's with an insanely infectious brand of very poppy dance music. In essence, it was music that your mum might dance to on holiday after her second jug of sangria. I recently caught up with Donny Latupeirissa, one of the group's current members. As it stands, the Vengaboys consist of two girls and two (sort of titular) boys. Unsure of who's in and out of the band, I asked Donny to explain the set-up:
"At first it was only Kim, and our two producers Danski and DelMundo, who are the actual Vengaboys, because they are two boys and that's where Vengaboys comes from. After a couple of songs they decided to make the group bigger, so Roy and Robin joined the group together with Denise."
Which didn't really make things that clear. A quick jog over to Wikipedia helped. A bit.
With me? Good, let's carry on. Pop success isn't the most stable of things, so perhaps it wasn't surprising that the Vengaboys didn't have the longevity of Neil Young or one of those other old blokes who wheeze about on stage year after year, garnering endless 4* reviews for their new albums in Mojo. There's been something missing in the charts though since they left us. It feels like an eternity ago we were united by the lovably camp and glaringly brash pop-dance scamps. While we've been joylessly gorging on shallow-deep-house and dry, cloying EDM, what have Donny and co been up to? Starting families, mainly. "Denise has two kids now, Kim started a family too, she has a two year old," Donny tells me. "In the 90's they didn't have time for it. The guys have been partying around and having fun as always!"
For those of you out there worried that you'll only ever be able to experience the Vengaboys as an occasionally-accessed sepia-toned memory, get ready for the shock of the new: the they're back baby! Yes, that's right, the fucking Vengaboys are back and they're touring the fuck out of Europe. Starting at the notorious Bangface weekender. Donny, are you ready?
"I've never heard of Bangface to be honest, when is it?"
After he tells me they played nearly 100 shows last year—and are set to do the same throughout 2016—I let him off for not having a clue about a weekend where he'll be playing alongside Rotterdam Terror Corps, Devvo and DJ Scotch Egg. Still, I'm sure they'll have a great time in Southport, and as Donny puts it, they're all about, "having a party, and maybe getting a little naughty!" Parties can end strangely sometimes, so I start to wonder about the more hardcore fans that they must have encountered over the years.
"There are some Vengaboys tattoos walking around," he says. "Some with Kim's face, some with the band name and some with the Vengabus, I think I saw it on some guys ankle, with the letters VENGABUS on it."
Who can blame the guy, when Vengaboys is so obviously a religion? With a live show that is as vivid and joyous as the tunes you know and love, I can imagine some of the crowds might get the idea to 'get a little naughty' themselves. Donny tells me it happens all the time:
"We get some streakers. But they try to come on stage. We had one guy who was totally naked on stage with us. He was in the crowd so we were like 'join us!' So he came up and he started jumping around and his dick was going 'boing boing boing', it was really funny. I think we we're playing "Boom Boom Boom" at the time." Again, I won't be the one to cast judgement on anyone who gets that excited about "Boom Boom Boom", being as it is one of the stone cold classics of my childhood. In fact, it's probably the reason I'm into dance music today.I assume these kind of incidents must take place in Europe, as that's famously the home of having a party, but Donny says otherwise. India, it turned out, was the place to be. It's a "really, really crazy place," he says, and one where the Vengaboys outsell Michael Jackson. "Last year we went to India again after so many years away and it was completely sold out. They know all the lyrics. They are so enthusiastic, crying in front of the stage and grabbing anything they can get a hold of." Bigger than Michael Jackson: you can't argue with that. As a touring and party veteran that he so obviously is, I also wonder what kind of hi-jinks Donny and the rest of the group have got up to on tour. It can't all be sugar coated Michael Jackson toppling larks. Because, lest we forget, the Vengaboys are a group who told the world that "We Like to Party" all those years ago. And what partying it was! What bacchanalian madness occurred?"One time we were touring with 2Unlimited in Norway and we decided to make a big after party backstage, we sort of trashed the place, but in a good way. They said no smoking and we kept smoking then they turned out the light and it became a disco light, so it was lots of fun," he says. That does sound like fun! Also, imagine that night out, imagine seeing 2Unlimited support the Vengaboys. There is a heaven and some lucky sods have already had a peak inside.
With groups like the Vengaboys, and singers like Whigfield, and Sonique still playing the hits of yester-year live, it's worth asking what the 90s revival crew listen to for pleasure. Do the girls from Shampoo listen to Haddaway? Does Donny listen to Gigi Masin? I secretly hoped that he was a huge dance head, the kind of bloke you see stood by speaker stacks on his own at techno nights, totally sober. The reality wasn't far from that. "What we do with Vengaboys is our job," he begins, "but when we go out we don't go to 90's parties, we go to deep house and techno parties. I used to go to Trouw before it closed, and of course Berghain is awesome, but I never pay attention to the actual DJ's playing." So if you ever see a rhinestone cowboy hat next time you're in the Berghain you'll know why.
So yes, they like to party. Yes, their tunes are mind crushingly catchy. Yes, their outfits are regularly on point. But other than that, I wanted to know why is it that the Vengaboys name has lasted this long, what is it about them that has endured? Donny's honest about the nostalgia effect. "People take their own good memories of a period when listening to Vengaboys," he muses. "Whenever we play somewhere people always say to us 'I remember when I was such and such age when I listened to your songs, this brings back so many memories!'"
It's true, and I'm no different. I remember drinking underage pints in my local pub at 16 when the only dance tune they had on the jukebox was "Up and Down," so he's got a point. And what of his memories? What have you, Donny Latupeirissa, got out of being a Vengaboy?
"I'm just grateful to bring joy and laughter to so many people, and make so many people happy."
Boom boom indeed.