At the beginning of my Music Minor we had to conceptualize our own music festival and write a business plan for it. One of the first steps was brainstorming crazy ideas, which made room for suggesting scenarios that complete your perfect image of a music festival. As the concept was getting more structured and visualization became clearer, I realized that my idea of a perfect music event already exists. And it is happening right in front of my house! Do you wanna guess the festival?
To be completely honest, I literally chose to come to Utrecht in the Fall semester to be at the 10th jubilee edition of Le Guess Who?. Another breathtaking festival line-up spread around 18 unique venues hosted more than 150 incredible acts. This festival connects a broad audience with adventurous music in inspiring ways, as it acts with an urge to seek and push the boundaries of genres. It possesses an artistic focus, which is visibly expanding towards non-western influence, reawakening of jazz and embodying avant-garde.
I won’t let you keep guessing how it was for much longer, so hop on and let this “le treasure hunt” begin!
THURSDAY, DAY 1: GUESSING NO MORE
OH-MY-GOD, IT HAS STARTED! Thursday was my day off from volunteering, but I had an exam the next morning, so my plan was to take it easy. A friend once told me that he can’t quite figure out how can I be so outgoing, yet so responsible. Well, hun, I don’t know how I’m able to do this either (but thanks).
Respected Chicago-based cowboys Wilco also blew an even number of candles by releasing the 10th studio album two months before their LGW appearance. I saw them at INmusic festival in Croatia last summer, where technical problems kept interrupting their performance. These things happen, we all know that. In my opinion, what counts is how well the band handles it. Frankly, Wilco kinda let me down in this aspect. While the lead guitarist and some poor technician were struggling on stage trying to solve the issue, the rest of the band members just kept staring at them. This made the crowd’s eye continuously rest on them as well, which lead to some dissatisfaction and nervousness among the audience. All in all, no hard feelings, just mishandled a bit… The LGW attempt was something totally different. It was a beautiful poetry for all my senses and it made me feel so warm that I could hug each and every one in Tivolivredenburg’s Grote Zaal at that moment.
Iconic alt country group was also given an honor of curating the first day of the festival’s main programme. One of the most exciting performances of the night was thrown by no other than the magical Deerhoof. They know no genres, no rules, no bullshit. Well, actually, bullshitting could be their genre in the wickedest, funkiest, most playful and open-minded way you could possibly imagine. We even got a private drumming lesson from Greg Saunier, or whatever that adorably strange demonstration was supposed to be.
Later that night, LA’s Wand electrified the same stage with their powerful and loud sound. I was a big fan before, but now I would follow them across the continent if necessary.
Because of my lovely exam the next morning (I know, you don’t care), I only had time for one more band. Brace yourself, this one is gööööd! “Amorphous post-punk that sounds like either an impending clash between nature’s rampant lawlessness and the civilized world’s stark mechanics…or the festering remnants of that clash. Blistering death jams, electric shocks and harsh Canadian winters notwithstanding, Preoccupations won’t relinquish their place as spearheads of contemporary post-punk anytime soon.” I was left completely struck! It is no secret that Preoccupations is one of my favourite bands and they just played 100 meters from my Dutch home?! I might consider settling for only attending their concerts for a year if someone bet me.
Unfortunately (I am looking at you, HU!), I didn’t have a chance to see Girl Band, It It Anita and Die Nerven, although I was at their gig in Ljubljana a few months ago and witnessed the drummer packing up his gear butt naked. What a bonner.. NO, I mean bummer (damn autocorrect!).
FRIDAY, DAY 2: HANGING OUT AT JESUS’S
Savages-curated Friday takes my love for this day to the whole new level. I also took it like the real savage, must admit. I guess this is what happens when you spend too much time in a church?
The exam went well, thanks for asking, and I was on my way to the magnificent Janskerk, almost a thousand year old national monument in the middle of Utrecht. Besides freezing at the entrance and politely telling people to keep their mouth shut during performances (the Dutch just don’t know how to do that), me and my volunteering colleague Christina had fun meeting new people, begging our supervisor for more candies and helping lost people find their way (oh, how “appropriate” considering the circumstances). However, I wasn’t at all prepared for what happened when a Bosnia-born, Switzerland-based accordion master Mario Batkovic entered the room. I am not exaggerating (ok, maybe just a little bit) when I say that in that particular moment, when I was sitting there, staring at this majestic instrument, not being aware of my surroundings, I felt closest to God (whatever that is) than ever before. Time stopped. I didn’t exist in that moment. There were only Batkovic’s moving fingers and indescribable sound taking over the whole area.
After 7 hours of holiness, it was time to spill some blood. Christina first dragged me to the R&B-inspired vocalist, producer, and songwriter Jessy Lanza, who once again made me a pure sinner. This girl-power continued to the stars of the night: London’s glorious quartet Savages. I’ve been waiting for so long to finally get a piece of their rage and it was beyond all of my expectations. In fact, I got so possessed by their wildness that I stayed in Tivoli until they started closing it down. I didn’t see any other show. No Beak>, no Yung, no Urlika Spacek, no Tim Hecker. I had so many plans for this evening, instead, I ran into some foreign friends, made a few new buddies and just danced my ass off at some random (sorry) DJ set downstairs. I’d defend myself by saying “yolo”, but that would make me look even worse, wouldn’t it?
SATURDAY, DAY 3: LE MISSING WHO
I have to admit I had no idea who was Julia Holter, the third curator of the 10th edition, before attending Introduction to Le Guess Who? at EKKO a week before the main event. The whole thing was in Dutch, but I made it through. Even after the festival, I can’t say I completely dig Julia’s music, although her talent is truly undeniable.
Mildly said, I was a walking ghost after losing my normality the previous night. But Black Mountain’s psychedelic vibes had an extremely relaxing effect, which gave me some will to live and cycle to my next working location.
The Universe somehow pulled the right strings on me again, even though I kinda keep letting it down with my behaviour. I was blessed with a warm, cosy venue and the most chill crew at downtown’s LE:EN. One of the performers there was Colin H. Van Eeckhout aka CHVE, a pioneer of his own kind. His music is a conquest, a meditation and it offers an inward journey between grief and tears. If I had to describe his music with only two words, it would be “pure calmness”.
CHVE’s unknown sounds indeed generated in a healing result. I was ready to bang my head at the Italian doom metal powered trio Ufomammut and the leading Belgian post-metal miracle Oathbreaker. I am crushing hard on this band, but after their mystic performance, I was also crashing hard on life. Cycling from De Helling back to the city when my warm, lonely bed was waiting for me 100 meters away seemed impossible.
This Saturday holds quite some regrets, to be honest. Last night’s rebel deprived my artistic soul of Le Bazarre, a cult market with local artists and entrepreneurs, taking place at the iconic square Neude in the middle of the city. I was even more disappointed for missing out on Le Mini Who?, the main programmes’ younger sibling, which transforms Utrecht’s restaurants, cafes, record stores and other shops into venues, showcasing local upcoming talent. Utrecht became a real wonderland, but instead of drinking just the right amount of Alice’s shrink potion to happily trip around this music heaven that was happening all around, I overdosed on Tivoli’s cheap (only in quality, though) beer the night before and went rotting in hell the next day.
As this wasn’t enough, the greatest record fair in the world was happening just across the street of the main festival location. Guess what/guess who failed to catch it?! Wow, you are becoming good at this guessing game…
SUNDAY, DAY 4: SUUNS
The last day of the festival started at noon and my shift began two hours later, this time at Tivoli. My fearless warrior Dana and I were guardians of stairs to Ronda, the building’s second biggest hall. Our job mostly required to come up with a few different versions of “hello, how are you, can I see your wristband, please, great, thank you, enjoy”, which had to be said in 5 seconds. But we were having a good damn fun with it! Utrecht’s Platomania music store entertained us with their DJ booth and our lovely coordinators were bringing us coffee. Le Gig Poster? Exposition, initiated by extremely talented local silk screen artists Joris Diks, was decorating Tivoli’s first floor. The space was full of beautiful silkscreened, custom-made concert posters, designed by 45 national and international gig poster artists from all around the world. Of course I got one (ok, two).
One of the reasons I would employ myself at Tivolivredenburg is only to get that big, glorious self-serving meal that was included in my Sunday shift. However, food wouldn’t taste so heavenly if I knew back then that my Danish sweethearts Marching Church were playing in Pandora at the same time. How could I overlook them on the schedule?!? Their latest album Telling It As It Is is sooo eerily beautiful. My eyes still tear a little bit when thinking about it.
Nevertheless, I managed to get a sneak peak of exotic Russian musical collective and performance group Phurpa. By using ritual instruments and special tantric singing technique, their authentic ritual music of Bon, the oldest Buddhist tradition from Tibet, is nothing I have ever seen before. This thought goes extremely well with the whole spirit of Le Guess Who?. It seemed truly fascinating, deep and a bit scary, to be honest. You have to be a tough one to be able to sit through this almost two hours long performance.
I might be tougher than I think, since I enjoyed the two hours long “transcendent rush of living sound” that Swans fully embodied on the LGW stage. Pulverising chords and droning soundscape, which is every now and then interrupted by Gira’s portentous vocals, sent me in some hidden place as my memory of this intense dark saga is a bit fuzzy.
The legendary Chicago-based collective Tortoise were also the win of this year’s edition. Post-rock harbingers turned Tivoli’s Grote Zaal into a blur of dancing energy.
Even though the previous two days held the most exciting artists for me, nothing could compare to how fast my heart starts beating when I hear Canadian masterpiece Suuns. Without any question, they have been one of my favourite bands over the past few years. Their third studio album Hold/Still, released in April 2016, contains a sexy blend of krautrock and shoegaze, seduced by analog synths and distorted guitars. It could easily be the soundtrack to my life at this point. As their festival bio says: “Precision, minimalism, repetition, and unsettling deviations of said repetition – these are the building blocks of the surly universe created by Montreal’s Suuns. It’s a universe of high tension. A universe of resistance and surrender to all the hopelessness, anxiety and privilege of being self aware out here at the edge of history.”. This actually marked the end of the main festival programme for me. Just like at ADE Live a few weeks ago, I wasn’t capable of seeing anything else after being completely blown away by this enormous, astonishing madness.
Le Guess Who? is much more than just a music festival. It is an annual gathering of true music, art and love worshippers. It is a hymn to the experimental, pure, open-minded, eccentric, underground and legendary.
I stand behind what I said at the beginning: if I had to imagine a perfect festival, I would imprudently point at Le Guess Who?. I am curious to see how the masterminds will develop this concept in the years to come and I will for sure as hell be there to find out.