As is customary at any music festival, in any location in the world, at any time of year, I arose on the Friday morning of Le Guess Who? 2018 with the telling sensations that things had gotten a little too overzealous on the opening night. Black MIDI had played deep into the early morning, so breakfast was serenaded by a heavy ringing in both ears; as if drummer Morgan Simpson was still hammering away in the front room. The first evening of the festival – mostly confined to the gluttonous TivoliVredenburg – was now a blur, and it was onwards into Friday afternoon.
With the main festival not kicking off until 7pm, it gives a visiting punter like myself the chance to explore some of the ‘Satellite Events’ Le Guess Who? curates each year. One of the beauties of Le Guess Who?, when compared to a British festival, is its host city’s attitude towards it. Where in Britain music events are often confined, shunted to the shadows, and pitched in arse-end-of-nowhere locations, Le Guess Who? is an open invitation to see as much of the city as possible in one weekend. Like the most desirable disease imaginable, the festival infects the entire city. The trademark ‘?’ lurches out from every angle, from the Centraal Museum to today’s main Satellite Event: Lombok Festival.
Bustling with noises, smells, and colours, Utrecht’s Lombok Festival is a welcome break from the picture-postcard setting of the centre of the city. This outpost of the festival has the distinct feeling of actually being lived in, as opposed to the tourist board advert for ‘Visit Holland’ the rest of the festival can sometimes teeter towards. A walk down the main street offers the tiny De Voorkamer which fizzes with poetry and conversation, and underneath the mosque traditional Turkish wedding music soundtracks the food market.
However, as the evening dark fell, it was time for Le Guess Who? proper to rear its head. First up was Jessica Pratt in the haunting Janskerk. It is almost too easy to say that Le Guess Who?’s elegance lies in its desire to adequately match an artist to the space they are performing in. Yet Pratt’s sparse vocals and acoustic guitar set-up only heighten the chilling atmosphere of this evocative space. This though, was merely the entrée for the night to come.
Over to Tivoli’s Ronda, for The Breeders. Back in their iconic ‘Last Splash’ form, the band may look like your parents, but they still brim with spikey grunge. Understandably the room is packed as they rifle through tracks new and old, the biggest reaction is reserved for mega-hit ‘Cannonball’, yet it is often in their softer moments The Breeders show their true worth. ‘Off You’ offers an intimate counterpoint to Kim Deal’s boisterous on-stage demeanour, showcasing just why she is hailed as one of the 90s’ finest songwriters.
Upwards still through Tivoli, now to Pandora. Le Guess Who?’s line-up is rightly heralded as diverse and inclusive as any you may find, yet this eclecticism does not necessarily extend to the punters. The festival invites far more chin-stroking, middle-age men than your average Kojey Radical gig may throw up. The East Londoner duly notes this towards the close of an electric set, asking "how many of you listen to grime music?" and dismissing the large cheer with a chuckle and an "I don’t believe you, but alright". Listed in the programme as the UK’s answer to Kendrick Lamar, the parallels are easy to draw. Lyrics fraught with themes of race, identity and class ricochet off Pandora’s walls, while tracks bounce from hip-hop, to grime, to earnest spoken word. By the time the set reaches its crescendo with ‘Kwame Nkruma’, Radical is throwing himself from left to right, snarling his declarations in his trademark rasping voice – a pocket-sprung ball of MC energy sent to liven Utrecht up a little.
MORE: Read the day one review of Le Guess Who? here
After that, we are all in need of a little breather before we embark on our cycle across town for the industrial De Helling. Just across the road from Tivoli we all regroup in Café Vredenburg – or as it was re-christened over the weekend (owing to the large sign above the door) ‘Grolsch Bar’. Just one of many bars in Utrecht nestled away for us to seek refuge from the madness outside, we prepare ourselves for one more.
Several jaegers later we’re aptly ready for the final band of the night, Newcastle’s Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs.
Reaching into the early hours now, we slice through the city by bike for our final destination. Once we arrive there is no chance of a sleepy end to the night. De Helling is alit with Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs’ heavy riffing, high energy set. Front-man Matt Baty is leering down at us while we absorb his sweat, dripping from above on stage while the band rip through singles ‘Cake of Light’ and ‘Sweet Relief’. While the noise may sound heavy and intimidating at first glance, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs’ are as light-hearted a band as you will find this weekend. Everything is delivered with wry wit, engaging to the last.
By the time the band finish, De Helling is at best half-full, and it is probably time to navigate back through the city for bed. There is plenty more to come from Le Guess Who? this year. Friday offered a relatively middle-of-the-road insight to the festival, but it never dipped below the wildly entertaining. For now though, my only concern is remembering where I parked my bike in the morning.
Inspired to discover more about Le Guess Who? Day three review will be on Gigwise tomorrow (21 November)