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.

 

Read More

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