It was the best of times, it was the wurst of times. Well, the second bit isn’t true, but overdosing on enormous sausages (easily done in Austria) does definitely impede one’s progress around a festival like this.
The wonderfully diverse Waves – now into its second year - is well-named; not just because many of the venues are situated on or along the Danube Canal, but because you can’t help but bob back and forth between them as if caught on a mighty tide of continental rock. And Chinese pop. And Luxembourgian chillwave. And much more besides.
There are two “guest” nations this year, Poland and France, and we stumble upon a fine act from the former as the fest begins on Thursday evening. Paula and Karol are actually fronted by a girl from Ontario who moved to Warsaw, hooked up with a chap called Karol and formed a band. Very good they are too, switching from sea shanties to funkier fare and, for the finale, a corking cover of an old rap classic that we won’t give away here, lest you catch them in the near future. And you should.
“We’re the semi-legendary Wedding Present,” smiles David Gedge, nicely summing up his 27 year-old band’s status from another on-boat stage shortly afterwards. He’s the only original member left, but they plough though the 1991 album ‘Seamonsters’ anyway, interspersed with newer stuff. The fresher blood clearly doesn’t hurt: this Wedding Present rock hard.
One oddity about the grand old city of Vienna is that you can still smoke pretty much everywhere, and pretty much everyone smokes. Fluc - on dry land, up near the famous Ferris Wheel - is the smokiest venue, almost permanently clouded in a grey fug, through which we just about make out Ghostpoet. He’s in good form, and the fair-sized Fluc is fairly full and fired up, which leaves us smelling like an old ashtray.
More fragrant offerings kick off our Friday. Luxembourg’s Sun Glitters makes an ear-catchingly ethereal soundtrack at the sort of hotel meet ‘n’ greet that would usually just resound with industry blather. And later we pitch up at the grand Odeon, where there’s no smoking, no drinking, no stage even, which leaves Lucy Rose’s band on the floor like an interactive art installation. Photographers get right up in her grill and people wander past willy-nilly. That everyone else remains engrossed says much for Rose’s songwomanship.
On a different planet, Orka and Budam are from the Faroe Islands, make their own elaborate equipment and insist on dragging it across Europe, despite the expense. There aren’t actually that many people watching in Fluc’s upstairs bar (fellow Scandinavians The Soundtrack of Our Lives are playing one of their last ever gigs elsewhere at the fest) but the duo make a memorably intense, truly unique racket, utilising what looks like an elaborate zither.
Clearly a bigger draw downstairs shortly afterwards is B. Fleischmann, whose new album is heavily advertised around the city, yet isn’t the most obvious commercial proposition. Likeable laptop beats augmented by a guitarist, saxophonist and samples of old British chaps rambling on, his show rambles on a bit too: by the end Clash feels like an ‘80s East German who’s acquired a Western visa but feels obliged to stick it out until the Berlin Wall comes down.
Free of Fleischmann’s tyranny, we scamper between as many boats as possible on Saturday night, which are mostly occupied by the French early on. Botibol is the highlight, mixing math-rock wig-outs with yearning torch songs. “We are from France, Bordeaux,” he announces, “can we have beer please?” as if concerned that they might bring over an unsuitable Austrian red.
But former Phoenix sessioners Housse de Racket run them close. Their French Touch-fuelled techno-pop creates such body movement that the Clubschiff feels ready to haul anchor and send us all sailing towards Slovakia.
British troubadours Rue Royale and Gravenhurst are rather dull by comparison, but no such qualms with Nova Heart, led by a splendidly bonkers Peking lass with a fabulous voice, some promising pop songs but also a big space to her left. “We have a bassist but – this is not a joke – he has tuberculosis so couldn’t come with us,” she grins, slightly disconcertingly.
Back at foggy Fluc to finish a hectic weekend, Viennese New Order-alikes Bunny Lake play their last ever set, which all sounds largely the pumping same but goes down well enough. Then it’s the excellently-named Rangleklods, a multi-talented Danish chap who launches out from behind his laptop to do the pop star bit. “Your head’s in the clouds,” he’s singing, as we head for the exit. Clouds of something, indeed.
Words by Si Hawkins
Photo by Hazel Gumble