Held in Gothenburg, Sweden, Way Out West is one of the more scenically attractive city festivals on the European circuit. Taking over the Slottsskogen City Park, it wraps itself around a duck-filled lake, presenting four stages of daytime entertainment before spilling into the local clubs, bars and even opera houses for its late-night fix, Stay Out West. See what they did there? Bloody clever, these Swedes.
- - -
Thursday, August 7th
Following a tourist-tick boat trip around Gothenburg’s canals and harbour – a route which entails ducking right down, below seat level, to avoid a rather deadly close shave with a bridge named the Cheese Slicer – I show up on site to a waiting game. Domestic rap squad Labyrint are exhibiting precisely why they’ve not crossed into bigger markets; Brody Dalle is being Brody Dalle and nobody really notices in 2014; and Swedish chart-topper Markus Krunegard is making middle-of-the-road pop-rock noise from one of the festival’s two larger stages, the Flamingo. Some people seem into him. I have to leave after two minutes, my brain hurting badly from attempting to fathom why.
Neneh Cherry, by Annika Berglund
It’s not until a good 90 minutes from stepping into the picturesque Slottsskogen City Park that some tangible energy bounds into being. Neneh Cherry might have turned 50 earlier in 2014, but her exuberance throughout a bass-heavy set starring collaborators Rocketnumbernine – participants on her latest studio set, ‘Blank Project’ – is a match for any artist two-fifths her age. Others tell me she’s struggling through sound issues, but from where I’m stood it’s a mix both infectious and indigestion promoting of guttural punch. A head-turning performance, even if a few gremlins are in the works.
Motörhead, by Annika Berglund
Motörhead, by comparison, look twice their age. Lemmy’s nearing 70 and it shows as he croaks through a cavalcade of cuts that few here readily recognise, before reaching the predictable-enough climax of ‘Ace Of Spades’. His right hand is just about finding the correct strings, and his left is shaking tremendously holding them against the fret. His voice has gone, a raspy, reedy impression of what used to be a thunderclap against its peers. ‘Killed By Death’ is a painful watch. They’re a late booking, and the fire’s been left at home – few watching would be surprised if this marked the last rites for the Kilmister’s vagabond band of metal brothers.
The National, by Annika Berglund
The National play their parts perfectly, party poopers of elegiac misery set against a near-cloudless sky. ‘England’ is a heartbreaker, a tracks-stopper, a pause for thought. It sends chills through bodies just previously rocking with aplomb to the livelier ‘Lit Up’. The National playing such grand stages as Way Out West’s Azalea – its second large, outdoor option – might compromise some of their material’s intimacy, but they still pack a powerful emotional punch through their now-trademark couplets of heartache and home comforts lost to distance. Come ‘Mistaken For Strangers’, their raised profile is making perfect sense.
Queens Of The Stone Age, by Olle Kirchmeier
Queens Of The Stone Age have put in the hours to keep themselves in festival headline sets, and Josh Homme mines his six-album catalogue to summon songs that have never sounded sharper than when belted out across a swarm of revellers eager for release. ‘Monsters In The Parasol’ confuses a few fair-weather followers, but ‘Go With The Flow’ and ‘I Sat By The Ocean’ are ravenously devoured by the throng, writhing front rows perhaps seeking salvation after Motörhead’s limpness.
Joey Bada$$, by Annika Berglund
Joey Bada$$ is a newcomer to these environments, but you wouldn’t know it. He commands his (the sole tent stage) Linné audience like someone with several European tours beneath his belt – not that he’d fit many there with his pants slung so low. Not even 20, he splits the crowd into factions, encouraging one side to out-holler the other – a tried-and-tested means of audience participation, but one that rarely fails, and so it proves as the canvas crackles with excitement. The DOOM-borrowed beats of ‘World Domination’ represent one high, but his is a set characterised by exemplary quality control throughout. His DJ drops a few seconds of ‘N*ggas In Paris’ and the place explodes – Bada$$ is not so naïve as to assume his original material can completely carry him yet, so far from his New York home. But give him another year, and an album proper, and we might just have something here.
Bo Ningen, by Adrian Pehrson
Out into the streets of Gothenburg we go once the park’s entertainment has ended – Stay Out West is the after-hours continuation of the festival’s bill, a Great Escape-style set-up with acts playing a variety of venues. I stop at the Jazzhuset for an oddly subdued Bo Ningen – they never really reach maximum velocity – probably a blessing for this small and steamy space – and then move onto the gleaming glass of the Trädgar’n for Forest Swords. Selections from the Liverpool artist’s terrific ‘Engravings’ collection initially come across lacking in the girth one expects of his bass-graced dub-tronica – but by ‘Thor’s Stone’ the low end’s made its presence firmly felt, kneecaps shaken and senses stirred. Main man Matthew Barnes passes me an unopened beer after his set, but I’ve got to leave it stage-side – already groggy on tokens-funded WOW-branded beer, I set my course to the hotel.
- - -
Friday, August 8th
A deviation, briefly: a walking tour of Gothenburg reveals the city to be a fresh-faced place of but 400 years (or so) of populated status. The ground here is boggy, so foundations run deep. Certain parts of the city are built with wood as a main material – stone was expensive, and so only the very centre truly stands with fireproof confidence. Our guide takes us to the famous ‘fish church’, a covered market where fisherman have been selling their catch for 100 years or more. There are some ugly suckers on display, but the herring I sample is delicious.
Sharon Van Etten, by Olle Kirchmeier
Onto the site proper, and day two proves to be a dance-off, of sorts, between three of its standout performances. But that comes after the noise is roused from its slumber by Sharon Van Etten, whose first-on set on the Linné stage is a perfect pick-me-up ahead of the treats to follow. ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’ is a skin-a-tingle high, its peaks punching above their on-record weight with tent-shaking volume. She’s having fun, we’re having fun, things could not be better.
Blood Orange, by Olle Kirchmeier
Blood Orange follows in her footsteps, treating a wide-awake and wholly receptive crowd to a studied brand of throwback pop that feels zestfully fresh under the Swedish sun. Dev Hynes’ own new power generation of generous hooks and funk-filled basslines sounds like a colossal crossover waiting to happen, ‘You’re Never Good Enough’ just one number amongst many ready-to-go winners waiting for the wider world to wake up to their sleek, and just a little bit sexy, magnificence.
Earnest folksy emoting of the utmost, experience-on-show quality is split between WOW’s two larger stages as Bill Callahan is followed by Conor Oberst. The latter’s reviving of revered Bright Eyes cut ‘Lover I Don’t Have To Love’ casts a great shadow over his more bucolic, recently released fare, effortlessly comprising this audience member’s outstanding moment of the Omaha musician’s efforts.
Mapei, by Annika Berglund
But it’s at Mapei where the action is, and the best moves at this juncture. The Swedish-American singer is flanked by a pair of energetically contorting male dancers, who both mirror her own moves and throw several impressive ones of their own (equally impressively: without putting their backs out. ‘Don’t Wait’ is, expectedly, the hit of the afternoon – but few could have predicted quite the sing-along response it receives in Gothenburg. ‘Change’ is shaping up to be even bigger, too. She’s a star locked in the ascendancy, no doubt.
The same can’t be said of Future, whose staccato approach to lyricism might work if more than a handful of faithful fans knew the words to his tracks. His beats are dull, and any charisma was evidently security checked at the airport only for the locker key to get lost. The DJ says more than the rapper: not a good look.
Janelle Monáe, by Olle Kirchmeier
Janelle Monáe is a revelation, though, a ballistic ball of bombast and big-hearted high-jinx. She might be all of three feet tall, but she rises to dominate the Flamingo stage with all the comfort as if she was dancing around her kitchen waiting for a Hot Pocket to ping. Great crowd rapport helps – she gets a roar of approval for proclaiming the importance of equal rights, and asks the men in the audience to scream for her, a nice counter to the male rappers’ demands for the ladies in the house (and so on) to give it up. ‘Tight Rope’ is stretched perhaps too tightly, an extended outro threatening to snap attentions. But the smiles are fixed: what a singer, what a show.
Little Dragon, by Olle Kirchmeier
Equally impressive of high-production impact are Icona Pop, whose sisterly interplay is an affecting sight to behold, as they claw at and clamber over each other while a DJ-cum-percussionist sits stage-centre of some dazzling bright-light graphics. Little Dragon continue the party, local Gothenburg girl Yukimi Nagano joined for the band’s final moments by an all-limbs-flailing foursome of dancers. They’re not as regimented as Mapei’s pair, but as they break formation to freestyle as the diminutive singer they’re surrounding raises her tambourine and spins in a tip-toed pirouette, her dress seemingly constructed from aluminium foil and bubble wrap (from this distance, anyway), the effect is entirely mesmerising. A ‘Ritual Union’ and no mistake, all are united in their appreciation of a great festival set.
André 3000 of OutKast, by Olle Kirchmeier
But today’s bill is topped by one of the summer’s very biggest festival circuit draws: the 20th-anniversary-celebrating OutKast. ‘B.O.B.’ is their opening salvo and I, for one, struggle to keep my shit together. Others rightly lose themselves to the music – which is more than can be said for a very stoic André 3000, who might well be asleep behind his shades. Big Boi more than makes up for his partner’s reserved presence, bounding about the stage with a grin on his face bigger than a Partridge-plate portion of the Swedish meatballs that he keeps mentioning.
Three Stacks might be oddly detached from what’s going on around him – later, they’ll confess to have been on something of a bender for the past 24 hours, which could be responsible for the man’s subdued demeanour – but the quality of the duo’s catalogue comes across as brightly as the gigantic arses and breasts accompanying Big Boi’s solo section of the set. ‘I Like The Way You Move’ – with bonus Sleepy Brown in a dapper, custom smoking jacket – and ‘GhettoMusick’ see the big on-stage screen display slow-motion butt-shaking and young ladies posing in a variety of provocative positions. It’s too much for some – the crowd noticeably thins when the T and A is so dominantly beamed into the night.
Big Boi of OutKast, by Olle Kirchmeier
Nevertheless, ‘Rosa Parks’, ‘Roses’, ‘So Fresh, So Clean’, (a minus-Killer Mike) ‘The Whole World’ and ‘Ms Jackson’ are delicious, and a one-two of ‘Player’s Ball’ and their debut LP’s title track, ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’, celebrate this ever-inspirational rap act’s still-relevant earliest rumblings. Too much arse, definitely, but that’s a small price to pay to see two of the greatest hip-hop imaginations of all time go about their southern-fried funky shit. And what Mapei and Little Dragon added to their sets, OutKast look to improve on by bringing crowd members on stage to bump and grind to ‘Hey Ya!’. They’re all young ladies, of course. I should have worn a skirt.
Metz sweat a lot at Pustervik, my one Stay Out West stop for the night. They’re seeing out a Sub Pop night at the venue, an old cinema turned gig venue that has a basketball court in its main room, where the Canadian threesome plays. Drawing on their eponymous debut of 2012, the punks send a small but committed crowd into mosh ecstasy. A few over-zealous sorts are escorted out for crowd surfing, but the slamming never turns nasty. Ears burned, it’s time again to rest.
- - -
Saturday, August 9th
In Britain, the usual festival tactic is to get battered on the first night and spend the next couple regretting the over indulgence. Not so at Way Out West, where the Swedes work the opposite way. While the previous two days saw good behaviour and fine spirits on show, Saturday brings out the lecherous drunks, the wobbling ravers, and the passed-out-on-the-floor, started-too-soon sorts. The neat and tidy site is overrun with beer and cider bottles by 7pm. Welcome to the end of the party, WOW style.
Deafheaven, by Olle Kirchmeier
Things open gently enough, as they did a day earlier, when Sharon Van Etten was first on. San Francisco’s Deafheaven might have a mean reputation, but they’re pussycats playing the Linné stage, frontman George Clark exchanging pleasantries with the front few rows, pausing to sign merchandise mid-set and telling us a great gag about how one of his ex-bandmates once mistook Swedish Krona for Polish Zloty and, well, as you can imagine, hilarity ensued.
Just kidding. They sound like the Earth trying to swallow you. This is a very good thing. ‘Dream House’ and ‘Sunbather’ are enormous, chaptered exercises in modern aural warfare, and Clark prowls his territory like a panther, leering at the early risers with a look of purest contempt, dribbling his lyrics and screaming indecipherable hostilities into a soon-burnished-by-brimstone microphone.
But this is theatre, nothing more – I’ve read elsewhere that Clark exudes an off-putting arrogance onstage, but all I see is a man physically channelling the furious aggression of the music around him, living the beats and the breaks and the builds as any fan might, by letting this glorious noise control him like a puppet. A new song, ‘From The Kettle Unto The Coil’, points towards a marginally more accessible future for this five-piece – but they remain, still evolving, a most uncompromised cacophony.
Planningtorock, by Andreas Carlsson
Planningtorock stirs the (small, Red Bull-branded stage) Dungen audience from prone positions, successfully attracting a small but keen gaggle of onlookers ready to pull tentative moves to tracks like ‘Doorway’, which stalks the senses, emerging from dark corners to spook the day into action. Which, disappointingly for those who didn’t pack wet weather gear, means the clouds finally split after a few days of threatening to, and the torrential downpour scatters less-hardy attendees to the safety of tents and stalls – or, for some, to the dry, phone-charger-friendly oasis of the press area.
Slint just about get through the final moments of ‘Good Morning, Captain’ before the rain really intrudes on everyone’s enjoyment. The Kentucky outfit, on another comeback tangent, sound exactly how someone seeing them live for the first time (hello!) imagined, their swells telegraphed but nevertheless satisfyingly executed. Everything is measured and menaced and nuanced as it should be – and yet, I feel little for the performance. It’s just a bit dry after the showmanship of Deafheaven – which is ironic given the rapidly saturating ground outside Slint’s Linné haven.
A couple of hours off-site for promo keeps me occupied while British trance buffoons Above & Beyond serve the cheese on the Flamingo stage and Elliphant reportedly lights up the Linné. Neutral Milk Hotel comprise a considerable draw on the Azalea when I do return but, soaked through and desperate for some sustenance, I bypass Jeff Mangum’s morose indie mutterings to ready myself for Yasiin Bey, aka the man formerly known as Mos Def.
Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def, by Olle Kirchmeier
The rapping actor – or acting rapper, depending on your perspective – delivers a great festival set, light on original material but big on the hits, bringing his own take on ‘N*ggas In Paris’ and lending new lines to Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’. ‘Supermagic’ is a stunning showcase for his talents, a spotlight for authoritative rhymes and accomplished delivery. His minimalist stage dressing keeps attentions on the shimmying boogie-man before us – and handing out roses at the end is a nice touch.
Robyn, by Olle Kirchmeier
All of the drinking reaches a head when Robyn and Röyksopp deliver the festival’s final pop flourish of spectacular lasers and lurid sportswear. The Swedes go absolutely ape for this – a set that begins with the Norwegian duo exploring their vast catalogue, ‘Poor Leno’ extended into a carnival of captivating percussion. Anyone still sitting on their ponchos are upright once Sweden’s own Robyn takes the stage, spinning like crazy and dancing suggestively. The love here for efforts like ‘Dancing On My Own’ is easy to see, to hear, and to smell – the biggest crowd of the festival is kicking up one unholy stink of support for one of this country’s most successful pop exports.
Pusha T, by Annika Berglund
By the time of ‘With Every Heartbeat’, though, I’ve drifted across the site to a rather less-well-attended Pusha T set – midway between stages, Robyn’s gorgeous ache and the Virginia rapper’s ‘Millions’ merge with distressing results. So it’s into the Linné tent for some quality time exclusively in the company of King Push. Drawing both from ‘My Name Is My Name’ and his cuts for Kanye’s ‘…Twisted Fantasy’ set, he achieves what Future couldn’t: a show that delivers on immediate entertainment and effortless envelopment, the tent resonant with ‘Runaway’ chimes and the woodblock rhythms of ‘Numbers On The Board’. He’s all grins, all bounds, playing off a co-MC with a patter that’s never forced, never too taut. He’s a joints loosener, and as everyone gets lively, it’s tough to not be caught in the rush.
A great location, a tremendous bill, good people and admirable cheer – even when it absolutely buckets it down. WOW, you’ve been wonderful. Don’t go changing.
- - -
Words: Mike Diver
Top photo (OutKast crowd): Annika Berglund
Homepage rotator André 3000 photo: Olle Kirchmeier