Review: Nuits Sonores 2018

As Nuits Sonores closes down for another year, The Waveform Transmitter’s Léa Ben Saïd reflects on what was an outstanding week in Lyon.

Rarely have I ever been so tired, but ultimately, so inspired, after a festival. And the fact it took me so long to write this just shows how long it actually took me to process everything I was able to witness that week. According to my phone health app, I walked up to 53,000 steps a day while I was in Lyon, which equals to about thirty-five kilometers. Seen as I was purposefully staying close to the main venues of Nuits Sonores, we can conclude one thing: I danced a lot.

This year, 200 artists played for 143,000 dancers in 47 venues for 80 events over the course of eight days in the city of Lyon. It was truly memorable in every way: the weather was amazing until the last day during which it rained and we lost 14 degrees – although that did not stop anyone from coming – and the music was absolutely stunning the whole time. The week was full of the best music in the most random places, from a deserted island in the middle of a river north of Lyon where we listened to more tribal house than I ever heard, to some chilled house on the terrace rooftop of a hospital, and many others for all of the EXTRA events. When I attended those, I had not even had the chance to step foot in the official locations that I was already amazed.

Extra! Ile Barbe
© Laurie Diaz

As I reflect on the sets I saw during the festival, I believe three kinds were especially distincts, giving the chance to the artists the space to a unique and original performance: the closing sets, the live sets, and the DJ sets.

The closing sets

Among the sets I saw at the time, I made a point of seeing as many artists I had not seen before as possible. Of course, I am sure you understand that ultimately, the quality of the line up was such that some of my personal favourites were playing and there was of course no way I would miss them. This includes Helena Hauff who played one of the best sets of the festival, but for anyone that knows me, you will know it is an easy win for her as she is my all-time favourite. Regardless, she closed the main room on the Thursday, for Daniel Avery’s day, and everyone in attendance agreed that she once more managed to simultaneously rip the room apart with stabbing electro, and glue it back together with enchanting acid basslines. Reinventing herself at every set, it was the first time I heard play a track she played during another set: this time, it was Outer Delta Dynamics by Norwell, that she had dropped at the White Hotel, Manchester, in April.

On the closing sets hype, some others were undeniably unique and I feel lucky that I was able to witness them. Avalon Emerson, who has truly managed to create her own signature sound these past couple of years, very much playing a type of music that resembles her and her influences, closed the smallest stage of the third night on an incredible level of energy. She owned that room, juggling between pop tracks by the likes of Yaeji, and fast, pumping techno, which included her own productions, and we could tell her set was as special for her as it was for us. Flamboyant as ever, her performance was one of the ones that stood out the most for me.

Finally, Laurent Garnier’s closing set during the closing day punctuated the week-long festival perfectly, and was nothing short of exceptional. After an exclusive back to back with Seth Troxler, he took on the decks of the main room and delivered a performance that was proof of his techno reign for the past thirty years. Over the course of two hours, he played so many atmospheric techno tunes, coupled with incredible drops, to a public whose ears were more focused than ever. At the end, as the applause and the whistling did not stop for almost ten minutes at the end, he dropped the ultimate song of the week: Poney, by Vitalic. Here’s a song that no one in the audience will ever forget.

Helena Hauff
© Brice Robert Photographe

The live sets

Despite the spectacular character of some of the closing sets, Nuits Sonores also distinguished itself by the impressive amount of artists who came to play live sets, especially during the nighttime events. On the first night especially, the music was excellent, with live sets by the likes of Tryphème, Chloé, Rone, and Agents of Time, who all played on the main stage. Tryphème started the night with a set that was true to the atmosphere she created through her debut album that came out on Central Processing Unit last year. The decks were staged sideways, which gave the French artist the chance to go to the front of the stage while she was singing and dancing on her music. Her performance was very much personal and emotional, a feeling straight out of her album.

Following her was Chloé. The French artists is known to be more than a producer, but a composer, taking artistic ideas and bringing them to life, using the electronic means available to her to create and use the many possibilities that are being offered to her. Her set was somewhat different from the LP she released last year, which is way slower and softer generally, whereas this live set tended to lean more towards industrial techno at times. Her music was very focused and precise, and it all sounded like Chloé wanted to tell us a story, which explained the alternate use of bpms and sound signatures. The 3D installation on stage made of blocks, and the use of lights coming at you from all directions while in the crowd, truly made her set come alive. As soon as it finished, still mesmerised, I realised that this was this kind of techno, complex and evolving, that I wanted to hear all the time.

On the final night before the closing party, one of my favourite sets from the festival was delivered by Bufiman. After a last minute cancellation from Young Marco who was supposed to play with Jan Schulte as part of Wolf Müller, Jan had decided to take the opportunity to present to the world a brand new and exclusive live set under his Bufiman alias. The percussive elements present in his DJ sets or his production were definitely present here, twitched to make it sound like an ode to tribal music while very much keeping it electronic. All in all, I had never seen a live set like this before. As he was programming the instruments he had at his disposal (I couldn’t see which ones exactly from the crowd), he was playing the flute and the triangle among other instruments, sampling them as he went along, creating absolutely unique and instant melodies. It was just crazy.

KiNK was the cherry on top of a high quality line up for the closing party. As most live sets of the days during that week, he was playing upstairs, in the intimate setting of Le Sucre, one of Lyon’s most famous clubs. The space in the venue was limited, and as soon as he started, a long queue formed outside in the rain, and most of the people waiting would not make it inside for at least an hour. I had never seen him play, but obviously his reputation precedes him; what I witnessed for the next few hours proved all of the hype was funded. As soon as his set started, he put the crowd in the best mood by playing some of his classics, including Valentine’s Groove, and playing long piano solos in between incredibly catchy and energetic build ups. The structure seemed to ensure the attention of the crowd was solely focused on the music, always taking it by surprise before slowing things down again. He invited some members of the audience to play, as usual, and took the vibe from house music to darker ends, which sounded like his latest album. Occasionally, he would throw a record in the mix to tie things together, but ultimately, it was all part of the journey the crowd embarked upon with him as he brilliantly sailed the ship.

© Tony Noël Photographe


The DJ sets

Finally, some of my favourite sets over that week were the midday, DJ, sets, played as the sun was shining or setting, and which tied up the days perfectly. HAAi was one of the artists I absolutely wanted to see as she especially created a space and a name for herself on the London scene, and I was not disappointed. In just under two hours, she played everything from low-bpm roaming techno and electro, to progressive rock, and Afro house. She punctuated her tracks with very long vocals, acid, crazy synths and guitar riffs, keeping the energy high in the crowd, with a massive smile on her face all along. Her moves and the way she was showing how happy she was to be there were definitely contagious, and as she was greeted with a round of applause and whistles before she left the decks, I couldn’t help but wonder why she was not being booked everywhere already.

Dr. Rubinstein was playing in the middle of the day, taking over from Lena Willikens. The sun was shining, but she played a set which resembled the ones she plays at packed out clubs in the middle of the night. Her selection was made of numerous slamming techno numbers, but she did not play as many techno tracks as she did acid tracks. As she was juggling between a small section of the hundreds of bangers she is known to play, her mixing was incredibly sleek and allowed to keep the energy high throughout. She was effortlessly slipping between techno, electro, acid, and trance, making up for a refreshing and interesting set, and the French seemed to agree since more and more people arrived while she was playing. By the end of her set, she had packed the outdoors stage out, and was also greeted with a round of applause, before Objekt & Call Super started doing their thing.

On the last day, curated by Paula Temple, women were honoured. Out of all the artists who played that day, only one was non-female and that was DJ Stingray, who closed the outdoors stage. It was inspiring and, quite frankly, comforting to witness so many amazing artists play across all stages. A set which particularly caught my ears, was by Amelie Lens. The Belgian artist has been unfairly criticised as she became more and more famous, inquisitors saying she only became famous because she is good looking, and that they prefer judging music with their ears rather than with their eyes. This makes me laugh as they most definitely did not use their ears to make this statement. At Nuits Sonores, Amelie Lens delivered a high-power industrial techno set better than most sets I have witnessed over the weekend. Steering clear from the boring rollers that you hear every techno bro play, she managed to keep it captivating by juggling with bpms and adding enchanting acid basslines in the mix. It was my first time seeing her, but hopefully not the last.

Dr Rubinstein
© Brice Robert Photographe

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