Way Out West 2014: In Review

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Held annually in Sweden’s second-city of Gothenburg, Way Out West and it’s late night partner Stay Out West, is fast becoming one of the must-go destinations for music lovers and musicians alike. Situated in the picturesque Slottskogen Park, the festival has boasted some impressive line ups in its short history, as well as being entirely geared towards a vegetarian and eco-friendly philosophy. This years event was no different; calling on a multitude of acts from an eclectic variety of genres who all made the three-day festival a wholly creative, stimulating and throughly brilliant experience.

Walking around, Way Out West didn’t feel like any festival I have attended before. As an inner-city event, there is no on-site camping, which combined with the (alarmingly accurate) generalisation that all Swedes are blonde, attractive and tall, makes for an incredibly on-trend and music savvy crowd. I am told that half of young Stockholm have crossed the country for what is now Sweden’s leading and most highly lauded music festival. What hit me the most, however, was the laid back and polite attitude to both the other attendees and artists on stage. I was rarely shoved or elbowed out the way, and from my experience, not a single artist was cat-called or heckled. Not to mention alcohol consumption is restricted to designated areas which meant there was no fear of having a warm beer rained down upon you mid-set. It all added up to make the whole experience one of the least stressful and laid-back attitudes to the festival environment I have ever come across.

THURSDAY

Way Out West

Being the first band to kick off an entire festival can’t be easy, but Poliça pull it off with great style and professionalism. Channy Leaneagh’s effortless cool is reflected back onto the audience, who silently (and respectfully) sway to the bands lucid and disconnected brand of electronica. The easy start to the day was not to last, Labyrint, a Swedish foursome from Uppsala kicked off the festivities on the Azalea stage with their fairly belligerent and energetic (but possibly quite niche) example of Scandinavian hip-hop. Rushing straight back to the Linne stage, I manage to catch ex-Distillers rock queen Brody Dalle as she lights up the festival’s only enclosed and tented stage. I have not followed much of her extensive career, I am ashamed to say, however it was very hard not to be drawn to her electrifying stage presence throughout the thirty-minute set. It’s also the first time I really see the audience let their hair down and really rock out – granted, it is only mid-afternoon at this point.

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 Poliça (Image provided by Google images)

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Brody Dalle (Image provided by Google images)

When I say WoW was eclectic, I wasn’t exaggerating. Taking us into the evening was Mali-based, tichumaren/folk collective Tinariwen. Their wonderfully relaxing concoction of West African guitars and Asian inspired soundscapes draw a more, how can I put this, earthy crowd, many of which simply enjoying a sense of something they may have never had the opportunity to experience at a festival of this type before. The group themselves seem genuinely thrilled to be there, especially by the size of the gyrating crowd they had attracted. I stay put at the Azalea stage while Motörhead thrash around wildly on the other side of the park, drawing the largest crowd so far, and quite literally amping up the atmosphere in time for The National to take centre stage. Claiming the peak sunset time slot, Matt Berninger and co. waltz on and open with Don’t Swallow The Cap to a seriously fevered and excitable front row (myself included.) As a fan, their set was highly engaging and emotive, playing the majority of the material from last years acclaimed Trouble Will Find Me plus popular picks from High Violet and 2005’s Alligator. I felt concerned that, to a festival crowd, their live show may come across dull or gloomy, but it was in fact the complete opposite. One of the major highlights for me was Berninger’s decision to rush straight into the centre of his adoring crowd during Terrible Love. I did not stay long to catch Queens of the Stone Age, Thursday’s headliner, as I was keen to head out and see what the after-dark aspect of the festival had in store..

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Matt Berninger, The National (Image provided by Google images)

Stay Out West

Stay Out West is a great idea. Having played host to bigger names in the past such as Haim, How To Dress Well, Rudimental, SBTRKT plus many, many others, the club equivalent of the festival takes place in venues all over the city, and tends to give the late night spots up to showcase new and interesting acts. But be warned, it is a smart idea to get to your chosen venue early, especially if your band are the first on, and be prepared to queue for the bigger names on the bill.

Where did I end up, you ask? Well, I took a bus from one side of Gothenburg to the other to one of the biggest (and most distant) of all the venues, the Gothenburg Film Studios. We had planned to catch UK-based rapper Zebra Katz but after queuing for an hour and a half, sadly this was not meant to be. We did, however, manage to catch one of Stockholm’s most popular imports, Teddybears. The group bound on-stage around 2am sporting gigantically terrifying teddy bear heads and proceed to whip the already perspiring crowd into a frenzy with their not-so-clean-cut electronic reggae mix. They were a thoroughly enjoyable act to stumble upon, making the whole bother of getting in entirely worth it.

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 Teddybears (Image provided by Google images)

FRIDAY

Way Out West

I had anticipated Friday would be the most hectic day in terms of music, and I wasn’t wrong. I made sure to head into the park early to kick back on the grass to catch the beautiful Sharon Van Etten. She eases us into the afternoon with an on-point collection of bittersweet summer ballads off her most recent LP Wish You Were Here and 2012s Tramp. As much as I enjoy Sharon and her bewitching vocal talent, the afternoon has really been set aside for the following two acts on the Linne stage. I have been dying to see Blood Orange perform ever since I reviewed last years Cupid Deluxe, and since the band don’t tour quite as much as I would like, (primarily the odd shows in NYC, as well as a handful of festivals) this was my chance to hopefully capture live what had experienced on record. Despite a leg injury which has left him fairly immobile, Dev Hynes, joined by girlfriend Samantha Urbani and an enthusiastic backing band, soldiers on to impress a completely adoring and enraptured audience. Opening with the beautifully plaintive Chamakay and closing on an amalgamation of Champagne Coast/It Is What It Is, it make for an utterly seductive forty minutes, complete with both moments of uplifting tenderness and 70s inspired dance floor anthems.

Blood Orange at Way Out West 2014

 Dev Hynes, Blood Orange (Image provided by Google images)

Having briefly caught a fledgling at 2013’s Great Escape Festival, I was very eager to see how her stage presence, alongside all the new material off No Mythologies To Follow, had developed over the past 18 months. Not to be let down, the Dane storms the stage with the energy of a firework, donning boxing gear and thrashing her trademark braid to deluge of brilliantly vibrant electropop. Joined by an equally charismatic guitarist, it isn’t long before the audience is bouncing off their combined energies and welcoming Mø with open arms as she repeatedly leaps into the crowd. It was superb. After a brief interval to compose ourselves after the humidity and exertion of Mø’s set, it’s time to completely fall in love with Janelle Monáe; the best overall performer of the festival, as far as I was concerned. Thanks to the 1960s monochrome aesthetic plus a variety of  brilliantly executed musical interludes, I felt I was no longer in a park on the west coast of Sweden; but transported to the bayous of Louisiana, or the streets of Brooklyn, or the Jazz Clubs of Detroit. From stage production to vocal prowess, Monáe’s entire performance was masterfully crafted, with the energy steadily increasing until every crowd member is dancing themselves into oblivion. Everyone is now in perfect part mode and ready for Swedish natives Icona Pop to descend onto the Azalea stage. The girls manage to easily whip the crowd into something reminiscent of G-A-Y on a Saturday night. While I never cared much for their music, (In fact, was surprised to discover they had more than three songs) I was pleasantly surprised with the unadulterated fun they brought to the night, as well as an impressive light show.

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 Mø (Image provided by Google images)

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 Janelle Monae (Image provided by Google images)

While I was pumping my fists along to club classic I Don’t Care, my partner in crime Elliot Bentley took to the Linne stage to catch the final two acts of the day.

Is it a good or bad sign when a band decide to bring out a troupe of dancers for their final song? In a way, Little Dragon’s choreographed dancers confirmed that a set consisting of sprawling electronic jams, rather than the group’s trademark intellectual pop, was more tightly crafted than first impressions might have suggested. Perhaps it depended on what you were looking for. Frontwoman Yukimi Nagano struggled to compete with the other members’ synth wizardry, and hits like Klapp Klapp merely dissolved into the mix. Yet approached with an open mind, the Gothenburg natives’ set was at times dazzling display of alt-dance, topped with a thrilling finale. Competing headliners Outkast may have been celebrating a 20th anniversary, but Slowdive’s shoegaze classic Souvlaki has barely aged in the 21 years since its release. No wonder the band chose to build their set around the record’s key tracks, including Souvlaki Space Station, which all continue to sound as good as ever. In fact, they sounded louder than ever before, choruses becoming deafening walls of sound accompanied by what can only be described as strobe fog lights. It was a beautiful attack on the senses, the kind that thousands of bands continue to strive to emulate in Slowdive’s wake.

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 Yukimi Nagano, Little Dragon (Image provided by Google images)

Stay Out West

While I was tempted to stay and enjoy the rest of Outkast‘s (very loud) set, I learned my lesson from the previous evening and made headway early to check out New Zealand newcomers Yumi Zouma in their opening slot at the Rhondo across town. While the venue was almost empty upon arrival, it did not seem to discourage the band, who had only up until recently been creating their music from all corners of the globe via Dropbox. The trio’s music feels deeply nostalgic, especially live, with Kim Pflaum’s delicate vocals and airy stage presence helping to create a dreamy and blissfully enjoyable set which melts perfectly into the lavish interior of the Rondo’s main stage.

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Yumi Zouma

Relocating round the corner to the Polketten, and onto something entirely different. Royal Blood have been everywhere as of late, and despite their 1am time slot after a very hectic day, I would have kicked myself if I had missed out. The duo are on top form, blazing through the riff-heavy Little Monster and Loose Change to the very rowdy throng who have gathered to finish their Friday off in style. It’s a simple, no frills set in the middle of a theme park, an unlikely venue for their hard, to-the-point rock vibe. The fever builds to the thunderous climax of Out Of The Black, leaving their mark on Gothenburg’s hearts and ears.

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Mike Kerr, Royal Blood (Image provided by Google images)

SATURDAY

The Saturday segment of this post is, sadly, a short one. The heavens opened over Gothenburg for much of the day, leaving us stranded (but no less alcohol fuelled) in the hostel. However we made it down in time to nab a good spot for the biggest power couple in Scandinavian pop since Agnetha and Björn – Robyn & Röyksopp. I was curious as to how this would work; it was clear the Do It Again mini-album was on the cards, but whether or not they would perform separately was still up in the air. Turns out it was split into three parts. Röyksopp opened with a heavily electronic set, complete with neon laser-beams and bass lines you can feel in your chest. I did feel during this first thirty minutes, that every audience member was holding their breath and waiting for Robyn to bound on at any moment. I did not feel the Norwegian duo were able to capture their audiences attention as much as they would have liked. Röyksopp exit, Robyn (eventually) enters, belting out all the well loved synth-pop classics such as Call Your Girlfriend and Dancing On My Own to a slightly more welcoming audience. This was only the warm up. Röyksopp return dressed head to toe in silver suits, while Robyn dons the largest pair of platform I have ever seen.  Together they thrust, belt, wind and thrash their way through all of 2014s sensational Do It Again mini album. It’s quite a spectacle from this point on; warped images explode on the screens while Robyn poses with a fan for a good five minutes, as well as Svein Berge donning a full robot head and flirting with her during The Girl and The Robot. After a slow and disjoined start, I was happy with the final explosion of confetti during the rousing performance of Do It Again, and from the audience reaction I was not the only one.

I was sad to see the festival draw to an end, but it only seemed apt to end at this point. Yes Robyn, I would definitely like to do it again.

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Robyn & Röyksopp (Image provided by Google images)

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