France, a nation emboldened by culture, art and poetic intrigue. Lyon, a proudly independent city with a profound sense of self and a passion for reinvention.
Nuits Sonores is a festival which has amassed a critically acclaimed reputation, 2017 marked the fifteenth edition of the event and last week Lyon burst into life for what was a triumphant celebration of music, expression and creativity. The riverside city has become a crucial influencer within electronic music: blossoming artists continue to emerge at an alarming rate. With an array of charmed venues and an open minded backdrop the city has become a blank canvas for ingenuity and evolution.
This year the festival played host to a remarkable assortment of names. Optimo, Pharoah Sanders, ESG, The Chemical Brothers, Actress, Soichi Terada, Fatima Yamaha, Helena Hauff, Stormzy, Nathan Fake, The Field, Nina Kraviz, Omar Souleyman and many, many more all graced stages across the course of the five day event. Accaimed names aplenty. However, perhaps one of the festival's most celebrated achievements is through its inclusion of local talent and the resulting attendance.
The first evening saw a number of locally affiliated labels and artists feature amidst the listings. Nestled amidst the backstreets of Debourg, Anciennes usines Fagor-Brandt is an incredible space. The vast sprawl of warehouses were illuminated with the ominous glow of hazy red and blue lights, the shadows and unfamiliar faces of revellers but a blur in the darkness. Within each hall was an intricate rig of lighting and monitors, every detail accounted for and manipulated to reflect the grand stature of the space.
Halle D played host to the Macadam Mambo DJ's, an infamous pair whom have beome known for their eclectic sets and oddball take on dance music. The space filled quickly, a local crowd keen to show support for a pair which have been influential in the progression of the city's musical culture. Sacha and Guillaume entertained and positively set the tone early, weaving their way through robust house and melodic intrigue.
Following this The Pilotwings took to the stage, keen to provoke and entice with their dynamic approach to dance music. Their set demonstrated the duo's keen capabilities when it comes to hardware and gave a nod to the distant days of rave gone by before. Having released perhaps one of the most intriguing albums of last year their live set lived up to the promise of the record and they were met with suitable reward.
Elsewhere the UK's man of the moment Stormzy was limbering up a French crowd you could have been mistaken for believing were Londoners. Frantic cries and one liners echoed amidst the huge echoing chamber as Halle B sprung to life.
The evening was closed out by an array of headline performances across each space. Talaboman and Vitalic both performed to large crowds. However, it was Laurent Garnier whom perhaps attracted to the widest interest. This was a French festival after all.
Day two allowed for the first insight into the expansive La Sucriere venue with which Nuits Sonores has been most commonly affiliated. Originally built in 1930 the old factory has since been completely reimagined and transformed into a space commonly used for club nights, parties, art events and festivals. The rooftop club Le Sucre is now arguably one of the most significant in France.
The main hall saw Honey Dijon open proceedings with an exquisite assortment of house whilst upstairs in Le Sucre Mark Ernestus' Ndagga Rhythm Force sprung to life. The group delighted an energetic crowd with sumptuous percussion solos and high energy dance. Outside Throwing Shade, Peggy Gou and Jamie 3:26 played sun kissed records to those brave enough to embrace the heat. The outdoor stage reached a climax as Donna Summer's triumphant disco smash "I Feel Love" beckoned from the system. The green hills upon the other side of the river were alive with the sound of music.
Inside the main body of La Sucriere Optimo and The Black Madonna took to the booth. On paper this was a collaboration which looked as though it would shimmer with prosperity. However, Optimo proved once again why they are two of the most inspirational selectors on the circuit whilst The Black Madonna struggled to maintain the pace. Across several hours they dug deep through Chicago house and into the heavier remits of dance, the venue alive with life and light.
Nuits Sonores remains committed to uniting together a local community. This is best highlighted through its singular approach upon night two, an evening which sends attendees out into the city to visit respective nightclubs dependent on taste. Studio Barnhus attracted heavy numbers at the relatively new Bellona club: their sound on point as ever, the venue less so. A newly modified boat come club, there were issues with overcrowding and space was tight. However, maybe this highlights little more than the fact that Nuits Sonores is becoming increasingly popular.
Day three was said to be the main attraction in regard to all things techno. Curated by Nina Kraviz La Sucriere opened its doors once again as many arrived to observe Joey Anderson, Levon Vincent and others fiddle with the frequencies of bass within a truly unique space. Nina herself took poll position and played a special four hour set in the glow of the evening.
The night followed and featured perhaps the most inspired selection of performances across the entire event.
Fatima Yamaha was emphatic, his big room melodies a resounding success with an audience engulfed in darkness and the gltches of flashing lights. Closing out his set with a trademark blend of "What's A Girl To Do" the venue participated in full blown techno karaoke and futher erupted when a seamless blend brought in "Araya".
Toning things down a notch Nuits Sonores then welcomed a true legend to the stage. Pharaoh Sanders appearance at the festival was one of remarkable rarity and significance which truly highlighted the musical ingenuity of the team behind the event. It was humbling to observe an ensemble of such enormous talent enchant a venue of great scale, illustrious solos and the spirit of a cosmic breeze flowing between those lucky enough to catch a glimpse. A true highlight.
The night finished formally under the guise of Helena Hauff and Umwelt who rattled out relentless techno to a charged warehouse. A no holds barred contest not for the faint of heart. An indicitive statement of just how far her career has progressed and the new wave set to follow.
The closing Saturday, the last formally open day to the public, marked what had been an incredible few days of performance and music. With festival goers weary eyed a strong crowd still managed to make it to La Sucriere to observe sets from Actress, Anthony Naples and The Field. Nathan Fake was hypnotic as he played within the confines of the scaled down rooftop club, his wonky sound met with the nod of heads as he worked his way through a gripping set which was accompanied by glowing visuals.
That evening the festival signed out in style, along with the help of a few of electronic music's finest performers at present. Raheem Experience are a French supergroup made up of Mad Rey, Neue Grafik and LB. The trio delivered a triple threat masterclass in live analogue performance showcasing a hugely professional array of signature sounds packed with old school sensibilities.
After this the highlight of Saturday night came in the form of a talent from beyond the seas. Soichi Terada epitomised the very sense of Nuits Sonores, his radiant joy engulfed the room, a smile bright enough to light up the whole of Lyon. He buoyantly jammed live house for an hour which was arguably one of the best moments of five day event. Dancers, happiness and the beautiful haze of a smokey warehouse. This was the defininitive climax of a festival which had given so much.
Nuits Sonores is now establishing itself as a truly global brand, it deserves as much. A faultless assortment of some of fine musicians and a commitment made to those left behind in Lyon long after the lights went out. A triumph.
Visit the Nuits Sonores site HERE.