Regardless of our musical tastes, the act of going to a live show is one of escape from all the daily life bullshit. When, a week before the beginning of Le Guess Who?, the Paris attacks happened and Bataclan was one of the targets, that was something new for this region – a connection between this place outside the “real world” with politics and fear. It doesn’t really matter how safe you believed to be during the festival, it’s not like Utrecht is that far away from the French capital. The  uneasiness is not exactly the kind of things you’d like to express with words. Thankfully, we’ve got music and it’s hard to conjure a better reflection than the opening concert of the festival. It’s early night in Utrecht and rain has been pouring down from the skies when we arrive at the beautiful Jankerk, a 15th century church in the heart of the city. Inside echoes the cello of Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, mournful and frail, subtle in its beauty. The performance feels short, as if by its sudden end we were to be left exposed to the elements outside, as if it were wrong to break the post concert silence, as if that air was meant to vibrate to the sound of her cello and voice, not with our mundane ones. A perfect buffer to transition into the right state of mind for a four days festival, which ended up being one of the most diverse ones we’ve ever been on and had its fair share of memorable moments.

Hildur Guðnadóttir

Before leaving the Janskerk to explore the multitude of other venues available, “only” six that Thursday, contrasting with eighteen the following day, we sat down to listen to Julia Holter, an idea apparently shared by many more than the room could host. In a set dominated by her latest “Have You In My Wilderness”, the American singer-songwriter was joined on stage by a drummer and electric upright bassist but never quite managed to reach the spellbinding one could expect and had just experienced, with way too many interruptions for talking. The Paris related speech just before opening the set with a beautiful rendition of Karen Dalton‘s “My Love, My Love” aside, following a promise of going insane in a song and then presenting equally placid from beginning to end is exactly why often is better to just let the music do the talking instead.

Julia Holter

The physical distance between De Helling and Janskerk is two kilometres, which seems rather small when compared to the stylistic difference between Holter‘s soothing songs and the ritualistic death/doom of French quartet Chaos Echœs. In a darkened and smoke filled room, they had the appropriate medium to present their first full length, the impressive “Transient” released just last April. Unfortunately, the performance didn’t reach the potential one recognizes in their studio work, with the sound somehow lacking punch when it was supposed to do so and never thick and full enough to really drag us to the depths of their atmospheres.


Before returning to De Helling to finish the night getting beat up by the usual onslaught that is a Bölzer show, a quick stop to see Faust at the impressive Tivoli Vredenburg, a recently open beast of a venue with five completely different rooms. Our first stop: the Grote Zaal, a modern and comfortable symphony hall, where we sat in witness as drummer Zappi Diermaier and bassist Jean-Hervé Péron lead the audience through their krautrock of characteristic minimal and industrial overtones. While musically guided by the two founding members, the visual focus for the spectator was constantly shifted away from them in deliberate fashion, alternating between the background projections and the three sewing ladies around a teapot who fronted the stage. That ended up being the most lasting memory of a performance, not a good omen and as much as we’d like to write otherwise, Faust‘s appearance was nowhere near as impressive as Michael Rother had been at Roadburn a few years ago.


Any possible sourness was quickly overcome after a short bus trip back to De Helling where Bölzer laid to waste any possible competition for best show of the day, something the Swiss duo seems to be turning into a habit in The Netherlands, as they had done precisely that a few months before when opening for Ascension in Arnhem. Despite having seen them a few times before, their Sunn O))) curated incursion at Le Guess Who? stands apart from all others for two reasons. First and foremost, it was by far the cleanest sounding show we’ve seen from them (thankfully, without the loss of power we’d witnessed earlier), which enabled us to appreciate the vocal richness to an extent we hadn’t been able to do outside their records. Moreover, the light show was absolutely perfect for their black/death metal, with the image of KzR shouting under a purple haze surely to have been left printed in the memories of those attending.


A few years ago, Om was playing the main stage of the 013 and, having seen them before, I foolishly told those with me that I’d go for “just five minutes”. I ended up staying for the whole thing with my jaw hanging open for most of it and still consider it one of the very best shows I’ve seen in my life, something that has more to do with the combination of sound, venue size and visuals than with the setlist or anything about the performance itself. Had the LGW? show taken place at the Ronda room where Sunn O))) played two days later and this next story would have probably been very different. In a fully packed De Helling, time of arrival became of essence, as those standing at the back half of the room had no way of fully immersing themselves into it. Not only was Al Cisneros bass sound too subdued, but there was an incessant chatter on top of it (inexcusable as far as we’re concerned, there’s a bloody bar just outside on the entrance hall). Thankfully, upfront the sound was remarkably better and the chatting reduced to a minimum. As luck would have it, we managed to get close enough just on time for the always mesmerizing “Cremation Ghat”, thus salvaging an experience that in other circumstances could have been memorable.