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Music

Way Out West – Scandi mini-break for the musically minded

I discovered Way Out West five years ago and it has been an essential part of my summer plans every year since. With it I found an ideal occasion to immerse myself in the vibrant city that is Gothenburg, discover its people and nightlife, while also getting the chance to see dozens of topnotch acts in one go. Way Out West is basically the ultimate Scandinavian mini-break for the musically minded.

I would pay to see Massive Attack, Grace Jones or Morrissey play a show but for the tenth-anniversary edition of Way Out West there was all three plus lots more. Each year, the festival invites artists everyone should see at least once in their life, and previous editions have welcomed Prince, Blur, Kraftwerk, Patti Smith and Pet Shop Boys among others.

Morrissey (Credit Annika Berglund)

Morrissey (Credit Annika Berglund)

The festival is also a time for discovery and the line-up includes a great number of upcoming artists, who mostly play during the nighttime section of the festival, dubbed Stay Out West. While daytime shows happen in a festival area built in the verdant Slottsskogen park, the city comes alive after midnight as revelers invade its venues and surrounding industrial zones for all-night parties.

The gem I uncovered this year was Swedish rapper Joy, who channeled the unapologetic brashness of Nicki Minaj and Die Antwoord in a high-energy show that included some ass and a fake dollar bill canon.

Joy (Credit Hilda Arneback)

Joy (Credit Hilda Arneback)

I also got to see an artist who has been on my radar for months: Sevdaliza, a Dutch basketball-player turned songstress for the post-internet generation, who excels at sensual, bassy electronica à la FKA Twigs. Her track ‘That Other Girl’ includes the best bass drop of 2016 so far and the accompanying video is a mesmerizing CGI-constructed universe definitely worth diving into.

Other highlights included shows by artists currently making their way towards stardom, such as Dr Dre-collaborator Anderson .Paak, hotly-tipped dance/RnB producer Kaytranada and Scottish trio Chvrches, whose set of soothing yet exhilarating songs were the highpoint of Day 1 for me.

Chvrches (Credit Olle Kirchmeier)

Chvrches (Credit Olle Kirchmeier)

The best Stay Out West show was delivered or rather thrust upon us, by the icon of NSFW electroclash Peaches, who shook the sweaty ‘Honduras’ warehouse on Friday night with her badass stage presence, choreographies of simulated sex and dancers in vagina costumes. The climax of the show had her walking on the audience inside a huge inflatable penis. On and off stage, Peaches still rules, as her sixth album ‘Rub’, released last September, proves. Adding to the sharp music production and powerful delivery, her lyrics cover vital subjects like gender, sexuality and bodies and build an absurd world where nothing is valued as strongly as freedom, fun and empowerment.

Peaches (Credit Hilda Arneback)

Peaches (Credit Hilda Arneback)

Another star shone brighter than the others this weekend at Way Out West. Through unceasing rain on Saturday afternoon, Grace Jones put on a memorable show, at once minimal and extravagant.

A good twenty minutes after the scheduled start time, the tall black curtains that formed the backdrop of the stage parted and her regal figure emerged, swathed in a dark silk cloak, her face hidden behind an awe-inspiring gold skull mask.

Changing outfits between every song, she rolled out hits such as ‘My Jamaican Guy’, ‘Nightclubbing’ and ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ as well as lesser-known songs and shared a brand new track from her upcoming album. Her body was covered head to toe in white tribal markings and she radiated freedom and confidence.

Watching her sashay around the stage wearing nothing but a raffia fringe coat and a strap-on dildo or swaying against the virtually naked body of a buff pole dancer, I found it hard to believe Grace Jones is now 68 years old.

She sang her last song while hula hooping the entire time, her voice unflinching, and then gracefully hula hooped off stage, leaving the audience screaming frantically, barely comprehending the show of talent they had just witnessed.

Grace Jones (Credit Annika Berglund)

Grace Jones (Credit Annika Berglund)

It’s interesting to note that the two artists who outrivalled the rest this weekend, particularly thanks to their showmanship skills, are women over 40. This is a welcome slap in the face to a music industry crippled by sexism and ageism.

I could add that the other performers who distinguished themselves at Way Out West – Anderson .Paak, Joy, Morrissey, Kaytranada, Arca, Toxe, Stormzy… – were all either women, gay men or people of colour. The only white cisgender males who could have made my top 10 were The Libertines, who delivered a poorly executed – though wonderfully nostalgic – performance and Jamie XX, whose visually plain DJ set seemed lazy and didn’t suffice to wow the audience watching him on the huge Azalea stage.

All in all, Way Out West is a wonderful festival to catch cult artists on tour as well as the cream of the crop of new music; and thanks to the variety of genres on the bill, it’s almost guaranteed you will find something to suit your taste.