Le Guess Who? Festival, Utrecht 30/11/12

I say this over and over; great music is informed by personality and intelligence – whether emotional or intellectual – coupled with the seizing of a moment to make the work itself. Not enough dudes take this on board nowadays, preferring to seek comfort in non-arguments and pseudo stylings. Well fuck that, Clinic were killer.

Tivoli Oudegracht

A weekend of filthy weather but that didn’t stop Incendiary making the trek over to Utrecht to take in Le Guess Who?, a festival with a growing reputation in these lands. LGW isn’t as radical or as wide ranging in taste as Incubate: a lot of bands on this year were culled from the acceptable, “washed and brushed” side of the alternative scene; but I suppose the programme suits this elegant, rich city, and certainly the scene here; one which is more cerebral, one in love with hobby shops and chunky knit sweaters and beards… Catty digressions on what makes Jong Utrecht tick must be laid aside now, as it’s only right to say that the organisers are a good hard working bunch and they have some fine resources to hand (I’d say Utrecht has the best and most accommodating range of venues in this country – which makes the council’s ideas to scrap the lovely old Tivoli on the Oudegracht seem predictably stupid and ill-informed).

Incendiary took in a day and a night’s fun, the Friday being our chance to take in a tremendous line up in Tivoli. Eschewing the slightly anaemic and predictable Suuns over at the EKKO (it’s my ever so ‘umble opinion, but I really can’t see what’s so valuable about their soi distant music – unless it just reflects and bolsters the opinions of their own audience), we started the evening by nicking the beer off the Tiv’s deejay, Rats on Rafts’ Arnoud; (a man encumbered by far too many 6 packs of Grolsch for him to deal with alone), and settled down to watch San Francisco’s Lumerians. Slightly unprepossessing, more intent on cranking out their music and I’m sure, intent on opening the night’s festivities in the way they thought would be good for all of us, the band got on with a solid job of work, playing long, sometimes jazzy psych drones.

You could be pithy and say their sound boils down to a tough updating and reworking on the later end of Can, the EFS stuff, the time when Holger was showing off his white gloves on the WDR. It’s been a noticeable thing for me recently - a lot of bands from the States updating this Pinkwind / late-Can / mid-Floyd sound to suit modern sensibilities, bolting on the modern stuff and making the original know its place in the new, “scrubbed up” environment. Like rebranding old factories into loft conversions. Of course there are lots of other things in the Lumerians stew, they sought darker territory at times, at times there were elements of an incredibly beefed up, hard rockin’, cattle ranchin’ take on Moody Blues more trippy endeavours, or an attempt to hardwire all of Saucerful of Secrets directly into the Barrett canon. (The guitarist, incidentally, boasted the mother and father of Syd Barrett haircuts)…

Now and again things rocked out (the last two tracks, where they loosened up, were thumping) but sometimes things sounded a bit too dry; there were moments where, despite every sonic ingredient being carefully chosen, everything seemed a bit well academic; like we were watching a video on how to change your car tyre or something. They undoubtedly left me with the feeling that they were extremely proficient and knowledgeable in what they did, but, rather like those recumbent stone circles in Dumfries and Galloway they miss some nugget of their original inspiration, (Aberdeen recumbents), in the interpretation. Still, a nice enough start.

Following that, some real Lancs pysch in the form of Clinic. It was easy to spot clinic fans in the Tivoli, suddenly a whole host of slightly frayed, bug eyed individuals, all looking slightly furtive turned up. Despite this, and incredibly to me, no-one out of my bunch of companions had heard of them, has their star disappeared so quickly from the firmament this last three or four years? It seems so, though a number of my companions admitted that they were there because of the festival’s mention that one of the blokes out of Suuns (can we ever esacape them?) thought singer Ade Blackburn is a genius. Well, yes.

Clinic always did things the Gnomic way, and this gig was no different. They still wearing the surgical masks, and they are still happier to create that huge, forever ticking, unsettling sound rather than look to us for approbation. Memory doesn’t serve me well but I think the band ran through a number of new tracks from new record Free Reign– including the cerebral single, Miss You – and definitely Lion Tamer from Bubblegum. The atmosphere was subdued, but menacing. Now and again they knocked out some of their older, spikier numbers, including savage, imperial takes on Tusk and Cement Mixer; both of which shocked the novitiates in the audience into realising that they were in the presence of a band. A real band. Not one that just updated a sound, but drew on strong local and Psychike roots, looked to a discernible heritage to inform us of their own unique worldview. I say this over and over; great music is informed by personality and intelligence – whether emotional or intellectual – coupled with the seizing of a moment to make the work itself. Not enough dudes take this on board nowadays, preferring to seek comfort in non-arguments and pseudo stylings. Well fuck that, Clinic were killer and we happily relieved Arnoud of more of his Grolsch in celebration.

Following that – darkness to light, moon to sun, void to firmament. It’s fair to say that Deerhoof are nuts and can be a pain in the arse to get a hold on, but I personally think they’re a great band. And their last LP, Breakup Song is a bobby dazzler in my opinion. On record you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s all a bit too planned, too clever – and if you didn’t know their pedigree you could think, well, arty chancers, so it’s well worth catching them live. Whether the streams of people leaving the venue in total bewilderment after the opening two numbers or so would agree with me on this last point, is another matter. Still, once those who just couldn’t take the ever-revolving prism of angles and tempos had scarpered, and once the rest were seduced by a couple of tracks off the very attractive Breakup Song, the gig became a whirlwind of colour, attitude and plain showing off: Satomi Matsuzaki pulling as many daft moves as she could and guitarist Ed Rodriguez looking like he’d been in a scrap with a peacock.

With Deerhoof, given their explosive and percussive pinball pop, awkwardness can be a virtue: Greg Saunier’s improvised pronouncements would be toe-curlingly embarrassing anywhere else on the planet, but here his observations about bikes and Utrecht’s roads worked, even though a lot of the crowd must have wondered why on earth he needed to do this. Off the cuff was also Deerhoof’s way I suppose. As to the songs: I do remember – as well as lots of stuff off the new record, (including a marvellous, warm take on There’s That Grin) a blistering Giga Dance which ran into The Tears and Music of Love, a truly spellbinding sequence. They’ve been about a while and for that reason I can see why the young and beautiful wanted to check out Lower Dens at EKKO instead of this lot, but Deerhoof are a special thing, and on the form they showed here, unstoppable.

Sticking around for Fuck Buttons was hardly a chore for this magazine: it may be fevered imaginings on our behalf, but they’ve taken on the mantle the Orb had, cosmic tricksters with a lot of intelligence and attitude. Despite the fact that it’s two blokes facing each other on a darkened podium, effectively twiddling knobs for an hour or so, their music has an incredibly human manner underpinning it. It’s a warm, embracing, empathic sound without in anyway looking to browbeat. Their reserve helps too; it’s charming, and adding this feeling of delicacy to the pulsating music had spectacular results. The audience, knocked out by the sound (which had gone up a few notches) drank in this slow, stately build up – waiting release but not impatiently so - all the while noting the darker rhythms in the material. The new stuff – replete with some complex cadences and passages - sounds like they’ve been mining a rich and deeper seam of noise. There were also some brutal interludes (especially in the second half), where it sounded like they’d tried to deliberately offset the stately ascent of the previous twenty minutes with some battering, throbbing garage. Rather than being a grind (as sometimes a sensory battering can be), it was exhilarating and testament to their skill and vision.

Sadly we had to leave pretty much after the set as Incendiary notes with regret that the night train service can be a pain in the arse, but we have to say that was some night at the Tivoli.