The first rule of a festival is to get yourself there, which this correspondent nearly did not. I do not recommend trying your luck on SJ’s last-minute Tradera lottery, when 24,000 music fans are descending on Gothenburg’s Slottskogen for what is fast becoming the signature event on the Swedish summer music calendar.
But arrive I did, on a last-minute ticket that landed me with a first class hole in the pocket, to the picturesque Slottsskogen, on the edge of the city centre – Gothenburg’s answer to New York’s Central Park.
It’s a unique festival setting, which delivers the feel of a rural festival in a cosmopolitan environment. Way Out West’s press manager, Joel Borg, explained: “The biggest difference between Way Out West and other festivals is that it’s an urban festival – it’s in a really nice park in the middle of the city. There’s a lot of environmental thinking in the concept.”
Organizers of Way Out West, Luger, increased the venue’s capacity from last year’s inaugural event, and following the festival’s successful debut, tickets sold out on the eve of opening night this year. “We sold over 24,000 tickets, so the there will be around 22,000 people each day, which is an extra 4,000 people a day on last year,” Borg told The Local.
Organizers have kept ticket prices competitive in the face of significant costs for a new festival. “A festival like this is really expensive to produce, not only the artists’ fees – which are the biggest contribution to costs – but also all the other infrastructure like stages and fencing,” Borg said.
The heavens opened up on Thursday night, as if on cue on the eve of an outdoor festival. But the clouds cleared by early Friday afternoon, and I joined the crowds pouring in through the Slottsskogen gates for the opening acts.
UK band Lightspeed Champion kicked off in the Linné tent with a frantic set, reminiscent of Pete Doherty’s defunct band The Libertines. From there it was a mad dash across to the Flamingo stage to catch the sublime Christian Kjellvander, playing his brand of moody folk-inspired blues.
First clash of the day was Kenya’s vibrant Kenge Kenge and talented US solo artist Iron & Wine. I went for Kenge Kenge at the Azalea stage, for a gyrating performance of “benga” folk music that I liked so much I bought the CD at the nearby merchandise tent.
It was around this point that I began noticing the messages that were scrolling continuously on the giant video screens set up all over the park. Some were benign and amusing: “If someone falls, help them up” … “Have fun, and be nice to each other”; and some civically responsible, given recent tragedies at other festivals: “Don’t push towards the front of the stage”… “Don’t forget to drink water”.
The musical contrast in the first three acts set the tone for the festival. The frenetic pace also increased, as a number of great performances became a kaleidoscopic blur. The boys from Borlänge, Mando Diao, set the crowd alight with their energetic rock ballads and tight black pants, in a high-energy set.
The UK’s Franz Ferdinand was a highlight of day one, and Thurston Moore’s enduring rock institution Sonic Youth, gave it everything on the Azalea stage. Nick Cave’s experimental project, Grinderman, delivered a typically raw set, with Mr Cave at his outrageous cavorting best.
I expect to be cursed by a generation of fans, but for me, Broder Daniel was a sad disappointment in the farewell gig for this iconic Swedish pop band. Headlining Friday’s line-up, Henrik Berggren struggled to nail even his signature anthem songs. Therese Brolin from Gothenburg agreed: “I knew he couldn’t sing, but that was really disappointing.”
Those who hadn’t escaped Broder Daniel earlier then dispersed into the urban jungle to find the club playing their bands of choice – another novelty of the Way Out West format, made possible by the venue’s central location. But problems were evident already on Thursday night, with widespread reports of opportunistic clubs filling up with paying customers, before allowing festival pass-holders in.
Johan and his wife had driven down from Stockholm, almost exclusively to see emerging Seattle band, Fleet Foxes, but had also wanted to take in some club acts. “We tried last night but we couldn’t get in because they sold tickets to the public before the festival crowd came down,” Johan said.
For those who couldn’t get in to a club it was high time to grab forty winks in preparation for day two of the festival.