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Festival Diary: Way Out West Festival 2013, Gothenburg, Sweden

Luke Kenny traveled to Sweden to catch some of the best live acts in the world at the biggest vegetarian music festival of our times

Rolling Stone India Sep 16, 2013
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Kendrick Lamar performing at the Azalea stage at Way Out West Festival 2013  in Gothenburg. Photo: Olle Kirchmeier

Kendrick Lamar performing at the Azalea stage at Way Out West Festival 2013 in Gothenburg. Photo: Olle Kirchmeier

 

“The west is the best”¦get here”¦and we’ll do the rest” – Jim Morrison.

 

DAY 1

On a tram to the Way Out West festival venue, I realized that it was a perfect day to be out. Although summer, there was a chill in the air and a seven-minute ride later I got off in front of the ”˜Slottsskogen’ which literally means, ”˜Castle Forest.’ Located in the middle of Gothenburg, it is a magnificent green oasis that immediately takes one back to a land of fairytales. But for the next three days it was to become my doorway to a soul-stirring musical experience. Gates opened at 2 pm and as I walked up to the entrance, a huge archway with psychedelic artwork and a sea of people greeted me.

Way Out West, now in its seventh year, in my mind, the only eco-sustenance festival in the world. It is also the only vegetarian festival of its scale and scope since the past two years. In my conversation with festival director, Fredrick Holmstadt, I learnt that the day the organizers decided to make it a no-meat/vegetarian event, their overall carbon footprint reduced by almost 23 percent!

Three stages named Flamingo, Azalea and Linne dominated the proceedings, with Flamingo being the largest. I headed straight to the Linne stage where a band called Junip was playing. Led by the sucessful singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez, the band played a sombre set of mellow tunes that consisted of songs like “So Clear,” “Far Away” and “Line of Fire” among others which eased me into the mood for the day to come.

Omar Souleyman. Photo: Annika Berglund

Omar Souleyman. Photo: Annika Berglund

The Grammy-nominated Alabama Shakes were up next, on the Azalea stage but I was torn between Azalea and the Linne stage where Syrian-born Omar Souleyman was due to perform. Omar’s music is typical traditional middle eastern songs sung in Kurdish or Arabic. Dressed like a sheikh, he struts around on stage singing his songs accompanied by a lone keyboardist/sequencer who keeps triggering the arrangements, which are quite similar in form and sound. The audience went crazy dancing and clapping”¦ as for me, the music was nothing different, but it was fun to be an observer and watch a Scandinavian audience react.

The sun was out and still bright at 8 pm when I head to the Azalea stage to catch Tame Impala, the Australian psychedelic band who were on my list as a must watch.  Two albums old and already a global touring force, the band took to the stage amidst huge cheers. Frontman Kevin Parker led with gusto as they floated and bounced through a tight 45-minute set with selections from their two studio albums Innerspeaker and Lonerism that ended too soon.

Next up, I caught Beach House, an American pop-duo led by the sultry-voiced Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally on guitars and bass, who set the night on a slow fire.  Opening with “Wild” a track from their latest album Bloom, they took the audience on a serene surreal sonic excursion for the next 45 minutes or so. I was walking on air as the night ended with me falling into the calmest sleep ever.

 

DAY 2

Hakan Hellstrom on stage at Way Out West 2013. Photo: Annika Berglund

Hakan Hellstrom on stage at Way Out West 2013. Photo: Annika Berglund

I am in front of the Flamingo stage waiting for Sixto Rodriguez to come on. The rediscovered legend as seen in the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugarman was a much-anticipated artist.  The 71-year old emerged from the wings to a huge cheer from the crowd. Rodriguez coasted through a set of simple bluesy Dylanesque songs from his (only) two career albums with smart witticisms thrown in between songs, which the crowd lapped up.

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An hour later, I awaited the arrival of one of the biggest indie bands right now, Of Monsters And Men. Just one album old and already a sensation in Europe, this five-piece folk/rock band was a stunner. Hailing from Iceland, the band are a set of multi instrumentalists. As they are only one album old, the set was a majority of their debut album My Head is An Animal, which featured songs like, “Dirty Paws,” “Mountain Sound” and ended with the crowd favorite, “Little Talks.” 

I then quickly darted across to the Linne stage where I caught the last few songs of a band called Haim, three sisters who play some kick-ass rock n roll. I have since acquired their music and believe me, it’s a blast.

Then there was Bat for Lashes! What a performer. I have been a fan of her music since her debut in 2006 with the album Fur And Gold. Every song haunted the audience, from the opening “Lilies” to the closing “Daniel.”

I needed some shaking up so I headed to watch Grimes, an electro-industrial-pop artist from Canada. Although her music defies classification, her show is another animal. Grimes is a great example of how technology can be used to go behind the barriers of traditional populist music parameters. She uses everything from synthesisers, to loop-stations to programmed patches, yet a sound that is all original is what has to be heard to be experienced. I urge you to seek out the music.

There was a sudden buzz as everybody began to move to the Flamingo stage, almost like an exodus. I checked my festival programme and it said Hakan Hellstrom. I did my research and found out that Hakan (pronounced Hokan) is like the golden boy of Swedish rock n roll, almost the Bruce Springsteen and One Direction all rolled into a single force of stage energy called Hakan Hellstrom. This 39-year old Gothenburg born singer shot to superstardom in 2000 with the hit “Shed No Tears For me Gothenburg” and has released five albums since, each selling millions of copies and is now a household name. Despite the fact that Hellstrom’s songs are all in Swedish, I enjoyed the rock n roll aspect of his catchy classic pop/rock melodies. I do hope he does an English language album soon.

American R & B artist Miguel was a bit of a downbeat as the audiences came off the euphoria of Hakan Hellstrom, but in time everybody got with the vibe that Miguel brought to the stage. The ladies sure went home happy that night.

Post rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Photo: Olle Kirchmeier

Post rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Photo: Olle Kirchmeier

I went for the next act on the bill only because I loved the band name. ”˜Godspeed You! Black Emperor’, was the name on the programme. I stood in front of the darkened stage and I tell you this, nothing prepared me for what I was to experience for the next 45 minutes or so. A backdrop of film loops featuring oil rigs and flaming objects set an ominous vibe to the musicians on stage who walked on stage one by one and began to play. There were no songs, no arrangements, no structures, yet the sound was an emanation of precise perfection. I will only ramble on if I were to go on. I suggest you acquire their music, turn down the lights, lie down in a comfortable space and let the music do its magic.

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I was in a state of suspended animation as I floated out to catch the last act for the night even though I didn’t really feel like listening to anything else after Godspeed, but The Knife were another much touted Swedish act on my list. Just when my mind was reeling, it was sent into another realm of supersonic bliss. The Knife are an electronic music duo who have been active since 2006. Electronic is the least descriptive of the epic/symphonic/eclectic/eccentric sonic experience that unfolded on stage in front of my eyes. It was performance art to the fullest. The power and the might of the Knife has to be experienced live.

 

DAY 3

Flavor Flav of Public Enemy. Photo: Olle Kirchmeier

Flavor Flav of Public Enemy. Photo: Olle Kirchmeier

I woke, refreshed and was back at the festival venue for some old school indulgence.  Public Enemy!! I couldn’t believe I would finally see Flava Flav and Chuck D on stage after all these years. “Fight The Power” and “Bring the Noise” were my favorite tracks to breakdance to, back in the day. To see Flava and Chck D tear up the stage with other favorites like “911 Is a Joke,” “Don’t Believe The Hype” and “Harder Than you Think” was such a high. One of the highlights was a solo by their dj, DJ Lord ”“ turntable perfection as never seen before. You had to be there.

I was on a happy vibe having seen Flava Flav and Chuck D rip it up, as I waited for the two final acts on my list. Kendrick Lamar is one of the hottest true blue hip-hop stars out there right now and one of the simplest. Dressed in white with a tight band in tow, he got the crowd bouncing on his fingertips. The song that everybody knew was “Swimming Pools (Drank),” but he seamlessly breezed through gems like “Money Trees,” “Poetic Justice,” and “The Recipe,” amongst others. And then just like that, with a quick thank you, he was gone.

Alicia Keys during her headline performance at Way Out West Festival 2013. Photo: Olle Kirchmeier

Alicia Keys during her headline performance at Way Out West Festival 2013. Photo: Olle Kirchmeier

Another exodus began as everyone moved to the final headliner act of the festival, the stupendous Miss Alicia Keys. Now I’m not a big fan, but I know the hits and it was a voice of the times and a powerful one at that. So I stayed. You know, for an artist, the stage is everything. And while every artist I saw proved it over and again, it was plain to see why Alicia Keys is a giant amongst them all. Dressed in skin tight black pants and a body hugging shimmering blue sequinned split down the centre top, she sang, she laughed, she played some mesmerising piano and most of all she got 27,000 plus people to sing, “In New York, these streets will make you seem brand new, big lights will inspire you”¦” Alicia Keys was truly a girl on fire and she burned bright in the hearts of everyone who was there that night.

I walked back slowly to my hotel, the past three days reeling around in my head as I tried to hold on to each and every moment at the festival. Way Out West, truly the best I have ever seen. Until next year… 

 

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