The tenth edition of Utrecht based festival Le Guess Who? starts this Thursday and I will be there covering the event. It can be a daunting task as the sheer amount of parallel sessions means that at certain times you will be missing more than a dozen of simultaneous performances. When the final line-up was revealed, I briefly went through some of the highlights – at the top of which stands Swans –, though of course many were missing. Many will be missing after this text, surely many more will be missing from the review which will also likely contain some completely unforeseen gems. It’s partly due to this feeling of being about to dwell in unknown territory whilst being overly excited to see acts such as Swans (I might have mentioned that before) that makes the festival such an interesting ordeal.
With all this in mind, I asked a few of our scribes to help me compile a little (alphabetically ordered) list of things to see during these days, some which I hadn’t mentioned before, some which I felt like going through again because that’s the kind of annoying fuck that I am.
By: Estefânia Silva
“Noise rock, acid rock, call it whatever you want, it’s wacky, it’s dynamic, it’s rock and it’s damn good.” – this was pretty much our conclusion after watching Bo Ningen during last year’s edition of the festival. It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to be exposed to them live for the first time. Explosive, magnetic, their psych rock walks along noise rock lines, often runs towards a doom-heavy bass, meets a “90s grunge band destroying the stage” and repeats until done. It’s one of a kind, ambiguous and hard to forget. The Japanese (but London based) quartet are yet to release a new record but with the promise of its impending conclusion, we can only expect a refreshing new show of quasi-implosion, flying instruments and maybe, maybe, new tunes.
By: André Forte
Lately I started to pay attention to tropical music — it’s been a natural path for me as music lover and avid listener. Brazil is a go to country; they’ve got it all, from European influences in the heaviest of metals or crazy chord progressions in prog rock to inexplicable rhythms due to the African ancestry in the region. Elza Soares is a 80 year old woman who, in 2016, can still channel all of this into something sounding both modern and traditional, crossing over psych rock with afrobeat, samba and a almost rap-like drop of in your face lyrics. She’ll sing the hell out of her lungs, right after she dropped verses on how you’ll feel so very sorry for trying to lay a hand on her.
It seems amazing enough to listen to a woman talking smack about getting you in place or of how it feels for a woman to want to fuck — not vanilla-like love-making crap, but actual fucking the brains out of someone. It gets better when you know she lived each and every word and went through an immense number of hardships. And, damn, you can feel it all over her skin, and listen lively to each cry in her voice.
Let’s make it clear: Elza Soares is eighty years old and she’s still singing like hell. Without us ever knowing (I only got to listen to her music with her last record), she’s a living part of music history and still pushing things forward. Elza Soares makes me feel fucking old and I wouldn’t miss the chance to feel her energy live. Make no mistake: she deserves the headlining honours and you deserve a punch in the face for thinking otherwise.
By: André Forte
Just imagine a woman working on a steel factory and channeling all the abrasiveness, all the heat and all the different machine rhythms into music — you’re probably imagining some kind of aggression via sound and you’re not far from the spot. JLin does footwork, the same way one says Paypal, Taye or Mastercard do, but hers is way heavier, with more intricate and complex rhythm explosions of frequencies. She’ll hit your legs and torso with machine gun-like sequences of bass and sub-bass, with screaming samples and mechanical melodies, dragging you into a suffocating sci-fi ambient right in the middle of the dancefloor. Yup, you’ll be dancing all along, while trying to figure out which leg is more fit to follow the poly-rhythmics.
By: Estefânia Silva
Gregorian music in a modern/urban music festival can be perceived as peculiar, even when talking about a festival as culturally diverse and challenging as Le Guess Who?. The trick is to face Gregorian chanting as any other art connected to religious celebrations and/or rituals, bringing it closer to projects like Phurpa (playing that same day), blurring its original purpose, facing “art for art’s sake”. The Schola Cantorum Karolus Magnus was founded in Nijmegen in 1988 and their body of work relies on the study of early-medieval manuscripts rediscovered by the Solesmes monks in the 19th century, in an attempt to recreate the ancient liturgical art as accurately as possible. Their show will open the last day of the festival and will present us with «The Martyred Virgins», a memorial to female victims of violence and then «Matins of Saint Lebuin», from their new album.
I truly believe “Rheia” is the most important record Oathbreaker has released so far. After having seen them live seven times in four years, the last of which at this year’s Amplifest, I didn’t think I’d be this much looking forward to seeing them at Le Guess Who? Yet, I am, and if this sounds like the writings of someone surprised with his own decision, it’s because they are. Look, their previous records were good and they have always been the most consistently good live act of Church of Ra besides Amenra. However, I’ve grown tired of seeing the man band of the Belgium family play the same type of set over an over again. What once struck me as overwhelming intensity today seems like a gimmicky performance. I’m still holding out hopes that a new record will refresh them in my eyes, if only because I really enjoyed seeing them the first few times I did so, with the Het Patronaat show at Roadburn standing out as a particular highlight. All of this to say that I was somehow expecting Oathbreaker to follow the same path.
Had I only heard “Immortals” from “Rheia”, I’d probably expect exactly that – not because it’s a bad song, but because it’s the progress I’d expect to hear just with Caro‘s vocals sounding surprisingly fragile. It wasn’t and it’s exactly with her work that my surprises began. Yes, there’s an increase of clean ones in “Rheia” and it’s done in a more tasteful way than I could have predicted, and yes, the hardcore screams remain and are still awesome. It’s not so much how her voice sounds, but what she manages to convey doing so and I don’t think one can separate the way she sings to the words she wrote beforehand when looking at the final result. She’s said time and time again in interviews that previous lyrics felt “boxed” in the hardcore aesthetics for her and that this was the first time she felt truly honest about the writing. Moreover, that writing some of the things she wrote for “Rheia” and doing so the way she did was a frightening experience, as was singing the beautiful “10:56” by herself at the beginning of shows when they started playing material from the new record. That this breaking of creative and personal shackles was a liberating process but also a stress inducing one when the new songs were translated onto a stage is a strong hint as to the urgency behind the songs. It held for the Amplifest show but there’s been a North America tour in the meantime and though it has surely increased the live cohesion of the new formation and in between older and newer songs, it remains to be seen if that urgency has been washed away or if it remains. I lean towards believing the latter will occur, not so much because of a song like “Immortals” but through how good that trio “Sorry, This is // Where I Live // Where I Leave” is and how complete the band sounds in them, both instrumentally and on the vocal department.
St Francis Duo
Last year, Stephen O’Malley and his mate Greg Anderson not only curated the festival but signed under the strongest candidate for the loudest show of its history. I had seen Sunn O)) live before a handful of times and wasn’t even close to being ready for what I felt there, to feel as if my throat was being brutally gripped as the earplugs were forcefully dragged outside my ears through the ebb and flow of sonic waves. Even when by himself, O’Malley is equally proficient in a live setting, something I had the privilege of witnessing in Porto in 2015 in what I can only describe as a masterclass in sound textures. St. Francis Duo is half his responsibility, half of notable jazz drummer Steve Noble, with whom the North American also plays in Æthenor, and promises to be full on loud improvisational madness. It should be an unforgettable way of following up the most important show of the festival.
I might have mentioned this one before, but it’s never too much to repeat it. The most important mother fucking show of the tenth edition of the Le Guess Who? is, beyond a shadow of a fucking doubt, the Swans one. It would already be an amazing prospect in and of itself had it taken place last year or if they were just presenting (as if they would actually “just” present an album) “The Glowing Man”, edited earlier this year. But Michael Gira has announced that this tour spells the end of the current incarnation of the band, the one he started back in 2010 and which has produced more masterpieces in its short existence than most bands do in their lifetime. We have no clue what the future holds for Gira and the Swans name but given the man’s strict adherence to not recycling his musical past if he’s not feeling it, this might be the last time we have to see the live unfolding of sheer blissful heaviness that has so aptly characterized Swans in the twenty-first century.