Nuits Sonores 2019: Five key performances

  • Who shone at the 17th edition of the Lyon festival? Marissa Cetin finds out.
  • Share
  • With five days and four nights of programming, the key to enjoying Nuits Sonores is accepting that you won't be able to experience everything. The Lyon festival, which just wrapped its 17th edition, invited 115 local and international artists to perform at two main venues—La Sucrière in the day and Anciennes Usines Fagor-Brandt at night—as well as 13 other spaces spread across the charming French city. This year's daytime curators were Bonobo, Peggy Gou, Maceo Plex and Lena Willikens, all of whom topped lineups that gave each day a new direction to explore. Crowds were amped for the headliners—the energy in the main hall for Peggy Gou's Thursday night set was captivating and contagious—but they also shared that enthusiasm for the other performers. At night in the airy warehouses, you could see anything from an 11-person techno marching band to James Blake hunched near a speaker bobbing along to Mala. The lights and production also lived up to the hype, with chic, understated designs that were incredibly effective and exciting. Here are five key performances from across the week.
    Nubya Garcia Above La Sucrière's main hall, up a few flights of stairs, past the rooftop bar and through two sets of doors, is Le Sucre, a small club often referred to as one of the world's best. Each day at Nuits Sonores, the venue hosted live performances, with Nubya Garcia heading up a four-piece band on Wednesday evening. It was the perfect way to dive into a week of music. The tension first broke after one of many impressive runs from the keys player Joe Armon-Jones elicited cheers and applause. Holding center stage armed with her sax, Garcia, part of jazz's new generation, invited the crowd to fill in the "polite gap," and we obliged. "Come closer, we've only got an hour," she said. "We're gonna squeeze in as much as we can." They sure did. By the time the hour was up, the room had filled out and was swaying to Garcia's exhilarating rhythms. As the four musicians exited the stage, I immediately looked up the next time she was playing in London.
    James Blake Late on Wednesday, I headed to Fagor-Brandt with some friends you might not call James Blake capital-S superfans, though he was definitely the prime reason for their attendance that first night. Personally, I'm more of a casual listener. His music has never clicked for more than a song or two, but I've been eager to be convinced otherwise after consistent praise from friends and colleagues. I think it's happened. Blake mostly performed cuts from his romantic new album, Assume Form, either sat to the right of his two bandmates or stood still behind a mic at the stage's edge. The stage was otherwise empty, with simple lighting (appropriately red during the smitten "Can't Believe The Way We Flow") providing the only aesthetic embellishment. But there were a few unexpected moves—my friend was surprised he chose to play his cover of Feist's "Limit To Your Love," one of his more popular songs. Before "Retrograde," he played another Overgrown track "Voyeur," which morphs into a banger about halfway through. For the festival crowd, he let the ravey part roll on much longer than usual. At this point, I noticed that the front half of the crowd (dedicated fans) was a little less active than they had been previously, while the back section (fellow casual listeners) was pulsing. Blake has never released an extended cut of "Voyeur," but here's to hoping.
    Yu Su There's something rewarding about seeing a dance floor fill up over the course of a set. Yu Su, one of the few artists billed for two and a half hours or more over the week, opened La Sucière's outdoor stage, Esplanade, on Thursday, playing to early arrivals who gently took in the tunes from shady spots on the fringes. Her set would've been right at home at Mister Sunday in New York—there was even a family with preteens dancing together to my left. She moved smoothly between moments of heaviness and lightness, playing tracks as varied as those on her standout RA podcast. Two of many highlights were Priscilla Chan's "Di Qiu Da Zhui Zong" and a Pussycat Doll-sampling track from fellow Vancouver producer D. Tiffany's Planet Euphorique label. Yu Su's own music, while calmer and deeper than the records she pulls from, has a warmth that's wonderful to soak in, and she creates that same feeling when she DJs.
    Camion Bazar Fagor-Brandt's third hall was already pretty eye-catching with its icicle-like lights, but on Friday night, the Parisian duo Camion Bazar decided to dress it up even more. Dancers surrounded (and even stood on) the DJ booth, decked out in all kinds of over-the-top garb. One was a pirate, another Superman—someone even found a head-to-toe leopard print suit complete with bow tie. They hoisted up a massive flag, a plush gorilla and an oversized folding fan, while carefully handing out heart balloons. From the back of the room it looked heart emojis were hovering above the crowd. Camion Bazar's performance sat somewhere between a live show and a DJ set, moving through energetic house and electro while a saxophonist and drummer riffed and looped over the top. This brought the music even more to life, but that apparently wasn't ambitious enough for them. With 15 minutes to go, they pivoted to Pink Floyd's "Sheep." Some people on the outskirts took that as their cue to leave, which, given the sweatiness of the room, was honestly a welcome relief. Those who stayed were treated to another mind-bending left turn into drum & bass before a grand finale of Jocelyn Brown's "Somebody Else's Guy," magnified with live sax and drumming. What a trip.
    Willikens & Ivkovic Unlike the other daytime curators, Lena Willikens chose to open La Sucrière's impressive main hall on Friday, playing alongside her usual back-to-back partner Vladimir Ivkovic. The two looked relaxed behind the decks, swaying, smoking and sometimes smiling. The crowd, less dense than during the other headliners due to the early start, were also in a good mood, using the extra space to feel out each beat of the slower selections. Much of the two hours felt like existing in the lagging moment of a sci-fi movie, just before a spaceship launches into warp speed (in a good way, I promise).
    Photo credit / Brice Robert - Lead, Nubya Garcia, Esplanade, Maceo Plex, Fagor-Brandt, Laurent Garnier Tony Noel - James Blake Anne Simonnot - Yu Su Gaetan Clement - Camion Bazar, Fagor-Brandt 2 Kevin Buy - Willikens & Ivkovic Youcantbuybuy Studio - Sama Marion Bornaz - Heart