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Review: Way Out West

In my teenage years, I enjoyed visiting Denmark’s Roskilde Festival and Bestival on the Isle of Wight to see some of my favourite musicians, but I also viewed the trench-like conditions of both festivals as ‘character-building’ endurance tests. Therefore, when I discovered that some of the most interesting and diverse contemporary musicians were descending on a beautiful Scandinavian city, for a festival where I didn’t even have to camp, I immediately booked my tickets for Way Out West 2013.

Way Out West is situated in the beautiful Slottsgatan park in Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenburg. The city has all the trimmings of a Nordic folk tale, from the colourful wood-clad houses of Haga and the verdigris church-spired skyline: yet a youthful energy oozes from the multitude of cafes, bars and independent shops that makes Gothenburg feel like a relevant and modern city. Sweden is also home of fika; the socially accepted chance to take regular breaks over a coffee and cake with friends- like we needed the excuse of cultural traditions for a cake break.

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The size of the festival and the ease of getting between the three main stages allows revelers to take chances with listening to new bands and even that rare second chance to musicians you may have previously dismissed. In fact, the seemingly effortless organisation of Way Out West makes having a bad experience almost impossible. Upon entering the festival site, after collecting my wristbands, getting a drink and barely having to queue for the portaloos, I realised that all the usual drama of a festival was absent and I had the unnerving feeling that I was about to actually have fun at a music festival.

I looked across the festival site and was confronted with Gothenburg’s blondest and beardiest residents, decked out in their finest sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats and Fjällräven backpacks. Although this is an attractive, catwalk-worthy crowd, there was an overwhelming sense that the main reason people were at the festival was to engage with some of their favourite international and homegrown musicians. The level of passion was certainly present during The Knife’s incredible performance but equally when local hero Håkan Hellström had thousands of Swedes singing every word of his indie pop songs right back at him.

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Omar Souleyman started the party on Thursday afternoon in the Linné tent, ending rumours that his visa had been denied. The Swedish crowds welcomed the blend of Syrian folk music with electronic beats by dancing enthusiastically to Omar’s unique sound that has secured him as one of Syria’s longest-serving and popular musicians. Whilst Omar was able to eventually make Way Out West, the first night saw great disappointment for those who had come to see Neil Young & Crazy Horse, who had to cancel two hours before their headlining slot due to band-member Frank “Poncho” Sampedro fracturing his hand. My initial disappointment, however, vanished as we arrived at Gothenburg Film Studios to watch Deptford Goth’s debut performance in Sweden. This was part of the Stay Out West programme that followed the festival with official club events at various locations across the city. Located at an out-of-town industrial area, visiting Gothenburg Film Studios could have ended in disaster if it was not for the incredible organization of the free shuttle coaches for Way Out West wristband holders.

Piles of rubble surrounded the drinking benches made from industrial palettes and colourfully lit smashed warehouse windows gave the venue a strong warehouse party vibe that wouldn’t feel out of place in Berlin. The vast warehouse itself housed the stage where south-Londoner Deptford Goth performed an impressive set of his fragile electronica that makes up his debut album ‘Life After Defo’. His catchy beats and heart-melting lyrics won him some Swedish fans as the vast 3000 capacity warehouse erupted into cheers at the end of each song. This was followed by Swedish acts Mattias Alkbergs and Shout Out Louds who ensured the party continued well into the morning.

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The Friday line-up started with US west-coast rockers Haim thrashing out a mix of their well-received Forever EP and previewing the highly-anticipated album Days Are Gone. I enjoyed the nostalgic, grungey sound of the siblings’ energetic set, yet many in the audience found the quality of the sound in the Linné tent disappointing with a tendency to drown out the vocals. Bat For Lashes followed on the Azalea stage, performing an impressive collection of new and old material, with my lukewarm appreciation for the latest album The Haunted Man truly benefitting from hearing the tracks in their live form. The set had started with a depleted audience due to an unfortunate clash with Grimes at the Linné tent, however, Khan’s captivating voice when singing the classic singles ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’ and ‘Laura’ acted as a siren’s song, tempting revelers back to the Azalea stage to dance along to ‘Daniel’, which ended an impressive set.

By the time of The Knife’s headlining performance, the Flamingo stage was bursting with anticipation for the much talked about Shaking the Habitual Live show. The set consisted almost entirely of new material from Shaking The Habitual, and whilst the album is not a particularly easy listen in itself, the performance by Karin Dreijer Andersson, Olof Dreijer and their dancing troupe was so visually stimulating that the energy of the primal chorography spread across the audience, making the event feel like a fun, inclusive party.  A small selection of the back catalogue including ‘Bird’, ‘One Hit’ and ‘Got 2 Let U’ was reworked and incorporated into the choreography, much to the audience’s pleasure, and by the time the classic ‘Silent Shout’ ended the show, the crowd was so pumped that they could have danced through the spectacle all over again.

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On the final day of the festival James Blake, Little Boots and Alicia Keys performed enjoyable sets that helped the audience dance away an afternoon of steady showers. Saturday’s stand out event, however, occurred after midnight in the beautiful Annedalskyrkan church opposite the festival site. In this final Stay Out West event, Swedish rising star Lune sat at the altar, dressed in a mix of a Chinese silk dress and motorbike leathers, and filled the church with a voice so unique and strong that I started to question whether Björk had given birth to a secret love-child with a Swedish motoracer in the early 1990s. Lune’s glitching, electronic melodies are as catchy as her vocals are powerful, so much so that I even endured watching her guitarist-come-shaman shining a torch and shiny objects in her face throughout the entire performance.

My final show of the festival came from Mariam the Believer, who performed an impressive set of songs from their debut album Blood Donations. The Swedish-Iranian singer Mariam Wallentin made a striking impression dressed in a long psychedelic robe, with poker straight dark hair and an electric guitar in hand. Her deep bellowing vocals and Iranian-infused wails reverberated around the church, complimenting the band’s stripped-back rock and jazz sound on the single ‘The String of Everything’ and the brilliant ‘Dead Meat’. As the audience left Annedalskyrkan, not even the torrential thunderstorm that had suddenly announced the end of Way Out West 2013 could remove the sense that we had just witnessed something particularly special at this Stay Out West event- highlighting how the weekend is truly a festival of two diverse and impressive halves.

- Joe Carroll

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