Le Guess Who? 2016 – Day One

It's the first day of the Utrecht music festival, and between deconstructionist Americana, minimalist composition and Malian folk jams, we're not short of options

Feature by Will Fitzpatrick | 11 Nov 2016

Call it a symptom of the political climate if you must, but there's something tremendously apt about Wilco curating the first day of this festival. After all, who better to follow the election of one Donald J Trump to the presidency of the USA than a band who famously deconstructed the sounds and tropes of Americana with their 2001 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? Maybe we're over-thinking things here, but it feels right nonetheless.

William Tyler opens things up on the main stage, with a series of dusty guitar explorations that also draw from the well of Americana. Chords, melodies and arpeggiated rhythms are looped on top of each other to create a veritable six-string orchestra – there's something tremendously resonant and beautiful to these dense layers. 75 Dollar Bill's instrumentals are equally suggestive of that country's geography, but they're more redolent of arid plains and stretched-out landscapes; a fucked-up take on the blues that occasionally cracks open into woodwind drones. Bewitching, in a thoroughly subtle manner.

Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba are a very different prospect. Not for nothing is he known as the 'Jimi Hendrix of the Ngoni', and his wig-outs on that remarkable West African instrument border on the transcendental at times. Kouyaté is also the first performer to inject a sense of occasion into proceedings, and the spectacular energy of his band (including the remarkable vocals of his wife Sacko) prompts roars of approval from the TivoliVredenburg crowd. American composer Arnold Dreyblatt follows up with some mind-bending minimalist drone, grinning and raising his hands in triumph; a man truly lost in the joy of creation. It's infectious.

Over to the day's aforementioned headliners Wilco, who turn in a typically excellent set that climaxes with Nels Cline's heroic solo during Impossible Germany. Jeff Tweedy declares the song to be a blow for peace and love in the wake of Trump's election, and there's a healing mood in the air as he explains the importance of gatherings such as LGW. Sappy, yes, but poignant nonetheless. Upstairs, meanhile, Deerhoof's wracked everything-pop continues to be the most fun one can possibly have watching a group of human beings making music together. They dance, they rock... sometimes they even math, pulling an ecstatic audience into the heart of their performance and generally making it seem like – for an hour at least – all is well in the world.

We head over to the opposite end of the city for the night's final two performers. You occasionally wonder if Girl Band are just too damn handsome for noise rock; surely music this ugly is entirely at odds with their male model good looks? But to think of such things is to worry too much, and their performance is equal parts deafening, scintillating and hilarious.

'I look crap with my top off,' screams Dara Kiely with a voice seemingly made from barbed wire, left to rust in moonshine whisky, and balance is duly restored. It's left to Preoccupations to bring the day to a close, and when their numb post-punk is good (particularly new cut Anxiety), it's exceptional. Can the rest of the festival possibly be this good? Man, we're hoping...