Le Guess Who: Day 4 “Your embarrassing drunk aunt at a wedding”

This is the final part of my fascinating account of the Le Guess Who festival. Previously I posted about the first, second and third days.

The last day of Le Guess Who was Sunday 11 November, which was an exciting day for me as it was the hundredth anniversary of the Western Front armistice, about which I had many posts on my amazing World War 1 blog. But being now in 2018, the day began not with last minute heroics but with food. My beloved and I had signed up for this thing called Le Feast, which was another spin-off from the main Le Guess Who, which in this case saw people (i.e. us) going to the homes of random Utrecht residents for brunch. In our case we made a short journey outside the central zone to the home of Daniek and Jaap where we were served tasty noms of a broadly Middle Eastern inspired variety. Other guests included a Dutch goldsmith and an anglophone couple who revealed that they were Welsh when I asked if they were from “England” [/embarrassment]; they turned out to be coffee roasters. The whole experience was very enjoyable, largely thanks to our gracious hosts and the tasty food they served us, which was delicious without being nonsensical. In fact the brunch might be the highlight of the festival and I urge anyone who goes to Le Guess Who next year to make sure they sign up for it. I am making myself hungry just thinking of it again. If the table looks bare in the photographs that is because we had eaten all the food by the time the photographer arrived.
I then tried to catch a concert in by Eleanor Friedberger playing in an out of the way venue but so it turned out did everyone else. Once I realised that the queue I had joined was for people to be admitted on a one-in-one-out basis and not the queue to be let in once the doors opened I made my excuses and left. I did think of heading into the outer suburbs of Utrecht to see Mudhoney but this plan ran aground on account of my not being arsed and also fearing that their venue would also be too full, earning me a wasted journey for our troubles. So instead beloved and I went to the Belgian beer pub that boasts its own pub cat, or so Mr B—- had informed us. We did not see the cat but we did see his bowl.

Circuit des Yeux

And then to the Tivoli for a last evening of music. In the big venue we saw Circuit des Yeux performing music with members of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. I had previously listened to Ms des Yeux’s recent album Reaching for Indigo but I can’t say it made much of a positive impression on me. I recall enjoying the live performance more but did wonder how much of that was down to the semi-orchestral accompaniment. I’m not sure exactly what it is that puts me off the Circuit des Yeux project. I mean, she is a bit goth so should be right up my alley, but I find her deep vocal style a bit unappealing (and yet a deep female vocal style has never put me off the likes of Nico). I think I might be the problem here.
Cocktail Bar

It may have been around this point that I had an Old Fashioned from the festival cocktail bar. It was very nice.

The next performance was a more bizarre one as it was by Eartheater, whose description in the programme as a “Queens based artist” was considered ominous in some quarters. Ms Eartheater vocalises to synthesiser accompaniment, with her vocals seeming to me at least to be more or less completely non-verbal. There was also a dance element to her performance or at least a physicality to it that approximated to dance while perhaps deriving from first principles rather than any kind of rigorous dance training (NB I have no idea of Ms Eartheater’s background; she could be trained ballerina for all I know). As avant-garde nonsense goes I found this performance very impressive but there were aspects of it I found a bit problematic. Specifically she wore some class of crop top that continuously threatened to fall down and reveal her assets to the audience; eventually it did [/spoiler]. I suppose I am bit old and weird and not down with the young people and their letting-it-all-hang-out philosophy, but this bit seemed somewhat gratuitous to me and undermined the serious bonkers avant-garde artist schtick that the rest of the performance was going for.

Smoking

“Your embarrassing drunk aunt at a wedding” was how one person was heard to describe Ms Eartheater but, poppage and subsequent topless performance notwithstanding, I would still judge her to be one of the festival’s highlights.

We stuck our nose into the venue where Lucrecia Dalt was playing but left again as her music was a bit too quiet. But when we found ourselves watching The Comet Is Coming the opposite was the case and their extreme volume sent us on our way, as well as the faint fear that with their combo of synthy keyboards and jazz saxophone they were like the evil progressive jazz band in La La Land (an unfair comparison).

The Comet Is Coming

That brought us almost to the end of the night. For the want of anything better to to do my beloved and I repaired to another of the Tivoli venues to see Swamp Dogg, who is an R&B performer of advanced years. The music was of the old school blues and R&B variety but the real star here was Mr Swamp Dogg himself, who is both blessed with a still impressive voice for that kind of music and an extremely rofflesome persona. I particularly liked when he stopped in the middle of singing a song about how he is some class of lover man to say “Not anymore I’m not – maybe 20 years ago”. His inability to remember his band’s names when he was trying to introduce them was a poignant reminder of what lies ahead of us. And he also had to be restrained by his band when he was looking to climb down off the stage into the audience, an attempt that looked like it could have led to disaster, given his now fragile state. There was something very life affirming about Swamp Dogg’s performance and it made for a perfect end to the festival.
Swamp Dogg

Final Verdict

The test with any festival is whether you would go again. I am not sure with Le Guess Who, as two of its featured irritated me. Firstly was the massive multi-tracking and the FOMO it engendered, rendered all the more acute by the fact that so many of the acts were unfamiliar to me that it was not always obvious which ones should be plumped for. I have been to other massively multi-tracked festivals before, notably Glastonbury, but the problem here seemed to be much more acute, perhaps because this indoor city festival was not as relaxing as an outdoor hippy festival in olde England. The other irksome factor was the frequency with which it proved impossible to see plumped-for performers, because the venues they were playing in were full to capacity. That meant that it was consistently impossible to rush straight from one concert to another as one needed to be in a venue half an hour before an artist started to be sure of catching the performance. But maybe these are minor irritations and I will next year find myself at Le Guess Who once more.

images:

Le Feast images, by Mirel Masic (Facebook: Le Feast 2018)

Swamp Dogg and I, by Jeimer De Haas (Le Guess Who: LGW18 – Photo Recap Day 4)

More of my Le Guess Who photographs

More of my Utrecht photographs

Le Guess Who: Day Three – frenetic world music and 17th century proto-atonality

This is the third part of my interminable account of my time at the Le Guess Who festival. Previously I posted about the first and second days. This post deals with things I saw on Saturday 10 November.

After lying in until after our housemates had disappeared off into the fleshpots of Utrecht, my Beloved and I had our own breakfast and went off to a former industrial area beyond the old Utrecht walls. Bringing us here was an exhibition of material by the industrial designer Dieter Rams, whose work is often advertised in the pages of the LRB (the other paper of record). Mr Rams is known for the simplicity and clarity of his design work, values that were sadly not in evidence in the venue where his work was being displayed, as it was extremely difficult to find a way into the exhibition space, which appeared to be completely unsignposted. It turned out that the exhibition could only be accessed from the toilet space of a local restaurant. The exhibition itself featured a pleasing range of consumer electronic items of yore, featuring interesting pieces of audiovisual kit from an age when such things did not all have to be black.

That evening then saw us catch a triple header of World music type stuff in the Tivoli’s Cloud Nine venue (so called because it is located on the ninth floor). First up was Hailu Mergia, the taxi-driving Ethiojazz sensation who treated us to his smooth stylings. Then there was Cüneyt Sepetçi, a Turkish clarinettist playing what was billed as Turkish gypsy music. It was pretty exciting and indeed quite dancey, like a slightly more sedate version of Omar Souleyman. Indeed, for all that Turkish and Syrian music are different to each other, this had me thinking that it must be like the unelectronic ur-music on which Souleyman’s turbo-dabke accompaniment is based on.

Speaking of Omar Souleyman, the third of the world musicers was none other than Rizan Said, Omar Souleyman’s keyboardist. It was not clear why he was playing without the vocalist; is there a disturbance in the Force that has sundered their partnership or was Said just playing some solo gigs to show that he has the necessary chops? No answer was provided though his bio in the Le Guess Who programme reports that he has provided music to numerous Syrian artists, as well as to Syrian films and TV programmes, so perhaps he is seeking to make clear that he has an independent existence to the dabke master.

The synthesised music that Said was playing was broadly similar to that which he plays on Omar Souleyman records: frenetic, preternaturally fast approximations to acoustic drum patterns and mental wind instrument melodies. It was great for the dancing and there were even some people attempting dabke dancing in the audience. Initially he played on his own but then he was joined by a vocalist, whose name I did not learn. This guy was interesting, as I found it impossible not to compare him to Souleyman. He was definitely a more accomplished singer, with a far more tuneful voice, but he lacked the astonishing charisma of the master. Nevertheless, we saluted his efforts.

It was now quite late and we made our way from the Tivoli complex, but not to the rest of our bed but to the Janskerk, where we caught the last third of 17th century composer Carlo Gesualdo‘s Tenebrae Responsoria, a four hour long suite of music being performed by the Graindelavoix vocal ensemble. Most people I know are unfamiliar with the crazy life and works of Mr Gesualdo, but I had previous with him thanks to a concert in Dublin by local choral group Gaudete that focused on his work. The most notorious detail of his life is that he murdered his wife and her lover after discovering them in the act of love, escaping legal retribution because nobles like him were above the law. His music is known for its prefiguring of atonal music of the 20th century.

Previous concerts we had attended in the Janskerk had the performers at one end with all the seats facing towards them. For the Tenebrae Responsoria they rearranged the seating so that there was a long central aisle, towards which the pews now faced, perpendicular to the front of the church. The performers, a relatively small group of vocalists, did their thing in the central aisle, but they changed location between each subsection, so people sitting in different locations got to see and hear them up close at least some of the time and interest themselves with the Janskerk’s acoustics as the performers changed location. Overall this was a magical and spectral experience and a definite highlight of the festival, with the only downside being the couple of buzzwreckers who had smoked or drank a bit too much and were a bit disruptive until one of them fell asleep.

IMPORTANT NOTE: neither of the buzzwreckers appear in the above picture.
final part of my Le Guess Who write-up coming real soon

images:

Dieter Rams record player (Modern Magazine – Dieter Rams: Obsolescence Is a Crime)

Carlo Gesualdo (Wikipedia)

More of my Le Guess Who photographs

More of my Utrecht photographs