Way Out West 2011- Music’s best kept secret

Way Out West is rare little gem amidst the world’s variety of music festivals. First of all, its almost completely unknown to the dwellers of Reading and Leeds, Glastonbury, Latitude, or T in the Park. Second, its biggest headlining artists who frequent the headlines of music magazines view it more as a retreat, performing alongside some virtually unknown acts as well as being out of the view of the world’s media coverage. Its held in Gothenburg, Sweden- a city that’s immaculately clean, civilised, stylised and modern.
Because the majority of Gothenburg’s residents flock to this summer festival it always remains relaxed and crime-free. Just like the city’s tram systems, motorways, museums, leisure centres, the festival is in complete order. Even when the occasional person tries to barge their way to the front, the crowd do not react, but instead let them past. Whether you agree with this or not, this kind of level-headedness and courtesy is something we should expect a little more from our own festivals.
The festival is divided into two settings: Way Out West- the daytime event held in the Slottsskogen, the city park, and then Stay Out West, a series of clubs and bars which occupy the smaller bands at night. The routine is spending the whole day in the park before going to SOW- which can start as late as 3am. Perhaps the reason everything is so calm during the three day event is because everyone is so sleep deprived and therefore couldn’t care less about paying 63 SEK (£6) for a beer in a plastic cup.
But despite the extortionate prices, the festival was well worth it. The first band I remember seeing was Explosions in the Sky, at the quieter end of the park, just as the evening sun had cast an orange glow over their stage. The reason I grew so attached to this band was because of their admirable modesty: “We’re Explosions in the Sky, and we come from Austen, Texas,” announced their lead guitarist Mark Smith, and before there was even time to shift into a comfortable standing position they were off. Never before has a band played so hypnotically without the need for speaking with the crowd or even singing. It was almost as if their presence was no longer important, just the spellbinding music they produced.
I actually felt a crushing sense of guilt abandoning them halfway through their set to pay a visit to The Hives, who were playing on the Flamingo stage across the park. Despite an entertaining performance, these guys really were a bunch of posers, and they spent more time talking to the crowd than playing their songs. They are heralded as the garage punk pioneers of the 21st century, but they were just show-offs, and their grinding 12 bar been-done-before revivalist music was sub-par to Explosions’ thoughtful, shimmering post-rock.
Then there was a quick stop at the Fleet Foxes set, where they had gathered quite a crowd. Their laid-back lush folk sound was ideal for the end of the summer’s day, as the heat had died down now, and everyone was sitting on the grass. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Fleet Foxes, but the vocals were flawless and they had some fantastic harmonies, which didn’t put a blemish on their album recordings.
Other highlights of the festival included Santigold, who was so enthusiastic that she invited people from the crowd to dance on the stage, and Pulp, who shared some sharp political observations with us. “When we had written this song, it was supposed to be looking into the future,” declared Jarvis Cocker, preceding Disco 2000, “I think it turned out a little different than we had imagined,” he grinned.
Way Out West ended with the headlining artist emerging from underneath a fogged, red-lit stage, with a huge orchestral crescendo reaching its peak as it echoed across Gothenburg. Yes, it was Mr Kanye West. No, it all went wrong after Graduation and a series of controversial acts, but the crowd forgot that immediately. Everyone turned up to see him.
To be honest, I have mixed opinions about his performance. It was built on a grand scale, artistically surreal almost, and when he played the right song at the right time, it could have been the best gig ever. However, at times it was a let down. Songs were cut short for no apparent reason, and throughout intervals he spouted out material over a blue piano which sounded like he was wrestling with his inner demons and recent political controversies, that most people probably did not want to hear.
It finished up with an impressive fireworks display, but Kanye’s presence was a complete anti-climax. A blue piano started playing. “Here we go again…” I thought. “This song’s dedicated to my momma,” he said. If his future work is going to be like this, big problem. Kanye’s crusade to try an save the hip hop scene has finally run out of steam. He had been reduced to singing this really schmaltzy, self conscious rubbish that left one feeling somewhat empty as he departed from the stage.
Wholly however, to dismiss Way Out West would be wrong. It had a great atmosphere, and was unforgettable. These were the feelings we all had as we paraded out of the park at the end of the night. The Swedes left in an orderly fashion, with good feelings intact. The way a festival should be enjoyed. They simply jumped on a tram and went home, and within a couple of hours Gothenburg had returned to a city that was hiding its well kept secret for yet another year.

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