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Welcome to the Village Festival 2019 – Review


Is it right, or proper, to call a festival sensual? It depends
on how you deploy the word, I suppose. Sensual was the first word
that stuck when I tried to think of a narrative arc for the seventh
edition of Welcome to the Village. For sure, Leeuwarden (the city
which hosts it) isn’t the first city in the Netherlands I’d
call sensual. And when the grounds fill up with day trippers from
the city and suburbs and the booze begins to flow, the scene is
closer to something from the elder Breughel than the works of Lee


Regardless, Welcome to the Village is sensual in that it
balances societal concerns and earthy fun in a manner that never
feels you’re being preached to or taken for a mug. For sure the
senses were stimulated by the music and the interesting grub and
booze on offer. But many of the things that secretly concern us
(the environment, waste, ageing societies and isolation), were
dexterously and subtly woven into the fabric of the festival days
without you really noticing it. To use another, depressingly
utilitarian word bandied about by earnest marketing types, Welcome
to the Village is quietly “performative”. Performative in
quietly forcing many a festival goer to see that new ways of
thinking and behaving can be everyday actions. Take the ideas
around taking home one of the site’s potted plants, or a tea cosy
specially knitted by an elderly volunteer. These are generous
initiatives that are more likely to make you stop and think about
the story behind the item, or indeed why the gesture was needed in
the first place.

Welcome to the Village is performative in other ways. There has
always been a strong theatrical element to the festival’s
programme. This year Christeene’s mighty review queered up many a
Frisian headspace and Club Gewalt invoked the spirit of Nina Hagen
in their festy show Wir Zind Amazone, which had to be seen to be
believed… For their part, Ménage À Trois managed to beam in an
emotional meltdown in De Grauwe Kat on the Sunday evening. Even if
you haven’t pencilled anything in, just wandering about during
the daytime brought you into contact with actors, or stalls doing
something weird. It could be a bunch white coated loons
experimenting with Heath-Robinson-style contraptions, or a stall
asking for your faeces (to help fertilise the ingredients for your
sandwich, of course, and why not?). Whether it all works, or is
your thing isn’t the issue. It’s there, and you have to compute
it in as part of the deal.

Back to the realm of the senses. Two brilliant solo performances
that opened the Saturday and Sunday programmes in the Blessum
mirror tent acted as an emotional rope bridge for those lucky
enough to catch both. These two gigs, from the Russian Federation
and Iran, though concerned with two different disciplines and
socio-cultural headspaces, also showed the value of music as soft
power. In both music was the sonic emissary, a force that in both
shows’ cases, made us realise what we thought of as music is just
one grain of sand on a very big beach. Masha Vahdat’s
extraordinary show on Sunday drew on Iranian poets and artists past
and present to create a rich emotional hinterland that the audience
could wander through in total safety, almost as the firstborn
through Eden. That may sound like hyperbole but there is no way to
adequately describe the extraordinary bond Vahdat’s music created
between her and the audience. Accompanied only by a dampened mic
and a frame drum (a Daf?), Vahdat’s skills were breathtaking.
Holding and elaborating quarter tones – often in a mid range –
is not an easy skill as a singer will tell you. That she managed to
do this and other vocal tricks effortlessly, almost unnoticed, and
then to make her songs emotional lodestars for to her audience to
use throughout the day, was a testament to her shamanic powers.
Blessum was rapt, and able to catch on to her spirit that soared
over the elephantine thud of the kick drum being tested during Feng
Suave’s sound check on the main stage outside.

Then we had Kate NV’s show, which was the perfect antidote to
a damp and drab Saturday midday. La Shilonosova has changed her
approach to her live sets markedly since we first saw her perform
solo a few years back. There is a new focus; a more supple and
subtle application of her powerful – and very warm –
personality, and a sense that her seemingly never-ending work
regime is paying off in unexpected ways. Her music is like a
dayglow electronica kids birthday party, or a Nara painting set to
music and her live outings have always been fun and inventive. But
in Blessum there was a new gravitas and surety on display. Kate
NV’s repertoire has been stretched and dismantled, recreated to
feel like it’s multidisciplinary music. Maybe she’s reinstated
mnemonic elements of her old Moscow Scratch Orchestra days into her
present set. Regardless; Kate NV is now looking backwards and
forwards. Wine glasses and other objets trouvé were hit, and mixed
in by a deft flick of a switch into a wider, more funky passages,
quizzical aural chop ups were redolent of 1970s Russian painters
and high gloss 1980s pop. All the while this funny, driven
personality cast her spell over the audience.


What else? Sadly deejay duties elsewhere on the Saturday meant
we missed a killer one-two in the Anderson shelter-type structure
known as De Grauwe Kat. The first real miss was undoubted pop
talents of Vilnius’s ShiShi (though you can take
our review of their MENT gig as bible
). According to those who
were there, ShiShi’s rambling yet charming explanations of their
songs – nay, their entire lives to date – and chiming guitar
pop went down a storm. We also heard that Rotterdam’s Sweet
Release of Death made that stage’s metal walls vibrate like a
proper wind tunnel. Trust us, you need to tune in to both.
Tiredness meant we missed what sounded like a brilliant Saturday
night in the Bongo tent, too; Afework Nigussi, Oscar Jan Hoogland
Onno Govaerts and Terrie Ex apparently deconstructed space and time
whilst the members of King Ayisoba’s retinue cranked up some hot
acoustic Ghanaian trance. In retrospect we’re furious to have
missed this.


Still we did get to see DJ Marcelle play one of the defining
sets of the 2019 edition. Marcelle is an acknowledged wizz on the
decks. Somewhere among her zillion records, there lies the
information that will prove the Sphinx is 12 thousand years old and
once had a female lion’s face. All her crowd knows this. And to
write about it yet again would be a bore. What was truly great
about her set at Welcome to the Village, though, was the window it
opened up on this country’s recent past. The crowd, a sparky mix
of 40-50 somethings and rebellious teens had that feeling of a
normal Dutch night out from the 1990s and early noughties; that is
to say people who were rude, open, brazenly independent, scruffily
self-reliant, sometimes idiotically Utopian, but on the whole
forgiving and funny. They danced maniacally around the Zuidereind
peninsula, displaying the sort of openness that would have treated
today’s righteous intolerance and prissiness with the same
quizzical contempt as their former selves from 20 odd years ago.
What Marcelle’s brilliant, mercurial set (hoovering up references
like an ant-eater ploughing through an ant nest) highlighted was
the fact that this country has had far too many of its rough edges
removed recently, making many of its creative and social
initiatives bland and formulaic. And, most worryingly, in thrall to
the balance sheet and an idea of an online neatness that borders on
social exclusivity. Marcelle’s set (involving 3 or 4 turntables,
and a precise knowledge of what was where on a platter) somehow
acted as an invocation to a long-lost and – to my mind at least
– desperately needed time and headspace.

Time for three more gigs that happened on Sunday. King
Ayisoba’s Bongo All Stars set on the Bontebok stage was a
delight; the King indulging in a form of crowd banter that still
sounded like a Regimental Sergeant Major screaming blue murder at a
bunch of deloused squaddies.  The audience frugged in an African
style as best they could, whilst the whirring, clattering, rumbling
rhythms cooked up by the likes of Ayune Sule and Ayisoba (backed at
one point by The Ex’s Arnold de Boer) set down a relentless pace.
A superb show, with Wicked Leaders being a glorious highlight.
Sadly Moscow’s Lucidvox sounded great only if you stood close to
the monitors. Then you could hear Galla’s thunderous and
inspiring guitar lines and the hard-soft interplay between
Nadya’s powerhouse drumming and Anna’s supple bass lines.
There, you could appreciate Alina’s Rusalka-like voice. The band
knew they were giving a good performance, as did the first few rows
who really dug it, but sadly PA issues beyond their control meant
that their punch wasn’t fully felt amongst a largely sympathetic
audience. They’re a great band who really need great sound to
show off their apocalyptic talents.


Finally we turn to Mart Avi, who was wrapping up his first Dutch
club tour proper in De Grauwe Kat and feeling slightly frayed after
an intense week. Regardless of what you know, or expect, there is
always the hint of the unexpected with Avi. Many miss this element
of his creative psyche, being sucked up into the lush pop world he
creates, whilst not really wondering why it’s all so moreish. And
on this sunny Sunday evening any hint of weariness was cast aside
and another glint from Spectrum Avi beamed through the venue.
Groovers were witness to a visceral performance that highlighted
his Gabriel Ernest side rather than his reputation as a C21st
soulboy. The lush Bogus Mannerisms of tracks like ‘The Silent
Trespasser’ and ‘Here the Future Smells Like Perfume’ bounced
and bumped off the domed tin roof. And Avi, like the veritable cat
himself, hopped and jived about, unable to find any space to get
comfortable in, but trusting the last fragments of his larynx to
deliver. Over time, an existential funk gloop formed, aided by
crooner time-warps, flinging us back to 1930’s or 1950’s
musicals. Avi’s red-toothed showmanship and the big C21st beat
also trapped many a curious grazzer at the venue entrance. All in
all it was a fabulous way to end his week and this festival. So
good in fact I didn’t even notice the replacement bus service.
The power of music, don’t underestimate it.

Photos courtesy of the festival, Xanne Wijkam, Jorah Terwisscha
van Scheltinga and Jan-WillemBullee

The post Welcome
to the Village Festival 2019 – Review
appeared first on
Louder Than War.

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