(Photos By Grace Wazowicz)
How and why I ended up at Europe’s biggest city music festival is quite a long, so I won't bore you. I was fortunate enough to receive the opportunity of attending Gothenburg’s Way Out West festival, an opportunity I certainly was not going to turn down. With little previous knowledge of the festival I was unsure as to what to expect from it, left with the mere information that the festival took part in the centre of Gothenburg and the line-up’s in the past have generally consisted of popular ‘indie’ bands. I was apprehensive on arrival, but left content with what the festival had to offer. To say I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the festival would be an understatement, with the majority of elements involved more than surpassing my original expectations.
The first element that really hit me was the brilliance of the location. Placing a festival for 25,000 people in the centre of Sweden’s 2nd largest city may seem like a strange idea, but it’s one which in a way made the experience so enjoyable. Being able to walk back to an apartment/hotel outside the park within 15/20 minutes at most after a long, tiring day is perfect, far better than trawling back to cramped tent on a damp and rather muddy field in my opinion. And even if you don’t fancy the 15/20 minute walk (for those of you who are lazy for the sake of being lazy) the transport connections are sound, with trams and buses running past Slottskogen Park and moving on into the city centre on a very regular schedule.
The setup of the facilities in the Park was also well laid out, producing a spacious enough venue without forcing you to walk a great deal between stages etc. In total there were three stages, the Flamingo (main stage), the Azalea (2nd largest) and the Linne tent (which was in fact more of a marquee and the most isolated of the three stages). The time-table was worked out so that performances on the Flamingo and Azalea stages would never clash, an essential factor due to the fact they were placed tentatively opposite each other. However, this occasionally led to clashes between the main stage and Linne tent, which led to frustrating sound bleed in the Linne, something I will elaborate on later. Food and drink stalls as well as toilets were also of a very good quality, providing great service and being suitably placed directly next to the three stages.
One of the factor’s which made a great impression on me was the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere which resonated around the 25,000 strong crowds. No moshing, no frantic jumping; just calm, attentive audiences there to appreciate the intricacies of the music they were being exposed to. This is not to say the audience was completely inactive, as the crowd was still lively and got involved with acts when rendered appropriate. This is something which inexplicably occurred during Gothenburg-born Hakan Hellstrom’s performance, a musical entity I believe only those from Gothenburg can actually comprehend and at least feign satisfaction from. Apart from being reasonably laid-back and conservative, this was a crowd full of well-dressed and attractive individuals. For some it almost seemed the items they were wearing had more of a bearing than the acts they were seeing, with Nudie jeans, YMC shirts and Ray Ban’s appearing time and time again. This was a far cry from your England football shirts (with ‘66’ preferably printed on the back), grey Nike tracksuit bottoms accompanied by a pair of either Lacoste or Lonsdale Velcro trainers. It was a pleasant change to say the least, although the vast amounts of black/grey Nike vintage blazer’s on display in the mud-drenched centre of the field almost brought me to tears (wear old trainers, don’t ruin beautiful ones... please).
The one unique feature of the festival which I have yet to come across is it’s ‘Stay Out West’ venture. Essentially, after the day in the Park finishes the party continues into the nightclubs of Gothenburg, where more artists/DJ’s are waiting to perform to adoring crowds. A fantastic idea. Well in principle at least. The only issue impeding this excellent concept was how do 25,000 festival goers all move onto 500-800 capacity club venues. This is a problem I unfortunately had to endure, resultantly missing out on the one act I had been anticipating with the most zest, the first lady of dubstep Miss Mary Anne Hobbs. 1.45 (bearing in mind MAH’s set begins at 2.15); at least 100 people in-front of me in the queue for the Park Lane club, where bouncers are refusing further entry as the club is packed to its rafters. This was the most disappointed I had been since Andriy Shevchenko apprehensively placed his penalty down the throat of Jerzy Dudek’s goal in the 2004/2005 Champions League final (why Sheva? Although your 173 goals in 296 games more than make up for it... apologies for going off topic). However, in hindsight this was a small glitch on what was a fantastic weekend.
The line-up provided a pleasant surprise. Although renowned firmly as a festival for indie and alternative bands, this year’s line-up had a nice balance and variety about it. Yes, there were an abundance of your so-called ‘indie’ bands/artists, but this year also had good old 90s hip-hop in the form of the Wu-Tang Clan, rock and roll with Iggy Pop & the Stooges, La Roux’s brand of electro-pop as well as the Congo based musical group Konono No.1 who presented a distinctly African sound. Although Q-Tip cancelled his appearance, something which left me slightly aggrieved mainly due to my undying love for A Tribe Called Quest, this line-up left me more than content, a feeling which would soon be enhanced by the excellence of certain select artists.
I debated long and hard about where to start in terms of appraising the quality of particular artist’s performances. I have decided it is only fair to comment on those acts which I saw for a sustained period, which allowed me to be enthralled in their sounds. And there is no better place to start than with The xx, who in my eyes provided the set of the festival.
The London-based trio who were recently nominated for the 2010 Mercury Music Award with their debut album ‘xx’ (although how much this truly means is questionable when you consider Dizzee Rascal and Mumford & Sons have bizarrely been gifted nominations from a more than generous committee), gave a wonderful performance, spreading the mellow and calm aura their album evokes around an atmospheric Linne tent. I must praise the organisers as well as The xx themselves at this point, with the decision to place the band as the final act on the Linne stage on the Friday night at the time of 11pm (a similar time to which The xx recorded their album in a small garage, partly attributing to its moody sounds) paying dividends, providing the foundation for the trio to construct a unique atmospheric buzz which thrived on every luscious beat that the brilliantly gifted Jamie Smith fashioned on his Akai MPC. The xx flowed freely with ease between almost every track from their fantastic debut album, with displays of excellence particularly evident in the tracks ‘Islands’ and ‘Fantasy’, the latter’s heavy bass reverberating around this huge marquee whilst the soft wailing ‘fantasy’ of Romy and Oliver slowly implements itself into the foreground of this superb interlude, finally breaking into a previously unheard dub beat which Smith once again orchestrates in a self-assured and composed manner.
The performance of tacks from the album was almost flawless, yet the pinnacle of the set for me was provided in a surprising, yet brilliant cover. Whoever came up with the idea of covering the UK funky house track 'Do You Mind' by Crazy Cousinz featuring Kyla is a genius. The trio made the track their own, adopting their usual minimalist approach to the track, and resultantly transforming it into their own artifact with the subtle and hushed sound associated with The xx suiting this track perfectly. You know a band is excellent when no element of a set is noticeable except for the high quality of the music. For the most part each individual stands motionless, dressed in all black (apart from Jamie who wears a blue buttoned down shirt beneath his black Nike SB varsity), Romy and Oliver almost whisper their vocals and say little to nothing to the audience in transitional periods between tracks. The don;t want fame or any kind of attention. All they want you to know is that they're creating wonderful music, a message they firmly conveyed with this magnificent performance.
An artist whose performance I was really anticipating was that of the intriguing Lykke Li. The 24 year olds voice is truly unique. Her tone evokes a mystical and dreamlike sound that you can’t help but be drawn to, and I would go as far to say she is the best female vocalist I’ve heard in the past 3-4 years, and with relative ease. Her debut album ‘Youth Novels’, released in June 2008, really announced the arrival of Lykke Li, with the mix of alternative rock and electro-pop elements of the album providing a suitable canvas on which Li’s magical voice could take centre stage. This translated onto stage also, with focus undoubtedly lying upon the effervescent Li. The members of the band were mere extras in a performance which was manufactured to demonstrate the Swedish singer’s phenomenal voice, and rightly so. Although towards the end of her slot Lykke Li apologised for her supposedly deteriorated voice, it was not in the slightest evident. Her voice, although not at its very best was incredible for a live performance, and her energy and stage presence were the greatest I experienced all weekend. During her rendition of ‘Breaking It Up’ she even made use of a speakerphone, the first and last time I think I’ll see such an audacious yet effective act. The crowd adored her. Understandably so on this performance.
When The Chemical Brothers were announced as headliners for the final night I was hesitant to say the least, with mixed reports from recent performances. Thankfully, my prior reservations were dismissed by a very strong performance from big beat electronic duo Tom Rowland and Ed Simonds. Their performance included sleek live mixing between hits from their 7 studio albums, which had feet stepping and head nodding. The audience were also endowed with extraordinary visuals which were in sync with the live mixing, an aspect which in my opinion made the experience so special. It would be interesting to see whether or not the same intensity and emotion would be created had the visuals not been present, although in credit the live mixing exhibited was of a very good quality. The set, which lasted just over an hour, opened with ‘Galvanise, and from this point onwards travelled through ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’, ‘Block Rockin Beats’, ‘Star Guitar’, ‘Let Forever Be’, Out of Control’ and ‘Saturate’ just to name a few. I can confirm this duo have not lost their touch; they more than lived up to their headliners slot on the main stage.
Wu-Tang Clan or Beach House? This was undoubtedly one of the tougher decisions I was presented with over the weekend. However, when it comes down to it, how often do you get the opportunity to see Wu-Tang Clan? I just couldn’t resist the prospect of hearing tracks from the seminal ‘Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’ performed live. Although the legendary hip-hop group originating from Staten Island, New York had absentees in the form of Method Man and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the 7-man strong crew delivered a fine performance. Founder and de facto leader RZA stood in the background sipping champagne as he watched his 20 year project continue its reign, with GZA, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killah taking turns to rap over RZA’s stripped-down, slick beat work. To my sheer delight, most of their hour long set was compiled of their quality material, rather than commercial successes such as ‘Gravel Pit’. Instead much of the ‘Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’ album was explored, with classic productions such as ‘Protect Ya Neck’, ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ and ‘Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothing To Fuck With’ taking centre stage.
I think it’s fair to say these acts provided the highlights of the festival for me, but support came in abundance from smaller and lesser known bands, as well as artists I’d had admired for preceding works. One of these very acts was LCD Soundsystem. Unfortunately, due to my craving for what was a first class burger, I missed part of the set. However, from what I saw and heard, I was once again impressed by the multi-talented and extremely cool James Murphy. Murphy’s 2007 album ‘Sound of Silver’ stands out from the rest of his work, experimenting beautifully with dance/electro, punk and alternative rock. All I wanted to hear from the set was either of ‘Someone Great’ or the 7 minute marvel ‘All My Friends’. I didn’t get my fix of ‘Someone Great’, however, Murphy delivered a superb performance of ‘All My Friends’, in all its extended version glory as well, compensating for the lack of the former track. As well as ‘All My Friends’, Murphy got the crowd moving playing what is LCD’s best known track to date, ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’. LCD’s first ever single ‘Losing My Edge’ was also selected in a well chosen tracklist that balanced itself evenly between tracks from Murphy’s 3 studio albums (‘LCD Soundsystem’ - 2005, ‘Sound of Silver’ - 2007, ‘This Is Happening’ - 2010).
American indie-rock was well represented in Gothenburg, with The Drums and Local Natives taking to the Linne stage. I have previously been impressed with The Drums, a Brooklyn four-piece whose 7-track ‘Summertime’ EP drew dangerous comparisons with past great such as The Beach Boys and The Smiths. On this showing they are a million miles away from reaching such resemblance, with Jonathon Pearce vocals sounding distinctly average in relation to what has gone before and his peculiar dance moves seemingly a bad impersonation of Ian Curtis’s ‘fly’ dance. This was an off day for The Drums, but I’ve seen them perform far better in the past, so please don’t be put off seeing them live. The Local Natives on the other hand thoroughly impressed me with their brand of what I’d almost term modern folk. The LA band’s debut album ‘Gorilla Manor’ was a very impressive effort, met with wide critical acclaim and the opportunity to tour Europe. The five-piece act hit all the right notes live, with the performance of ‘Sun Hands’, ‘Airplanes’ and ‘Wide Eyes’ sounding just as good as the MP3 version’s on your iPod. A special word must be given to Reflection Eternal, the hip-hop duo consisting of the great Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek. Their performance was one which I thoroughly enjoyed, performing tracks from their innovative 2000 album ‘Train of Thought’ (which was released on the well-renowned underground hip-hop label Rawkus Records – has releases from the likes of Big L, Black Star, Mos Def etc...), paying homage and respects to Slum Village, J-Dilla, Gangstarr (in particular the late Guru) as well as Bob Marley, playing ‘Full Clip’ and ‘Jammin’ respectively during their entertaining and well thought out set.
There were also a couple of acts of whom I was somewhat unimpressed by. In all fairness I can acknowledge these are exceptionally capable musicians who are good at what they do, it’s just that I found the performances of both Mumford & Sons and The National very dull and unspectacular. I refuse to comment on the performance of Mumford & Sons, as I feel my account would be vastly biased. I strongly dislike their music, with the combination of Marcus Mumford’s grating voice, banjo’s and mandolin’s generating a mediocre sound that too many have heralded as exceptional folk music (the Mercury Music Award committee are guilty here). I guess it’s just a matter of personal opinion thought, and I do admit that they are of course very talented individuals. However, their ‘banter’ with the crowd was almost as bad as ‘Little Lion Man’. Marcus jokingly asked “where have the great generation of Swedish footballers gone?” quickly moving on to make the serious claim that “Larsson is the last great player you produced”. Of course Marcus, because the man that spent much of his career in the Scottish Premier League is far superior to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who in his career has played for Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan and Barcelona (and might I add he moved for a fee of £40 million in the summer of 2009). Apologies for going off topic, I’m afraid idiotic comments on the subject of football frustrate me to a great degree.
The National were a vastly different situation to Mumford & Sons. I had previously minimal knowledge of the Brooklyn-based indie band, whose praises had been sung many a time by friends who considered their performance to be the highlight of the festival. Once again I found their set very lacklustre, and none of their tracks really stood out or made a connection with myself. I couldn’t help but think I’d heard so many bands formerly that sounded very similar, and the extreme emotions of lead singer Matt Berninger (potentially alcohol fuelled, he was frequently drinking from a coffee cup and then later more explicitly from a wine glass) helped to further distance me from the music. The one track I recognised was the beautiful ‘Fake Empire’, which to their credit the band performed extremely well, with Berninger’s vocals sounding great when under restraint against a storm of wonderfully arranged chords. I found it hard to engage with, but many heralded the performance as the best of the weekend. I beg to differ, although I think I’m going to have to give the band a serious listen to see whether the hype is deserved.
All in all, Way Out West 2010 was a fantastic experience that I would recommend to anyone. Perfect location and facilities. Great people. Diverse music. What more could you ask for? I must say a huge thanks to Grace Wazowicz for kindly providing the great photos from the weekend. You can check out more of her work at http://gracemaryjude.tumblr.com/. And thank you very much Helena for dealing with me and Dave on that weekend... it's a job I wouldn't wish on anybody.