Picture by Tim van Veen

It was our first time at Le Guess Who?. And it is one of the best experience you can live if you like music, art and to connect with people. Curators of this year were Kevin Richard Martin aka The Bug, Fatoumata Diawara, Iris van Herpen & Salvador Breed, Jenny Hval, Moon Duo, Patrick Higgins. The lineup was a miscellaneous of genres, styles and mood and we had the chance to see also original performances and collaborations. They announced the new edition which will take place from November 12th to 15th, 2020. We can’t wait to be there again.

The City and The Venues.

Utrecht is a wonderful city, a slow motion place, full of lovely people ready to welcome you. The Festival took place at TivoliVredenburg and different locations (churchs, clubs, galleries, warehouses), extended on Sunday with the impressive program of Le Mini Who?, the event which involved local bands to play in different places of the city (special mention for our favorite new band Luigino & The Big Ass Children). It was easy walking among the streets to reach all venues, but with a bike is even easier.

TivoliVredenburg deserves a special mention. It is the carousel for music lovers. It is a big and high building which has different places for live shows. From the magnificence of “Grote Zall” to the club mood of “Pandora” and “Cloud Nine, to the elegance and grace of a venue like “Hertz”. A unique place, perfect for the idea which is behind Le Guess Who? Festival.

Picture by Jorah Sfeer

Best Shows. 

We saw a lot of beautiful things. Fatoumata Diawara, on Sunday, gave us a lot of good vibes. Surrounded by great musicians, she danced, she spoke about important things and remebered Fela Kuti and Nina Simone; her beautiful vocals and her way to keep the stage stirred up the happy audience. The day before, in the same theater, Aldous Harding with the band hypnotized us: her grace and politeness on the stage were the surplus of her amazing talent. She also performed a couple of songs with only vocals and guitar and that was pure magic.

French band  Oiseaux-Tempête (Frédéric D. Oberland, Stéphane Pigneul) is something you need to see: they played with a formidable cast of musicians with the likes of G.W.Sok (vocals), Mondkopf (analog synths, electric guitar), Jessica Moss (electric violin), ​Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (electric buzuk, modular system), and Jean-Michel Pirès (acoustic & processed drums, percussion & bells ). A powerful performance, from the rough vibes of instrumental tracks to the intense moments of G.W. Sok poetry. Efterklang played one of the most touching shows of the festival and they constantly involved listeners, as if we were part of their collective.

We were also impressed by the perfomance vocals and drums of Egyptian-Iranian Los Angeles-based artist Lafawndah which confirmed to be one of the best artists of the contemprary scene, together with Sudan Archives which with her violin and soulful vocals hypnotized the audience at the Pandora venue.

Picture by Tim van Veen

We can’t forget also the noisy and powerful performances of the curator The Bug for his solo project with Flowdan and Manga Saint Hilare and for the other project ZONAL which saw the feature of Moor Mother and Nazamba. A unique sonic (“red”) experience. Amnesia Scanner (The Bug was between the audience) gave us another adrenalin rush with stunning visuals and a “punk” approach to the electronic live show.

Concerning intensity and power of permormances, we have to mention the explosive shows of three of our favorite bands like Girl Band, Lightning Bolt and Moon Duo which played in a “box” with psychdelic and colourful visuals to accompany their music.

Magicians of the Instruments. 

Le Guess Who? is also a festival where you can find the best expression of the single instrument. The harp of Mary Lattimore enchantend us at EKKO with an Intimate and touching show and we also had the chance to see the delicacy of the art of Felicia Atkinson. Drums of Greg Fox and Lightining Bolt’s Brian Chippendale fired up the Cloud Nine venue. One of the most exciting shows of the festival. Talent duo of musicians of Swedish bands Hills and GOAT, with the moniker DJINN, brought an amazing mix of jazz textures, experimental rhythms with psychedelic vibes.

Picture by Tim van Veen

Beyond the imagination.

New collaborations are also another strength of this festival. AEAEA, the new project of Patrick Higgins and Nicolas Jaar, was one of the most interesting things we saw. Patrick Higgins “broke up” the sound with his regular experimentation and Nicolas Jaar increased irregular lines or tried to harmonize the whole experience in other moments.

The Bug and Japanese experimental vocalist Hatis Noit tried to do something which we would like to turn in a physical release: the impetuosity of Kevin Richard Martin became the bed for the the Hatis Noit embracing vocals whispers. The wonderful location of Jacobikerk hosted the unusual collaboration between Not Waving and Dark Mark (Mark Lanegan). He worked especially when the sound was-ambient oriented; the rough, slow sound of Italian producer reached the goal to intensify the poetry and intensity of Mark Lanegan performance. Special mention for Holly Herndon which brought her latest album “Proto” and the Sacred Harp choir tradition. Avant-pop concept performed at its best.

Alienating Experiences

Swedish based artist Kali Malone is the first artist we saw at the festival. It was strange because, at first, we were listening to her music but she wasn’t on the main stage of Grote Zaal. She was up to the stage, in a little angle and this amplified the intimacy of the experience. In the same theater, Liz Harris (Grouper) presented her side project Nivhek, an immersive, deep jump in ambient and liquid sound as the visuals which emerged from the dark of the place. The sound of Mexican producer Murcof, at Cloud Nine, and the total blue of the lights, were the perfect, hedonic trip to start the third day of the festival.

Not less, Olga Pashchenko, one of the most important pianists and keyboardists of the world, scored the horror silent movie “Der Golem” (comprised exisiting composition). It was created specifically for her by conductor and flutist Jed Wentz. A deep llok to the relationship between sound and images.

The most alienating experiences was Dossier X performance, the unique collaboration with Patrick Higgins, visual artist Matthew Schreiber and coreographer Monica Mirabile. A project which recaps all the meaning of Le Guess Who, in other words going beyond genres and embracing the unknwown. The irregular sound of Patrick Higgins dragged the impressive performance of four dancers. As the press release reports, it challenges the limits of where a traditional work of music ends, suggesting new pathways and transformative applications and creating a living environment in which sound, sight and movement begin to lose their borders.

We also missed a lot of beautiful things as the surprise of Bjork DJ Set, the stunning performances of Tropical Fuck Storm and The Ex, the show of the curator Jenny Hval, and one of our favorite project King Midas Sound and much more. But this is also the beauty of this festival. A wonderful and large offer which doesn’t leave empty spaces in your scheduling. See you in Utrecht next year!

Picture by Tim van Veen