Last weekend I travelled from London to Utrecht to watch a bunch of my favourite bands at Le Guess Who? festival. Le Guess Who? is a Dutch festival in its sixth year running. It started off just focussing on Canadian music to promote the Canadian music scene in the mid noughties, but the festival has expanded over the years and by now it represents music from all over the world. Most popular genres are being covered and with over a hundred emerging and established artists playing it's become one of the most popular indoors festivals in continental Europe.
Friday 30th November
I get in to Amsterdam Airport slightly too late on Thursday to make my way over to Utrecht, and even though I'm slightly bummed out about missing Chris Cohen, I have a good sleep and start my festival the next day.
The first band I get to see on Friday the 30th of November is Clinic at the Tivoli. Their post-punk sounds like it's being driven by a machine and of course they are wearing their trademark surgical masks. There's hardly any crowd interaction and I'm not sure if everyone is enjoying themselves, but I am. The sound is great and so is this band so it's a good start of the festival for me. After Clinic, Deerhoof takes on the main stage at Tivoli. Deerhoof have, just like Clinic, been going strong for well over a decade. Their stage presence is great, they're really going for it whilst wearing some crazy outfits. However, their music does absolutely nothing for me, I find it all a bit too kooky and just can't discover any real songs within their repertoire. I doubt they have gained many new fans after this performance. Safe to say I was a bit underwhelmed, but then Fuck Buttons took to the stage at around 11PM. They've been keeping quiet recently (apart from contributing music to the Olympic Opening Ceremony), focussing mainly on their side projects (Blanck Mass and Dawn Hunger). I'm glad they're back. The venue is absolutely packed and everyone seems in a trance. All you can see are their silhouettes facing each other over a table of mysterious awesome sounding electronic devices on stage. Cold light beams behind them which suit their electronic drone sounds perfectly. Every once in a while Power leaves the desk to play some additional rhythms on a floor tom which really creates great build ups in their songs. All sounds are being created on the spot, no computers involved. It's great. The last band playing tonight are The Soft Moon, but upon arrival at the venue it's one in one out and people have been waiting outside for an hour and the band are not even on for another hour. Gutted, time to go home.
Saturday 1st December
I start my evening off in Tivoli de Helling, which is about a 15 min walk south from the main Tivoli venue, to see Tim Hecker. I don't really understand why he's on at 8PM. I feel like I'm taking part in some music therapy class, it's entirely dark, no visuals, no lights, nothing. Three guys are sat down in front of me, heads between their knees, probably recovering from a serious comedown. The sound is really good, but I just feel like it's not the right time to zone off in Tim's drone world, not at the start of a festival. This would have been great at 4am. Up next I made way to Ekko to let Mac DeMarco and his band bring some light and life into my evening. After having seem him put on a fantastic show at Birthdays in London just a week ago, my expectations are high. There's a lot of joking around going on on stage, but I don't think the Dutch crowd quite get their sense of humour. It's not until one of Mac's guitar strings breaks and the rest of the band jokingly cover a Tool song to pass the time fixing it, that the crowd shows a bit of a reaction. After that more people start moving around, which is nice - how could you possibly stand still to amazing pop tunes like 'Baby's Wearing Blue Jeans'? Their set consists of songs from their last album 2 and the amazing Rock N Roll Night Club EP released earlier this year, as well as a bunch of crazy covers. Smiles all around. After that I really wanted to see BEAK>, but they were on 10 minutes after Mac DeMarco's set, in a venue that's a 30 minute walk across town, so that was impossible. I drowned these problems in a pub where they sold some eccentric types of continental lagers: Satan Red, Raging Bitch and Guillotine(?!).
Sunday 2nd December
The first band I get to see on Sunday are DIIV at Ekko. Even though they're on relatively early (6pm) the venue is packed. After releasing their debut album Oshin this summer the band have toured extensively throughout Europe and America, and that shows in their strong live set. Songs are being played faster and sound more energetic than on the album. This is the most consistent I have seen them live yet. Next to songs from their album they play some b-sides and a Nirvana cover. No fucking about, just a straight forward solid performance. When the last song ('Doused') kicks in the crowd is finally going for it and I can even spot a mini moshpit down the front.
Up next I head over to Tivoli de Helling to see Sharon Van Etten. She is 15 minutes late but makes up for that by playing an amazing set. Most of the songs played tonight are off SVE's latest effort Tramp. She also plated a new song called 'I'm Giving Up On You' where the rest of the band leave the stage and it's just her and her backup singer/bassist/keys player Heather. Her voice sounds incredible even though she's ill. It's all very intense and honest, but that's all good because after this I'm off to see White Fence. So time for another epic walk to another venue, Tivoli. White Fence are bringing us some 60s Velvet Underground inspired garage and the crowd is going mad. There's limbs flying left right and centre. But this is all just a taste for what's about to come up next: headliners Ty Segall Band. At least the organisers got the capacity trick right this time, it's packed but there is place to move and no ones left standing in the cold unable to get in. Ty Segall released 2.5 albums this year and most of the set contains of material from these 2.5 albums. The crowd at the front is going for it like it's 21.12.12 and the band seem to have a good time on stage too. Members from White Fence come on stage to join in with certain songs, which is what I hoped for considering they released a collaboration album (Hair) earlier this year. My favourite song 'Tell Me What's Inside Your Heart' is played halfway through the set and my mood can't get any better. A great closing act for this festival.
All in all it was a fun filled festival. I got to see most of the acts I wanted to see, but I must say that the walking distance between venues is a bit of a joke. They could've spread the bands over the days a bit more equally, and making people choose between Chain And The Gang and Mac DeMarco (on at the exact same time) just seems unfair. But at €75 for 4 days of music, no one can really complain!