Le Guess Who? 2018 Recap: A Musical Treasure Trove

We run down some of our favourite moments from Le Guess Who? 2018, including Circuit des Yeux, Anoushka Shankar & Manu Delago with MO Strings, Yonatan Gat & The Eastern Medicine Singers, STUFF. and The Comet Is Coming, among many other standout performers

“With over 7 billion people on the planet, the music we hear is only a fraction of what’s out there. This is the instinct that keeps us digging.”

This line on the first page of this year’s festival booklet sums up perfectly the vision, ambition, and spirit of this one of a kind festival.

We loved Le Guess Who? to bits last year and you have probably guessed by now that it is one of our highlights of the year. So earlier this month we returned for a second time to Utrecht for the 12th edition of Le Guess Who?. During four extravagant days, this quaint and picturesque Dutch town became a marvellous melting pot of music and artistic experimentation, bringing together a smorgasbord of incredibly diverse and cutting-edge artists of all different backgrounds from across the globe, both new and older, known and lesser known. Le Guess Who? is not about sticking to the known and it draws a befitting audience, eager to discover what lies outside the mainstream.

With performances held around 20 different spaces scattered throughout Utrecht, one of the beauties of the festival is hopping from venue to venue. Cruising on rented bicycles through the city’s charming cobbled streets before arriving at a church, a cafe or a theatre to watch a show is an integral part of the experience.

Hello Skinny

Every year, Le Guess Who?’s extraordinary program takes on new dimensions, owing to a selection of unique curators, who in turn, invite some of their very own favourite artists to play. Shabaka HutchingsDevendra Banhart and Moor Mother took the curator seat this year, expanding and enriching a program rife with wonderful surprises. With around 200 artists and with some of them not often performing, if ever, in Europe, tough choices had to be made at times because of overlapping schedules or venues reaching capacity. We simply wished omnipresence was a thing. But missing one performance usually meant finding an undiscovered gem in a nearby venue. Almost without fail, in whichever venue/performance we found ourselves, aural pleasures were to be had.

Prodigious multi-reed player Shabaka Hutchings performed last year with his band The Ancestors and also in previous editions of Le Guess Who?. This year his participation reached new heights with his role as curator. Many of our highlights were part of his curation, including London based ingenious drummer, producer and composer Tom Skinner aka Hello Skinny, who performed Friday at De Pastoe Fabriek. Skinner told the audience right from the start that it was a dance gig and he wasn’t lying. What ensued was a brilliant show playing new and old material. Hutchings, who performed with Hello Skinny in an older line-up, joined the band for a wild interpretation of ‘Bump’.

Orchestra Of Spheres

What followed at the crowded De Pastoe Fabriek was a raucous and groovy set by a new favourite band, Belgian instrumental five-piece STUFF. who were also part of Hutchings’ curation. Cooking a musical broth of jazz, funk, hip-hop, electronica, and anything they want to throw in with a good dose of improvisation displaying their versatile musicianship, they turned the warehouse into an irresistible and scorching dance party.

Plugging their recent album, Mirror, Orchestra Of Spheres were as amazing and outlandish as they usually are, in costumes resonating their inventiveness and playing original instruments like the biscuit tin guitar or the foot pedal analogue bass. The Wellington quartet delivered a pulverising set at the cavernous club Kytopia on Saturday evening, navigating not only through recent material, but also older hits. The band’s Baba Rossa told the adoring crowd that they had played both their oldest and their newest song. A wild intergalactic treat.

Other highlights on Hutchings’ curation included South Africa’s explosive psychedelic afrofunk seven-piece BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) and the wonderfully captivating and hypnotic performance of sax wizard Kadri Gopalnath who spent most of the last twenty years adapting his instrument to the traditions of Indian Carnatic music. Performing at Tivoli’s Grote Zaal on Sunday, Gopalnath, accompanied by two tabla players, a violinist, and someone in charge of counting the music’s rhythms with various series of hand movements, sat crossed legged on a carpet, enchanting and drawing in the audience. We were also completely blown away by London-based Japanese post-punk four-piece Bo Ningen. Playing late on Friday evening at a packed Tivoli’s Ronda, their show was a whirlwind of relentless energy, explosive rock and hardcore punk at its finest. Dressed in a feminine fashion, moving frantically yet elegantly, they spread the same explosive energy on the ecstatic crowd.

The Comet Is Coming

As a performer, Hutchings played with two of his bands, The Comet Is Coming and Sons of Kemet, the latter in a special XL format with the usual two drummers doubling up to four. Sons of Kemet performed in Ronda, one of the five music halls in Tivoli Vredenburg. A giant complex with five purpose-built music halls, Tivoli is central to Le Guess Who?, hosting myriad performances. We must admit to only briefly catching Sons of Kemet as Ronda was bursting at the seams, with a mammoth crowd gathered to watch and experience one of the fest’s most anticipated acts. We bid our time and the next day, astro-futurist trio The Comet Is Coming took to the stage at the Grote Zaal with an infectious energy, ripe for dancing. King Shabaka, Betamax and Danalogue led the audience on a cosmic voyage, utterly perfect for a celestial and effusive closing on the last day.

Back to the general line-up and other curated bills, there was a multitude of musical riches on offer. Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley’s collaborative duo DRINKS gifted us with our inaugural set of the festival on Thursday evening at Tivoli’s Pandora, offering with their band a playful set, drawing mostly from their recent second album Hippo Lite, including the weird and wonderful tracks ‘Corner Shops’ and ‘Real Outside’.

Drinks

Celebrated improvisational artist Lonnie Holley was one of the most captivating performers of the festival, stealing the show with his honest and engaging storytelling and ghostly piano playing. Accompanied by the incredible experimental duo of trombone and drums Nelson Patton, Lonnie Holley’s spontaneous musical narrations of life stories evoked a wonderful feeling of life celebration in harmony with Mother Earth.
As is usual, Le Guess Who? spreads its wings in many ways offering more than musical performances throughout its four days like films, artist talks, exhibitions or Le Mini Who?. A tour of Utrecht led by Lonnie, “Through The Eyes of Lonnie Holley”, was one of the one-off events that happened this year.

We’ve been awed before by the ferocious live energy of wildly inventive guitar virtuoso Yonatan Gat. In a trio format, with drummer and bassist, his performance at Le Guess Who? was even more memorable, punctuated by his sparkling collaboration with Native American powwow drum group The Eastern Medicine Singers. Performing at Pandora, the show consisted of two parts. The first part kicked off with a mindblowing drum solo, before Gat joined his two band members for a relentless and powerful show with influences from all over the place. Gat had warned their set would have to be short, as they were merely the support act for the big ceremony. The second part of the show then followed, with the members of The Eastern Medicine Singers all performing on a single giant drum, in the middle of the audience. As the lights turned on them, chanting and pounding, Gat and his bandmates joined the middle stage, enthralling the audience with a powerful and transcending experience.

Takuro Kikuchi

The serene and minimal compositions of Japanese pianist Takuro Kikuchi, in the gorgeous and monumental setting of Janskerk, were a marvellous and meditative experience. The church’s high ceilings and its vast emptiness became filled with stunning light designs and with the tranquillity and beauty of Kikuchi’s instrumental pieces.

Saturday started with our favourite set of the day, Anoushka Shankar & Manu Delago with MO Strings performing to a packed Grote Zaal. Many of the artists gracing stages at Le Guess Who? push their instruments to their limits. With a staggering technical ability and abounding creativity, Manu Delago does exactly that with the hang, experimenting and expanding the possibilities of the instrument. Delago led the first 30 minutes, performing his mesmerizing compositions with the 27-member string section of the Metropole Orkest, under the direction of conductor Jules Buckley. Whether playing the hang or the drums, whether playing with bare hands or using brushes or sticks, Delago manipulated the hang in various ways, always adventurously, drawing us in entirely. Anoushka Shankar, with whom Delago had previously collaborated, joined him on stage for the second half of the performance, enchanting the audience with her mastery of sitar, blending classical Indian music with contemporary sounds. The pairing of two exceptional virtuosos on two very different and unique instruments made for a set that was nothing short of cinematic and divine.

Circuit des Yeux

Le Guess Who? was brimming with surprising collaborations, and a very striking one graced the last day, with Circuit des Yeux. In yet another unique Le Guess Who? moment on Sunday afternoon, Haley Fohr, the extraordinarily talented and adventurous vocalist, composer, and producer behind the project, presented an augmented version of her album Reaching For Indigo, aptly called Gaia Infinitus, as well as the first live rendition of previously unreleased music from the album’s sessions. Fohr rearranged and performed the album with members of the Dutch Chamber Orchestra, and with her bassist and drummer. This accompaniment only added to the immense and intense beauty of Reaching For Indigo, one of our Album Picks of 2017. Powerful, beautiful and moving.

The thrillingly diverse and friendly environment of le Guess Who? emanates from every corner of Utrecht, radiating in every direction and allowing art to take over and come to life. After having been to many European festivals over the years, we can say that there is nothing quite like Le Guess Who?. The 2018 edition, a treasure trove for musical explorers of all kinds, shows that by following their instinct to keep on digging, the festival’s organisers have struck gold yet again.

Even though there’s almost a year to wait before the next Le Guess Who?, we’re already looking forward to it. The 13th edition will take place between 7th and 10th November 2019 and as usual there’s early-bird 4-Day Festival Passes available but only until Friday 30th November, so don’t delay!

Illustrated by Kevin Pinel

Le Guess Who?’s Who 2018: Circuit des Yeux

There’s less than 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.

CIRCUIT DES YEUX

Official Website

Circuit des Yeux presents ‘Reaching For Indigo: Gaia Infinitus’
Performing Sunday 11th November at TivoliVredenburg

Photo: Michael Vallera

We love Circuit des Yeux to bits. Haley Fohr, the immeasurably talented and adventurous vocalist, composer, and producer behind the project, counts five stellar albums under her belt, including two that found their way to our album picks of the year, 2015’s In Plain Speech and 2017’s Reaching For Indigo. A year on from its release, we can’t stop playing it and we are incredibly excited with the special one-off performance lined up for Guess Who?. Circuit des Yeux will present an augmented version of the album, Reaching For Indigo: Gaia Infinitus, rearranged for an eight-piece ensemble featuring members of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. We’ve asked her what other bands she is looking forward to. Read on to find out!

 

“Here’s the scoop – I am SO excited for Le Guess Who this year. Mainly because of my own selfish reasons of performing newly arranged music with the Netherlands Philharmonic on Sunday, November 11th ! But when I am not rehearsing and preparing for my performance, I will definitely be digging into the amazing musical buffet that the festival has so graciously provided. So here it is,the big one, two, three on what I will be seeing at LGW? Festival 2018!”

 

Art Ensemble of Chicago

Official Website

Performing Thursday 8th November at TivoliVredenburg, curated by Moor Mother

“How ironic is it that a Chicago musician will be seeing this band for the first time in Utrecht? I have many of their albums, and have heard many iterations of this ensemble. They are a huge inspiration in terms of what they present sonically, and the benevolent nature of their music. I am particularly excited for the younger participants (Tomeka Reid especially), and to witness how the modernity of our time folds into legacy of The Art Ensemble of Chicago.”

Meridian Brothers

Official Website

Performing Friday 9th November at EKKO

“I hadn’t heard of Meridian Brothers until Tyler, a drummer I have been performing with during “Reaching For Indigo”, played some for us while driving through some small unknown European town this last February. I love the sounds they create – there is something vaguely beyond time about the sounds they produce. They are also a mysterious project…I am looking forward to seeing who they are, and what instruments they play live. I recently went to Colombia, where Tyler considered “going on the search” for the Meridian Brothers, but I can now thank my lucky stars that LGW has done the hard work for us. “

Ka Baird + Pekka Airaksinen

Ka Baird’s Official Website
Pekka Airaksinen’s Official Website

Performing Sunday 11th November at TivoliVredenburg

“This first time collaboration is going to be pure gold, I can just feel it. I am excited to be in the audience, and hear what unfolds – these are two mindful manipulators of sound that have a very wild and “on-the-loose” approach to composition. I am a huge fan of Ka Baird’s “Sapropelic Pycnic”, which came out last year on Drag City. The result of these two performing together are completely unpredictable, and that is why I will make sure to be present when their minds meet. “

 

Le Guess Who? will take place 8-11 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.

Le Guess Who?’s Who 2018: Manu Delago

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.

MANU DELAGO

Official Website

Anoushka Shankar & Manu Delago with MO Strings
Performing Saturday 10th November at TivoliVredenburg

Photo: Lukas Lorenz

Known as a pioneer of the hang, with a staggering technical ability and boundless creativity, Manu Delago is one of the most interesting contemporary musicians, experimenting and expanding what can be done on the instrument. Parasol Peak is his latest album and film, a giant sonic venture recorded with an ensemble of seven musicians on a mountaineering expedition in the Alps. A highly in demand musician both on stage and in the studio, the percussionist and composer’s gifts were first noticed by Björk, and he has performed and recorded with an impressive list of artists, including Anoushka Shankar, Poppy Ackroyd, the London Symphony Orchestra, The Cinematic Orchestra, Ólafur Arnalds, and many others. Following on from his collaboration with Anoushka Shankar, the pair will bring a special performance to Le Guess Who?, with the Metropole Orkest Strings conducted by Jules Buckley. Needless to say we can’t wait for this performance, and we asked Delago which bands he’s most looking forward to. Find out below.

 

Colin Stetson

Official Website

Performing Thursday 8th November at Janskerk

“Colin is an incredible musician. It’s almost unbelievable that he’s creating the sounds you hear. I particularly love his album with Sarah Neufeld.”

 

Serpentwithfeet

Bandcamp

Performing Friday 9th November at TivoliVredenburg

“I fell in love with his music after I heard the track ‘Four Ethers’. It’s a brilliant rework of the legendary ‘Symphony Fantastique’ by Hector Berlioz. “

 

STUFF.

Official Website

Performing Friday 9th November at De Pastoe Fabriek, curated by Shabaka Hutchings

“We are sharing the same booking agent who made me aware of this brilliant and highly energetic band. Check them out!”

 

Le Guess Who? will take place 8-11 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.

Le Guess Who?’s Who 2018: Yonatan Gat

There’s less than two weeks 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.

Yonatan Gat

Official Website

Performing Thursday 8th November at TivoliVredenburg, with The Eastern Medicine Singers

Yonatan Gat has been stirring it up for a long time, first as the founder and one half of cult riotous band Monotonix, and in recent years as a solo artist, keeping the same ferocious energy. A wildly inventive and prolific guitar virtuoso, his compositions combine an improvised free jazz approach and influences from all over the place. Gat is heading to Le Guess Who? with Native American powwow drum group The Eastern Medicine Singers, bringing his recent second album Universalists to audiences at the festival. We’ve asked him what other bands he is looking forward to and as it was no easy task, Gat picked only bands that he played with recently. Find out his recommendations below, with a few words from him.

Senyawa

Official Website

Performing Thursday 8th November at TivoliVredenburg

“I improvised with Rully, along with Arrington De Dionsyo and Brian Chase once in Brooklyn. It was deep. Rully and Arrington were summoning the demons. An audience member put a strange, terrifying mask over his head and started dancing with it in the front row, I was hallucinating from the music, close to terrified, but one can never gets truly scared when you’re performing, every emotion just becomes a positive experience and a part of the music. I never felt that way until I heard Rully sing.”

Sons of Kemet

Official Website

Performing Saturday 10th November at TivoliVredenburg, curated by Shabaka Hutchings

“I just played with them in LA two weeks ago. They are versatile. they were making everyone dance, and then everyone were standing watching, then dancing again.I remember the show ended very sweetly with a pindrop, lengthy, tender saxophone solo.”

 

Hailu Mergia

Bandcamp

Performing Saturday 10th November at TivoliVredenburg

“we played right before him in a festival in North Carolina in September. The organ sounds like an accordion and the accordion sounds like an organ. At the end of the day it could have only come out of Ethiopian music, and it could only sound like him.”

Le Guess Who? will take place 8-11 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.

Le Guess Who?’s Who 2018: Sibusile Xaba

There’s just two weeks 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.

Sibusile Xaba

Official Website

Performing Friday 9th November at TivoliVredenburg, curated by Shabaka Hutchings

With a mesmerizing voice, and guitar skills to match, Sibusile Xaba is one of the artists we’re most looking forward to seeing. The South African guitarist, songwriter and composer will bring to Le Guess Who? last year’s Unlearning /Open Letter to Adoniah, his otherworldly and moving debut double album, rooted in jazz and improvisation, inspired by dreams and paired with spirituality and ancestral invocation. When we asked Sibusile for his picks at the festival, he found it “challenging” to narrow it down to 3 from so many of his favourites. So here’s 4 of his recommendations:

 

Sourakata Koite

Performing Sunday 11th November at Theater Kikker

“Ever since I heard his sound/music I loved it, his tone and approach was very unique.
His instrument sounds very different, this draws me more to his music. “

 

BCUC

Bandcamp

Performing Thursday 8th November at TivoliVredenburg, curated by Shabaka Hutchings

“These are my homeboys and homegirl, I love their music, I think they are fantastic and they’re gonna rock Le Guess Who?”

 

Hello Skinny

Bandcamp

Performing Thursday 8th November at TivoliVredenburg

“This brother right here is one cat I’m looking forward to hopefully working with in the future, he plays the drums just like his personality, super cool brother. Im a big fan of his composition skills as well. Amazing amazing amazing.”

 

Nicole Mitchell

Official Website

Performing Thursday 8th November at TivoliVredenburg

“My friend Lesedi Ntsane who is a great trumpet player based in the USA introduced me to her music. Something about her music is godly.”

Le Guess Who? will take place 8-11 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.

Le Guess Who?’s Who 2018: Orchestra of Spheres

There’s just three weeks 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.

Orchestra of Spheres

Official Website

Performing Saturday 10th November at Kytopia, curated by Shabaka Hutchings

New Zealand’s Orchestra of Spheres have us under their spell for a long time now. An incredibly inventive and outlandish band, they explore and experiment with an array of influences and genres from all over the place using a selection of handmade instruments. The band’s eccentric and ecstatic live shows are something that truly must not be missed and have earned them fans everywhere. And as if we weren’t already excited enough to see them at Le Guess Who?, Orchestra of Spheres have a brand new album on the way, Mirror, releasing on November 2nd. Have a look at their recommendations for the festival, with a few words from the band’s Baba Rossa (aka Daniel Beban).

Nicole Mitchell

Official Website

Performing Saturday 10th November at TivoliVredenburg, curated by Moor Mother

“Chicago’s AACM has had a profound influence on creative Wellington musicians musically and philosophically. They don’t know it but we feel like they’re our brothers and sisters : ) Nicole Mitchell’s on of the great flutists currently working in the so-called jazz world.”

 

Pan Daijing

Official Website

Performing Sunday 11th November at TivoliVredenburg, curated by Moor Mother

“Very keen to check out Pan Daijin who’s got a particularly fresh way of working … somehow quite traditional and super avant garde at the same time.”

 

Lonnie Holley

Official Website

Performing Thursday 8th November at TivoliVredenburg

“Lonnie Holley’s album ‘Just Before Music’ was on constant rotate on one of our OOS tours a few years ago… so beautiful, gets under your skin.”

Le Guess Who? will take place 8-11 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.