The English festival is dead; long live the English festival. As pedantic a statement as that may be, it is becoming increasingly true. Stale, repetitive lineups, extortionate prices and an increasingly corporate atmosphere have resulted in dwindling festival sales and a move towards European festivals. Indeed, Way Out West Festival has all the credentials to be the perfect festival; not only does the festival consistently provide great line-ups but it is located in the Mecca of all things cool: Gothenburg, Sweden.

It is very difficult to be critical of Way Out West. I could nitpick about the few hitches in organisation – namely the minimal publicity of acts and venues - but after experiencing the refreshingly unique, relaxed atmosphere and festival surroundings, it would be futile. The Festival is divided into two settings: ‘Way Out West’ - the typical summer festival blueprint of a large outdoor green space with 3 main stages, and then ‘Stay Out West’ a series of pub stages dotted around central Gothenburg that begin after the headliners. It is the attention to variety of acts and venues that I enjoyed so much; after all, it can get a bit claustrophobic being simply confined to just one big field.

Janelle Monae Crowd

Photos by Lily Pearmain unless stated

Edward Sharpe

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros’ performance much more resembled that of a barn dance than a typical festival performance. Crowding the stage, the 10 member-strong band flew into their set of floor-stomping alt-folk material with resounding enthusiasm and presence. Bounding around the stage in an outfit resembling Jesus, Edward Sharpe (Alex Ebert) and his troupe of musicians (more suited to an Alabamian saloon) tore through a set that was as entertaining visually as it was aurally. The band ended triumphantly with their hit-song ‘Home’ which, based on the riotous audience reaction, was the main reason the large tent was so packed out; the set proved to be an exciting start to the festival.

Alex Ebert, Edward Sharpe

Photo by Alex Ebert

Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae is a prime example of an artist that I would struggle to listen to outside of a live performance. After all, her unique brand of energetic soul music perfectly lends itself to the spectacle of a festival; the use of near-virtuoso live instrumentation, dancing and costumes were infectiously enjoyable. Indeed, the band had clearly put a lot of thought into orchestrating such a seamless and proficient show. Ultimately it would take a lot in order for me to label myself a fan of Janelle’s music yet you would have to have a heart of stone and hips of steel not to be impressed with such an energetic, well-thought out set.

Janelle

Explosions in The Sky

If James Brown was the godfather of Funk, then Explosions in the Sky must surely be the godparents of post-rock. As was obvious in their incredible Way Out West set few bands can produce such intense soundscapes and rich crescendos capable of making your eyes water as the Texan quartet. Indeed, few bands could get away with such minimal movement and even more minimal speaking or singing. Instead, Explosions in The Sky relied on brutal noise, relentless distortion and reverb that comfortably rivaled the intensity of a My Bloody Valentine Holocaust. The set was so mesmerizing that it barely mattered that I struggled to distinguish one song from another. Thanks to Explosions in the Sky and their brand of epic post-rock, I left feeling that my senses had been abused but ultimately, I left very satisfied.

Explosions

Fleet Foxes

“I’ve never been to such an attractive festival” were the words uttered by Joshua Tillman of Seattle band Fleet Foxes, and of course he was right. Over the past few years the (recently turned) 6-piece have established themselves as the ideal festival band. After all, their laid-back lush folk pop sound sits perfectly amongst a summer’s day. Their effortless harmonies and flawless vocals were certainly in rich supply in Sweden even despite the intense touring schedule. Indeed not even their set or humorous stage-banter seemed forced or stale. The band’s latest material from their second release Helplessness Blues, sat without blemish alongside their first album. Regardless of whether this is a reflection on either how good the album is, or simply the band’s homogeneous sound it certainly provided a perfect festival performance.

Fleet Foxes

Robyn

Never before have I seen such an incredible imbalance of bad music/crowd reaction as watching Robyn live. Now I understand that Stockholm-native Robin Carlsson is the pearl of Swedish pop music but that surely cannot blind the audience to her brand of tasteless, cheesy electro-shit-pop. After all, not even outdated, ‘attitude’ euro-trash can be enhanced with (embarrassingly enjoyable) dance moves, costume changes and pulsating lighting. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I have suspicions that the 32-year-old popstress was miming, or at least was spending more time posing for the photopit. Watching Robyn was an embarrassing experience similar to that of watching someone passionately singing Karaoke or someone being violently sick in an alley. Personally I would rather have done the latter than watch an entire Robyn show, regardless of how much the Swedish audience seemed to enjoy it.

Robyn

SBTRKT

SBTRKT is a ridiculous name with an even more ridiculous spelling. Luckily the London acts performance proved to be much better than their name suggested and contained little of the pretence it carried. Sure the set was suitably ramshackle, chaotic and featured some of the worst drumming I’ve seen at a gig, but this only served to reinforce the exciting and raw performance. Indeed, the duo successfully proved that Electro (or Post-dub or whatever bollocks genre they are classified) needn’t be so painfully ridged and calculated. The set was lively, enthusiastic and was perfectly suited to the small, dingy Jazz Club. As is so often long forgotten with such gigs, the added visual element of live drums, vocals and fx was mesmerizing.

SBTRKT