As regular as clockwork, and now for the third year running, Webcuts returned to Slottsskogen in Gothenburg, Sweden for the annual Way Out West Festival. In previous years, we’ve been wow-ed by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Broder Daniel and Neil Young and this year’s festival did not disappoint. With so much eclectic talent spread across the three days it was impossible to walk away empty-handed. No matter what your taste in music were, all bases were covered. This year, electro-wizards Chemical Brothers, alterna-rock heroes Pavement, living legends Iggy Pop & The Stooges, hometown boy Håkan Hellström, rap overlords The Wu Tang Clan, and the mesmerizing M.I.A. were just a few of the acts to thrilled the sell-out audience, and to keep the photographers on their toes…
Imperial State Electric kicked of this year’s festival but it was the return of Gothenburg’s prodigal son Jens Lekman that got Webcuts out of bed. After a few years in exile down below Jens was back but the greetings in Slottsskogen were lukewarm. People seemed pleased to see him but it felt more like someone bumping into a former colleague than a lover, maybe the explanation lay with the early hour. Jens did his part but it was only really old favorites like “Black Cab” and “The Opposite of Hallelujah” that got the crowd going.
Outside of his Animal Collective, Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) had assembled quite a number of people at the Linné tent and delivered more or less what was expected with repetitive dreamy melodies with all the focus on the music. There was no small talk or acknowledging of the audience. After awhile though people started to drift off to other stages or to have their first beer and plenty of space were left behind. Maybe people expected something more similar to Animal Collective and to be honest, beautiful as it was, it did become a bit dull after awhile and we thought a night concert would have been a better setting for Panda Bear and his visuals.
Paul Weller has done well over the years handling his musical legacy (The Jam, The Style Council) by largely ignoring it. Which is why Webcuts has largely ignored Paul Weller. Fully aware that no longer a force to reckoned with, Weller gave the audience what they wanted — a mixed set of new (“this is a new song from my album – which sold twenty copies over here, and I personally want to thank those twenty people”) and old. Naturally it was the backward glance into Weller’s considerable songbook that returned the most rewards, with Jam classic “Pretty Green” played back to back with The Style Council’s “Shout To The Top”. Rounding things up with an astonishing “Art School” from The Jam’s 1977 debut album gave Way Out West its first jaw-dropping moment.
Oooh shiiiiiit….it’s the who? It’s the mother-fuckin’ Wu-Tang Clan! And you want us to… yes, yes, put our hands in the air, I get it. Oh god, has it really come down to that? Does every rap band have to resort to the same old call and response? Why not: “Put your hands in the air… or RZA will come down and fucking shoot you!”. Give it up for the Wu-Tang Clan though. Looking at the selection of safe acts, they were the wild card selection. But were they all there? I counted about five or six, GZA, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon… oh, who are we fooling? Webcuts knows next to nothing about rap and we’re not going pretend that we do, but every festival needs a rap act. The stoners do so they don’t feel excluded, which means the air fills with pot smoke and thus everybody’s in a good mood. They even had the crowd jumping up in the air and yelling “Sweden!”, which was handy, ‘cos for a second there I forgot where I was.
Déjà vu set in when Ebbot Lundberg, singer of The Soundtrack of Our Lives, started parading around on the main stage, bearing a striking similarity to Antony Hegarty’s attire during last year’s Way Out West. Two charismatic singers, both in caftans, on the same stage, and both backed by Gothenburg’s Symphonic Orchestra. Expectations were high as to who the “special guest” was, with Robyn’s secret guest last year (Lykke Li and Dr. Alban) creating a high level of expectation. Rumors had mentioned Noel Gallagher but instead it was Tommy Blom, singer from ’60s Swedish rock band Tages who took to the stage.
The National last played at Way out West in the Linné tent in 2008. Two years later, and with the success of High Violet riding high, they’re now a main stage draw card. When Matt Berninger and the Dessner and Devendorf brothers walked on stage, expectations were high and by starting with “Mistaken for Strangers” and “Anyone’s Ghost” it should have been a thrilling moment, but the sound was uneven and the band didn’t seem fully into the performance. “Mr. November” set the pace for a thrilling set-closer, but instead they opted for the slow rumble of High Violet‘s “Terrible Love” to end the set, which again let things fall a little flat.
Hello, we’re the fucking Stooges. Oh Iggy Pop, I think I’m gonna call you Pops, because goddamn, you may as well be. Anybody, anybody who says old Pops looks good for his age, clearly hasn’t seen him up close. He’s 60 and he looks every day of it, but he moves like someone a helluva lot younger. “Raw Power” and “Search and Destroy” sound phenomenal. Imagine hearing these tracks in the ’60s and for them to still have that same raw power 50 years later. Give it up for The Stooges. Give it up for Pops when he invites the entire front row to get up on stage and dance with him, and then for when he gets down on his hands and knees in the photographer pit during “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. The Stooges came, saw, and conquered.
There was a noticeable amount of winging-it throughout LCD Soundsystem‘s set, starting from the get-go with a raucous “Drunk Girls”, James Murphy and crew both coming on late and appearing as if the curtain had been pulled too soon. Murphy quickly made his excuses for any possible malfunctions due to their equipment only just making it on site before they were due to go on. From the other side of the stage things looked panicked, but sounded fine. One of the great things about LCD Soundsystem is that it’s not dance music for the sake of dancing, every so often they’ll hit an emotional nerve, as they do on Sound of Silver‘s “Someone Great”. But on the more meaningless dance side “Pow Pow” and “Yeah” built and maintained a groove, while an extra-spirited “Tribulations” kept it going.
M.I.A. and The xx fought it out to close the show. M.I.A. took a good fifteen minutes of listening to her DJ warm up/wear out the crowd before she appeared, lazer lights and LCD screens ablaze with backing singers in day-glo burkhas in tow. The xx took a more sedate approach, reprising their set from Primavera back in May, seductively dimming the lights and letting the smoke machine set the mood. The xx are the perfect date band; their sound is so minimal and rhythmic that you can listen without listening — it’s a soundtrack to what’s happening around you. While the interplay between Romy Croft and Oliver Sim often feels like two lovers trapped in a one act play. It’s bewitching stuff, while it has your attention, but The xx sell a mood and Webcuts wasn’t ready to wind down just yet.
Heading back into town for the late night Stay Out West program, we find Surfer Blood still riding a wave of success on the back their self-titled debut, carrying the kind of youthful cockiness that might allow you to get away with taking the stage as if you were dressed for an afternoon on a yacht. This being the attire (tan canvas shorts and loafers) of baby-faced lead singer, John Paul Pitts. The rest of the band look the business, but there’s something about Surfer Blood that reeks smart-casual. But they do it like Weezer did in the ’90s — carrying an arsenal of well-crafted and sonically pleasing pop songs too good to ignore. By the time Wild Nothing come onstage around 2am, Webcuts is visibly flagging, but determined to bask in the glow of their Shins-like pop. “Live In Dreams” best encapsulated the experience, sounding like a less precious Belle & Sebastian meets New Order, but it was an unfortunate broken string that shook us from our pop-slumber and called the night to a close.
It’s the Stay Out West that is the ruin of us. Stay Out West means “stay up late” which also means “get up late”. Shout-Out Louds and Mumford & Sons you have our apologies, but really, it’s not our fault. Raising the momentum slightly from the gentle pop tones of last night’s Wild Nothings, San Francisco’s Girls have gone through something of an identity change. Lead singer Christopher Owens having noticeably cut his hair short, now taking the appearance of one of Morrissey’s boyfriends circa 1992 (the bouquet of gladioli front of stage only accenting this more). With a set largely drawn from last years debut album, Girls had an easy task ahead of them with “Lust For Life” and “Laura” coaxing out the harmonies and providing Webcuts with a much needed wake-up.
We haven’t heard much from Swedish singer-songwriter Anna Ternheim in the past year, with a move to New York and work on a new album probably being the reason why. Still today she was in Gothenburg complete with her calm countenance playing a mix of songs from all three albums including old favourites like “To be Gone” and “Bring Down Like I”. A cover (in Swedish) of Arcade Fire’s “My body Is a Cage” was thrown in but it was the encore that had everyone talking, as she invited Henrik Berggren from Broder Daniel to sing “Shoreline”, while Anna played the piano. This pleased the large number of Broder Daniel fans about, who were possibly waiting to see that band’s former drummer, Håkan Hellström, play later.
After Anna it was time for one of our Swedish favourites, The Radio Dept. The new album, Clinging To A Scheme, feels more upbeat, and dare I say it, happy but when it comes to playing live though Radio Dept. are still heavily indebted to the sounds of shoegaze. To remind people that there is an election coming up this year and that people should vote “right” (that is left) Johan Duncanson, the singer, addressed the audience and then of course “Freddie and the Trojan Horse” followed. We think that more bands should follow Radio Dept. and encourage young people to vote, especially when it is the “right choice”. As lovely as the music was, especially favorites like “1995” and “Heaven’s on Fire”, it did become monotonous after awhile and a tasty Smålandsrulle kept popping up in my mind and hunger won in the end.
After headlining Primavera earlier in the year, it was a little inconceivable that Pavement would appear slotted in the middle of the bill between Talib Kweli and Konono No.1. I mean, what the fuck, Sweden?, Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus, showed the same confusion at their low billing, bringing the audience gifts (in the form of Pavement bread) and going as far to explain who they were, “Hello, we’re Pavement, we’re a not-very-big band from the ’90s”. For what was to follow found Pavement at their most guitar-effic, opening with a triple-hit of “In The Mouth A Desert”, “Date W/Ikea” and “Gold Soundz”, trimming the fat from the set for the most Pavement-packed hour set. “I wish I had more Pavement bread for you instead of more fucking indie rock”, Malkmus offered the crowd, but seriously, gimme fucking indie rock any day of the week.
The atmosphere was tense before local boy Håkan Hellström’s set as it was the first time he would be playing his debut album Känn ingen sorg för mig i Göteborg (Feel No Sorrow for Me Gothenburg) that he released ten years ago, in full. Could he really live up to people’s expectations? Well it felt like I was transported back to the 1960s for a Beatles concert when Håkan showed up on stage in his old sailor suit. It was Mental, Magic. Mesmerising. I’m not even into Håkan but seeing over 15 000 people singing along to every single word and Håkan bouncing all over and below the stage one could not help but join the madness. The songs still work, and while it might not be his best album but for thousands of people it was not just nostalgia, it was more. It was a love story between an artist and an audience coming true.
Håkan was a hard set to follow and the music gods were not on Lykke Li’s side this night. The stage was set beautifully with big dark cloths swaying in the bright lights and smoke. Lykke looked amazing but at times frustration was beaming from the stage. Her voice faltered and was lost quite early on. “Fuck this shit” summed up Lykke’s feelings but she carried on and maybe it made her beat the drums even harder. The set list was interesting and included a few covers such as The Knife’s “Silent Shout” and The Fugees hit “Ready or Not” as well as a number of new songs from her upcoming album.
Last year it was the headlining Lily Allen battling Florence & The Machine for the title of best English songstress last year. This year, it was two equally new, and equally sultry young sirens in Marina & the Diamonds and La Roux fighting it out for this crown. Both walked out in oversized gowns (Marina wearing a hooded yellow number that looked like a skinned Pokemon) that gave way for a quick costume change after the first song, and both knew how to turn on the charm. “Hello Diamonds”, cooed Marina, for you see, it’s we who are “The Diamonds”. La Roux’s cover of The Rolling Stones “Under My Thumb” found favour with the lady-pop snobs of the Webcut camp, even if the be-quiffed La Roux felt as if she was evoking the spirit of the still-living Annie Lennox and pushing the sound of The Eurythmics circa Be Yourself Tonight.
It was left to the Chemical Brothers over on the main stage to draw the main part of the festival to a close. Again, it should’ve been Pavement, but the powers that be deemed both nights be closed by acts who let their dancers and laser shows do the majority of the talking. If Webcuts really has to put the knife in, it’s giving the headline spot to essentially a couple of DJs. I don’t even know what to say about the Chemical Brothers, except that to really get in the mood, and after ten hours of non-stop music, chemicals are required. Do people do drugs in Sweden? The disembodied voice of New Order’s Bernard Sumner floated over the air during “Out of Control” and from a safe distance, as Webcuts was seeking entertainment elsewhere, the light show was dazzling and people were getting down to it. Good for them.
Annedalskyrkan was packed to its brim for English folk-singer Laura Marling. Last year we raved of El Perro del Mar at Annedalskyrkan and this year it was confirmed that the church has one of the best acoustics in town. Laura’s voice, that makes you think that she has all the answers, filled the whole church and when she played the quiet “Made By Maid” you could have heard a pin drop. She managed to get a few laughs out of people as well when she accidently swore in the church. Maybe she is not as innocent as she looks?
After Laura finished a lot of people gave in to tiredness and the church became a bit more spacious as Christopher Sander, the singer from [ingenting], and friends came out on stage. And what friends Christopher has! Most of them are probably not known outside Sweden but Anna Järvinen and Anna von Hausswolff (who played at the festival herself) are among the finest female singers in the country. The setlist was one of a kind, including songs by Astrid Lindgren (the author of Pippi Longstocking), Spacemen 3 and [ingenting]. The stand-out track of the night was a chill-inducing version of Leonard Cohen’s “So Long Marianne”.
The “must-see, but kinda not sure..” act on Webcuts band-ticket were South African hip-hop act Die Antwoord. Having been literally floored by the video clip to their song “Enter The Ninja”, much like the 6 million odd people who’ve played it, this needed to be seen. Easily worthy of a stage in the festival proper, Die Antwoord were given a 2am slot at a rammed to capacity nightclub. Opening with the rap ferocity of “Enter The Ninja” the intensity matched that of their Youtube viral hit, but soon after events quickly turned into pure comedy. Ninja’s co-rapper Yo-Landi took the spotlight on “Rich Bitch”, encouraging the crowd to “smack her ass”, while Ninja quickly costume changed returning in Spongebob Squarepants boxers. Playground humour was reached while came explaining the meaning to their song “Fish Paste” and getting the crowd to sing along, but this had nothing on the encore, Ninja and Yo-Landi dressed in Pikachu and Pink Panther costumes. It really had to be seen to believed. And that’s pretty much how it went for the rest of Way Out West 2010 — far too many high points to mention, some already forgotten, but not least of all, the brass marching band playing Big Star’s “Way Out West” to festival goers exiting the park. Now, that was a nice touch.
Craig Smith: Paul Weller, Wu Tang, Stooges, LCD Soundsystem, M.I.A., The xx, Surfer Blood, Wild Nothing, Girls, Pavement, Marina, Laroux, Chemical Bros, Die Antwoord
Lisa Hallquist: Jens Lenkman, Panda Bear, TSOOL, National, Ternheim, Radio Dept., Håkan, Lykki Li, Laura Marling, Christopher Sander