Lyon's Nuits Sonores is an institution in France's festival calendar, and it's easy to see why. Every May since 2003, the city has played host to local stars and international guests across five days. The main festival is divided into day and night, which take place at different venues, but that doesn't come close to describing how much of Lyon the event envelopes. There's also a conference, a free all-ages stage that focuses on a particular region (this year was South Korea) and scores of satellite events that span everything from oysters and house music to a party for dogs and their owners.
Here are five key performances from across the weekend.
Laurent Garnier's back-to-back extravaganza
The bulk of the action during the day went down at La Sucrière, where the programme for each of the three days had been curated by a different heavyweight DJ. The artists—Motor City Drum Ensemble on Thursday, Laurent Garnier on Friday, Seth Troxler on Saturday—would also perform in the venue's huge central hall, Salle 1930. MCDE brought Pablo Valentino and The Black Madonna along for the ride, while Seth Troxler went back-to-back with The Martinez Brothers for six hours. Hometown hero Garnier, though, went for the middleground, playing three back-to-back sets with Jay Robinson, Copy Paste Soul and Jackmaster.
The first of these, with Robinson, was a total curveball. After a brief disco-y intro, the pair mostly stuck to the heavy UK bass tones that Robinson is best known for, with plenty of vocal samples and room-quaking drops. In all honestly, it wasn't to my taste, but you couldn't have told that to the enraptured crowd. In the hands of many veteran DJs, a set like this may have felt like an attempt to get "down with the kids"—not so for Garnier, whose infectious energy was a perfect match for Robinson. Copy Paste Soul's session was more typical of Garnier: colourful techno with huge filter sweeps and plenty of hands-in-the-air moments, boosted by strobes and massive confetti cannons. Jackmaster, in turn, was vintage Jackmaster—"I Wanna Be Your Lover" was the obligatory Prince track, and from then on out it was as diverse as we've come to expect, with disco, jacking house and techno all featuring. Garnier was on top form for all three sets, smiling, posing for photos and dancing just about as hard as anyone in crowd. The multi back-to-back setup had seemed odd at first, but I left realising just how versatile, and above all passionate, a DJ he really is.
James Holden & Camilo Tirado
present Outdoor Museum Of Fractals
After a couple of sun-soaked days at La Sucrière, I ventured out on Friday night for my first visit to Ancien Marché De Gros. When I got there, I was a little lost for words. On paper, the setup sounds basic—three derelict warehouse spaces (two cavernous, the other much smaller) that lie unused the rest of year round. But the levels of production and lighting made the old marketplace come to life.
With a name like Outdoor Museum Of Fractals, I felt obliged to check out James Holden and Camilo Tirado's new live project in the second hall. The two stood hunched onstage in a fog of smoke, Holden with his trusty modular and Tirado with a set of tablas. While the synth rolled over a mostly unchanging arpeggio, Tirado's hands were a blur. His skills on the drums were astounding, delivering complex rhythms within a time signature that seemed to exist only between the two of them. The crowd, though, seemed eager for something less introspective, as they tried to clap along in earnest. At one point, a solitary paper aeroplane flew from the floor to the stage, thankfully pushed off course by a gust of air. In a different context, I'm sure the audience could have fallen into the transcendental stupor that Holden and Tirado were aiming for, but here at Nuits Sonores, the room was gearing up for a night's clubbing.
African and African-influenced music was more than well represented across the weekend, and my pick of the bunch was Congolese band Mbongwana Star, who I'd never seen in the flesh and whose 2015 LP, From Kinshasa, I love. Their performance was probably my highlight of the weekend, if not of my year so far.
They played in Halle 3, the smaller of the nighttime venues, opening with the bassist, guitarist and drummer jamming over the dubby rhythm of "From Kinshasa To The Moon." Then, the two lead vocalists, who are both paraplegic, were brought onstage. Debut single "Malakuyi" came next, played at breakneck speed. The room erupted. Positive energy levels stayed that high for the remainder of the set, as they blasted though the entire album. Every member of the band was impressive, and it was hard not to be mesmerised by the intricate guitar melodies and astonishing drumming. The two vocalists danced about in their wheelchairs, while the guitarist leant over the crowd in a bonafide rock-star stance.
For all the magic of Salle 1930, the real gem of La Sucrière was the outdoor Esplanade stage. There was no grass to dance on (it's a former sugar factory after all) but the weather was so perfect that being outside quickly became a priority. The programming out here was generally spot-on, with a different radio station on deck each day. Rinse France stepped up on Saturday, repped by Fort Romeau and San Francisco's Honey Soundsystem.
Two of the collective had made the trip, Jason Kendig and Jackie House, and they didn't disappoint. The crowd had been expertly warmed up by Fort Romeau's emotional grooves, before House took to the booth armed with powerful disco vocals and wicked acid lines. After this initial explosion, they pulled it back a little, deploying more laid-back numbers such as Fort Romeau's beautiful "Diana." But it wasn't long before they whipped the crowd back into a frenzy, throwing down an onslaught of party tunes like Jake Savage's re-dub of Mystic Bill's "U Won't C Me" and David Morales' “Tribal Funk”. I left La Sucrière fully satisfied.
Daniel Avery is a bit of a local legend in Lyon, where he frequently hosts his Divided Love parties, and at Nuits Sonores itself, where he has played four years in a row. It made sense, then, for him to join DJ Harvey and Laurent Garnier for Sunday night's closing party at Le Sucre, the 700-capacity club that sits on top of La Sucrière.
Because of the heavyweight lineup, Avery opened up from 3:30 PM, which meant that, initially, he was playing to a nearly empty room. It's not often you get to see a headliner in a warm-up slot, and this was a real treat. I arrived to a blend of dub techno and understated electro jams, most notably Function & Inland's "Rhyl." For the few there, it worked beautifully, and it wasn't long before more people poured in. Once the floor was gently busy, Avery began indulging the crowd, teasing the vocal of his own "All I Need" over Levon Vincent's "Invisible Bitchslap." It was just what the room needed.
Photo credits /
James Holden - Anne Simmonot
Mbongwana Star - B-ROB
All others - Gaetan Clement