“A celebration of sound.” That’s how the organisers of Le Guess Who? describe the festival. It’s perhaps a minor point, but the fact that it’s not stated as a celebration of music, gets to the core of what makes Le Guess Who? such a unique festival. For one weekend in November, Utrecht is the setting for a collision between the mainstream and the avant-garde, the familiar and the alien, the comfortable and the challenging. The result is a festival that encourages the audience to explore and get out of their comfort zones in the hopes of finding something exciting and unexpected.

Israeli guitarist Yonatan Gat sets a high bar early on Thursday evening. Accompanied by Native American powwow drum group The Eastern Medicine Singers, he leads a triumphant performance in Pandora that has people jostling at the entrances in an attempt to get in. The steady percussive beat and chants underscore Gat’s explosive, expressive guitar playing to tremendous effect and lead the audience in an infectious, danceable groove. He’s not the only act to collaborate with other musicians over the weekend, but this performance seems to not only cross cultural boundaries, but temporal ones as well. It’s difficult to not see the past and present of rock music contained on that stage with powerful tribal rhythms merging with electrified guitar work.

Anoushka Shankar also attempts to bridge similar cultural chasms on Saturday evening alongside hang player Manu Delago and the 27-piece string section of the Metropole Orchestra. It’s a beautiful and frequently breathtaking performance that puts Shankar’s sitar playing front and centre throughout. Combined with the orchestral backing we are treated to a soaring, cinematic sound that that really showcases the evocative sound of the sitar in a way that few others have done before.

If these two collaborations present the harmonious side of musicianship, then King Britt and Saul Williams’ Unanimous Goldmine collaboration is the antithesis. Wearing dark sunglasses and a long coat, Williams owns the stage like a cyberpunk prophet dispensing perspectives on societal and racial oppression backed with pulverising beats. Provocative and confrontational throughout, Williams doesn’t flinch as he decries the surveillance state, patriarchy and how the Dutch profited from the construction of slave ships. It’s a set that reminds us of how music can speak truth to power - even if that truth is uncomfortable. It’s also the kind of set that you could only see working at this festival.

Yves Tumor presents an equally challenging show on Thursday evening at Basis. One of a few new venues this year, Basis is a club located below street level, accessible only from the canal that runs through the heart of Utrecht. Eschewing lighting, and using anything that resembles a stage, Tumor instead stalks the shadows and sweaty confines of the club like a phantom. The narrow walls and haze of smoke create a claustrophobic space befitting Tumor’s music and the whole experience is as beautiful as it is terrifying. Mere minutes after Tumor’s set ends, DJ Lyzza takes over and provides cathartic relief with an intense set that makes full use of Basis’ crisp soundsystem, deep bass, and ceiling of lights.

This year’s festival is particularly impressive for its selection of electronic acts - something certainly helped by the curatorship of Moor Mother and a showcase from record label RVNG. As well as Lyzza, we are treated to sets from 700 Bliss, RP Boo, a bass-heavy onslaught from The Bug, and a playful set from Kate NV at Janskerk. The standout set however, comes from Eartheater who delivers a ferocious show of bruising electronica and guttural screams on the final day of the festival. It was a performance that had all the energy of hardcore punk and the abrasive tonal qualities of acts like The Knife or Oneohtrix Point Never.

On the softer side of things there’s a truly magical performance from Vashti Bunyan. The majestic Janskerk - one of several churches in Utrecht - is a perfect fit for Bunyan’s soft vocals and quiet guitar playing, which is met with a hushed reverence from the assembled audience. Roger Eno, meanwhile, proves to be a fine way to close out a busy Friday night. He treats Hertz to a tranquil set of solo piano pieces that blur the lines between classical and minimalist ambient music.

Le Guess Who? has always managed to excel at offering a diverse lineup that explores the breadth of genres and styles of music from around the globe. It can make attending the festival something of a daunting prospect with so much potential to surprise audiences, how do you decide which acts to see and which to skip? Just this year I found myself having to skip part of Sons Of Kemet’s riotous performance, which featured 4 drummers backing Shabaka Hutchings' saxophone and Theon Cross’ tuba, in order to catch Gaika’s high-energy performance. And whilst I thoroughly enjoyed Chihei Hatakeyama’s blissful ambient set (and perhaps even needed it after a busy weekend to-ing and fro-ing between venues) I still wonder whether Tirzah’s show would have been the better choice. Ultimately though, that’s what makes Le Guess Who? such an incredible festival experience. The festival is now in its 12th year and it’s still managing to pull together a lineup that delivers astonishing performances and memorable moments like no other event. We only hope that they can somehow outdo themselves next year and make Le Guess Who? 2019 even better.