Event: The Ultimate Guide to Nuits Sonores

As French festival Nuits Sonores gears up for its 2018 return, The Waveform Transmitter’s Léa Ben Saïd looks at what is in store at the French electronic music mecca.

One of the most exciting times of the electronic music calendar is upon us; Nuits Sonores is back for the sixteenth time, and is looking more amazing and more current than it has ever been. Every year since 2003, a colourful program of days, nights, conferences, and many ‘off’ events take place across the city of Lyon, France, during the second week of May to showcase what have been the trends of electronic music, and who we should definitely look out for in the near future. In 2017, no less than 140,000 festival goers attended the event, and there is no doubt that even more people will fill clubs, concert venues, warehouses, and streets around the city for the sixteenth edition.

The force pushing Nuits Sonores is its wish to create a truly inclusive and accessible event for everyone to enjoy. This reflects in the ticket prices (around 30€ for one of the main events, day or night, but week passes are also available), and the diversity of events organised. The main events are set out during four days this year: NS Day 1, 2, 3 and 4, (curated by four specially chosen artists) and the nights: Nuit 1, Nuit 3, and Nuit 4, with Nuit 2 being reserved for the famous ‘Circuit’: 17 stages across the city, with music curated by local actors of the scene, made to immerse the participants in the unique atmosphere of each place they wander into. To this already amazing programme, is added a special concert, during which Kamasi Washington will be giving an exclusive performance this year, which aims to put forward one or more artist who have had a tremendous impact on electronic music and/or its roots, and a closing day for which the line up is more unique and better than ever.

Let’s have a word about the line-up, actually, and let’s start with the days. The team behind Nuits Sonores aspires to act in a collaborative way and believe their artistic choices benefit from the input of the artists themselves. This explains why, every year, they give the chance to some of the artists with whom they have a more or less long history, and who know well the festival itself, to invite whoever they see fit. This year, Jennifer Cardini, Daniel Avery, Four Tet and Paula Temple were given the complete freedom to create their own line up, and did not disappoint.

NS Day 1: A day with Jennifer Cardini

If this day was to be described in only a few words, here are the ones I would choose: exciting, eclectic, and demanding. Funnily enough, these words would also perfectly suit any description of Jennifer Cardini herself. She built her impeccable reputation on her residencies at clubs like the Rex or at Pulp, but also through her label Correspondent, which she launched in 2011. Through it, she pushed for a certain kind of aesthetic with artists sharing her state of mind, and she succeeded brilliantly. The way she curated her day is similar to this idea, and she invites some of the best for the occasion, including Dopplereffekt, with Gerard Donald being one half of both Drexciya and Der Zyklus, two of the most defining electro projects there have been, Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft, the guitar-less electronic punk band, and the dutch Job Jobse. She also gives the way to less well-known artists, but equally important for the electronic musical landscape such as Spaniard Javi Redondo, the French I:Cube, and the Norwegian disco don Skatebård. Finally, Mozghan, Josh Cheon, and Borusiade complete the line up of a first day that will only make us more impatient for the rest of the festival.

NS Day 2: A day with Daniel Avery

The way Avery curated his line up is an ode to London, the city where he has lived for the past twenty years, and a testimony to his great knowledge of techno, a genre he has learnt to tame throughout the years. For the occasion, he invited absolute pillars of the genre such as DJ Nobu, Helena Hauff or Objekt & Call Super, while also focusing on less well-known but equally important artists for their contribution to the musical landscape, such as HAAi, Lanark Artefax or Lena Willikens and Dr. Rubinstein. His day also marks the return of Tropic of Cancer, led by Camella Bello, who used to tour the world non-stop only a few years ago. Alessandro Cortini rightly completes the line up after working closely with the man himself and Christina Aguilera.

NS Day 3: A day with Four Tet

Four Tet had not been invited at Nuits Sonores since 2014, and comes back to curate his own day with his friends and the people who have been shaping the landscape of the music he plays and produces, from jazz to electronica. He invites his partner in crime, Floating Points, but also Pearson Sound, who he is often assimilated with, and Josey Rebelle for whom he has shown support as she deservedly gained more and more popularity. They will be joined by Binker and Moses, Karen Gwyer, James Holden & The Animal Spirits for some incredible live sets, and Chris Menist and Mafalda for more DJ sets.

NS Day 4: A day with Paula Temple

Gender equality in music has been at the forefront of debates in the music industry, especially in the curation of line ups, and we can only hope that the more it is talked about, the more things will change for the better. If we look at what has been happening in recent months, female representation is getting better. Paula Temple is known for being political and having strong beliefs, and she proves it once more with her line-up. Indeed, apart from DJ Stingray coming to close the ball, every artist is female ! Another proof that booking female artists is not so difficult. For the occasion, Paula invites artists she had the occasion to work with on her own label Noise Manifesto, for the Decon/Recon series. This includes rRoxymore, Aïsha Devi, and SØS Gunver Ryberg. We will also be able to listen to rising star Amélie Lens, and more established artist Rebekah playing that day. Femanyst, Moor Mother, BOBBIE and Pan Daijing complete this stellar line up.

From 15:00 to 22:00, the NS Days take place in La Sucrière, where the music will be spread across three stages: la Salle 1930, l’Esplanade, and Le Sucre. The latter is famous for bringing the best of the electronic music to Lyon on a weekly basis, and it will also be used in the nights for some special, one-off events. Between the line ups and the location, clearly, we are in for a good time.

NS Days

Following the madness of the NS Days, the official Nuits are taking place in another location: the disaffected factory buildings of Fagor-Brandt. This time around, the programmers aimed to create an editorial line within each of the three stages, with a clear focus on a musical trend or a relationship of some sort between the artists and their work. We notice a specific focus on hip hop and rap music across the nights, which is explained by Nuits Sonores’ special relationship with Belgium (emphasised by the organisation of a second edition of Nuits Sonores in Leuven in September), and the music that has emerged from there in recent years, similarly to how grime had emerged from the UK before.

Nuit 1

We are in for a colourful evening for the first stage of the first night. Five live sets will soundtrack the night, all so different from each other, while being surprisingly similar. Tryphème will open the dance; her album Online Dating, released on the Sheffield-based electro label Central Processing Unit, was received unanimously well across the scene, borrowing electro aesthetics and synth-pop emotions, layered with the producer’s voice and lyrics. Inspired from the encounters she has, she will undoubtedly put forward a performance honouring her influences. Chloé and Rone, the other two Frenchies of the line up, will also play a live set; Rone performing his newest album, and Chloé undoubtedly about to present a set she will have perfected, like only she knows, playing throbbing techno with impeccable sound design. Finally, Agents of Time and Maetrik aka Maceo Plex will close the stage.

The headliners of the second stage are no other than Antal and Hunee who will play a colourful mix of ethno-tribal house and disco, like they have been doing it on the stages of festivals such as Dekmantel. Before them, two DJ sets and two live sets especiallychosen by the programmers to illustrate the relationship and mutual influence of South African music and artists composing and playing this music these days. DJ Okapi is a name which should sound familiar to any fan of these sounds. Originally from Johannesbourg, he is very close to the Rush Hour crew, and composes his sets from the music he spends his days digging, assuredly presenting rarity after rarity. Similarly, Richard Foe, resident at the famous Good Block in London, presents the music which has brightened up London nights for a while. He will be followed by French duo, Tshegue. The hypnotic voice of singer, Faty Sy Savanet, coupled with the energetic and mechanic sounds of Nicolas Dacunha. Together, they have had the monopoly on the afropunk stage for over a decade. Finally, DJ Lag will represent the gqom scene straight from South Africa. Still relatively unknown, gqom is a sub-genre of house and DJ Lag is one of its pioneers. There is definitely worse company to be in to be introduced to the genre.

On the third stage, hip hop will be honoured with some of the best representatives of the genre. DJ P will warm up the room with his skilled scratching and the way he uses samples like nobody else, creating an unforgettable ambiance made of soul, funk and rap, before being followed by Gracy Hopkins and La Smala who will wear the colours of France and Belgium respectively, rapping their words on top of trap melodies. Caballero and Jean Jass and friends will also represent Belgium and complete each other’s styles perfectly, alternating between tight bars and distilled flow. They will be followed by Lunice, who had temporarily disappeared after his trap project with Hudson Mohawke. He is back with the album of maturity, and promises to play some exceptional music. Finally, Or:la completes the line up. Her way of browsing through every genre from 90s techno, to breakbeat or UK bass, is unique and means there is no way she can feel out of place on such a line up. As she is full of surprises, she is sure to play a set we won’t forget for a while.

Nuit 3

The first stage of the third night will be dedicated to house music, and more specifically, its history and what it has become. We understand that by looking at a lineup made up of established artists who have been DJing and producing for decades, next to more recent but still established artists, and up-and-comers. This particular choice of artists guarantees that the crowd will be taken on a journey throughout the night. House legends Larry Heard aka Mr. Fingers and Kerri Chandler will play in the first room, strong of their many years behind the decks and their expertise in the genre, their sets promise a retrospective of the sounds that made house music so great. Kerri Chandler will be joined by no less than Jeremy Underground, with whom he forms Underground Kaos, to close the stage. To add to this already special concoction, Bicep, who have truly exploded these past few years, will perform their live show that they have been playing for just a year, and Folamour, the French artist who is being talked about more and more for his production and selection mixing house music and jazz or disco, is set to open the stage with a 2-hour DJ set.

As Nuits Sonores is part of the collective We Are Europe which gathers eight major European cultural events and promote European cultural diversity, innovation, and creativity, the second room of the night and the next is made of a line-up fully European. For this night, Nuits Sonores collaborated with Sónar, the famous festival based in Barcelona, tocurate the most forward-thinking and limitless artists, actors of the industrial, noise, and hard techno movement in Europe. The Reykjavik-based Australian musician Ben Frost will share the stage with Lee Gamble, highly-acclaimed for his productions, and they will both play live. Before them, Raymonde and Usé will open the stage respectively, two protégés of the French scene will push the boundaries of the genre by mixing dark ambient with tropical and tribal sounds in unpredictable and uncompromising live sets. Finally, AZF, the new star of French industrial techno, will be on closing duties with a 2-hour DJ set and she is certain to crank the atmosphere up a notch.

If I had to choose one word to describe the lineup of the third and ultimate stage, it would be, without a doubt: eclecticism. Attendees are in for a multidimensional journey, carried away through ethnico-tribal sonorities, experimentalism, and synthesisers. Once again, most of the acts will be playing live sets, giving them total freedom about the atmosphere they are looking to create. First up will be Ko Shin Moon, a French duo pushing the boundaries of experimental music by mixing it with ethnic sonorities. They will be the perfect opening before the surprising Japanese artist, J.A.K.A.M, and his band The Ritual Forces. Their music is truly unique and know no boundaries as they borrow elements from Arabian, African, Latin American, or even jazz music, to make it their own, usually coupled with tribal basses.This is not without making us think of the music by Ifriqiyya Électrique, the fruit of an encounter in the Tunisian desert, and resulted in a mix between ritual music and hypnotic synths. Three very much established projects conclude this line up, including the Israeli duo Red Axes, who will bring their famous guitars and synths for an unpredictable set; Young Wolf, the common project of YoungMarco and Jan Schulte, aka Wolf Müller, who promise a blend of frenzied drums and wild analogs. Finally, Avalon Emerson, the shining star from the US, will be bringing her collection of obscure but pop and rapid techno, of which only she has the secret to.

Nuit 4

The final night will be similar to the precedent ones in that it does not focus on one specific genre, but aspires to link different musical perspectives on one stage. In room one, it goes from the marriage of Arabian music to electronic music with a live set by Ammar 808 and The Maghreb United, for which he adapts traditional North African music on a famous Roland TR-808, linking tradition to modernity. Action Bronson will also be present for a wild live set, sometimes centered around his love of junk food. Funnily enough, following from him will be Andrés and Peggy Gou, who will bring a more electronic focus to the stage, mixing the best of house and techno music. After a long period of mediatic silence for Andrés, in spite of several albums Moodymann’s legendary label Mahogany Music, he jumps on the decks to show us how things are done. Differently, Peggy Gou is extremely present in the media and especially on her own social media channels, and has known to make her way on the scene quicker than most, thanks to her talent and her apparent enthusiasm. Undoubtedly, they will offer the perfect finale to the last night of Nuits Sonores.

The lineup of the second stage is once again a collaboration with Resonate to celebrate the project We Are Europe which Nuits Sonores is part of. Musically, the focus is particularly put on new wave-electro-IBM trend that has been everywhere in 2017 and is here to stay in 2018. Unlike the rest of the festival, the stage will be opened by a DJ-set by Les Fils de Jacob, a French duo who has been playing a major role in the French electronic music scene. They are known for their precise and measured selection, made mostly of saturated drums and mechanic melodies, rocking the crowd of their own accord. Il Est Vilaine and Not Waving, from France and Italy respectively, will play a live set of their own making. Armed with saturated guitars and synthesisers, juggling between hard techno, post punk and new wave, they will create similar environments but with their own characteristics, which have made them leaders in their respective universe in their home country, but also throughout Europe. No other than The Hacker will be gracing the decks for the last DJ-set of the night, presenting the forward-thinking techno and electro that made him famous on the scene, albeit he stayed discrete in his success. Particularly well-known for his impressive number of releases and remixes, he came back to the front of the stage last year, and prepared a very special set where he goes back to his roots: new wave, dark and powerful techno, and EBM are to be expected. Finally, the explosive duo Fixmer and McCarthy will be closing the stage for an extraordinary live set. After fifteen years of collaboration, with many appearances in clubs like Berghain, the duo erases the boundaries between their respective specialities, EBM and techno, for a unique end to the night.

For this finale night, the programmers focused particularly on showcasing the variety of music that can be made from similar sounds. Camion Bazar, the French nomad party starters, will present the music of the past. Funk, disco, and live drums will make up the most of their DJ set, playing and alternating with rhythms and BPMs. After opening the stage, they will also be closing it after a heap of live sets. Chancha Via Circuito is one of them. The Argentinean has spent most of his career marrying the sounds of South America with electronic music. Through his music, he aspires to show how rich the landscape of South American music is, while wanting to make people dance. He will be followed by Los Wembler’s de Iquitos coming from Peruvian Amazonia, who mix traditional Peruvian cumbia music, to more popular psychedelic sonorities of their countries. Dengue Dengue Dengue will also be playing, putting forward their take on traditional drums from South America modernised through electronic music. Finally, Voilaa Soundsystem will present the music that served as an homage to African music, halfway between afrobeat and funk, before Camion Bazar close the stage.

Each and every one of these sets sound like they will be unforgettable. Nuits Sonores has become one of the most respected events in electronic music as well as Dekmantel. Similarly to its Dutch compatriot, Nuits Sonores adapts to the scene it is part of, and manages to reinvent itself year after year, showing it is familiar with the new while still respecting the old. It seems the key word here is: current, but demanding and precise. After presenting a lineup thought out to the millimetre for a whole week, putting forward new exciting artists and exceptional collaborations, the festival will finish off with a closing day curated by the team of programmers, including legends within the scene who have marked Nuits Sonores’ history. The Black Madonna, Laurent Garnier, KiNK, Motor City Drum Ensemble and many more, will make us dance till the end, for a music masterclass we won’t forget anytime soon.

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