Le Guess Who? Utrecht, Saturday, 30/11/13

Haines has this very expressive way of playing keys too; he hammers through the notes, pressing the keys like he’s battering through some Mozart concerto, using his playing to signal changes of mood and pace.

After Le Mini Who and specifically Katadreuffe’s gig we could NOT (repeat NOT) face any more guitars. So it was off to Janskerk to see Douglas Dare, one of the most interesting singer songwriters about. We'd been wowed by his gig at Haldern, but here, in the church, with a hushed crowd and given admirable backing by some "percussive accompaniment", he was able to really blossom. His songs are true torch songs, balanced (due to his incredibly expressive technique) on a knife edge and full of yearning, but sweetly embalmed with plenty of warm notes and always given enough emotional room for people to latch onto. He's brilliant and we can't wait for his LP. Thence to lovely friendly cosy RASA to take in some stuff curated and supported by the MIGHTY label, Sahel Sounds. Sahel are doing heroic work in bringing some great contemporary and long lost West African music to everyone’s attention.  Yes it’s in the mode (remember “Balkans music” from 10 years back?) but that sort of nonsense should wear off and we’ll be left with a body of work that should be in every Head’s collection, so fair play to Chris from Sahel. First on our list today was a gent from Niger by the name of Mammane Sani, whose 1970s LP is actually pretty brilliant and bloody impossible to find. He’s knocking on a bit, and his quiet demeanour, allied to his rambling but gentle tales of his village, of drunken lads knocking over water jars, or new-borns getting a goat and a hen as a birth gift, or the local magic man scaring off lions from the pool, puzzled some. As did the lovely lilting and very gentle mood pieces he played. At times they were classic Casio interludes, quiet instrumentals that had a lot in common with the weirdo pop of John Shuttleworth than anything “authentic” (as if his La Musique Electronique du Niger is authentic anyway…pfshaw pfshaw). If you were being cruel you could dismiss it as cheesy (apropos of not being “authentic” enough, which is the rub here innit) but that I think is very unfair as there was a spirit and warmth to his work that doesn’t really relate to being some stuffed dummy making “authentic” music for jaded and cynical Western ears.  Still, the crowd were utterly bemused and I think I know why. In his paper, “What Ought to Be Seen”: Tourists' Guidebooks and National Identities in Modern Germany and Europe, Rudy Koshar appropriates Mary Louise Pratt’s term “anti-conquest” to examine Murray’s handbooks for British travellers to Holland and Germany in the nineteenth century.   I quote.

Recently, Mary Louise Pratt, writing about European travel in South America and Africa, used the term 'anti-conquest' to refer to 'the strategies of representation whereby European bourgeois subjects seek to secure their innocence in the same moment as they assert European hegemony'. I would argue that this idea may also be applied with some qualification to Europeans travelling to other European nations.

I think you can apply this to the gig. This is what a number in the audience wanted from Mammane Sani, to be used to enrich themselves. And that’s why – I think - people were bemused and left. Because his music was a bit soft and well, (whisper it) Western, and didn’t give the weirdness – and the feelings of hegemony -that the audience wanted. But that’s his trip, and we should just go with it.

Anyway, after all of that, we had Greg Haines, showing a totally different side of what can be done with a keyboard. Haines is an affable character, and someone who always seems up for a bit of sonic nonsense.  Incendiary had seen him play in a shop in Leiden, and he was brilliant. On this night he had far more than his old Joanna to entertain us with, leccy keys, pedals and mixers and a box of percussive stuff left onstage by Mammane Sani for him to play with. Haines was the showman tonight, blending and throwing a whole load of loops and delayed sounds around, countered by some crashing keys and some “kosmische” rumbling, building up, via sugar coated layers of melodic counterpoint, like Thomas Dinger. Beat that. Haines has this very expressive way of playing keys too; he hammers through the notes, pressing the keys like he’s battering through some Mozart concerto, using his playing to signal changes of mood and pace. A beautifully paced set replete with vast hinterlands of mellow afterburn to let us come down, the highlights were the cod rave rumbles that slowly built up through a whole set of brilliantly balanced loops; with wor Greg going through Mammane’s box of tricks to create stabs of percussive textures along the way. Magic stuff, top bloke, he should be on the curriculum.

Wouter Van Veldhoven also looked to build up a vast womblike racket via the magic of electricity; his cosmic bubble being floated by a wall of old synths and things that looked like they’d been nicked from Alan Turing’s shed. This was a denser and more difficult sound than Haines’s and one that took some time to negotiate. It was pretty good though, the pleasant drone sending many (including Incendiary) into a sort of catatonic torpor where it was groovy to vegetate. After this it was Bedfordshire for us. A lovely evening. What a great place RASA is.