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? reveals full curated programs for this year’s event, including Efterklang, Lightning Bolt, Murcof, Holly Herndon + more

We’ve spent the last couple of years raving about how great Le Guess Who? is and with good reason. For four days and nights every November, the festival takes over the quaint and historic city of Utrecht with a kaleidoscopic range of delightful and diverse performances. With today’s announcement, Le Guess Who?, celebrating its 13th edition from November 7-10, shows that it continues to be guided by an adventurous, independent and uncompromising spirit.

Le Guess Who?‘s organisers had already fired us with enthusiasm with the first announcement of performing artists within the general line-up, as well as guest curators and initial curated bills from Jenny Hval, Patrick Higgins, The Bug and Moon Duo. Today the festival unveils the final additions to these bills, as well as the picks of Fatoumata Diawara and Iris van Herpen & Salvador Breed, and other special performances and unique collaborations.

Afrocubism and Afrofuturism-related artists will be the core of Fatoumata Diawara’s curatorial selections. The inventive Malian artist had previously collaborated with multi-talented Cuban jazz musician, composer and bandleader Roberto Fonseca, and she invites him for a solo performance at the festival. Diawara’s curated bill will also host performances from activist rapper Master Soumy, who’s at the forefront of Mali’s hip hop movement, and the soul-stirring Tuareg folk of guitarist and singer/songwriter Ahmed Ag Kaedy, fresh off the back of his new solo acoustic album, Akaline Kidal. Living in exile, Kaedy named the album after Kidal, his northern Mali hometown where he is banished from. Two films will also feature on Diawara’s program, Mali Blues and Yao.

Dutch designer and couturier Iris van Herpen and her partner, sound artist Salvador Breed, have invited Efterklang, the Danish trio of childhood friends Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen and Rasmus Stolberg, who constantly venture in new and exciting directions and are back with new album Altid Sammen. They have also invited Egyptian-Iranian experimental pop/R&B artist Lafawndah, Mexican artist Murcof, Hip-Hop and Soul duo Oshun, J-E-T-S, the collaborative project of producers Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar, and Klavikon, the project of virtuoso pianist Leon Michener mastering the cross-pollination between techno and classical music with merely a prepared piano, “no loops, no laptops, no sequencers”. Van Herpen and Breed’s program will also feature an exhibition by British hand embroidery artist James Merry, best known for his otherworldly creations for Björk.

Amongst the new additions to curated programs is the avant-pop of electronic musician Holly Herndon presenting her multi-sensory experience ‘PROTO’, which is also her bold and challenging third album inspired and created with artificial intelligence. Herndon’s performance comes courtesy of three curators, Patrick Higgins, Iris van Herpen & Salvador Breed and Moon Duo.
Patrick Higgins will host Dossier X, his own immersive audio-visual collaboration with installation artist Matthew Schreiber and choreographer Monica Mirabile and Rhode Island noise rock duo Lightning Bolt with new record Sonic Citadel under their belt. Moon Duo add to their curation Berlin-based Argentinian duo Mueran Humanos, and self-taught violinist and vocalist Sudan Archives who popped up on our radar a couple of years ago through the spectacular line-up of Le Guess Who 2017 edition. There are new additions to The Bug’s program, with organist and composer Kali Malone set for a special organ performance and The Bug’s performance with grime MC Flowdan.

Other exciting and fresh additions to Le Guess Who?’s 2018 line-up include two label nights from Portugal’s powerhouse dance label Príncipe Discos and Rome-based techno label Spazio Disponibile, both bringing over to Utrecht a chunk of artists from their roster.
Another special performance now announced is that of Belgrade based DJ/producer Vladimir Ivkovic. Twenty years on from the death of Serbian producer Mitar Suboti, also known as Suba and Rex Ilusivii, his shelved iconic album Wayang, got widely released for the first time and Ivkovic will perform it in its entirety.

This year’s Le Guess Who? Festival will undoubtedly be a musical treasure rammed with surprises and delights and there is yet a lot more to be unveiled for the 13th edition. Daily tickets and 4-Day Festival Passes are now available on leguesswho.com, where you can also find newly confirmed artists and more info.

First wave of artists announced for Le Guess Who? 2019

Le Guess Who? has just announced the first round of artists for its 13th edition, taking place in various idyllic venues across Utrecht from 7-10 November. Joseph Shabason, Tyondai Braxton, Mary Lattimore, Conrad Tao, Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids, Minyo Crusaders and Angel Bat Dawid are amongst those confirmed to perform this year.

Le Guess Who? celebrates its 13th edition this year and so far, the organizers had only announced the list of its curators: Fatoumata Diawara, Jenny Hval, Patrick Higgins, The Bug, Moon Duo, and Iris van Herpen & Salvador Breed. Each year, Le Guess Who?’s curators contribute to the festival with their own selections, enriching an already magnificently diverse program featuring both emerging and well-established artists, traversing geography and genre. Today we get a first glimpse at some of their selections, as well as the first names from the general line-up.

Avant-garde composer, guitarist, and producer Patrick Higgins displays his creative vision with a sublime programme. His curation includes young pianist and composer Conrad Tao, whose work as a soloist includes recitals in Paris, London, Munich, Berlin and appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphonies, among many others. Also invited is Brooklyn based cellist, composer, and sound-artist Leila Bordreuil, experimental violin and harp duo LEYA, incredibly adventurous violist and violinist Miranda Cuckson and Berlin based vocalist Stine Janvin, who explores and stretches the flexibility of the voice and its surroundings. Higgins will also host the classical-electronics hybrid of prodigious composer and musician Tyondai Braxton and Canadian virtuoso Vicky Chow, who is also the pianist for Bang on a Can All-Stars, New Music Detroit, and a founding member of piano sextet Grand Band, and piano duo X88.

Prolific British musician and producer Kevin Martin aka The Bug returns to Le Guess Who? in 2019 as a guest curator, hosting Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, hot on the heels of their albums reissue program on Southern Lord, legendary duo Earth celebrating 30 years with their new album Full Upon Her Burning Lips and South East London-based Jah Shaka Sound System, active since the early 70’s and known as the king of the roots reggae Jamaican sound system. The Bug’s curation further includes multidisciplinary artist Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, the hypnotic blend of jazz, country, noise and minimal electronica of Berlin based Polish instrumental trio LOTTO and Mark Ernestus’ Ndagga Rhythm Force, the project of techno pioneer Mark Ernestus with a revolving cast of Senegalese sabar musicians. Some of The Bug’s other projects will also take to the stage at Le Guess Who?, including his trio King Midas Sound, featuring poet Roger Robinson and vocalist Kiki Hitomi, and Zonal, his duo with Justin Broadrick, set to perform with Moor Mother. He has also lined up the world premiere of his collaboration with London based Japanese vocal performer Hatis Noit, whose music draws from a variety of genres and traditions, including western classical music, Japanese folk, whispering, and poetry reading.

Known for performances and an artistic output that embraces a variety of arts forms and vehicles for expression, Jenny Hval´s curation reflects precisely that. Joining her bill is experimental composer and poet Félicia Atkinson, with a new album called The Flower And The Vessel coming out this July, the quirky and experimental Alina Astrova (Inga Copeland, Hype Williams) under her new alias Lolina, and the otherworldly experimental rock of Moon Relay,  a four piece orchestra who draw influences as disparate as krautrock, techno, no wave, surf rock and free jazz. The Norwegian multidisciplinary artist has also invited the wonderful and inimitable multi-instrumentalist and improviser Richard Youngs, whose album Belief was one of our 15 Album Picks of 2018, Canadian Los Angeles-based musician and musicologist Sarah Davachi, Swedish, Ethiopian-born, Oslo-based singer and composer Sofia Jernberg who describes herself as a “maker of things”, and DNA? AND?, the Oslo-based collective formed in 2013 that brings together kids with learning disabilities with professional musicians to play improvised music. Jenny Hval will present her new interdisciplinary piece The Practice of Love together with an ensemble of musicians and artists.

Psych-kraut stalwarts Moon Duo invited cosmic afro jazz mavericks Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids, minimal synthesist and experimental composer Michele Mercure with a recently released retrospective anthology, Beside Herself, featuring tracks from her early cassette releases, Liz Harris’ new project Nivhek, with a new record composed during and after residencies in Portugal and Russia, and experimental harpist Mary Lattimore who pushes the boundaries of her instrument using effects and an improvisational approach. On Moon Duo´s bill is also the blissful and pastoral sounds of Prana Crafter and Träd, Gräs och Stenar (Träden), hugely influential on Sweden’s DIY and ‘progg’ culture.

Le Guess Who? has become a privileged stage for rare performances and unique collaborations and continues to pride itself on nurturing them. Amongst those confirmed to play is singer-songwriter, producer and actress from Mumbai Asha Puthli, known for merging traditional Indian influences with contemporary Western pop and Pakistan’s 75-year old Ustad Saami, a master of the pre-Islamic vocal style known as Surti, passed on from generation to generation since the 13th century, and of which he is the only practitioner left in the world. There´s also an exclusive European performance in store with legendary Ethio-groove performer Ayalew Mesfin, performing with Boston´s Debo Band. Mesfin’s work came to prominence last year with the release of his compilation album Hasabe (My Worries).

There’s a lot more on offer for the 13th edition of Utrecht’s Le Guess Who?, with the first performing artists within the general line-up now announced. Appearing on the bill is talented Toronto based composer and multi-instrumentalist Joseph Shabason whose beguiling and affecting album Anne, in the realms of jazz and ambient, is among the finest releases of 2018, cult nurse-turned-musician Doug Hream Blunt, accomplished jazz composer and drummer Makaya McCraven, Chicago-based clarinetist, vocalist and composer Angel Bat Dawid, Welsh singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon, the loop-heavy, psychedelic groove of Chilean trio Föllakzoid, the afrofunk sound of Ghana’s highlife singer, composer and instrumentalist Gyedu-Blay Ambolley & His Sekondi Band and the Rajasthan folk of Lakha Khan mastering its traditional string instrument, the sindhi sarangi. Also announced are French collective Oiseaux-Tempête & Friends, Visible Cloaks, Yoshio Ojima & Satsuki Shibano, Tokyo based 10-piece big band Minyo Crusaders, and Somalia’s Dur-Dur Band with their exuberant pop funk.

Many more artists will be added to this initial tremendous line-up over the next few months, including the curated programs of Fatoumata Diawara and Iris van Herpen & Salvador Breed. But it is already clear it will be an adventurous musical paradise, covering just about all music spectrums. Full details of the line-up so far, tickets and other info can be found on leguesswho.com.