The Nits lost everything after a fire. ‘The smell of smoke makes me sad’

They worked there for at least forty years. Rehearsing, recording, encounters, memories. On May 16 of this year, the studio of the Nits burned to the ground. Instruments, equipment, archives, videotapes and concert recordings from the band’s nearly fifty years of existence: all gone.

The fire in the Werfstudio started outside, probably due to a spreading fire, started by an unknown passer-by. Four months later, only a bare plain and a few pieces of wall remain on the spot near Amsterdam-Sloterdijk station. Singer Henk Hofstede received a message that Monday from drummer Rob Kloet, who was on site after the first reports of a plume of smoke from the building.

“The flames were already out when he arrived. I immediately cycled there. The idea played into my head that we should order a truck right away, pull stuff out and dispose of it as quickly as possible. But it was too late, there was nothing left to save.”


All of the band’s master tapes were lost, including the original 24-track tapes. Guitars were buried under the rubble. Hofstede is fairly level-headed about it, he admits.

„I am not someone from the school of fanatic guitar collectors, like Henny Vrienten was. I had one guitar at home. Another, my Fender Jazzmaster, has landed again in a very special way. We were no longer allowed to enter the site because of asbestos and the danger of collapse. Thieves apparently still snooped around at night, and took things with them. And a few weeks after the fire I was told to come to the police station because they had something for me. My guitar, barely damaged! Stolen from the flight case, along with a dulcimer and another guitar that I also got back. They were not allowed to say where they found it.”

Henk Hofstede with a charred fragment of the LP In The Dutch Mountains (originally from 1987, this is the 2017 repress on red/gold marbled vinyl). The photographer found the LP during the photo session on the spot where the Nits Werf studio was located until May 16, 2022.
Photo Andreas Terlaak
Remains of a poster for the Nits album Malpensa from 2012, with from left to right Rob Kloet, Henk Hofstede, Robert-Jan Stips.
Photo Andreas Terlaak
Cover of the album ‘Urk’ by the Nits.

Keyboardist Robert-Jan Stips always took his stuff home with him, including the old Moog synthesizer he’s been playing on since his time with Golden Earring (1974-1976). Drummer Rob Kloet lost almost everything. Only the big drum, pictured on the cover of the live album Urk (1989), was found under the rubble. “We were allowed to enter the site for one day,” Hofstede says. “Then we were busy with a shovel and we found all kinds of things. In the chests of drawers where we kept the unique tapes of live recordings from the past decades, we found only heaps of ashes. I have some rescued items in my basement. I don’t like going there, because the smell of smoke makes me a bit sad.”


A crowdfunding campaign from the fans allowed the Nits to continue their scheduled performances with replacement equipment. Fortunately, the new album was released NEON was already done. „The CDs and LPs had not yet returned from the factory, because then they would also have been in the yard. That might have been the most bitter, if our new album had gone up in smoke. But we were able to continue with our tour and the album release. We have never doubted the survival of the Nits.”

The Werf studio was just under 45 minutes by bike from his home in East Amsterdam, says Hofstede. “When I cycled away from home, I was already thinking about the things we were going to make that day. We now have a temporary rehearsal room, close to the old studio. For me, the creative process involved quite a bit of cycling. That’s good, because I don’t go to the gym and that way I still stay fit.”

Starting out as a Beatles-inspired guitar group in the New Wave era, De Nits developed into an impressionistic pop trio that continues to innovate. NEON sounds more electronic than the band has ever sounded, although Hofstede points out that the influence of Kraftwerk has always been there.

The 24th Nits album, NEONis part of a trilogy that started with Fear (2017) and Knot (2019). “The similarity between the three is that the music was created by improvisation. There is no plan, there are no texts in advance, no mutual agreements. In the past I sometimes had the demo version of a record ready and we would translate that into the band sound. Today we allow each other maximum freedom. Everyone should see for themselves what they are doing. That process only works if you’ve played with each other a lot. During those improvisations I just sing some sounds. In the distance it resembles English, a kind of secret language. Only later do I mold the final lyrics from there.”


NEON, named after a dear old cafe in Athens, satisfies the unwritten rule that a Nits album title usually consists of four letters. “That is useful for the design,” Henk says. But it is not an iron law. See In The Dutch Mountainsor Urk. Rob [Kloet] drew my attention to the chemical fact that neon, as a noble gas, does not combine with other elements. The Nits have always occupied a special place in the pop landscape. We find it difficult to mix with the zeitgeist or with other artists. Personally, I prefer to listen to music that I cannot and do not want to make myself. I think Kae Tempest is fantastic. But I’m not a rapper and I could never do something like that myself.”

“How long does it take/ weaver of my life/ to make a tapestry?” Henk Hofstede (71) sings in the closing song ‘The Weaver’. Is it ever finished, that tapestry of life? “As a metaphor it is of course on the verge of kitsch,” he laughs. “But the Family group did it too, in ‘The Weaver’s Answer’. And Carole King with her album tapestry. I myself am not ready yet. The Nits have to look for another location to make new music together. I can well imagine that we no longer choose a permanent place for that.”

There is already an invitation to do something in the small hall of the Opéra in Lyon next summer, if it will be empty there for a few weeks. Rehearse, maybe record something. Richard Robert, director of the alternative department ‘Opera Undergrond’ is an old friend of Hofstede, from when he was still a journalist for the music magazine Les Inrockuptibles.

Hofstede: “And so we have plenty of plans for the future. The Nits certainly have a few good years in them.”

NEON of the Nits is out on YARD Records. Theater tour from 7 Oct. Inl:

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