It’s hard not to endear yourself to Gothenburg’s healthy and hippy Way Out West (WOW) that boasts a vegetarian-only carte du jour, along with an impressive mash-up of headline artists by day and alternative up-and-comers by late-night.
Now in its tenth year, the three-day event (August 11th - 13th) sits alongside a jam-packed line-up of Scandinavian summer festivals, including Denmark’s Roksilde Festival, Iceland’s Secret Solstice and Norway’s Øya Festival that coincidentally runs the same weekend as WOW.
Similar to its festival counterparts, it continues to evolve in its focus on environmental issues with a set of talks from the likes of Swedish Environment Minister Karolina Skog and rocker-turned-spoken word-artist Henry Rollins; a coinciding film festival that featured the premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s 1970s hip hop series The Get Down; and new this year, sustainable dining from Chef of the Year (2014) Philip Fasten.
Sound fancy? There’s more. Fast-food operator ‘Max’ brought on site a vegetarian-version of its burger chain that included every variation of veg burger one could imagine, plus a host of food trucks featuring green balls (made of broccoli, of course), stir-fried cactus tacos and falafel with sales messaging ‘Make falafel not war’.
Big name brands joined in on the sustainable-fun with oat milk company Oatly providing, not only the sole milk option on site, but also a dance space with the marketing gimmick ‘It’s totally oatsome’. Paper money was also on ban, leaving card machines as the main form of payment, while festival merchandise was made from second hand garments.
All praise to world consciousness aside, the festival truly knows how to rock. Despite two days of consistent downpours, which likened the site to a mini-Glastonbury, the diverse line-up of artists gave a dose of musical magic to the 33,000 genetically blessed Nordics that traipsed Gothenburg’s Slottskogen Park each day, up from 30,000 in 2015.
If you’re a regular festival-goer, the headlining artists may appear like a replica of any other festival’s bill, but the bucolic setting surrounding a lake and pine-covered hills more than made up for it, as did the accessible distance between the five stages. UK people: think Latitude or Secret Garden Party.
If you’re a regular WOW attendee, you also know the real party starts after hours in the sub-section Stay Out West, where festival-goers are encouraged to carry on partying in several nearby bars (and a church), as well as two warehouse-sized venues, including Gothenburg Studios, accessible via bus or boat.
Where To Begin
Sweden’s claim to technology fame Spotify provided an above-average app that clearly outlined the dizzying schedule of over 200 performers.
The start of the fest began with brisk, bright sunshine beaming down on reliable, tempered acts including Daughter, M83, Laura Mvula and CHVRCHES.
Swedish singer/songwriter Anna von Hausswolff belted out assured melodies from her latest album The Miraculous while Jessie Granqvist gave a taste of Stockholm’s vibrant, underground dance scene.
The Last Shadow Puppets and Morrissey closed down the main stages, with the latter praising the fest for its vegan-goodness and proclaiming his usual anarchic quips such as suggesting the audience “join the universal vote in not voting” in reference to his dislike for Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump (last time we checked, Europeans couldn’t vote for the US presidential election).
The real anarchy began when the festival closed its gates around midnight, resulting in hordes of people ramming their way on to the Stay Out West modes of transport. The typically tranquil Swede transitioned to a fierce, mosh pit-style queuer where anything goes when it comes to making your way to the front.
Our choice venue was Bananperin, which was a half hour bus-ride from the festival site, and consisted of one large main stage set in a giant repository-like space, along with two smaller pop-up stages built around an outdoor beer garden.
Electronica duo Le Maitre were a safe bet as were South London grime gang Section Boyz. A surprise highlight was Swedish rapper, singer and apparently fashion designer Daniel Adams-Ray who had the large crowd of enthused Swedes jumping up and down (their cider-induced intoxication no doubt played a role as well).
Slightly older fans (the 5% of us who were over age 25) were catered to by a crowd-pleasing performance from Peter, Bjorn and John at the ripe hour of 2.30am.
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Before the heavens parted, unleashing torrents of rain for the better part of the day, Norwegian group PurPurrPurple bashed out some beautiful trance-aesthetics, as did Gothenburg native Jose Gonzalez, whose soothing, raw voice was heard amongst the new stage Hojden (meaning ‘height’) nestled on a tucked away, leafy hill.
Giving confirmation that Swedish hip-hop is literally on the up and up, Erik Lundin pushed the full house to mass cheers and raise-the-roof fist pumps, while a few feet away on the main stage, Dr Dre’s cohort Anderson Paak & The Free Nationals nearly had the audience in tears with Paak’s feel-good R&B tunes.
The rain didn’t stop guitar-hugging vocalists James Bay and Bon Iver-supporting The Tallest Man on Earth from delivering rock’n performances, nor Norwegian star on the rise Aurora and Sweden’s answer to Adele, 18 year-old Zara Larsson, whose Jane Fonda clad back-up singers combined with her earthy, soulful lyrics made for a show not to miss.
Grace Jones was back with a show-stopping performance, featuring a new track based around her Jamaican roots. Body paint, bongos and a half naked male counterpart dancing around a pole made for an entertaining watch, as did her confession of once falling in love with a Swedish man (our guess is A View To A Kill’s Dolph Lundgren).
The Libertines, who cancelled the previous day for unknown reasons, PJ Harvey and Yung Lean closed the day, all giving solid performances, with the young Swedish rapper and his Sad Boy posse particularly delivering on the smoke-infused production side.
The Stay Out West line-up again was overwrought with an overwhelmingly strong line-up, making for a tough decision where to go next. But as the queues quickly propagate and the larger venues take considerable effort to get to, only one venue was an option.
Back at Bananpiren, the night did not disappoint, with an eye-opening performance from Canadian shock artist Peaches who walked on the crowd, sang from a giant, inflatable penis and shook her bare chest around in her final track that brought the jam-packed room to deafening screams of delight.
A slightly more subdued Stockholm-based Elliphant rapped away on the bigger stage, followed by a grander bubble-gum pop performance from another notable Swede, Little Jinder. The evidence continued to build - shedding light on the country’s seriously talented crop of homegrown artists.
Down the way in Gothenburg’s film and television studios, Netflix’s premiere of The Get Down was celebrated with performances by legends De La Soul and Talib Kweli, the UK beatboxer Reeps One and Sweden’s hip hop offerings Cleo and Rosh.
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The final day saw a site suffering from the aftermath of soggy, mud-trampled debauchery. But still, the ramps were out showing considerable more effort than one might see at UK festivals.
If you could make it out of bed early enough (not an easy feat after two nights of 4am finishes), a stunning performance could be heard from another talented Swedish songstress Amanda Bergman, who also happens to be the ex-wife and best friend of The Tallest Man On Earth.
Daniel Norgren proved Swedes can also belt out the blues, as can British singer/songwriter Beth Orton and Ane Brun who brought a more Norwegian jazz and bass take on the genre.
The Deportees were another Swedish discovery, with an easy-going, hum-along set, while in the smaller, covered Linne tent – a place attendees flocked to for solace from the rain - one man band Jack Garratt crooned away to a sardine-packed crowd.
“When my mom asks me how the show was; I can’t wait to tell her how packed out it was! Of course, she’ll then ask me what the weather was like…,” joked Garrett.
Seinabo Sey, Big Sean, Jamie XX and Massive Attack & Young Fathers also played to enthusiastic crowds despite the continued wet weather that brought the puddles to soggy new depths.
But it was Skepta and Sia that brought the house down, both in contention who could revel the masses more; Skepta with his insistent demands for the audience to get involved and the Swedish superstar with her dazzling stage presence that saw her slink around in a bold hat that typically covered her face, alongside a carefully choreographed back-up set that ended with her hit single 'Chandelier'.
For Stay Out West’s last night, we opted for making the rounds in the local venues situated in the centre of town. The first gig began at Hagagyrkan, a calming option in a church that catered to older folk over the age of 25. New York avant-garde artist William Basinski sent the audience to a transcendental state with his meditative drone sounds constructed from looped recordings of his old analogue tapes, while the German pianist and composer Hauschka raised eyebrows with his prepared piano set.
A much needed wake-up jolt came at the nearby underground lounge bar Nefertiti that saw the likes of Mabel (daughter of Neneh Cherry and Portishead producer Cameron McVey) giving it some serious R&B love.
Slightly further afield at Gothenburg’s historic music venue Pustervik, praise was put on female vocalists with the likes of Berlin singer/ songwriter Bibi Bourelly (who wrote ‘Higher’ for Rihanna), Stockholm indietronica duo Niki & the Dove and 19 year-old Australian surfer Cloves.
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Gothenburg is home to a cluster of very hip, happ’n cafes, coffee shops and a renown fish market. Worth venturing out of the festival and exploring, not to mention a day trip to the nearby Archipelago.
If nothing else, check out as many bands as you can at Stay Out West. Find the up-and-coming gems, or the has-beens that are coming back out of musical hibernation.
Try and wrangle a guest pass. The backstage area has its own dance floor and lake-side bar, complete with a DJ. This is where the party is at for Sweden’s A-listers including actor Alexander Skarsgard (The Legend of Tarzan), Fares Fares (A Conspiracy of Faith, Zero Dark Thirty) as well as many of the performing artists.
Join the dozens of other Swedes in stopping off at the local Systembolaget - Sweden’s government owned liquor stores – and downing a few brews pre-festivaling. Alcohol on site ain’t cheap, with a bottle of beer or cider on average 60kr (£6).
No children under the age of 13 are allowed a ticket pass, partially to protect from high sound pressure levels. Ear buds are also available for purchase on every corner of the festival site.
Bring your water-proofs and wellies – Scandinavian summers are possibly more unpredictable than the UK.
Watch some serious good films. There is no shortage of top notch Scandinavian film and television shows, and the Way Out West Film Festival featured a notable line-up screened both in town at the indie cinema Hagabion or on site in the film tent. Films focused on environment and music, including Kip Andersen’s Netflix streaming Cowspiracy that addresses the effects of cattle on the environment; Kahlil Joseph’s Arcade Fire doc The Reflektor Tapes and and While We Are Alive starring rap artist Adam Kanyama. whose first glimpse of the spotlight was via X Factor Sweden. (I figured I should stick with Swedish films...). .
If only the nights were longer. Other Stay Out West acts we wish we would have seen: Viagra Boys, Moon City Boys, Dagny, Fire! Orchestra, Klara Lewis, Bleached, Dua Lipa, Joy, PostilJonen, Alunageorge, Cherrie, Arre! Arre! and Ana Diaz.
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Words: Tiffany Pritchard