If you’ve been to a music festival in Britain you’ll likely be familiar with the taste of warm cider first thing in the morning (while sat on a broken camping chair), the smell of bodies who’ve only had a wet wipe across them in three days, and at least one invariably mud-coated guy who you point at and say, that man has done a lot of drugs. Way Out West is the complete antithesis of this festival experience – it’s clean, debauchery-free, and probably the only place you’ll see a DJ set at an oat milk brand pop-up going off more than a performance by the Arctic Monkeys.
Centred in Gothenburg’s leafy Slottskogen public park, the festival wraps itself around a lake where ducks mind their business while DJs bang out acid techno. The emphasis here is on sustainability – recycle your waste! Don’t eat anything that comes off a bone! – and although we might start craving a sausage suddenly one afternoon, it’s an admirable ethic at a time when our planet feels alarmingly hotter by the second.
Capitalising on the cobalt skies and greenery of the park is the Dungen area, where Peggy Gou keeps a crowd locked in for two hours with a slamming array of various stops along the hardcore continuum, prompting cheers of the Scotland-born chant “Peggy, Peggy, Peggy fucking Gou!” when she played cuts from her recent Ninja Tune EP, as well as a shoe or two held aloft; a tradition whenever Peggy takes to the decks.
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It’s there that, the next day, the ever-elusive Moodymann plays a ‘Sex On Fire’-free set complete with his late-night-disc-jockey-meets-bootycall vocal licks, leaving the decks occasionally to pour Absolut into plastic cups for lucky ravers at the front. A hard act to follow undoubtedly, but Yaeji nails it – one of 2018’s most hotly-tipped producers, she sings live over her dusty house beats, and the irony of her playing ‘raingurl’ is not lost to a crowd who are strapping on ponchos at the sight of a few drops.
But what Way Out West offers in more experimental live acts, it gets right. Gothenburg native Fever Ray explodes onto the Azalea stage wearing an ‘I <3 Swedish girls’ t-shirt (with the ‘Swedish’ part crossed out) among a cartoon-like array of costumed characters, including a faux bodybuilder flexing her bulging fake pecs. One morning we witness Congolese artist/musician collective KOKOKO! slapping rhythms out of their found-object instruments (a typewriter drum machine, for instance) – it’s easily one of the best things we see all weekend.
This year, however, seemed to be all about hip-hop. The world’s best boyband, Brockhampton, put on a next level performance – all dressed in white, they run through ‘SATURATION’ cuts like ‘QUEER’ and ‘BLEACH’, which elicits an emotional reaction from a Swedish crowd that sing along, word perfect. Yet if the weekend was building up to any performance in particular, it was always going to be Kendrick Lamar. Delivering his showstopping martial arts-themed performance, Kung-fu Kenny arrives clad in orange jumpsuit and, oddly, an Oasis Supersonic T-shirt. As predicted, Lamar keeps the crowd at fever pitch throughout, testing our fanboy status with ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ cuts and ScHoolboy Q’s ‘Collard Greens’.
When the sun goes down, the event spiders out into Stay Out West (see what they did there?) in another district of the city. It’s here that eight-piece housemate collective Superorganism thrill with their digitised, cartoonish sounds, providing enough bombast and sparkle to convert a herd of brand new fans. LA-via-Sweden cinematic soul goddess Snoh Aalegra reigns supreme, running through her incredible ‘FEELS’ record as well as an R&B covers medley. While dance music fans can creep through a stack of shipping containers into the Dungen area, where we catch Studio Barnhus AKA Axel Boman, Kornél Kovács and Petter Nordkvist performing a live A/V set with some trippy choreography, bashing some of their melodic house through a disappointingly quiet sound system (why do they even bother handing out those earplugs...?)
There's a very risk-free culture that permeates Way Out West (the designated drinking areas being just one example), and corporations are Very Much Present here, with their hashtags and their smoothie samples and their VR, but the festival's musical programming is truly hard to fault. Anyone in search of a good, clean, fun time will find just that at WOW – and, as a bonus, you probably won't even have much of a hangover come Monday morning.