With a record beating attendance of 140,000 visitors in 2014, Lyon's Nuits Sonores Festival has proven itself as one of the most established and esteemed electronic music festivals on the European circuit. Since its 2002 inception, the event has been welcoming thousands of visitors every May bank holiday weekend to France's second city to sample and revel in the seasoned festival’s contemporary programming of electronic music and digital media arts. Following a format much like that of its more widely known Basque cousin Sónar, Nuits Sonores proposes both a day and night program in various industrial and historical locations spread across the city, covering the spectrum of today’s most recognized and established electronic music artists. The curtain raiser for this 15th-anniversary edition was marked by a performance by iconic French electronica act Air at the Maurice-Ravel auditorium, normally the abode of the National Orchestra.
As in all previous years, Nuits Sonores by day once again took place at La Sucrerie, an impressively renovated dockland industrial complex situated at the tip of one of Lyon's river islets, there where the Saône and Rhône rivers converge and continue southwards to Marseille. Given that this area was an industrial wasteland some years ago, it is worth paying due credit to the regenerative impact a festival can have on previously undesirable urban areas, and this premise is one of the key merits of Nuits Sonores’ founding principles: they have previously occupied buildings or sites that are either condemned or due for redevelopment and have breathed one last gasp of life into them, before these are demolished, some new edifice is erected atop, and the cycle moves on to be repeated elsewhere.
As usual, programming for the day events was built around the concept of A Day With, in which one particular artist was asked to curate the lineups and schedule. Chosen this year were Nina Kraviz, The Black Madonna and Jon Hopkins, each selected because “their body of work, creativity and professional investment to their craft can be considered to be actively shaping both the present and future of the electronic music scene." For this, the festival must be credited: this approach places a measure of faith in their appointed dignitaries and offers a rare insight into the tastes and influences of their appointed artists—and both organizers and attendees were rewarded with the most interesting lineup in many years.
Day one with The Black Madonna featured artists like Optimo, Honey Dijon, and Peggy Gou, among many others; while Nina Kraviz was joined by the likes of house and techno veterans Fred P, Jus'Ed, Levon Vincent, and Joey Anderson. DJ Sodeyama opened proceedings in the main warehouse, and while only a handful were in attendance, the performance was a definite highlight; the Japanese artist and Arpa label boss clearly enjoyed utilizing the vacant space around him to weave an intricate and sophisticated minimal tapestry. Jon Hopkins, Daniel Avery, Ben Frost, and Nathan Fake rounded off the third day. These production-focused artists seemed more suited to the cavernous warehouse space than those of previous days with their soundscapes filling the room engrossing the audience surrounding them on all sides; perhaps it could be that as accomplished producers, they have a better mastery of how to fine tune and tweak their sound in respect to their environment and audience. Outside on the esplanade, Randomer delivered a virtuoso techno performance, supported by crisp, resounding Function One stacks on either side.
By nightfall, events shifted to a new after hours location, the former Fagor-Brandt factory, once the finial of Lyon's industrial heritage. Here four yawning warehouses welcomed revelers until the early morning, each one decked out with an impressive array of lighting installations overhead, these the brainchild of Lyon's finest graphic design and architectural outfits. Much of the programming was curated by the We Are Europe project, a collective made up of six similar minded festivals shaping European festival and electronic arts culture. Again, like with the day events, the night venue's large halls are more suited to accommodating large crowds and promote a performance-based appreciation for the acts rather than an intimate party atmosphere that one might find at smaller events; performances by Fatima Yamaha, Harvey Sutherland & Bermuda, and Omar Souleyman were fine examples of this.
Boasting impeccable production, the night events featured live performances by the likes of Floating Points, Soichi Terada, Kink and French legend Laurent Garnier. While more mature fans of electronic music would probably hanker for more intimate clubbing spaces or indeed more pointed programming, it is worth remembering that Lyon is a university city, and many of the attendees are still at an age where their tastes have yet to become so cast. Few festivals can boast a palette of programming so rich and diverse in international talent, and exposure to such a wide range of artists from across the board is instrumental in influencing and defining later, a fact that incidentally supports a myriad of smaller festivals, clubs, and artists around the world. It could be said that festivals of the size and stature of Nuits Sonores support a whole ecosystem of smaller festivals and events in the arts and music scene, which in turn provide opportunities to up-and-coming artists to gain recognition for their work. In their absence, the whole arts and music scene would be lessened, and as such their significance is paramount.
Furthermore, festivals like Nuits Sonores challenge the perception that electronic music is corrupting and only to be listened to in dark underground corners by reinforcing ties with other cultures through music and by showcasing arts and technology from various disciplines, all of which pertain to our current and future sociological environment.
This year’s edition wound down on Sunday with a day in the park, packed in with performances, food fairs and flea markets, a record fair and a roller disco. With a further Mini-Sonores parallel program dedicated exclusively to kids which aims to foster children’s creativity through a series of workshops in arts and crafts and musical exploration, as well as a whole range of extracurricular gastronomic, creative and cultural events running concomitantly, few festivals can propose a diversity as rich in programming as Nuits Sonores, or lay claim to being as truly inclusive and innovative. As the cliché goes, there really is something for everyone to enjoy at Nuits Sonores, but to achieve and flawlessly execute this vision on such a scale is no small feat.
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