The sheer amount of festivals that exist this weekend, let alone this year, is enough to make this live editor’s eyes twitch and just about anyone’s head spin: Norway has Øya, Budapest has Sziget, France has La Route Du Rock, Finland has Flow (they all have incredible, and at times incredibly similar bills) and we haven’t even warmed up to our main event yet, Sweden’s Way Out West. Born in 2007 out of “boredom”, the sixth annual festival is kicking off right about now in Gothenburg, and to honour its stunning line-up, we caught up with organiser Niklas Lundell to chat beginnings, bests and why Gothenburg’s Slottsskogen park and the city of Gothenburg presents such a special setting.
Speaking to Lundell, I get the impression that the weekend’s humble two day beginnings emerged from the same festival spring as the best of its contemporaries; through the perfect blend of boredom, frustration, excitement and ultimately, a genuine love music. “We wanted to present the kind of festival that wasn’t around in our region at that time” he explains “the kind of festivals we travelled to ourselves; whether they were in Barcelona or Texas, we wanted to give people an urban experience.” Keeping things close to home meant there was added value for them, and early line ups of Erykah Badu, Primal Scream and Manu Chao helped establish the festival as a musically diverse weekend.
The energy and enthusiasm for this year’s festival and for what they are doing right now is so clearly at the forefront “What’s up with this rear-view mirror perspective?!” Lundell protests as I ask him about the festival’s history “We want to be in the present time!” Although he does indulge me with a few tales from the festival’s five year history including, although I’m sure not limited to “Kanye West‘s soundcheck in 2007, a blue grass band performing Big Star‘s ‘Way Out West’ (of course) while people are walking off site after last curfew, kissing my ex during Prince performing ‘Purple Rain’ with…eh just ‘Purple Rain’ actually or just every time I hear the announcement “this year’s Way Out West is now open.”
Maintaining a sense of modesty by keeping their “awareness and environmentalism” along with the original spirit and ethos that looked to “combine the feeling of escaping your every day life with the fact of being in the city” has meant that Way Out West, whilst it has certainly grown “both in terms of capacity and engagement, with twice as many people and including both an art and film program”, has avoided escalating into a corporate behemoth.
With every looming, false start of a summer, the water cooler conversation fodder of a question “where are you going on holiday?” is slowly being replaced by “what festivals are you doing this year?” Talking to American counterparts, it feels like festival saturation is a uniquely UK/European situation, one that from local mad baths to foreign frolics brings with it as much brand driven consumption as it does wonderfully independent affairs. The competition for blockbuster headliners at the larger events feels fierce and the more than admirable desire to present a unique line-up at each, slightly naive but even in the occasional face of distilled quality, the fact that more and more people would rather invest their hard earned cash on a musical vacation rather than that classic ‘lounging by the pool’ option feels like a good thing.
The growth of the festival industry is “really two sided” Lundell agrees. “Of course it is a good thing that more people than ever find it worth spending their days off on music and cultural vacationing, which in turn enables more bands to tour, and alternative artists to develop but it’s also draining.” The artistic expression and industry feels corrupted when big business moves in and is embraced whole heartedly so that the people responsible for each event are the next day “up for whatever is bringing tourists and consumption.”
Much like this weekend’s alternatives, there is a local element to Way Out West, although hearing Lundell explain things, it is perhaps not as strong a consideration as I would have assumed. “We consciously try to benchmark towards the best international festivals. There is no local artist perspective, even though it might gain us in an international aspect, if you’re with me?! “Nordic exoticism!” He does however explain why he feels Gothenburg is so special, “I think it might be comparable to Manchester – the little brother knocking on big brother’s door with shit loads of attitude and conceptional accuracy.” Lundell also recommends that people check out Sibille Attar and Anna von Hausswolff before explaining that Skansen Kronan is his favourite place in Gothenburg because “it’s a dream that not yet is realised.”
If there is no real conscious effort to balance the international aspect with a local force, I find myself wondering how they choose the line up each year, to which Lundell replies “A combination of stupidity and lack of sex,” not quite what I was imagining when I said the festival was born out of frustration but with the likes of Frank Ocean, Blur, Kraftwerk, Lykke Li, Niki & The Dove, Refused, Ane Brun, I Break Horses, Wilco, Bobby Womack and Bon Iver all set to grace the festival’s stages, who the hell are we to judge their selection process?