Le Guess Who? 2019 Recap: The Wildest Sonic Adventure

Earlier this month, the sonic adventure that is Le Guess Who? turned the quaint and historic city of Utrecht into the most wonderful place to be on earth. Bringing together over 200 artists, spanning genres and generations from across the globe, the organisers proved once more that when it comes to music festivals, Le Guess Who? stands on its own.
With so many bands we already loved lined up to play, as well as new discoveries that turned into favourites, every moment was treasured and our highlights included Joseph Shabason, Miranda Cuckson, LEYA, Efterklang, Idris Ackmoor & the Pyramids, Isokratisses, and Xylouris White, amongst many others.

For our third consecutive outing, and perhaps more than ever, Le Guess Who? clearly showed how its selection is guided by an uncompromising boldness and an unmatched musical vision. On top of an already magnificently diverse programme, Patrick Higgins, Fatoumata Diawara, Jenny Hval, The Bug, Moon Duo, and Iris van Herpen & Salvador Breed brought another dimension to the festival as guest curators, inviting their own favourite and like-minded artists.

Things started incredibly well with adventurous violinist Miranda Cuckson gifting us our first show on Thursday evening at Hertz, one of five purpose-built music halls in the giant futuristic complex TivoliVredenburg. She captivated a cheering audience with her effortless and dexterous virtuosity, performing classical works from contemporary artists that she introduced between pieces, including Reiko Füting, Aida Shirazi and Richard Barrett. After performing ’Argot’, which means slang, a piece by Franco Donatoni, Miranda referred to languages morphing constantly because of the way we speak to each other. Funnily enough, we’d been thinking since the start of her set that it was as if her violin spoke many different languages.

Miranda Cuckson

Miranda was invited by forward-thinking composer, guitarist, and producer Patrick Higgins, who also brought to the festival a slew of sublime artists we didn’t know before but for whom we fell head over heals instantly. Patrick himself performed with two of his own projects on the opening and closing night of the festival. At the former he unveiled for the very first time his new project with Chilean producer Nicolas Jaar, AEAEA. The two artists melded instrumental performance and digital acrobatics, resampling each other, much like a spontaneous conversation, reaching beautiful moments of both synchronicity and dissonance, back and forth.
Then on Sunday, and also in Tivoli’s monumental concert hall Grote Zaal, Higgins presented the European premiere of Dossier X, an immersive audio-visual collaboration with installation artist Matthew Schreiber and choreographer Monica Mirabile of FlucT. A tantalizing mix of contemporary dance and music, Dossier X saw four performers move on stage under a laser installation, whilst in the corner Higgins provided the musical magic on guitar and electronics.

Amongst the highlights of Patrick Higgins’ curation, in itself the perfect selection to entice festival wanderers into the realms of modern classical music, was Vicky Chow’s performance on Thursday at Hertz. The Canadian born, New York based pianist, who also tickles the keys for Bang On A Can All-Stars, impressed us with pieces from Fjóla Evans, Adam Basanta, and David Brynjar Franzson. With enormous technicality and sensibility, Chow’s fingers floated through the keys, whilst constantly shifting vibrating devices on the strings of her grand piano, creating a poignant and beguiling ambience. On the same bill, yet with a radically different approach, came Lightning Bolt, to cap off our Friday night like a volcanic eruption. At a time “too late for you kids” as they put it, the bass and drums duo might have been closer to tear down Tivoli’s Ronda than any other band before. With drummer Brian Chippendale wearing a fearsome Mexican wrestling mask, they provided a blast of energy, intensity and noise, not least characterized by volume.
Early on the next day, we found ourselves deeply immersed in the sound of LEYA, the experimental violin and harp duo made up of Marilou Donovan and Adam Markiewicz. Their intriguing and celestial songs, made all the more haunting by Adam’s operatic vocals, merged antiquity with modernity, and as they say themselves, they “aim to deconstruct the traditional connotation of the harp and violin by… altering their sound through unorthodox tunings, extended techniques, amplification, and effects”.

Dossier X

We continued navigating the seas of harp bliss with LA-based experimental composer and harpist Mary Lattimore. Performing at EKKO, one of the many venues scattered throughout Utrecht, her solo performance included works from her latest record Hundreds of Days. Confident and radiant on her instrument, which she explores using effects and improvisation, her performance was gentle and ethereal, atmospheric and pulsating.

We’ve loved Efterklang for a long time already so it was a joyous and warm affair to see them perform their recent album Altid Sammen, along with a few older tunes to a rammed Grote Zaal on Thursday. The trio, playing with their 7-piece band, kept the smiling audience involved and immersed, even leading us into a moving sing along to one of their new songs, in Danish. Afterwards, the public was reassured by singer Casper Clausen that they had been singing “nice things”. Their show rounded off beautifully with ‘The Ghost’, an enveloping track from Piramida, their gorgeous 2012 album.
Friday was also off to a triumphant start with Oiseaux-Tempete, who performed one of our favourite sets of LGW? 2017, back then in a much smaller venue. Two years on, they were even more powerful and impressive, performing with guests who collaborated on the new album, including G.W. Sok, Mondkopf and Jean-Michel Pirès, as well as Jessica Moss on violin and Radwan Ghazi Moumneh on electric buzuk and modular system.

Joseph Shabason

The show by legendary cosmic afro jazz mavericks Idris Ackmoor & the Pyramids was another highlight. Their intergalactic odyssey started on a high with an ecstatic arrival through the audience to the stage, with Ackmoor blowing a didgeridoo looking instrument. The room quickly turned into a feel-good dancing shindig as they kicked off with ‘We Be All Africans’, and drew from all of their catalogue, including several new songs from their upcoming album Shaman. Accompanied on stage by Dr Margaux Simmons on flute, Sandra Poindexter on violin and vocals, Bobby Cobb on guitar, Gary Brown on bass and George Hearst on drums and percussion, Ackmoor guided and gave his accompanists room to shine and explore on their own, delivering a set filled to the brim with grooves and sparkle.
One of the performances we most eagerly anticipated was that of Joseph Shabason, following the release of two magnificent solo albums, Aytche and Anne (one of our 15 Album Picks of 2018). Joined on stage by Kieran Adams on drums, percussion and samples, the composer and multi-instrumentalist enveloped the entire audience, starting with what felt like a heavenly wonder in nature, backed by recordings of birdsong. In the packed confines of Theatre Kikker, Shabason lit up the stage with his gentle and stunning electronically-tinged jazz and ambient music, with twinkling interplays of sax, percussions, keys and electronics. Supplementing the show with insightful stories, he played tracks from both albums, including his collaboration with Gigi Manson and a track from Golden Lovers, the documentary he scored recently about a queer wrestling love story.

This year saw the unveiling of Hidden Musics, a new ambitious program in collaboration with renowned producer, activist and author Ian Brennan, and musician, record producer and founder of Glitterbeat Records, Chris Eckman. Perfectly tailored for LGW?, Hidden Musics aimed to pay special attention to rarely heard musical traditions and artists from secluded regions of the world. In Jacobikerk, Christopher C King played a serie of 78 rpm recordings from the 1920s and 1930s, as an introduction to Isokratisses, the mesmerizing Greek female vocal ensemble from the Epirus region. In his introduction, King explained they are not a professional band, they sing to help pass the day and cheer up whilst carrying ancient stories from generation to generation.

Ami Dang

On Saturday evening we made our way to a packed Janskerk to see Rajasthani folk legend Lakha Khan. Playing the sindhi sarangi, a traditional 27-string instrument from India and accompanied by his son Dane Khan on the dholak, a double headed Indian folk drum, the audience completely fell under his spell. Also part of Hidden Musics, each song was introduced by Ankur Malhotra, co-founder of Amarrass Records. He explained how Khan’s sole purpose in life is to play music and carry forward the centuries-old musical tradition of Rajasthani and Multani folk and Sufi music. Singing in several languages and dialects, including Hindi, Marwari, Sindhi, Punjabi and Multani, Khan’s performance earned him a well deserved standing ovation.

Later that day, in the same gorgeous church, extraordinary vocalist, sitarist and electronic artist Ami Dang filled the air with her enchanting sitar playing and transcending vocals. Blending classical Indian music with electronics, Ami performed songs from her recent album, Parted Plains, and other older ones.

For their first live show in Holland, 10-piece Japanese combo Minyo Crusaders brought a party to the Grote Zaal with their blend of traditional Japanese folk songs (minyō) with Latin, African and Caribbean rhythms. “You like to dance to cumbia?” they asked, before infusing the space with their joyous and infectious grooves, showing the ease with which music can overcome grammatical shortcomings.

Minyo Crusaders

What followed was an unexpected gem of a gig. High up in Tivoli’s Cloud 9, Xylouris White proved to be a pairing from heaven, and one we hadn’t yet given the attention we should have. Cretan lute player George Xylouris and Australian drummer Jim White, exhibited huge technical mastery with immense sensibility. The two performed an exhilarating set side by side on stage, with new songs on offer from The Sisypheans, the album they’d just released the day before.

The most compelling, powerful and heartfelt show for us came from Oslo-based improv-band DNA? AND?, self-described as a “collective with alternating members and an abundance of chromosomes”. Five young people with Down Syndrome and four professional musicians created music unconstrained by conventional technique, moving freely on stage, singing, playing and shuffling instruments.

Melbourne band Tropical Fuck Storm were the perfect choice to cap off the festival, with a mighty and blistering show, blending everything from post punk and rock to psychedelia and pop. With beautiful and addictive vocals delivered by guitarist Gareth Liddiard, guitarist/keys Erica Dunn and bassist Fiona Kitschin, the quartet also displayed their raw and intense energy, owing to the pounding drumming of Lauren Hammel.

Tropical Fuck Storm

Le Guess Who? has a tremendous sense of endless adventure and as it came to an end, we simply wished it would carry on all year long. With countless artists performing across several venues simultaneously, there were so many performances that we wish we could’ve seen but all of the enriching and memorable performances we caught will reverberate forever.
So Le Guess Who? 2020 is already in our calendars, and we’re looking forward to it. The 14th edition will take place between 12th and 15th November 2020 and early-bird 4-Day Festival Passes are available until Saturday November 30th through leguesswho.com, so get on it!

 

Le Guess Who?’s Who 2019: Ami Dang

There’s just over a week to go before Le Guess Who? takes over Utrecht. With over 150 artists set to perform, how do we make sense of such a monumental line-up? We made a list of the artists we’re most excited to see and asked them for their recommendations.

Ami Dang

Official Website

Performing Saturday 9th November at Janskerk

Based in Baltimore, Ami Dang has woven herself into the fabric of the local DIY music scene for a decade now. An extraordinary vocalist, sitarist, producer and composer, Ami released a new album last August, Parted Plains, a mesmerizing and transcending all instrumental record blending ambient, trance and electronic music, and inspired by South Asian and Middle Easter folktales. We are thrilled to see her live at Le Guess Who? and asked her what other artists she is looking forward to seeing live.  Read on to find out.

 

“I very intentionally focused on womyn (and POC) artists as my choices, even though I’m also interested in some male and male, white musician.”

Dossier X

Performing Sunday 10th November at TivoliVredenburg, curated by Patrick Higgins

“I met Monica Mirabile ten years ago when she was making costumes and helping with art direction for an avant musical theatre adaptation of the Japanese story Matsukaze. I saw her blossom into an amazing movement artist and dancer in Baltimore and then further develop her work after she moved to Brooklyn. She is one-half of FlucT, and continues to surprise and impress me with every project she’s involved in. I would never miss an opportunity to see her work! She also choreographed Mitski’s video for “Washing Machine Heart.”

 

Haco

Website

Performing Saturday 9th November at Stadsschouwburg, curated by Jenny Hval

“I’m really surprised (and maybe embarrassed?) that I hadn’t heard of Haco before now. She’s been around for a while, so I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of her. But then I thought, of course we haven’t heard about her much: she a womyn artist of color who uses electronics/technology–which is a very white, cis-male-dominated space.
I checked out her work, and it seems that she might be a jack and master of all trades: performance art, sound art and music, visual direction–she does it all! Listening to her work was like walking through a park of classical sculptures that turn into cyborgs right before your eyes.

Lafawndah

Website

Performing Friday 8th November at TivoliVredenburg, curated by Iris van Herpen & Salvador Breed

“In 2015, I was obsessively listening to Lafawndah’s Soundcloud page. I was totally absorbed in her expressive yet somewhat nasal voice and the mashup of splashy beats and contemporary electronics. I haven’t gotten a chance to see her live, but her videos and photos offer a glimpse into a fantastic world that can only manifest into a grand production.”

 

Le Guess Who? will take place 7-10 November. For the full line-up, tickets and more info visit leguesswho.com. And take a look at other artists we’re excited about picking their own Le Guess Who?’s Who.

Watch Ami Dang’s video for ‘Sohni’

Following the recent release of Parted Plains, Ami Dang has shared an accompanying video for the song ‘Sohni’, which is also her favourite track from the album. The video is by Nicole Ginelli. Watch it now.

In other related good news, Ami Dang has announced a string of Autumn dates across North America, but there’s a special date in Europe too with a show on November 9th at Utrecht´s Le Guess Who? festival.

Ami Dang shares new single ‘Sohni’ off impending album release

Parted Plains, the new album from Baltimore based vocalist, sitarist, producer and composer Ami Dang, is out in two weeks and she had already shared two singles off it, the delicate and gorgeous ‘Raiments´ and the mesmerizing ‘Love-liesse’. To get us even more excited ahead of the album’s release, Dang has released the new single ‘Sohni’, which is also her favorite track.

Parted Plains is out on August 2nd through Leaving Records.

Ami Dang unveils video for new single ‘Love-liesse’

After sharing the delicate and gorgeous single ‘Raiments´, Ami Dang is teasing her upcoming album Parted Plains with a new mesmerizing track, ‘Love-liesse’. It comes with a video accompaniment, which reflects how Dang was inspired by South Asian and Middle Eastern folktales, and featuring her own footage of a trip to India and 18th century paintings of the tragic romance of Sohni Mahiwal. The video was directed by Meredith Moore, who had this to say about it:

“This music video was directly inspired by Ami’s interest in South Asian and Middle Eastern folktales, specifically the tragic romance Sohni Mahiwal which tells the tale of forbidden love outside the rules of the caste system which ends in the lovers’ deaths.

Using footage Ami shot on her travels to India and 18th century paintings of the tragic romance Sohni Mahiwal, the video mimics Ami’s process of making music, combining traditional methods with modern digital electronic methods, by using the grey & white “transparency” grid as a sort of digital liminal space-a space from which all creation begins-to allow further rumination and where the images from the paintings are transformed and reconstituted into a vast digital landscape to create a new vision.

In this new vision, the lovers do not perish in the choppy waters, instead they are happily reunited above the waters, depicted here in the late 18th century painting “Embracing Lovers with Sparklers” which shows a loving couple during Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, which celebrates the triumph of light over darkness.”

Here´s ‘Love-liesse’.

Parted Plains is out on August 2nd through Leaving Records.

Ami Dang announces instrumental album Parted Plains

Photo: Missy Malouff

Baltimore based vocalist, sitarist, producer and composer Ami Dang has announced the release of her new album Parted Plains. An all instrumental affair, the record will see the light of day on August 2nd through Leaving Records. Blending ambient, trance and electronic music, Parted Plains is inspired by South Asian and Middle Eastern folktales. As the press release describes, Dang drew influences from “the four tragic romances of Punjab, Sohni Mahiwal, Sassi Punnun, Heer Ranjha, and Mirza Sahiba; Flora Annie Steel’s Tales of the Punjab: Folklore of India, and selected stories from One Thousand and One Nights.”

Ahead of the album´s release, Dang has shared the single ‘Raiments’ and it serves as a delicate and gorgeous taste from what´s on offer. Take a listen now.