Words by Yousef Srour, Internal Music Director 21-22′
Welcome to Way Out West. For those of you who aren’t enlightened and haven’t been to the premier festival in Gothenburg, Sweden, this is a three-day festival with five stages, four theaters, and seven independent music venues spread out throughout the city. Yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds. Yes, I was in Sweden. Here’s what I got to see:
Black Country New Road
Black Country, New Road is KCSB’s bread-and-butter, so it was only right that I kicked off the festival with their set at the Linné stage. This is a massive outdoor bungalow that feels like it was borne from the Coachella Valley. The temperature is blazing in there, but it’s dark and gives the space much-needed intimacy.
This performance comes after the release of their second studio album, Ants From Up There, and there was uncertainty in the air because no one in the crowd knew what to expect. Would they play old songs minus their former frontman, Isaac? Would they simply play the instrumentals to their old work? The answer to both of those questions is a gleeful no. They played a set made up of completely new material and it was riveting.
The ensemble sounded as DIY as ever, complete with a sound check, switching instruments throughout the set, and switching singers from song to song. Everyone except the guitarist and the drummer had their own songs, and although the band was missing the edge in Isaac’s singing, there was solitude, camaraderie, and a new tenderness that the band had rarely explored in the past. Renditions of new songs such as “BCNR Friends Forever” and “Turbines/Pig” made the multi-instrument outfit feel as if it was given new life. The latter song had me on the verge of tears as May, the pianist, somberly crooned about loneliness, as Lewis asked the crowd before, “Please no clapping to this next one.” Black Country, New Road is still with us, and just like the members that faced a couple hiccups with technical difficulties switching their instruments mid-song, they’re learning along the way.
I am admittedly not the biggest Caribou fan. I just never got into his music. That being said… the set was incredible. Daniel Snaith and his band performed at the Azelia stage and it was such a good time. I couldn’t recognize quite a few of their songs, but I danced my heart out in a crowd full of strangers. He performed all of his music live, complete with a drummer, bassist, and guitarist while he sang, played an electronic flute, and dabbled in his typical electronics. The crowd was lively – I have a feeling the majority of them were like me, fans of “Can’t Do Without You” and “Come Back,” but just there because we knew that Caribou would refresh us in the summertime heat. And he accomplished just that.
This set was one of my favorites. I had seen Yung Lean perform at Smoker’s Club Fest in San Bernardino, but I knew something didn’t feel right. The crowd wasn’t familiar with the majority of his music; the main attraction for them was to see the TikTok star that says, “Bitches come and go, bruh.” In Sweden, watching Yung Lean is like a homecoming; the greatest export from that country (in terms of hip-hop) has finally returned after the release of his album, Bliss.
In the Linné stage, you could hear a voice say, “You are about to witness something that you have never witnessed before,” exclaiming statements like, “Sad Boys forever!” Fanfare played in the background and the whole scene felt as if the king had finally returned. And he did. The lights began to shutter and when Yung Lean got on stage, the crowd went berserk to his glitchy, glass-shattering anthem, “No Agenda.”
Yung Lean only spoke to the crowd in Swedish, so I sadly couldn’t understand a thing, but it also reminded me of what it’s like to be a non-American watching American rappers perform. Everyone felt right at home. He played cult classics like “Afghanistan” and “Hennessy and Sailor Moon,” while also unveiling his recent releases like “Trip” and “Bliss” from his new album. The darkness inside the bungalow and the mushrooms and trees on-stage made it feel as if we had stepped into his mystically corrupt wonderland. It was equal-parts horrific and splendid.
The headliner performed at the Flamingo stage and it was electrifying to say the least. The first stop on The Slow Rush Tour, Tame Impala’s performance was preceded by an advertisement for a faux-time therapy treatment dubbed Rushium. It’s a fake drug, but a spokesperson for the drug showed up on screen to tell us about its effects and the words and images on the screen slowly distorted over time, telling the crowd about how we would soon feel the effects.
When Kevin Parker came out to “Borderline,” I was instantly taken back to early 2020 when The Slow Rush was released. It was right before COVID, times felt happier, the sun was shining, but the music seemed a bit somber now, more emotional. As Kevin “crooned” about being a loner in LA, I was reminded about the loneliness that struck everyone in COVID and how much the world has changed since the album. Nonetheless, the performance transported me back to those last few good moments. Hearing his classic songs like “Elephant” and “Brand New Person, Same Mistakes,” alongside a massive ring of light, confetti, and a laser show that blew away anything I had ever seen made the entire festival worth it to me. I had never gotten the opportunity to see Tame Impala live, and after years of quarantine and solitude, the moment finally came. It was psychedelic, the images on the screen felt like a Grateful Dead concert in the ‘70s, and I felt a slow rush of nostalgia for his deep discography that I had not touched since the good ole’ days.
So long story short, I could only get into the packed venue of the Musikens Hus at the very last moment because it was at capacity until Mdou Moctar’s very last song. Nevertheless, that one song is the reason why I plan to see them on August 27th. The way that the band plays music is electrifying, which is only fitting for the Niger-based group. Their rendition of desert blues, or tishoumaren, is infectious and provocative. I have never seen anyone play the guitar like Mahamadou.
Day 2 started a bit late on my end. I didn’t know Sweden partied that hard until I wound up at my Airbnb at 3:30am, not sleeping until I could see the break of dawn. But of course, I could not miss one of the best rappers to come out and perform at the Linné stage – the UK-based, Little Simz.
She began her set with the ever fantastic opener to her critically acclaimed from 2021, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. “Introvert” set the tone for the rest of her set. It was lively, full of handoffs to the crowd for us to rap along to the song with her; but even moreso, the audience got the opportunity to see an artist who indeed was an introvert. She came on stage dressed in a bright orange beanie, trousers, and a chore jacket – fitted in her best streetwear apparel. She played classics throughout the classic that revealed her ability to rap in a blend of new-school raps and old-school boom-bap with songs like “Two Worlds Apart” and “Point and Kill.” She smothered the crowd with grateful energy, constantly exclaiming, “You amazing! We amazing!” The entire performance felt like a communal affair, with Little Simz even joining the crowd to rap alongside her fans. She’s a woman of the people.
Where other artists like Jay-Z and Doja Cat attempt to bring in rock-influenced instrumentation into their live sets haphazardly, Little Simz did so with ease. The music already infuses itself with rock and afrobeats, so her live band simply did the music justice. The North Londoner was built for a live backing track, and her music was made to be experienced live.
Chance the Rapper
Day 1 really kicked my butt. I’ll be honest here. I flew to Gothenburg the same day as the first day of the festival, so by the second day, I was winded to say the least and I wanted to take it a little easy. I’ve seen Chance the Rapper before, back in 2016 on his Coloring Book tour in San Francisco. I didn’t want to see him again because I saw him when I still enjoyed his music, and I hadn’t enjoyed a single song he’s released since. Nevertheless, Beabadoobee’s set was too packed for me to see anything, so I stood at the rails of where Jamie XX would perform after Lil Chano from 79 and watched his set at the Flamingo stage.
There’s a hint of nostalgia in Chance’s music. I remember rainy days where I’d listen to “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” I remember the infamous Summer ‘16 and singing “No Problem” around the house, and I remember crying in my car during late night drives to “Summer Friends.” Getting to relive those songs, along with “Sunday Candy,” and seeing a joyous Chano felt amazing. It felt as if he finally made it – playing the main stage in a foreign country, with a crowd full of Swedish fans singing every lyric. It was warm and happy and even though I watched from afar, I could feel every bit of the love that he performed with six years ago.
I don’t want to drag Chance. He’s a happy man that loves his wife. I just hated The Big Day and I feel like he lost his independence in the music industry. I sighed when I heard the crowd go crazy and dance to “Hot Shower.” But they all seemed happy, so I’ll leave it at that.
I saw Jamie XX at Coachella earlier this year and I instantly became a fan. It’s not necessarily about the music, but it’s the idea that he wants you to dance at his live shows. He brings on these dancers, doing nothing crazy but enjoying themselves, and disperses them into the crowd and projects them onto the screen behind him as he DJs. It’s a unifying experience because there’s a sober loss of inhibition. You love your surroundings. You wave your hands. You shake your arms to the beat of his music.
In the photo below you can see me in the crowd standing at the barricade with a smile on my face, wearing my Tame Impala merch from the day before. When I’m alone, I realize that I don’t smile often; I sort of look confused and carry this empty expression. But while I was watching Jamie XX, I felt free.
He played a mixture of electric new songs and old songs from his In Colour album. It’s funny because after the show I met someone and they approached me and told me they wished he played songs that she recognized. Sure, I get that. You’re watching an artist you discovered recently and you want to hear what’s familiar to you – maybe their most popular songs. However, as Jamie XX looped phrases like, “Let go,” and has this meditative voice play mantras like, “Forget your worries. Breathe in and lie down,” the world melts away. You take in the love in the air, the essence of electronica, and a shared space to dance your heart away.
Sons of Kemet
This set was full of life. This was the most interesting crowd because while the majority of folks went to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the KCSBer in me knew that I should come and watch the group that I myself have added to the music library, And it was worth it. Coming off of the release of their 2021 album, Black to the Future, I really didn’t know what it would be like to watch a jazz group perform at a festival. Little did I know, it would be a mixture of a polka dance party and the stoicism of a religious mass. The tuba jumped up and down octaves as if he, himself, was a traditional Swedish musician; the two drummers dueled to manage fills while keeping time; the saxophonist screeched and squealed his woodwind in order to liven the crowd to get them to move their bodies.
The British jazz group, playing a new form of traditionally African music, kept to the roots of their studio albums and introduced spoken word into the audience. All the while, the crowd continues to dance, making the spoken word feel just like a prayer – words that you feel in your bones, letting it move you every which way. Call it a jazz party, if you will.
Erika de Casier
Of course I went to see Erika de Casier. I hope you remember that Emma Greenberg interviewed her for KCSB’s blog. That alone convinced me to add her album, Sensational, to the music library, and that alone convinced me that she was the must see act of Stay Out West. My premonitions were correct.
At a little bar called Nefertiti, the Portuguese-born Danish singer came out onto the small stage, with maybe 300 members in the audience, all hushed as much as possible to experience her nostalgic tune. Her music is R&B, but it’s lucious, seductive and smooth. You can feel her whispers. Erika de Casier carries a suave tone, so much so that her voice will linger in your ear, regardless of the fact that it’s a few decibels short of a whisper. The music grips you and pulls you in closer and it makes you want to sway back and forth, and the intimacy of the bar makes it feel as if she’s a lounge singer speaking every word softly, each aimed at you. A lovely performance by one of the best acts in R&B right now.
This has to be short because I cannot lie and say I stayed for the entire performance (no matter how much I wanted to). I have tickets to see Herbie Hancock perform at the Hollywood Bowl on September 28th, so I only stayed for the “Overture” and one more song out of curiosity of what his set would look like in a festival setting. Sue me.
Obviously, it was everything you could ask for, plus more. He introduced himself, his band, and went right into an overture that combined a discography that stretches over 50+ years. It was incredible to see him play the piano and his synthesizers, along with an incredibly talented bassist, guitarist, and drummer. I felt like I was watching history unfold before me. He then played a favorite of his, which was whirly sand stirred and felt like it bends sound through the guitarist’s ability to capture such a futuristic noise.
Damn, I wish I could’ve stayed longer.
“Fred! Again! Fred! Again!” The Linné stage was in pandemonium when Fred Again.. Came onto the stage. It was as if they were summoning the man of their dreams so that they could dance away any and all vices that had ever grazed their lives. I chanted alongside them. I hardly knew any Fred Again.. Songs until a few weeks prior, but the UK-bred dance artist breathes the environment around him. Snippets from friends paint his work; there’s a coziness to his music, where you can dance or cry or just feel when you listen. Not to mention his Boiler Room set has caught the world by storm because everyone wanted to see “Rumble” live. He played it, by the way. But only for one minute. Was it the best minute of my life? Yes.
Fred Again.. deserved better though. The bungalow was steamy, fuming with the heat that had taken over the day. Obviously it was a beautiful set. He remixed “Nights” by Frank Ocean, he reminded us about how “we missed dancing,” he played his hit song “Jungle,” but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by the space. It was crowded and there wasn’t enough space to dance without worrying about people moving in and out. I refuse to say more on the topic though because I loved Fred Again..’s set and that was out of his control. Even so, if you look back, that set encapsulates the electronic artist’s music. Take in the people around you. Be loving. Enjoy the moment and be happy, even if you cry a little bit in the process.
Please don’t hate me for this one. I just don’t love Burna Boy that much. His music is great to dance to, but it’s just not for me, at this point in my life. My opinion might change, as it always does. I did watch the majority of the set though, and I thought the visuals were fantastic; the music was audacious; his energy was unmatched. He felt so happy to be performing in Sweden and the crowd loved him. Here’s a pic of him looking happy as hell:
This was the last act of the weekend at the festival grounds. It definitely lived up to the hype. Dave is 24 years old, hailing from Streatham in South London. He does not seem 24. He has the poise of a 32 year-old man, with incredible crowd control and the stoicism that only finds people in their later years. His raps are heavy, Psychodrama is a brilliant album that dissects his psyche from growing up as a Black man in Streatham, and his latest, We’re All Alone In This Together, is a poignant art piece that maneuvers through the loneliness of fame and love.
The live performance that comes from such a talent is mesmerizing, although I must note that of all the acts that I had seen at the festival, this felt oddly similar to that of Rolling Loud. Everyone around me seemed to be 16 to 18 years old, ready for the mosh pits that follow grime and UK drill artists. It felt a bit out of place for a storyteller of this magnitude. Dave enveloped his set with cult-classics like “Streatham,” “Clash,” “Thiagio Silva,” and “Location.” Although he had never been to Gothenburg before, he felt right at home on stage. He seemed natural, even though he was a bit reserved at the beginning of his set – although that’s the body language you would picture when listening to his music. Fame is difficult for him. The music is so personal that it’s hard to imagine being comfortable sharing these stories in the flesh with fans and watching them recite your deepest fears and darkest moments, but he pushes through and senses the love. Dave illustrated for us stories of his youth, he shined a light on his guitar teacher that taught him how to add strings to his production, he brought out a piano to showcase how his mother had raised him to play the piano and embellish his creative side. It was a fitting end for a festival that felt like home within the park of Slottsskogen in Gothenburg.
I love Katy Kirby. I added her album, Cool Dry Place, to the KCSB Music Library back when it was released in 2021. She has this warm tenderness to her. I smile when I listen to her; her voice whisps me away to my dreams. I saw her perform to a small crowd at Pustervik and it felt like an indie concert in Los Angeles. Not too many folks, and although there were few die-hard fans, they loved that she cracked little jokes here and there; they loved her soft smile; they loved when she begged the crowd to not touch each other or hold hands to her last song because it would remind her of much she misses her girlfriend. We felt like we knew Katy Kirby for a lifetime after a mere 30 minutes. We entered the Cool Dry Place as strangers and came out with memories we’ll never forget.
Indigo De Souza
This was my last set of the night. I got the opportunity to see KCSB’s indie darling, Indigo De Souza, perform a live set, about two years after we set up a livestream show with her. Shameless plug: this is an interview Emma Mesches & I conducted with her prior to the livestream. Anyways, the show was fantastic. Of course. Also, please don’t mind how confused I look in the picture below.
Indigo played all of her classics, from both her first studio album, I Love My Mom, and her second studio album, Any Shape You Take. They feverishly went from indie-rock anthems like “Kill Me” and “Take Off Your Pants,” to crooning love ballads such as “How I Get Myself Killed” and “Hold U.” Okay, maybe love ballads is too soft a term for Indigo de Souza because her energy is intense and fun and happy and joyous and every synonym in-between. I just enjoyed every moment of her performance because she felt so loved by the audience. And she deserves every ounce of that love. What a great way to end a festival.