Utrecht’s overwhelming showcase music festival continues to evolve and enlighten. Richard Foster experiences Le Mini Who and a Space Wobble in seedy basement venue Poema
Richard Foster
14:46 21st November 2018

You know the line about the early bird that catches the worm? Be warned, it’s not always the worm you want. At 4pm on the Saturday, barely two hours into the Le Mini Who? programme, I was already on the point of giving up on the festival for the day. I felt bad about being unable to see any band due to the press of people. I felt distinctly uncomfortable about finding myself sat in a parade of swish urban start-up cafe restaurant spaces (revelling in their own concrete, steel and glass functionality, staffed by waiters with “obligatory” man buns). I felt guilty about dragging confused Russian guests around to another long queue. And, scarred by the memory of a girl getting a round in of hot chocolates with different toppings (each hotly contested) at the Irrational Library show, I felt there was only one thing to do; go to the nearby Co-op and getting a six pack and a saucijzen broodje. Utrecht has a reputation amongst many I know (however wide of the mark it may be) of being too comfortable, too well appointed, too smug in its own middle class perfection. And this afternoon was comfort-as-Kafka writ large: hell is other people’s tote bags.

So let’s go. Except I couldn’t go. My place of work, WORM, one of the co-hosts at Le Mini Who, was hosting a late residency at the cavernous Pastoe Fabriek. Doing my shift (talking gibberish over sound collages made by a colleague whilst members of WORM’s Filmwerkplaats projected a dazzling display of analogue films onto the stage) I settled back to watch “people’s artist” Jacco Weener preach to the crowd about Lazarus, death and rebirth. This was something the cocoa crowd weren’t ready for. Weener, voice booming like Captain Ahab to his beleaguered crew, held forth for a good 15 minutes preaching the word of The Lord. People looked lost. Is this part of the programme? Moet dat? Imagine; we are so deeply entwined in Neoliberal Mammon that a reading from the bible can be passed off as avant-garde...

Following Jacco, Michiel Klein, Joost de Jong, Keimpe Koldijk and Gonçalo Almeida played the Requiem for WORM’s Avant-Gardistic State; a shifting, building devotional piece interspersed with atonal passages and menacing counterpoints. The audience - blasted and rent mute by dazzling projections and biblical incantations - soaked this up and surrendered to WORM’s wyrd situationism and psychicke soul. It was a quiet but glorious victory. More rubbish from me followed, WORM staff wore headdresses made of balloons and served burgers and a bag of rubbish at one euro a pop, and we waited for Difficult. Difficult are really something, as this Irish-Scottish-Welsh outfit revel in the possibilities their name suggests. Swapping instruments and roles each song, the trio conjure up a sort of wistful freeform post-punk, hinting at Girls At Our Best or Dorothy in its guilelessness and wit. A femme-take on Ivor Cutler or Syd? Maybe. These are three smart and soulful women and their choice to make very open music about the things that matter in their lives. And that takes some nous.

Duties abandoned for the evening we sauntered over to take in an emotional but committed Lena Hessels play the Tafelboom, which is a carpenter’s workshop. A great venue for Hessels, the warmth of the wood, the campfire outside and the neatly stacked (but still menacing) chisels and saws on the wall somehow managed to mirror elements of her set, drawn from her magnificent new EP. Lena Hessels has a particular way of invoking vast suggestive spaces in her sound. None of her music, though arch and carefully poised, ever feels artful or posed. There is a quality of decision making in these stripped down, slow burning Kim Gordon-esque thought forms that demands your attention. I mention Gordon because of Hessels’ delivery, which is measured, dry, laconic and happy for now inhabiting a space of its own but could (over time) explode into something else entirely. We think she really is talented.

MORE: Read day one and day two Le Guess Who? reviews

Ater Lena it was time to trudge back into town and take in a heap of things on the main event. Or not. Queues were everywhere at Tivoli so we opted for a new policy of finding the emptiest room around. Which happened to be the first DJ Noss set in the gloomy Ronda. Slowly we got sucked into this DJ from Martinique’s world, which seemed to be one built by throwing any sort of music into a mix and giving it a trickster vibe. His eye-wobbling set was the perfect build for Saul Williams and King Britt who created a fabulous spoken word soundscape going by the name of Unanonimous Goldmine; a piece akin to some huge grey spaceship hovering over Utrecht, shooting sonic beams of wisdom onto to the well appointed shopping streets. Wildly enough, as Britt’s fabulous soundwashes burbled and fizzed around the room, Williams’s stance, delivery and stare increasingly reminded us of Ian MacCulloch… Zimbo indeed. Actually this was a great gig, one of the true festival highlights and impossible to tear yourself away from as the psychicke drone and the declamations came together to form a pressure cooker atmosphere.

Our infatuation with DJ Noss grew ever bigger during a demented second set where every sort of feel good music was hurled at the crowd - along with some bèlè drumming and demented hollering from yer man. The net result of this was a dizzying, sometimes exhilarating feeling of rootless enjoyment. Such was the vibe that the next act, much vaunted Sons of Kemet decided to run with it, though the XL line up - four drummers - was overkill and actually put the brakes on what could have been a complete meltdown. It was actually a bit deflating seeing the Sons knock out what became (in essence) just a very enjoyable set after a while. It could have been so much more.

If ever Dante’s circles of hell would be recast for the Modern Era, one be the febrile, imp-infested Plain of Two Much Choice. Regretfully giving up GAIKA, Neneh Cherry and Nicole Mitchell, we decided to get out of Tivoli for the first time in three days, and head to relatively unknown territory. The Poema club is a smelly, dark and dingy basement that felt like a throwback to another time. Apt really, as in this small club Moor Mother was concerned with flipping concepts of time and the ideas of space we inhabit with a burning curation that ripped the third eye out of its socket and placed it back in; bloody, upside down but unbowed. Starting this furious ride was King Britt -aka Fhloston Paradigm - who knocked out a DJ set that was cut from the bone sometime in 1988; a tripped out, smooth car ride through the deserts of Harad.

Then - a little later - something darker and more abrasive; a bruising 3 hour cresta ride with rap, hiphop and soundscapes of as yet unchartered territories. This huge sonic stew was presided over by Ras_G and the African Space Program. Kicking off with a bruising set from Kahil Sadiq (coming on like some pissed off fencing master cutting up a straw man just for the crack of it), we slipped deeper into the world of Ras_G, Moor Mother and DJ Harim (whose collaboration, 700 Bliss threatened to melt the walls at one point, such was its inner vision). We started to disintegrate, feeling the granier, transcendental qualities of the music. The sound suddenly appeared to be coming from all directions. In the small steamy gloaming of Poema (a club, after all, named after a sacred animal of considerable magic power) we felt bewitched, wondering how to get the train home. Coming back to the same place the next afternoon to watch DNMF play a superbly rich drone set during the marvellous Moving Furniture curation, we couldn’t help but wonder. Was the night before something that happened in real time? Memory - for once - doesn’t serve.

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Photo: Le Guess Who / Melanie Marsman