Le Guess Who? Festival kicks off its 4 day celebration of genrebending, boundary crossing music from across the world.

If you’re lost in the clashfinder and not sure who to prioritise, here’s some of the top names to look out for, with descriptions provided straight from Le Guess Who?…

Ustad Saami

Saturday 20.45-22.00 at Jacobikerk

Ustad Saami is the last living khayál master, widely considered a precursor of qawwali music that originated in Pakistan. 

That’s no small distinction, as Saami’s voice is able to minutely veer between 49 different notes – seven times the Western scale – to potent, haunting effect

Saami embodies his own pivotal adage ‘to sing is to listen’ quite poetically, as his name translates to ‘to hear’ and his lifelong vocation, kháyal singing, stands for ‘imagination’. 

Even under threat of islamic fundamentalists, the 75-year old master spent his entire existence as a dedicated practitioner of a vanishing art, one passed on from generation to generation since the 13th century. With this in mind, it’s an extremely rare privilege to have Ustad Saami perform at Le Guess Who?.

Fatoumata Diawara

Sunday 21.40-22.40 at Tivoli 

Over the past decade, Malian, Grammy-nominated artist, musician, and actress Fatoumata Diawara has been universally praised as one of Africa’s most trailblazing and outspoken voices. Diawara’s take on Pan-African folk is simply unmistakable: graceful, enchanting and effortlessly vibrant.

Diawara’s work transcends the subdivisions of Africa and the world as a whole, fighting for the rights of women and children in her homeland. Meanwhile, her Wassoulou roots continue to snake off into the vast realms of Afropop, jazz, R&B, and blues. Diawara crossed paths with Herbie Hancock, Oumou Sangaré, Nicolas Jaar, Paul McCartney, and Damon Albarn.

Ayalew Mesfin & Debo Band 

Friday 22.30-23.20 at Tivoli

Quintessential Ethio-groove performer Ayalèw Mesfin has joined forces with the renowned US-based ensemble Debo band for his first European live performance ever, and in truth, few collaborations make more sense. 

Mesfin’s music rebelled vigorously against Ethiopia’s dictatorial oppression of the 70s and, like many of his contemporaries, he struggled against obscurity amidst political turmoil. Distributing 4000 cassettes for free – later becoming collector’s items – led to several months in jail for Mesfin and a prohibition to play music for 13 years.

Last year, the compilation album ‘Hasabe (My Worries)’ was released after Mesfin’s music had gone unheard for 40 years – either on stage or on record -, leading to renewed recognition of the artist. Le Guess Who? celebrates this legendary artist with a show featuring the Debo Band, who formed in 2006 to keep the spirit and craft of Ethiopia’s golden age of pop alive. 

By joining forces with Mesfin, they symbolize an invigorating closing of the generation gap together, celebrating one of the greatest Ethiopian discographies of the 70s.

Aldous Harding

Saturday 21.45-22.45 at Tivoli

Pop music canon has always compelled the listener to unravel the mystery behind the song. But the music of Aldous Harding inspires something arguably more powerful: an individual whose voice can seamlessly blend and blossom within the most bewildering of backdrops and characterizations. 

The New Zealand songwriter’s latest LP ‘Designer’ renders instrumentation and voice into the most vivid and impressionistic of scenes. In her own words: “It’s the greatest show on earth you shall receive.”

Deerhunter 

Friday 20.25-21.30 at Tivoli

During this decade, Atlanta art-punkers Deerhunter have further established themselves as one of the finest bands alive, consolidating an unmistakable sound with restless reinvention. 

The electronic-driven masterpiece ‘Halcyon Digest’, the rabid post-punk of ‘Monomania’, the classic rock indebted ‘Fading Frontier’ and the minimalistic, American goth gloom of ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?’; these are four radically different records, but quintessentially Deerhunter all the same.

Lightning Bolt 

Friday 02.00-03.00 at Tivoli

 Lightning Bolt’s floor shows are the stuff of myth and legend, unleashing a hailstorm of noise that would leave every venue smoldering in dust and vapors for weeks. 

Two decades after their acclaimed self-titled LP, that firebrand streak burns as piping hot and surprising as ever. Seventh full-length LP ‘Sonic Citadel’ actually abandons the mask of distortion for more stripped-down, naked pop forms.

Tropical Fuck Storm

Sunday 21.40-22.30 at Tivoli

 Tropical Fuck Storm’s wailing backing harmonies sound like a coven chanting hellish incantations, and the filthy percussive thrusts, the otherworldly synth flourishes of the band’s debut LP ‘A Laughing Death In Meatspace’ feel like humanity is cannibalizing itself. 

Follow-up ‘Braindrops’ ups the ante even more with a tension very much akin to a tsunami reaching its pinnacle, before it all comes crashing down. 

Quelle Chris

Saturday 21.30-22.15 Tivoli

 Unconventional and hard to categorize, producer/lyricist Quelle Chris is well-versed in several genres, including punk rock, poetry, abstract soul, and experimental hip-hop. As a beatsmith, he tends to favor lo-fi production methods and oddball samples, often creating eerie juxtapositions and contrasts.

 Armed with his biting sense of humor, Quelle Chris pokes fun at himself while addressing serious personal concerns and social issues.

Girl Band 

Friday 00.20-01.20 at Tivoli

When Girl Band prowl the stage, you’d best prepare for a barb-wired wallop of first class agit-rock. This Irish wrecking crew has become one of the most fearsome live units of the decade thanks to their shredding and propulsive performances. And somewhere down the dark corridors, you can hear the demented straitjacket howls of frontman Dara Kiely, an unrelenting fury waiting to detonate at the slightest prick. In September, Girl Band released their highly anticipated second album, ‘The Talkies.’

Deerhoof

Saturday 18.40-19.40 at Tivoli

 Deerhoof is one of those fantastic beasts the world has been lucky to find, an anomaly of a band that can twist any crunch of noise into saccharine hook-heavy pop euphoria. Their wide-eyed trial-and-error performances are so incredibly infectious that it’s probably for the best to consider everything ‘part of the plan’. Deerhoof’s 2007 masterpiece ‘Friend Opportunity’ just became a whole lot friendlier at this year’s Le Guess Who?, with Brooklyn percussionist-trinity Tigue adding their own oddball minimalism into the mix.

Not Waving and Dark Mark

Friday 22.20-23.25 at Jacobikerk

This blood pact marries the ink-black, minimal productions of Alessio Natalizia (aka Not Waving and member of Kompakt stalwarts Walls) with the smoke-suffused vocal drawl of alt-rock minstrel Mark Lanegan. Not surprisingly, their shared creative dominion inhabits an incredible riches of influences, ranging from the gloom-ridden dirges of latter-day Scott Walker to the windswept, arcane energy of Moebius and Popol Vuh.

Holly Herndon

Sunday 18.30-19.30 at Tivoli

 Holly Herndon’s vital album ‘PROTO’ is an inquisitive, affirmative work that interplays elements like Sacred Harp choirs with an A.I.-entity called Spawn, therefore splicing the organic and artificial into music that feels immediate, innovative and alive. In doing so, Herndon presents an enriching, hopeful exchange of concepts: technology’s capacity to amplify, manipulate and spread the human voice and humankind’s ability to teach technology to act beyond its rigid binaries.

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