Le Guess Who? – Day Two: Six of the Best
Difficult to believe from the array of delights on offer, but day one of Le Guess Who? presented a relatively gentle introduction to an incredible line-up.
From hereon in, the bill opens up, spread across the city from the mighty TivoliVredenburg complex to the earthier but atmospheric De Helling building. Never ones to shirk a challenge, your humble correspondents bravely roll up our sleeves, take a deep breath and plunge into the sprawling chaos. Here's six of our favourites from day two...
Patrick Stickles isn’t the kind of guy who needs a warm-up. Four stick clicks and he’s off, barking and spitting with the urgency of a rottweiler set loose on a postman dressed exclusively in raw meat, and somehow he only gets more rabid from there. Pulling an even spread of songs from each of their four albums, Titus Andronicus play a crowd-pleasing set that demonstrates both the consistency of their catalogue (even their purportedly divisive Local Business material is lapped up gladly this evening) and the surprising variety of genres they manage to mash together under the punk rock umbrella, often within a single track.
If the unfettered melodrama of their records can be a bit of an acquired taste, tonight there’s nothing they can’t get away with: hair metal tapping solos; synchronised Status Quo side-stepping; a Vegas ballroom piano interlude that would make even Springsteen blush. And of course it all culminates in one of their trademark Irish jigs, stirring up a ruckus that catches a poor bar steward off guard as he tries to safely transport a leaning tower of empty cups through the centre of the pit. There’s nothing like belting out “The enemy is everywhere!” alongside a sweaty grown man pounding the stage with his fists to make you realise that good taste can be overrated.
It’s easy to become desensitised to the exceptional level of talent on display at festival as expertly curated as Le Guess Who?, but then an act like Eartheater comes along, who proves herself not only a breathtaking vocalist, a fierce rapper, a wizard with a loop pedal and a dexterous finger-picker on the guitar but also proficient in a handful of back-breaking yoga poses, topping off one particularly climactic passage of glitchy drum flurries and expertly sculpted feedback by performing the splits.
Her costume game is on point too, consisting of a creamy pink trench coat with matching parachute pants and an enormous lollipop red BC Rich guitar that she intermittently slings aside to attend to the scramble of pedals, wires and drum machines at her feet. There’s hardly a moment’s rest in her 45 minutes of swirling textures and eccentric, rapid-fire poetry but the few breaks in her set are met with a reverent silence from the 30 or so lucky few who took a chance at the festival's smallest show during peak time. With a performance this meticulously executed, even the pauses feel pregnant with meaning.
Riffs. Feedback. Repeat with jagged screams and a rhythm section that falls on top of you like collapsing buildings. An immersive live experience (not to mention a heroically bruising one), the Toronto trio inspire the first rowdy moshpit of the weekend, replete with crowdsurfers, stage divers and even a brutally joyous wall of death. It’s not just the unrelenting conviction with which they set about their business, nor the way their fizzy, grunge-echoing noise rock socks you firmly in the gut while giving you both a wedgie and an affectionate peck on the cheek; something less easily definable is afoot.
There’s simply something intangible in the air whenever METZ take to the stage – a shared understanding that they’re simply one of the best, most visceral, most thrilling live bands on the planet right now. As Alex Edkins threatens to spike his guitar into the crowd for the umpteenth time before slamming more wracked noise into the night air, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate that shows this good don’t come around often enough.
“This song is called Tears of Unicorn,” Masayoshi Fujita informs the seated crowd, arranged cross-legged in a semi-circle like a nursery at story time. As with all of Fujita’s ethereal and downright lovely vibraphone compositions, this one has accompanying vignette to set mood. “Once upon a time there was a girl and unicorn,” he begins, “They became friends but something happened and they became stars. They became constellations and cried for each other.” While his odd non-sequiturs prompt a few sniggers from the crowd, his considerable musicianship demands nothing but respect.
Beginning with a standard set of beaters, he works way through an increasingly unconventional inventory of implements so as to demonstrate the vibraphone’s surprising breadth. A violin bow drawn along the edges of the keys creates the warm sustain of glass harp while a sheet of tin foil spread out on top does a convincing impression of lo-fi synthesiser. When Fujita suggests we kick back and relax while introducing his longest piece, it’s almost laughably redundant – by this point a sizeable portion of the crowd has been lying on their backs, eyes closed, for a good quarter of an hour. It’s not every festival programme that includes a designated nap time; another testament to the diversity on offer at Le Guess Who?
Maximalist doesn’t do it justice. By far the loudest act of the festival yet, you’d be forgiven for wondering how Ben 'Blanck Mass' Power could possibly have anywhere else to go when a little over 10 minutes into his set he’s blasting the closing strains of his freshly squeezed The Great Confuso triptych – an odyssey in itself – beneath what looks like a warped VHS recording of the light-corridor finale from Kubrick’s 2001 dipped in radioactive waste.
Plenty of places, it turns out, although the nature of his omnivorous aesthetic means trying to keep track of all the stops along the way is a fool's endeavor. Better just to give into the flow, as the punters up the front quickly intuit. While eschewing conventionally telegraphed build-ups in favour of sudden bait-and-switches, Power does offer up the occasional moment of pathos – one of the set’s most thunderous sections is also its most melodic, like a blockbuster sci-fi film score condensed into just a few repeated chords churned over and over. There’s no time to get too comfortable though, with the promise of another blind drop into a dark wormhole of ecstatic chaos always just around the corner.
A Place To Bury Strangers
Difficult to round up this list of six, given that Protomartyr (fronted by entrancing, beer-swigging poet Joe Foster) and the compositional genius of Anna Meredith are more than deserving of a mention, but hats should really be doffed to the all-out sensory annihilation of A Place To Bury Strangers. They’re loud to begin with; all around us we see unsuspecting innocents grimacing and gritting their teeth as the volume kicks in, but their piledriver post-punk hits all the right notes.
Halfway through, however, things take a turn. The band vacate the stage, wandering through the crowd as guitars wail and amplifiers cry tears of piercing, eardrum-lacerating sound. When they eventually return, bolstered by additional guitarists and a second drummer, they somehow kick the noise up a notch. Teeth rattle as Oliver Ackmann’s effects-laden fug leaves the crowd reeling, while the bone-shaking bass leaves The Skinny clutching the wall for support (not that it helps; the walls are literally shaking). It’s an endurance test for sure and some aren’t up to the challenge, running for the exit with fingers in their ears and tears in their eyes. But the band still manage to channel a strange euphoria amid so much punishing bleakness, and when the chaos finally subsides, you see dazed-looking strangers exchanging grins and knowing nods. Still, one word: EARPLUGS.