With an unmatched selection of artists and a sense of adventure writ large, Le Guess Who? is a microcosm of musical dreams and discoveries, enriching the lives and imagination of anyone who attends it. This year, the festival celebrated its 15th edition and fully rendered its ambitious vision, reaching for the stratosphere. Here we look at some of our favourite moments from Le Guess Who? 2022 including Horse Lords, clipping., Valentin Clastrier, Thiago Nassif, Asher Gamedze, Sarathy Korwar, Nancy Mounir and many other incredible artists.
We were slightly over-excited to be in attendance at this year’s Le Guess Who? Festival, held between 10-13th November in the picturesque setting of Utrecht, where an intrepid atmosphere radiates everywhere. Like a treasure chest bursting at the seams with over 200 performances happening throughout four days in music halls, churches, theatres or clubs in the city, by as many artists and bands, some of whom had never played in Europe before, we couldn’t catch every show but we saw countless unforgettable performances and discovered new gems that we’ll treasure for years to come.
Le Guess Who? always pushes the sonic envelope, enriching it’s magnificent and bold programme with singular artists who help to curate the festival and in turn invite their own favourite and like-minded artists. This year included clipping., CURL and Animal Collective, as well as programmes curated by DJ Fitz, Coco Maria, GNOD, Ostinato Records, Hidden Musics and much more.
Tivolivredenburg, or simply Tivoli for the less linguistically apt like us, is a ginormous building with five purpose-built music halls. Aptly described by clipping. as “an insane shopping mall of musical venues”, it hosts a big chunk of the festival’s line up. It’s here that we kicked off our festival with a celestial performance from Cape Town based drummer, composer, and scholar Asher Gamedze, who set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the weekend. Performing on Thursday evening at Pandora, one of Tivoli’s venues, Asher was joined by the same quartet from his 2020 phenomenal Dialectic Soul, his spiritual and progressive jazz debut album which was one of our 15 Picks of the Year. With a band boasting talents such as bassist Thembinkosi Mavimbela, tenor saxophonist Buddy Wells and trumpeter Robin Kock, Asher’s performance truly captured a feeling we’ve had through the entire festival, of musicians who acknowledge, respect and honour the past and their ancestors while making music beamed from the future. Rooted in South African traditions, and infused with elements of resistance music against colonialism and capitalism, Gamedze’s music and performance was heavenly.
With an array of stellar shows happening in Tivoli on the opening day, once we’d set foot inside we just pinballed our way down and up escalators from show to show. One of the performances we eagerly anticipated was that of legendary Sufi trance masters The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar, who welcomed the audience to their cosmos of sonic delights. Hailing from the small village of Jajouka in the foothills of the Rif Mountains in Northern Morocco, they offered to give the audience “some magic from Morocco” and drew everyone into the hypnotising magic of their sound. Dressed in matching green mantles and yellow slippers, the collective’s powerful and transcendental music, much of it passed on from generation to generation, is steeped in folklore and marked by relentless percussion and traditional instruments like the rhaita, a kind of oboe, played in unison. An ecstatic and entrancing display of rhythmic and hypnotic sounds that left no one in the packed Grote Zaal untouched. This performance was part of Hidden Musics, an ambitious program started in 2018 in collaboration with renowned producer, activist and author Ian Brennan, and musician, record producer and founder of Glitterbeat Records, Chris Eckman. In absolute harmony with Le Guess Who?, Hidden Musics aims to pay special attention to rarely heard musical traditions and artists from secluded regions of the world.
The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar
Also part of Hidden Musics, and a particular highlight of Le Guess Who?’s line up was seeing Nancy Mounir perform her audio visual outstanding debut album Nozhet El Nofous, which means “Promenade of the Souls”, a record imbued with the vitality of a live performance. On Nozhet El Nofous, she brings together her incredible arrangements with archive recordings of once-famed Egyptian singers from the early 20th century, intertwined with radio and newspaper interviews. Merging the old with the new, the album’s sublime and otherworldly qualities were magnified in a live setting. On Sunday in Hertz, the hugely talented Mounir played the violin and the Theremin whilst leading a stellar ensemble featuring Youssra El Hawary (accordion), Ahmed Amin (double bass), Mounir Maher (piano), Nadia Safwat (trumpet) and the Flair Quartet (strings). Adding an extra audio and visual layer to the performance, Adham Zidan and Sarah El-Miniway took turns reading texts and arranging pictures and newspaper clippings on their desk, which once enlarged on the cinema screen gave the spectator the feeling of watching a documentary made live. A boundary-pushing exploration of timeless Egyptian music with a forward-thinking spirit.
West Coast experimental hip hop trio clipping. curated a spectacular bill featuring, amongst others, legendary guitarist Jeff Parker, London-based musician and producer Ryan Lee West aka Rival Consoles, experimental sound artist Evicshen and Jamaican-American producer and rapper Zebra Katz. Playing themselves on Friday at Ronda, one of Tivoli’s largest venue, clipping. pretty much blew the roof off. Behind the decks, producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes set the scene with an atmospheric and drony soundscape leading to heavier industrial and clubby beats. Rapper Daveed Diggs showed his dexterity in articulating phrases to create rhythms and bounced around the stage whilst delivering precise rhymes at blistering speed. Clipping. treated a massive and adoring crowd to a visceral set and the enthusiasm was enormous and contagious!
clipping.’s curation also included the soup of influences brought in by Dos Monos, which was delicious to say the least. Performing at EKKO, a short bike ride from Tivoli, the Japanese trio of childhood friends Zo Zhit, TAITAN MAN, and BOTSU a.k.a. NGS put on a bombastic old-school hip-hop show packed with fun and explosive energy, mixing free jazz, prog rock, latin music and everything in between to perfection whilst jumping on stage and spurring on the revelling audience. On the same bill, yet radically different, Saturday we were treated to Horse Lords’ performance, one of the most exhilarating shows all weekend. The Baltimore quartet, curated by both clipping. and Animal Collective, put out one of the most exciting and intoxicating albums of 2022, Comradely Objects. Their performance at Le Guess Who? was delirious and ferocious, with each track more daring than the last. Combining polyrhythmic grooves and a command of microtonality through prepared instruments, and blending an array of genres like experimental rock, math-jazz, krautrock, post-punk, electronic music and African musical traditions, Andrew Bernstein, Max Eilbacher, Owen Gardner and Sam Haberman proved to be a force to be reckoned with.
One of the latest additions and greatest surprises at Le Guess Who? this year was catching Sarathy Korwar’s performance presenting his new album, Kalak, on the eve of its release. With a focus on historical narratives, Korwar uses Kalak to highlight the importance and impact that marginalized voices from the past and the present can have on the future. Backed by a ridiculously tight band, his performance was ferociously energetic. His show ended with a surprise guest appearance by regular collaborator Alabaster DePlume. Only a few minutes later, DePlume returned to the same spot at Grote Zaal for his own set. Music has a transformative power and DePlume explores that path tenderly. Known for assembling a cast of different musicians wherever he plays, here DePlume had a sweet band accompanying him, including special guest Jeff Parker on guitar and Ruth Goller on bass. Having listened to GOLD countless times, it was a moment of joy to translate that experience to a live setting. DePlume and his band explored the area between spiritual jazz, folk and poetry, filling our hearts with hope and joy.
Hatis Noit in Jacobikerk
One of the many extraordinary artists that swept us away was London based Japanese vocal performer Hatis Noit who performed as part of Uncloud presents, in the gorgeous 13th century Gothic church Jacobikerk, Her mesmerizing and poignant multi-layered vocal interpretations draw from a multitude of influences and traditions including western classical music, Japanese folk, whispering, Gregorian chants and poetry reading. Dressed all in red and barefoot, Hatis used only her voice except for one track which featured a field recording she took of the ocean one kilometre away from Fukushima’s nuclear power plant. She recounted singing there in 2020 as part of a memorial and re-opening ceremony of the surrounding area. Behind the sound of the crashing waves, the noises from ongoing works could also be heard. Magnified by stunning mapped video projections, her performance was a monumental, evocative and engaging experience.
Bohren & der Club of Gore were due to perform last year and the German doom jazz band did not hide their happiness to finally play this year. In a befittingly dark and moody lighting in the large hall of Stadsschouwburg, they performed their most recent record, Patchouli Blues, in its entirety from track 1 to 11. Over at LE:EN, in the south of Utrecht, Flash Amazonas’ performance was a joyous and fun affair. The outfit of Colombian musician Julián Mayorga and Japanese producer/multi-instrumentalist Ryota Miyake were on a joy-ride blending DIY punk bolero, Latin American music, Japanese new wave and synth pop with a tongue-in-cheek approach that got everybody dancing.
In the official Le Guess Who? hangout, Kapitaal, a live listening session of Masayoshi Fujita’s Bird Ambience, his beautiful and beguiling record released last year, got us even more eager to see his show. Sadly our plan to see him perform the next day went out the window, but as always at Le Guess Who?, not getting into a show only means that you’ll embark on an unexpected musical voyage instead. That’s how we stumbled in Theater Kikker to see Dienne. The Belgian composer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist’s performance was warm and enchanting. Playing the oboe and with a golden voice, she used her amazing looping skills to perform tracks from her debut album Addio.
LE:EN was the stage for our next highlight, the electro-acoustic duo Watkins / Peacock, who gifted us with a joyous, engrossing and mesmerizing performance. With moments of both synchronicity and dissonance, they cooked a musical broth of krautrock, dub traditions, and anything they felt like throwing in. Displaying the wit and ease with which both artists make music, their live show’s richly textured electronics are central to their playfully entrancing sound. Purveyors of the unexpected, we caught some brand new music in the making too.
Throughout these four days, one never ceased to be appreciative of being at Le Guess Who?. That’s how Welsh avant pop artist Cate Le Bon felt at the festival, telling the crowd “It’s so good to be here… the best festival in the world”. We loved her show with Drinks at the 2018 edition. This time around, playing the coolest orange guitar, Le Bon and her band brought to the festival her new album Pompeii along with some tracks from Reward. The quirky and catchy tunes went down a treat and, Le Bon floored us with her incredible stage presence. The party vibes exploded later on with Charlotte Adigery & Bolis Popul playing at Tivoli’s Ronda. The Brussels based duo, who have a debut album, Topical Dancer, under their belts, brought a lot of groovy energy, turning Ronda into an irresistible and scorching dance party. A euphoric show to a packed out Saturday night crowd.
A longtime favourite here at CTD, Keeley Forsyth’s performance at the gorgeous and grand Janskerk was one we’d long been wanting to experience and it proved to have been unmissable and unforgettable. With a career in acting before realizing her potential in music and honing the art of singing, her performance was theatrical and immersive, serpentining between the ominous and the light, the disorienting and the comforting. With her hair covering her face, her music channelled a labyrinth of unknowns. Backed by a pianist, her powerful and otherworldly baritone voice, naturally flickering between different timbres, has an otherworldly and arresting magnificence live. Profoundly immersive music. A memorable set of Colombian tropical folklore by Romperayo also took place at EKKO. Part of Coco Maria presents Club Coco, the outfit lead by drummer Pedro Ojeda and also comprising Ivan Medellín, Juan Manuel Toro, Papeto Guarnizo and Nicolás Eckardt enticed us with their blend of electronic and psychedelic music with traditional Latin rhythms like cumbia and rumba, a danceable and pleasurable time.
Much of the music and performances experiences at Le Guess Who? offer a space that one inhabits rather than just listens to. Keyboardist and composer Surya Botofasina opened that space gloriously at Tivoli’s Hertz. Accompanied by Nate Mercereau on guitar and Carlos Niño on percussion, Botofasina presented his stunning debut album Everyone’s Children. The pianist and musical director of the Sai Anantam Ashram Singers, delivered a spiritual, meditative and expansive performance, blending ambient and spiritual jazz, with nods to his learnings with Alice Coltrane.
Kokoko!, the outfit of Congolese musicians led by Makara Bianko and French electronic producer Débruit capped off Saturday night with a bang, leading us through a frenetic and rapturous set. On Sunday, Wau Wau Collective brought the heat up nice and early with their irresistible sun drenched grooves at De Helling. Hailing from Toubab Dialaw, a small fishing village in Senegal, and formed in 2018 with producer and musical archaeologist Swedish Karl Jonas Winqvist, they put on a set brimming with unbridled joy and positivity, whilst addressing social problems. Mary Ocher, who was also performing at the festival, joined in at the tail end of the show to guest in a couple of tracks.
Rio de Janeiro based singer and songwriter Thiago Nassif has been a firm favourite of ours for a while and we were hugely excited to see him perform. Hundreds of loud exotic green parakeets greeted us on our arrival at EKKO where, in front of a packed house, Thiago’s trio already had the crowd in their pocket by the time they’d finished a quick line check. The real show kicked off, and it blew our minds. Displaying incredible musicianship, Nassif on guitar, Bella on eletronics and Cláudio Brito on drums and percussion, gave us an intoxicating performance, tight and loose, with a vibrantly coloured sound palette encompassing no-wave, electronic music, Tropicalismo, samba, jazz, rock, pop and everything in between. Nassif was a force of nature onstage, even joining the crowd a couple of times.
We were enticed by the stunning vocal trickery Marina Herlop summoned at Tivoli’s Grote Zaal. With a full band including two other vocalists and a drummer, the Catalan composer and musician experimented and created layers with her voice and instruments. Equally odd and captivating, singing in what sounded like an invented language, we were confused at first before quickly being fully drawn in to her eccentric and inventive singing and playing.
Valentín Clastrier was one of the last concert we saw at Le Guess Who? this year, and it’s one that we won’t forget. Curated by Animal Collective, his performance at Hertz on Sunday was nothing short of profound, reflective, wild and beautiful. A pioneer of the hurdy gurdy, “vielle à roue” in French, the 75-year old Clastrier delivered one of the most outlandish shows all weekend, experimenting and expanding the possibilities of his instrument, which he played with space and freedom, as if his fingers were floating through it. The hurdy-gurdy played the role of 3 or 4 instruments/people, and the mostly improvised tunes of this one-instrument orchestra varied in tone, from gritty and ominous to more trad and joyous. Apologizing for not speaking Dutch, Clastrier had a translator stepping on stage everytime he spoke to the audience about the intricacies of his instruments, origin of track titles or reversible words. His performance earned him a well deserved standing ovation.
It would be remiss of us not to mention the visual arts exhibition on legendary cosmic afro jazz mavericks Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids, who also played a special 50th anniversary celebration show. Scattered through two foyers at Tivoli, the exhibition tracked Ackamoor’s cultural odyssey through a series of photographs, posters, and album covers. Because Le Guess Who? is about much more than just music, with cinema, talks, exhibitions, and other artistic riches on offer through the weekend. Also, and as in previous editions, Le Guess Who? had its own tasty session IPA on offer, courtesy of De Kromme Haring.
Illustrations by Kevin Pinel
This year was our fourth Le Guess Who? outing and for the duration of the festival, the world seemed utterly perfect. So with the next edition already looming on the horizon, from the 9th to the 12th November 2023, make sure to put it in your calendars already! For more info visit leguesswho.com