With the touring industry in complete shambles, many venues and festivals have been working overtime to still make things work. Cutting losses is pretty much inevitable, and Le Guess Who? hasn’t eluded this industry-wide crisis: marquee names such as Low, co-curators Animal Collective, yaya bey and Lido Pimienta have unfortunately pulled out for various reasons.
Luckily, Utrecht’s most venerable city event was never too concerned with capitalist business models, always malleable in running their logistics and programming. Last year they managed to switch on-the-fly to corona lockdown mandates on the festival’s final day, a remarkable feat that shows how resourceful an organisation can be if it dares to think outside of the box. It’s perhaps a sign that maybe the current dominant paradigms are no longer sustainable. But that’s a question mark for another day.
Le Guess Who? has always been community-based and culture-driven, subverting the festival experience in challenging ways. Satellite events such as COSMOS and U? Festival play a vital part in that altruistic goal; the former is a hybrid visual platform – evolved from 2020’s pandemic-induced digital TV channel concept – that highlights various local music scenes around the world. The latter is a free multi-location event that uses the festival atmosphere as a social conductor spreading the buzz to neighborhoods outside of Utrecht’s homogenising city hub.
Of course there’s the main festival event, always fertile and brimming with artists of the cutting edge and the ceremonial varieties. I have never attended an edition where I wasn’t blindsided by a performance I never planned to see. Last year’s summit, for example, was an unbelievable duo performance by Irreversible Entanglements’ drummer Tcheser Holmes and trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, who were pretty much rewriting the foundation of pop music as if it was just another day at the office.
Picking ten names out of the hat sometimes feels a little bit like a cruel whack-a-mole game, especially since Le Guess Who? has always hung its hat on that lingering question mark; a pilgrimage towards the undiscovered. Nevertheless, us at Beats Per Minute are giving it a shot.
Animistic Beliefs are another product of Rotterdam’s flourishing underground scene, which is teeming with smaller, autonomous venues that allow artists to gradually find their definitive voice. Linh Luu en Marvin Lalihatu wield their unruly techno-hybrid like a form of black magic: a blood-boiling alchemy of acid house, reggaeton, industrial, noise and bubbling crafted through the lens of Luu and Lalihatu’s Vietnamese and Moluccan heritages. Animistic Beliefs have been a big catalyst for the incandescent KLAUW Collective, a movement of artists and makers who create safe spaces for queer/BPOC voices in their community.
Le Guess Who? is all about seeking vibrant cross-cultural connections, which is pretty much been the vocation of Guatemalan cellist and composer Mabe Fratti. Indeed, her performance here feels very much like an inevitability. Compared to the likes of Arthur Russell and Kate Bush, Fratti’s music exists as a wondrous dialogue between intuitive playing and pop arrangements, always alive and evolving beyond her recordings’ suspended states. Having witnessed her perform at The Hague’s Rewire Festival earlier this year, it’s safe to say: bring a box of tissues for this one. As a performer, Fratti is both achingly vulnerable and tempestuous.
Hotly tipped by luminaries such as Tyler, Creator, Erykah Badu, and collaborator Earl Sweatshirt, prolific 22-year old singer and producer Liv.e summons a fever dream of bedroom productions that blur lines between psychedelic R&B and the obdurate beat-baking of J Dilla and Madlib. On 20-song Couldn’t Wait to Tell You… Olivia Williams’ stream-of-consciousness weavings weigh both profound and frivolous reflections as equals, almost as if the music itself is high-wired to her realtime thoughts.
As one of rap’s most influential voices, billy woods will put his stamp on Le Guess Who? one way or another. He will perform his collaborative masterpiece BRASS alongside his equally-hallowed peer Moor Mother, and perform a solo set as well. On Beats Per Minute’s Recommended Review for latest LP Church, John Wolmacher remarked the following: “His lyricism is as abstract as ever, while the production of Messiah Musik creates an eerie bed of shifting moods, whose hazy and directionless flow create a dream-like effect. It’s not far from Earl Sweatshirt’s most abstract beats, which have more in common with The Caretaker than The Alchemist.”
Rats on Rafts – Visions of Chapter 3
The Fall-indebted post-punk bands are popping a dime a dozen these days, though Rotterdam dwellers Rats on Rafts one-ups all of them with one distinguished trait: they push the rulebook of analog recording to preposterous heights with the same adventurous spirit as a Faust or Van Dyke Parks. Their panoramic last album Excerpts From Chapter 3: The Mind Runs A Net Of Rabbit Paths will expand even further at Le Guess Who? into vaudevillian visual theatre, adorned with dancers, actors, stage props and experimental film. ‘Compelling’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Don’t be shocked to spot Nia Archives avidly crate digging somewhere at Utrecht’s shops and record conventions this week. This UK breakbeat innovator ignites a new jolt of excitement to established strands of dance music like jungle, drum&bass, dance hall and footwork. It seems like a tall order to fuse such a studious curiosity with the novelistic qualities of Nina Simone and Maya Angelou, but Archives makes as much impact as an orator as she does as a producer. How those different universes coalesce is up to you to find out: it will be a dazzling affair for certain.
Injury Reserve‘s By The Time I Get To Phoenix is undoubtedly one of this era’s most haunting noise rap statements, opting to imbue the spirit of tragically deceased founding member Stepa J Groggs into its feverish productions.“Regardless, the group have introduced a storm of novel sounds to the world of hip-hop, which will undoubtedly prove its influence down the line. It’s also possible that the release of By The Time I Get To Phoenix could also be the start of a new journey for the project”, BPM’s Kyle Kohner wrote in his in-depth review.
Words don’t express feeling, they are merely binaries: crude, ineffective structures carrying emotions imperfectly to make them understood. Japanese vocalist Hatis Noit‘s Erased Tapes-release Aura explores the human voice in its limitless range and versatility, from Buddhist mantras, Gregorian chants to grand operatic arias. It’s a celebratory and meditative exercise on how the act of singing can smash all the brain’s defence mechanisms. Witnessing Noit perform this vocal-based work within the majesty of the Jacobikerk is bound to become a sublime, heart-stopping experience.
Having rap insurgent Zebra Katz as part of clipping.‘s curated makes almost too much sense. A messianic performer, the Jamaican-American artist pillages discordant underground sounds and forges them adrenaline-pumping hip-hop anthems. Katz exists in the negative zone that mirrors the spearheading rap scene, allowing his work to infiltrate the mainstream. Collaborations with Gorillaz, Sega Bodega and Shygirl speak capitals of Zebra Katz’ sheer gravitational pull. Safe bet that Katz will rev up the biggest mosh pit of this year’s Le Guess Who?.
Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul
The Belgian artist/producer duo Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul is responsible for one of the most vital albums of the year in Topical Dancer. As stated in our Recommended Review: “Topical Dancer is a record for literally anyone. It’s a tool as much as it is an escape hatch. Play this album for your grandparents, your parents, your children, your children’s children, and children yet to be born. For it’s a spiritual palette cleanser as much as it is a physical one.” With such an assembly of riveting, subversive and cheeky club anthems at their behest, I guess you have to be there.
Le Guess Who? takes place in Utrecht, Netherlands on November 10-13.