I heard about Le Guess Who? Festival by accident. I wanted to go to Swans concert but date of Amsterdam concert was not suitable for me. It appeared that Americans are going to play in Netherlands once again, in Utrecht, during Le Guess Who? Festival. Just one look at the line-up of the festival made me willing to visit.
I came with my bike on Thursday, on the first day of the festival. The city centre is under construction which caused some troubles but finally I arrived at my host. Couch surfing is very popular way of accomodation during LGW, together with me there were staying surfers from Copenhagen, Melbourne and Skopje. Unfortunately I was late at the concert of Fumaça Preta, Amsterdam-based, multicultural band playing psychedelic, folk-influenced music. I watched only half of the show and it was crazy with singing drummer. I went to Einstürzende Neubaten because everybody was saying it is a legend. It was literally industrial with bunch of absolutely surprising instruments. The concert was very conceptual and the concept was war which was really heavy and after 1 hour too heavy for me. I went to The Growlers, completely different band playing surf rock. The band managed to transfer the Californian atmosphere but they were clearly tired (probably on drugs). If you add an irritating guy from crew who was dancing and pouring drinks on the stage you can easily understand why my opinion about their concert is mixed.
Soon after the concert I left Tivoli Vredenburg (multiplex with concert halls instead of cinema) and went to small club called Ekko in which Paus was playing. Paus is a band from Portugal, distinctive because of two drummers playing simultaneously. That gives power, especially that they have some metalcore roots.
It was really good concert and I thought it will be the best but I returned to Tivoli. The last concert was played by Loop, the band which is often perceived as a godfather of shoegaze. They recorded three albums at the turn of the 80s and 90s and then disappeared. Now they come back. Actually they play something between Joy Division-new wave and sharp shoegaze. The concert was very intensive and involving and the best concert of the day. Thursday showed that Tivoli Vredenburg lacks atmosphere typical for small clubs.
In the afternoon I had a sightseeing, Utrecht is really great city without crowds of tourists typical for Amsterdam. Typical Dutch city – canals, old houses, churches. I started my evening with Jenny Hval. To be honest I hoped that she’s going to play some songs from „Meshes of Voice”, but she was not. Nevertheless concert was very good, it was the only ambient concert I attended and I have to admit that she has incredible skill allowing her to express strong emotions in ambient.
Soon after I experienced probably the biggest drawback of indoor festivals. Limited capacity of a small club made it impossible for me to watch Viet Cong concert. After one hour standing in a line I entered the club and watched Ought. Rebellious boys played a nice concert and I will the most remember feverish behaviour of vocalist which reminded of Ian Curtis.
After that I came back to Tivoli Vredenburg to spend there rest of the night. At first I was disappointed by Dr. John. His show was just boring with strange trombone lady who probably tried to save the show but made it even worse. I had little time so I decided to skip Thug Entrancer and instead watch the whole gig by Parquet Courts (or Parkay Quarts?). Generally I think that their albums are uneven with moments of overexperimenting so I was not sure what I can expect. It appeared that playing live they resign from „post” and play uncompromising, energetic punk. It was the first time that I saw mosh pit at the festival which is the best indicator of the quality of the concert. I was really positively surprised, they played the best concert of the day. The night was ended by female-punk White Lung. The new wave of female artists is one of the most visible trend in recent music, however White Lung is not a good example of the phenomenon. The band played weak, didn’t hold rythm and completely didn’t catch the contact with audience. All of short songs were similar to each other and even fans were disappointed.
The „Words To The Blind” project was announced as one of the most important events of this year’s edition. Savages and Bo Ningen played at the same stage at the same time all in black. It looked like a kind of music battle, but it could be perceived also as a conversation. The concert delighted with its intensity but disappointed with its short duration. Too bad.
Then I went upstairs to the concert of Sharon Van Etten. She played very warmly and she constantly had very good contact with audience. Small talks with Irishman (a visitor) proved that she doesn’t take her art too seriously (paradoxically the rest of the band looked a little bit annoyed by the super open behaviour of Sharon). Anyway it was very beautiful concert, Van Etten managed to transfer the climate from the very good album to the concert hall.
After that I wanted to go to see Wire, but I didn’t have a lot of time so again I decided to change my plans. Instead I watched full performance of an unruly urchin of the NY scene. Only few days before Mac DeMarco was detained for crowdsurfing and climbing on stage. Here he did without consequences, during one of the last songs, he was surfing and even climbed on a balcony. The audience was rapturous and you have to admit that DeMarco performance was full of captivating lightness.
After the light concert of DeMarco, the show of Swans appeared to be to hard for me. The legendary band literally all the time attacks the listeners with its extreme sounds. Sounds together with loudness cause physical pain. The conclusion from the first unsuccesful attempt to listen to Swans live: be prepared and don’t go to other concerts before. After short time I left Tivoli Vredenburg and headed to De Helling club, in which Cloud Nothings played their concert. I am one of those Cloud Nothings fan who likes „Attack on Memory” more than „Here and Nowhere Else”. Fortunately they played quite a lot from my favourite album, unfortunately and inexcusably they didn’t play „No Sentiment”. The concert was very energetic despite the fact that band members were standing in almost one place during the whole concert. They also seemed tired which didn’t stop them from making a good concert.
The next and final concerts of the day took place in a club on the other side of the city. When I got there I was already tired. Moira was probably my favourite location, because of a great design but also because of the concerts.
First played zZz – a duo that led the audience to madness (literally) by using drums and organs. After that I was so exhausted that I thought I’m going to fall asleep there. But not yet. I was woken up by Germans. The concert of Chuckamuck must be called a sensation. It was like booom. I would never think that ordinary garage rock and roll can cause so many emotions. Playing simple music they managed to play very varied songs. Lack of complexes, singer charisma, beautiful German language, spontaneity made this concert incredible. I can say even more, boys from Berlin played probably the best concert of the whole festival. The end of Saturday’s night brought evidence for often repeated opinion, that the real things happen not in Tivoli Vredenburg but in small clubs. You can agree or not, nevertheless the big advantage of the Le Guess Who? is the fact that along with Pitchork’s „Best New Music” artists, there are also not worse, but less known bands.
I started the evening (actually afternoon) in DB’s – the most distant from centre venue of the festival. It’s a complex of music studios and small gig rooms.
I watched indigenous The Miseries, the band which weird outlook fits more to Czech Republic than Netherlands. In the break before the next concert I watched Eredivisie in the bar. And the next concert was played by Movie Star Junkies, the concert which gathered relatively big audience, very good, crazy concert. After that I went to Tivoli Vredenburg in which I was till the end of the night. At first I saw Owen Palett, who was charming the audience with his violin. There is a lot of misuse of violin in music but he really can play and knows the ways the instrument should be used. Similarly to Sharon Van Etten he was very laid back and even allow audience to select some tracks.
After that on the stage appeared Jerusalem In My Heart who played together with Suuns, I can’t hide I waited for the latter. That was a good, conceptual concert. Unfortunately I watched only few minutes of Tune-Yards concert. Unfortunately because just after entering the hall you had already known that it was great: a lot of people, fantastic vibrations and great vocal.
At least I know what I can’t skip next time. I was really curious about concert of the next artist. Beyond all doubts St. Vincent recorded one of the most important album of this year. The thing that I disliked in the album was exaggeration of theatricalness. Unfortunately it was even more exagerrated live. Although I dont always like the excentrism of St. Vincent it was a very good concert and it was great to listen to „Digital Witness”, „Birth in Reverse” or „I Prefer Your Love” live. Shame that so few people came to listen to the artist.
The farewell concert for me was the performance of Selda. The performance was incredibly promoted before and during festival so the expectations were high. Selda is a legend of Turkish folk scene. She was several times arrested for her political engagement and her songs became anthems. The emotional songs, desipite the foreign language, in incredibly convincing way were telling about torment of the society deprived of liberty, democracy and justice. The accompanying band was from Israel which gave the concert even more special character. Everyone who was there will remember for long the moved Turkish speaking people singing along with tears in their eyes.
Now some organizational matters: I felt very safe during the whole festival, the only strange moment was when before Autechre concert the fire alarm went on and noone reacted. When I was leaving the building I saw even fire fighters waiting in their vehicle – it’s very common in Netherlands, noone cares about fire alarms. There are enough many concert during the day to get tired. There are a lot of foreign bands, but you can also find some Dutch ones. The concerts are rather short (about one 50 minutes), but there were longer concerts (Swans, Einstürzende Neubaten, St.Vincent). Definitely you could say that you could feel contact with artists – there are no barriers and it is relatively easy to get to the front, so you can choose the way of contact that suits you. The support from the city is not very visible, but the most important factor: bike infrastructure is very very good. The organizers took care of cleanliness effectively. The broken glasses were collected very fastly. The quality of the sound was brilliant – I must stress it, it was the best quality of sound I have ever experienced, congratulations to all responsible. Finally I think festival is not expensive – 100 euro for four days is very decent price.
To sum up: it was great festival, I guess the best festival when it comes to music in my life. I saw better concerts, but I have never experienced such great selection of bands, almost all were very good, which maybe makes this review a bit boring. Finally Utrecht is very beautiful city and I recommend you to try beers there. And here small complaint: during the festival the main beers were Becks and Jupiler, please try to offer something more Dutch next time.