Festival director Johan Gijsen on Le Guess Who?

A presentation held by festival director Johan Gijsen (Le Guess Who?) during the CHIME launch event and reception, Amsterdam Conservatory, February 4 2016.


Johan Gijsen_CHIME

To kick-off the Dutch CHIME launch, we invited Felix Schlarmann (Jazzfest, Amsterdam) and Johan Gijsen (Le Guess Who?, Utrecht), two young and innovative festival directors who have recently enriched the Dutch festival landscape with two distinct music festivals. We asked them to engage with some of CHIME’s research questions and discuss how these play out in the day-to-day reality of their festival. In which ways, for example, does the place of event impact the festival’s program and music, and what does it take to start and develop a successful and sustainable festival?


Transcript of the presentation by Johan Gijsen:

Why another festival?

It was 2007, when childhood friend and co-founder Bob van Heur and I felt that the most interesting developments taking place were in the periphery of pop music; where artists that don’t bother to play by the fixed rules and grids of pop music determinedly go their own direction. In the Dutch media and on national radio and TV was little or no room for precisely these interesting movements in pop music. Here we grumbled about among ourselves and figured that it was better to take the initiative here. We shared the enthusiasm and passion of the scene in Montreal at that time; Arcade Fire and Patrick Watson experimented with new sounds; there was an interesting almost incestuous scene surrounding Wolf Parade with its many side projects; impressive horn player Colin Stetson just moved there and the dark, experimental Constellation Records released Godspeed You Black Emperor’s beautiful albums with sounds that we had never heard.

Cover - Juri

At the end of November 2007 first edition of Le Guess Who? took place on two consecutive evenings in Tivoli, Utrecht. On the poster were 11 acts, which all came from Canada. Since then Le Guess Who? has developed into a four-day international festival for independent and innovative quality music in the city of Utrecht. Besides authentic or urgent pop music, the festival also presents non-western music, avant-garde, folk, jazz, ambient, psychedelica and contemporary music. Le Guess Who? interlinks these non-popular genres, and presents them in an easily accessible way: in the setting of an adventurous but approachable pop festival. It thus takes them out of the niche to serve a much larger universal audience.


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Why Jazz (and not, say, Rock or Folk) Music for Thinking about Festival and Cultural Heritage?

chime-logo jpegA position paper (no. 1) presented to the CHIME project team meeting, Amsterdam Conservatory, February 4 2016


Here are the opening sentences of the EU Heritage+ joint call grant application that the project team wrote in 2014, and which formed the basis of CHIME’s successful submission.

‘What an amazing experience, the clash of seeing Miles Davis in the Roman amphitheatre during the Nice Jazz Festival. The ancient stones and arches are re-sounded, the music somehow more resonant, old and modern at the same time. I’ll never forget that.’ This first-hand experience of a European festival-goer provided the initial inspiration for CHIME.

I (George McKay) want to interrogate the cultural space we have chosen a little further, which I hope will throw further light on my question, why look at jazz (and not, say, rock or folk) festivals?

There was a nice line tweeted on the CHIME Twitter feed recently, a quotation from Chris Goddard’s book Jazz Away From Home that sought to describe the experience of jazz in southern Europe, as a music ‘cut[ting] through the warm, humid Mediterranean night like a chainsaw through cheese’ (1979). Is jazz more cheese wire than chainsaw, do you think, though? If we want chainsaw music we need really to go to something more industrial—or agricultural—starting with the excessive, aggressive culture of rock music. Rock does after all sometimes feature a chainsaw: see southern US rock band Jackyl, who still finish each live set with their signature song ‘The lumberjack’ (the video is great and indeed a little Pythonesque, have a look: Jackyl 1992) in which the lead singer does a chainsaw solo (though not through cheese). (Here is a pressing question for the New Jazz Studies: has a jazz band featured a chainsaw solo, ever?)

So, for questions of the clash or disjunction between heritage, festival site and popular music, the jarring re-sounding when both our ears double-take in stereo, rock music would be very good to think about. Though its history as a popular music has been shorter than folk or jazz (50-60 years as opposed to 100-120, very approximately)—does that mean its heritage is reduced?—rock music can supply a very powerful shock of the new, not least through its characteristic of being superloud, via a practice of extreme volume and a competitive rather than functional culture of amplification. (Even to the extent of rock deafening its bands and fans: McKay 2013, chapter 4.) And its use of chainsaws.

In order to pursue the comparison with Miles in the amphitheatre in Nice, consider an archetypal rock festival-style concert / documentary film, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (concert 1971, film 1972).

  • Filmed with the band playing live, over 4 days in October
  • Used their full and extensive tour amplification
  • Performances were filmed in front of no audience, an empty auditorium (rationale: in part a reaction against festival films like Woodstock, which had contained so many shots of festival-goers, the crowd)
  • It’s a slow, spacey music the band plays, with some very slow long camera focuses in/out and pans (2-3 minutes)
  • Located in the ancient Roman amphitheatre and with a backdrop of Vesuvius
  • Some key resonances: volcano/volume; block architecture of amphitheatre/PA/amp stacks
  • Grandeur of the location fits with the grandeur (or pretentiousness) of Pink Floyd’s musical vision and its filming. (To return to the comedic end of rock, we could think here instead of Spinal Tap and their Stonehenge stage.)

Or consider Glastonbury Festival, originating at much the same time as the Pink Floyd concert (legendary Glastonbury Fayre was held in 1971, also filmed). Near Glastonbury, in the deep green English countryside, there is the invention of tradition and what I’m calling the instant ancient: mist and myth, a stage in the shape of the Great Pyramid of Giza, set on a ley line, with a crystal on top, a Neolithic stone circle—built around 1990. Read More

How does CHIME chime? Producing an impact map

PrintWe want to capture in different forms ways in which the project is having impact — this can be through its collaboration between academics researchers and our parter organisations, including festival, music and sustainability / heritage groups.

For one of these we thought it would be a good idea to have a map of impact — of collaborations, relations — and to revisit this mapping exercise periodically through the project (e.g. on an annual basis) in order to visually capture its scope and spread. Click here to see the higher resolution version of our map of impact at the very start of the project.

This map is made from information gathered from project partners at our inception day event at EFG London Jazz Festival in the Royal Festival Hall in November 2015. We asked all academic partners present to identify up to three key activities, events, other projects, organisations, they were involved with in relation to the project, and to tell the rest of the room a little about each. We noted these down and subsequently produced an infographic-style version of them.

We aim to revisit and (this is our assumption…) add to this map in 2016 and again in 2017, producing a more complex version as work and collaboration takes place. Yes, more dots and curvy lines (we hope)! We anticipate that such an exercise will also illustrate the development of a project.

[Thanks to Rachel Daniel, administrator at University of East Anglia for George McKay and the Connected Communities Programme, including the Impact of Festivals project, for her work on this.]

Nice discovery…

20151215_121014In preparing a paper for the Hidden Musicians Conference in Milton Keynes, I came across this original programme from the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival in a family archive.

Nice is widely regarded as the first truly international jazz festival and the inaugural event featured a gathering of renowned US and European musicians, from Louis Armstrong and Rex Stewart to Claude Luter and Humphrey Lyttleton. The 1948 Festival was housed at the Opera in Nice but, in subsequent years, the event began to use the city’s amphitheatre as a main outdoor venue.


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Links to reports and resources about the impact of festivals

Library Jazz Event noticeI thought some people interested in CHIME would like to know of a very useful page on the website of a related new Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded project from the University of East Anglia, The Impact of Festivals. The post-doctoral researcher on The Impact of Festivals is Dr Emma Webster, who spent much of November acting as researcher-in-residence at the EFG London Jazz Festival, and contributed to the CHIME inception event there in November.

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Here’s One I Made Earlier…

Following our inspiring few days down at the London Jazz Festival, I thought it might be interesting to share this blog post I wrote last year about Manchester International Festival. This picks up some of the themes that we are interested in exploring as part of the project, so worth a little recycle me thinks…

Originally appeared on http://ontheplatform.org.uk/article/rethinking-sustainable-festivals-spotlight-manchester-international-festival, 2014

Sustainable Spotlight on Manchester International Festival

Manchester International Festival (MIF) is the world’s first festival of original, new work and special events and takes place biennially in Manchester, UK. The Festival launched in 2007 as an artist-led, commissioning festival presenting new works from across the spectrum of performing arts, visual arts and popular culture. In this article, drawing on interviews with different members of the MIF team, Beth Perry highlights their less well popularized but equally important role in contributing to Greater Manchester’s environmental sustainability.

MIF prides itself on having made a significant commitment to reducing the environmental impacts of its office operations and was the first festival to be independently certified as meeting the sustainable events standard, BS8901, as well as a recipient of A Greener Festival award. Whilst the ethos of being artist-led is central to their mission, benefitting the local economy, engaging local communities and minimizing its environmental impact are also stated core principles. Examples of activities have included: greening the office space; sourcing and creating productions responsibly and working with partner venues to reduce the environmental impact of MIF events.

Greening the Office Space Read More

About the CHIME logo

chime-logoThe CHIME logo, designed by Marijn van Beek in collaboration with PI Walter van de Leur, captures some of the main ideas that come together in the project. The main form is inspired by the quote that opened our proposal:

“What an amazing experience, the clash of seeing Miles Davis in the Roman amphitheatre during the Nice Jazz Festival. The ancient stones and arches are resounded, the music somehow more resonant, old and modern at the same time. I’ll never forget that…”

The amphitheatre – its individual segments suggestive of castle towers — at the same time alludes to an LP record, while its colour scheme calls up the 1950s jazz cover art for Blue Note, Prestige and Atlantic.

The font of the lettering is called Montserrat, which is the name of a number of heritage sites across the world, from Catalonia to Buenos Aires. And yes, there is a Montserrat jazz festival (at the Montserrat College of Art, USA). And no, there are no bell chimes to be found in our logo.

CHIME at the EFG London Jazz Festival (Saturday 21 November)

Following the inception event, CHIME team members also delivered public engagement panels as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

At the Barbican Centre, Prof. Tim Wall (Birmingham City University) chaired a panel on jazz and cultural heritage, featuring project team members Prof. Walter van de Leur (University of Amsterdam) and Dr. Beth Perry (University of Salford), together with Eric Arellano (Gamlestaden Jazz Festival) and Emily Jones (Cheltenham International Jazz Festival).

Emily, Eric, Tim, Beth and Walter on jazz and cultural heritage
Festival organisers and academics discussing jazz and cultural heritage

The panel explored jazz as part of cultural heritage and music as a tool for regeneration and social change. Questions that were asked included: How can the arts and arts festivals play a role in addressing issues of environmental and social sustainability? In which ways could or should grassroots cultural activity contribute to further urban development. Can jazz address a wider audience, except for middle-aged white men? Audience members vividly contributed to the discussion, giving insights into the many ways in which jazz is interpreted (i.e. both as a political and a non-political music) and experienced (i.e. as a music of the past and/or the present).

As a prelude to that night’s concert of Ice-T and Ron McCurdy and their Langston Hughes Project, CHIME member Dr. Nicholas Gebhardt (Birmingham City University) chaired a panel discussion on the legacy of Langston Hughes.

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Reporting on the CHIME inception event

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 12.45.33A group of international scholars and festival organisers and music producers gathered at the Royal Festival Hall in London during the EFG London Jazz Festival to launch the project. I took some notes, both for the record and to help us shape 2016 meeting agendas and work.

Project leader Prof Tony Whyton (Birmingham City University) introduced the day, reminding us of the project’s key questions around heritage sites, jazz festivals—ranging from jazz as a heritage music from itself today to urban regeneration to difficult questions of the intangible impact of festivals on festival-goers.

Prof Helene Brembeck and Merja Liimatainen (University of Gothenburg) talked of the place of consumption at festival as a core experience for festival-goers, in particular in the context of the presentation and consumption of heritage, memory, the past, at jazz festivals. How does music re-sound the architecture of the city at festival? The Swedish team will be looking at contrasting jazz festivals in Gothenburg, Gamlestaden Festival and the Classic Jazz Festival, a process of embedded research within the organisations and ethnography and cultural history, critical interrogation of festival imagery, publicity and events and venues.

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CHIME Inception Event

PrintThe CHIME Project team will officially launch the project at an Inception Event on Friday 20 November, during EFG London Jazz Festival. The event, held at the Southbank Centre in London, will provide partners with an opportunity to come together to talk about their work, to share ideas, and to discuss ways in which CHIME research can impact on different festivals and heritage organisations.



Supported by Associated Partner MISTRA, the Inception Event will also bring together representatives from case study festivals, including London, Cheltenham and the GMLSTN Festival in Gothenburg to explore audience development initiatives and plans for creating digital tools to support their programming, audience participation and partnerships with heritage sites.








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