It’s fair to say that woefully few aestival line ups – and by extension therefore, festivals themselves – have captured the imagination much these summer months; not least back here in Britain. But in Gothenburg’s bucolic Slottsskogen, Way Out West bucks so many a trend: its ecological footprint is, comparatively speaking, as slight as that of a 4st 7lb Richey Edwards on freshly laid snow; all vendors sell exclusively vegetarian comestibles; and perhaps most importantly, when it comes to the genders of those performing, there is little, to no imbalance whatsoever across the course of the week.
As is with any event of this size, and stature, and so on though, Way Out West is not without its drawbacks: its scheduling, with the two main stages (Flamingo and the marginally lesser Azalea) opposing one another como si fuera Primavera Sound, ensures the programming divides attention while the programme in your pocket frequently conquers it, audiences drifting both in and out of absorption and from one end of the arena to the other to distracting impact. And boorish – and typically British – though it may be to say as such, the potation situation is less than ideal: although the stages may be devoid of vast advertisements for dilute lager and the like, unless you’re willing to forgo a decent spot in favour of a left-or-right-of-centre vantage point in a designated drinking area, the days can be fairly dry affairs. Admittedly, nothing – bins and bogs included – smells worse than the päron cider available to the sides of each stage, but more offensive than any absent odour is the fact that, for all of Gothenburg’s burgeoning craft beer outpouring, a(n albeit ekologisk) lager is the only hoppy libation on offer.
But in the grand scheme of things, these are relatively minor gripes; and Way Out West can hardly be expected to contravene Sweden’s notoriously prohibitive alcohol laws. So, having briskly knocked back what is an in any case prohibitively expensive Briska, it’s on with the show; which, in the wake of Grizzly Bear’s increasingly somnolent hour, begins in earnest with Nils Frahm. In the withering late-afternoon frazzle, his is a set which gains momentum as it goes, his rounded, distinctively pluvial bloops a spiriting tonic to the comparative torpor of his Brooklyn counterparts. However, a prevailing impression is that, but for Hammers, he would almost certainly have been much better suited to the nocturnal folly of Stay Out West, to which Says – aside from a misplaced arpeggio – pretty cogently attests. Regardless, in tweedy Dickensian colours, Frahm may be somewhat camouflaged among his ligneous surrounds, but his stark, idiosyncratic music continues to stand out.
As does, and seemingly always will do, that of St. Vincent: totally intoxicating from the tireless Sugarboy right through to the syrupy New York, during which Annie Clark questionably interpolates lyrics concerning Sweden’s second city, hers is a show of both precision and potency, and it hits the spot in a way no amount of Norrlands Guld ever could. Drawing copiously from yesteryear’s MASSEDUCTION, as the likes of Los Ageless and the licentious Saviour go on to show, the album is becoming that bit more, well, becoming in time; elsewhere, setlist elders such as Cheerleader and Marrow have been rebooted to fit the increasingly sizeable imprint which Clark leaves wherever she may tread.
In thigh-high neon, these shocks of electric orange are offset by purple spotlights during Pills in what may well be a nod to a certain Mr. Nelson; and while it may be that bit too hyperbolic to even suggest as much, when it comes to unfettered artistry, few have metaphorically filled his four-inch heels better than she. For as she fastens up for a fastened-up Slow Disco, hitting upon the pure ecstasy of The Beloved as she does so, Clark consolidates her standing as one of the summer’s standout performers with a towering prowess.
Effete, fey and so forth, in the Linné tent, Charlotte Gainsbourg alas struggles in the huge shadow cast by her predecessor: her slender figure obscured by the white strip lights behind which she hides, it’s noncommittal, quite literally hands-in-pockets stuff for the most part. Paradisco, during which she’ll threaten to “burn an effigy out of the past,” flickers with hints of Chic, while Deadly Valentine harks back to Paris’ electro-house heyday; days and nights which now sound a tad passé. Better, then, is the Francophonic, Sébastien Tellier-informed Les Oxalis, transpiring to prove infinitely more zesty than Lemon Incest or, for that matter, a completely inexpedient take on Kanye’s Runaway. But ultimately, it’s a limp strolling through the motions, lacking the emotivity which defined her highly refined Rest of yesteryear.
This is something that, perhaps improbably, can also be levelled at Iggy Pop – looking increasingly like E.T. in a Jennifer Aniston hairpiece nowadays – as his show wears on. For four songs, he does what he does best; and nobody does it better, as I Wanna Be Your Dog, Gimme Danger, The Passenger, and Lust for Life all strike an intensely raucous chord. Although thereafter, aside from dingy Stooges doozies No Fun and Search and Destroy, it’s tedious, when not trying. And Pop’s commitment to this particular cause, unfortunately, can now be legitimately questioned, as he does little other than writhe around, delivering withering rebukes to a largely nonplussed audience.
Many have, by this point, been both sucked and suckered in by the gravitational allure of Alex Turner’s 3,474-kilometre ego anyway, as his Arctic Monkeys tuck straight into the nausea-inducingly lukewarm cod-reggae stylings of Four Out of Five over on the opposing Flamingo stage. In spite of his fellow Last Shadow Puppet having monkeyed him to excruciating extent for years, Turner now appears hellbent on becoming infamous flunkey Miles Kane – not the most sage of moves, it’s safe to say – as his quarter-life identity crisis seemingly continues. Having long since jacked in the tracksuits in favour of vintage couture, velour blazers and the like, he’s shed many a skin, only to wind up akin to a kind of slimy lounge lizard and, a downright ridiculous transmogrification, he’s been justifiably ridiculed for that already.
But, if a far cry from his High Green geneses, it’s a crying shame that one of Britain’s greater writers should become a kind of tragicomedic national malady in human form. From AM – an LP rife with totally interchangeable choruses, too many of which are aired tonight – Snap Out of It “don’t sound much like” Arctic Monkeys, but more like sometime associates Mini Mansions; when I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor follows on from Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, such a juxtaposition proves injudicious and jarring. You’re compelled to ponder what Arctic Monkeys actually sound like now, and ultimately left to presume you probably don’t really wanna know. But in spite, or perhaps because of the fact that it’s so anticipated a performance, it proves a “disappointment in evening entertainment,” with precious little of their immemorial “rawkus” on show; and theirs, essentially, suffers for it.
Of course, expanded to a seven-piece ensemble toting 12-string guitars, they’re now the exact sort of contradictory, conflictual outfit that Turner would have once satirised himself, and you do wonder just how aware he is of this. Whether chortling at his own witticisms or complimenting his own “brilliant” lyricisms mid-song, he’s become so execrable so as to suggest artifice. It’s all so calculated, and consequently joyless, that it surely couldn’t not be. As such, you’re really left to long for more from their impenetrable, bamboozling latest, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino: like a gambler on an interminable losing streak, you wish they’d chuck in every last chip, and demonstrate that bit more conviction in this ostensibly dense “mess”. In short, if there are too many ‘keys’ in the Arctic Monkeys’ canon now, there are arguably too few tonight. Sure, the likes of One Point Perspective and Star Treatment may be more redolent of Des O’Connor crooning over forgotten Barry Gray compositions than, say, “The Strokes,” but there’s no shortage of amusement stemming from this unstemmably loquacious, conceptual trash.
Otherwise, there are moments: 505 fits right in, no longer feeling like a knackered bookend propping up a collection of uncracked Orwell and whatnot, while a reclinant Cornerstone serves as precisely that within a set otherwise lacking anchorage. Thus by the time One For the Road has rolled around, those who’ve been plotting Stay Out West itineraries for many a number already set coordinates for downtown Gothenburg; by R U Mine? – a rather more literal “one for the road” – any form of “satisfaction [indeed] feels like a distant memory.” Where they go from here may be anybody’s guess, but indubitably diminishing numbers will likely bother themselves with that.
Thus as though mourning the Arctic Monkeys’ creative demise, Phoebe Bridgers’ early-morning slot at Pustervik assumes a suitably funereal tenor. Hers is, as goes without saying, a more subdued, understated recital, the likes of Chelsea, Demi Moore and Georgia quivering with the formidable deference of flickering candles, as fairy lights – clinging for dear life to her mic stand – do likewise for the duration. While her rendition of Gillian Welch’s Everything Is Free serves as an embittered remark on the life and livelihood of modern-day artists, plugging away without the guaranteed recognition and/ or recompense afforded the likes of Alex Turner et al., lyrically, it alters the tone of the evening, before Motion Sickness rolls in with an evocatively defiant, frightfully vivid brilliance to drown out those who, otherwise, witter throughout.
A decent snooze later – a novelty that will seemingly never wear off for those reared on innumerable Reading Festivals and such – and Friday brings with it a progressive, particularly impressive line up, the like of which is a) rarely curated, and b) pretty tricky to critique, or even so much as comment thereon, from the perspective of a comparatively privileged, white 20-something male. By all means @JoshAndDashes me if, for whatever reason, this sits uncomfortably, but there are or, rather, were manifold bits which I felt that many another would’ve been considerably better positioned to review.
Like J Hus for instance, who has – like comparatively few Brits, and perhaps slightly unexpectedly in light of illuminating revelations lately – not only made it to Gothenburg, but judging on a thronging Linné, made it in Gothenburg to boot. Predictably enough, it’s the Addy Lee-endorsing Bouff Daddy which incites widespread pandemonium, which is more than can be said for the reaction Lily Allen is met with. Shamelessly, she divulges that her recent fourth studio album “sold very, very badly,” yet insists on leaning incessantly on lightweight bops such as Waste and What You Waiting For? An unsettled berceuse of sorts, Lost My Mind makes a more engaging connection, while the Cigarettes After Sex-ed up Apples perfectly encapsulates feelings of a once-robust coupling disconnecting. But if nothing else, this evening makes her recent Mercury nomination all the more mystifying.
Amping up the mystique no fewer than thirteen years on from hers, for collagist masterpiece Arular, M.I.A. bounds onstage with blasé insouciance a solid half-hour-or-so late. “I heard the documentary [Steve Loveridge’s MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.] is on later; go watch it!” she’ll holler by way of self-advertising introduction, before hammering through a hexing set of bangers “written in Africa, about Africa.” Unlike Allen, hits (squished into skit-length bits, due to self-inflicted time constraints) come thick and fast, Bamboo Banga, into 20 Dollar, into Bucky Done Gun a formidable beginning. Mushed into a sort of medley then, intermittently littered with trashy shoutouts to Julian Assange, it’s obliterative, visceral stuff, set against an aureate, ornate backdrop. And when Paper Planes – “the last song of the whole motherfucking 21st century,” according to a mildly vexed Arulpragasam – drops, Slottsskogen goes off.
From off to on one, Gothenburg-born Karin Dreijer – aka Fever Ray – is, visibly, very much up for Friday’s twilight slot on Azalea, with the snippa-centric latest, Plunge, [full] front[al] and centre. Dreijer’s face besmirched with a grizzly rictus grin, An Itch brims with unbridled menace, before we go from there to the Sweden-defaming This Country and a twitchy Wanna Sip. Whereas Dreijer was once reluctant to play live, this playful latest incarnation marks something of a volte-face, with material taken from the eponymous début made all the more exoteric, and thereby inclusive, than ever before. And the outcome, with Triangle Walks, When I Grow Up, and the concluding I’m Not Done redone to mesmeric effect, makes for quite the multisensory spectacle.
By contrast, ‘Pulitzer Kenny’ – more commonly known as Kendrick Lamar – relies less on visual elements, and mostly on stainless, steely musical accompaniment and unparalleled conviction. An unequivocal heavyweight, he sports a ‘Supersonic’ tee and, no matter whatever whichever Gallagher reckons, he makes for the worthiest of headliners. As Swimming Pools (Drank) flows into Backstreet Freestyle, on to LOYALTY., and out the other side of Money Trees, this much is unmistakable. And, having reconvened with a, if not the same band of before his solo turns on the DAMN. tour, he’s become all the more formidable a live force once again.
His band members flank him, and therefore remain peripheral throughout, although their presence is of fundamental importance to what is, to all intents and purposes, an important performance. Yet it’s one which, to reiterate, I can’t help but feel was not conceived for the likes of myself, nor many in attendance tonight; and the verbatim mouthing of every line from either one of DNA. or King Kunta therefore feels somewhat problematic. All incidental of course, rather than a case of Kendrick “misusing [his] influence,” but problematic all the same. A problem for another time, place or platform, maybe…
Better suited to this is Sigrid, who gets Saturday off to a flier with her brand of familiar, if faultless Scandi-pop. With its rolling keys, musically, Plot Twist proves reminiscent of Tupac’s Changes in places; toned down a notch or two, Raw is pure, refined perfection. Lyrically, it may be that bit too binary, the 21-year-old Norwegian’s writing either concerning being upbeat about breakups, or being down on high-fiving “fake friends,” but it’s songwriting beyond her years regardless. Yes, she looks “like…a child,” as is suggested during an inspiriting Don’t Kill My Vibe, although the “hype” cited on High Five is highly justified: it takes an incisive swipe at the type of sycophantic back-patting to plague many a major; the pared-down Dynamite recalls a less bombastic Hometown Glory, but is similarly impactive all the same; while recent single Schedules evidences a latent evolution, focussing on the difficulties caused by such incessant touring (a little à la BANKS’ Waiting Game). Inevitably, probably, it’s the eminently memorable Strangers which steals this particular show, though, its familiarity only breeding further contentment.
It’s something that David Longstreth has, seemingly, reacquainted himself with in the wake of Dirty Projectors’ eponymous, morose release of last year. As Break-Thru so vividly demonstrates, he’s since broken out of his own post-breakup fug; and while there would doubtless have been some Schadenfreudian delight to be derived from hearing much of such dirty laundry aired live, his reasons for only giving the (at least) relatively jovial Cool Your Heart and Keep Your Name a run-through are really self-explanatory. Thus although he never quite nails the fiddly licks from Break-Thru, and comes in that little bit late on the otherwise refreshing, fantastically crafted What Is the Time, his is a most welcome return to the live arena.
And it’s these, in a slightly less generic sense, for which Lykke Li is now ready. Whereas Longstreth returned to trodden ground on last month’s Lamp Lit Prose, the Swedish chanteuse instead went in at the deep end of risqué contemporary R&B with June’s so sad so sexy. And while lacking a little of her trademark melancholy at times, at others, this evening, it really comes to life: the pelvic, thrusting two nights is, aside from Aminé’s backing-tracked rap part, superb; its sultry title track somehow manages to be simultaneously crestfallen and coquettish; the sublime utopia has us thanking our lucky stars for the hard rain which duly falls, drowning out the teardrops drizzling down a cheek or two. It feels a fitting end to this, our first time Way Out West, in light of her Skåne heritage, but overall, this impressively transgressive festival provides more than enough reason to return in years to come.