Combining my two interests of running from uni work and trying to explore a city in an inordinately short amount of time, last Friday I spent the night in Lyon for Day Three of the annual Nuits Sonores Festival. Nuits Sonores is an urban festival, taking place all over the City of Lyon during the Ascension weekend.
Knowing I’d be staying up all night (the event was running from 9pm-5am, so I decided to save on hotels and just get a commuter train back to Basel in the morning), coffee was in order.
When I arrived in Lyon it was drizzling, but luckily the nighttime events were taking place in the Ancien Marché du gros, a collection of disused industrial buildings which were lit up for the occasion. Despite being fairly central, they weren’t that easy to find, so the lava lamp visuals projected onto the side of the main hall were not only snazzy but practical too.
Having arrived at a time that most would consider devastatingly uncool (before 11pm!) I was there to catch Blue Daisy, who’s electro-rap stylings were going down very well with the crowd. (Though it doesn’t look very full in the photo above, the halls were huge!)
I was also there early enough to get some drinks tokens before the queues built up (and over the course of the night, they really did build up.) and to grab something to eat:
This being France, there wasn’t an abundance of vegetarian options among the impressive line of food trucks. Among them I managed to track down the fantastic Bão Kitchen who were serving up some tasty veggie bão – savoury buns filled with diced vegetables and smothered in sweet chilli sauce. I may or may not have gone back for seconds before the night was out…
Next I headed over to the third and smallest hall for the brilliantly named Jessica93, a post-punk one man band from Paris who was looping and layering some shoegazey noises and getting some interesting results. Hall 3 seemed to be home to the more eclectic acts of the night, as demonstrated by the next band, Future of the Left.
I had barely heard of Future of the Left before Nuits Sonores, and I demand to know why nobody told me about them. This shouty alt-rock band from Cardiff were the unexpected highlight of the night for me, although they weren’t exactly at home among the electro-house pumping out from the other two halls. They might not have drawn the biggest crowd at the festival, but it was certainly the most rowdy. The guitarist brought a number of bananas onto the stage, and one by one fed them to enthusiastic crowd members during the set. In this cut throat music industry it’s great to see a band that takes the time to worry about their fans’ potassium intake.
Next up was the act I had come all this way for – Public Service Broadcasting. Credit to Rosie for taking me and Bill to see them last year and getting me hooked. This was before their new album The Race For Space was released, and I was excited to hear some of the new tracks live. They didn’t disappoint. Along with some favourites from their debut album, they played Gargarin and Go! from the new album, both of which got a great reaction from the crowd and rightly so.
By this time the larger halls were starting to get really full, so I went over to check out Brodinski in hall 2. I loved his solo release, Dance Like Machines, so I had high hopes for his set. I was a little disappointed. This is probably an unpopular opinion but as one of the more sober members of the crowd I felt slightly unimpressed with the repetitive beats and lacklustre mixing, which fell short of being redeemed by the impressive lights, and the visuals dredged up from the depths of the uncanny valley. Some of his set is of course on youtube, so you can listen to it here and draw your own conclusions.
All in all, Nuits Sonores Night 3 was fantastic, and I’ll definitely try and head back for next year!
Were you there? Can you recommend any other festivals in the area? Let me know in the comments!
Last weekend I braved the night train to Berlin!
When you book a couchette on the night train, you get to sleep in a triple decker bunk. Well, “sleep”. I didn’t do too badly – I was really glad to be in the top bunk, and got a solid 4 or 5 hours sleep on the 10 hour journey.
The best thing about the night train is how early you get into the city – I was at Berlin Central Station by 7am! I certainly saw a different side of the city as a result. Walking through the Tiergarten at sunrise was a great experience. The holocaust memorials feel completely different when you visit them alone, rather than when they’re surrounded by tourists.
I’m the first to admit that my history knowledge isn’t the greatest, and in Berlin there are remnants of the city’s past everywhere you look; The Komponistendenkmal is still scarred by WW2 bullets (despite much reconstruction). There are pieces of the wall throughout the city, and Checkpoint Charlie is a major tourist attraction.
During the day, I managed to make it around a lot of the traditional tourist sights (The Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor, and Tiergarten, among others). I took some time to look around the Jewish Museum too, which is not only historically interesting, but is also a beautiful piece of architecture by Daniel Libeskind.
As any regular readers will know, I will take any excuse to go gallivanting off to a new city. The excuse on this particular occasion was a Father John Misty show at Heimathafen in Neuköln (an apparently trendy area of Berlin which is the title of a Bowie song) and it was 100% worth the journey.
I’ve been listening to his new album I Love You Honeybear on repeat lately, so when I found out he was coming to Berlin I had to go. The atmosphere was great – the gig took place in the Rixdorfer Ballroom, a beautiful old hall with an elaborate moulded ceiling, and a theatrical stage set quite low. Low enough, infact, that a number of young women had climbed up onto it while waiting for the show to start. A member of staff came to shoo them away, “you don’t want to be sat there when he comes out girls, he’ll be in your laps.” at which they retreated, giggling. It was a fair warning though – Father John Misty is certainly not shy…
The set was long and full of energy. Many tracks – notably True Affection – seemed to make a lot more sense live, while old favourites like I’m Writing A Novel had the whole room moving. His stage persona is part cabaret act, part Mick Jagger; he climbed on top of the drum kit three times that evening (I counted.)
It’s become a running joke between me and my housemates that I am the “artsy” one – cemented last week when I convinced two of them to accompany me to see Birdman at the cinema. I’d like to think I enjoyed it enough for all three of us? I asked around to see if anyone wanted to join me to see The Tiger Lillies this week at Kaserne, but in retrospect, it probably wouldn’t have helped my reputation..
When I heard that The Tiger Lillies would be coming to town, the name rang a bell – the Peacock & Gamble podcast used to use their music, so I’d heard bits and pieces. The bio for the band on the Kaserne website was in German, and running it through google translate gives possibly the best description of them you could write:
“the lyrics are not for the value Conservatives and wherever there is objectionable, they put it provocatively another. Bandleader Martyn Jacques sings about whores, junkies, pickpockets, murder, the common man’s life and all the smoke died sparkled figures in the world”
So there’s that.
I’ve decided I’m a big fan of going to gigs alone – go can stand where you want, show up when you want, and you don’t need to fight your way back to exactly where you left everyone if you want to go to the bar. Kaserne has a bit of a weird layout, and kept the audience in what I can only describe as a holding room until about 15 minutes before the band took the stage. In this time, I was approached by a guy from the local tv news who was covering the gig. I quickly gave up on trying to talk to him in German (I really haven’t made much progress) but he was undeterred and pressed on in English. The outcome of this is that there is now footage out there somewhere of me like a rabbit in the headlights (quite literally; Kaserne has pretty low lighting, so the camera had a huge lamp strapped on the front) mumbling about how I was excited to be there. The world is a strange place.
Tiger Lillies took to the stage and were faced with perhaps the most unusual audience I’ve been a part of at a gig. People drink WINE at gigs here – I can’t imagine ordering a glass of red wine at a gig in Birmingham. And right down the front was a kid with his parents who couldn’t have been much older than ten. Now seems like a good time to point out that a LOT of The Tiger Lillies’ songs are about drug abuse, prostitutes, and dead babies. This is not an exaggeration:
I don’t know how much English your average swiss ten-year-old has under his belt, but I’m pretty sure he got the jist.
No one in the audience seemed the slightest bit phased by the content of their songs, though. The Tiger Lillies have been gigging hard for a pretty long time, and it shows – they are a really tight band live, and use everything at their disposal to give a great performance. (Think props, masks, and the occasional over-enthusiastic audience member). They mix up the instruments a fair bit too – they’re a three piece band, but the stage was full of instruments, including a piano, drums, double bass, guitar, accordion, ukelele, theremin and musical saw. The latter was a highlight for me.
Perhaps down to the diverse audience and unpredictable performance, but the atmosphere was fantastic. Basel is gearing up for Fasnacht right now, so Tiger Lillies with all their greasepaint and circus vibes seemed to fit right in. After a brilliant (and long!) evening, the band were hanging out right outside, and were kind enough to pose for a photo:
Second from the left in this picture is Kimmy, who isn’t in the band – we met in the audience! She’s staying in Alsace on study abroad from university in DC, and heard my English accent a mile off. Just shows how international Basel can be.
In a few weeks I’ll be off to Berlin to see Father John Misty – any suggestions for what I should do while I’m there?
This weekend I managed to go a little further afield than usual – what began as a joke led to me meeting two friends at Schipol Airport for a weekend of exploring, shopping, and seeing Gerard Way.
Leaving work at 3pm, I caught a flight to Amsterdam from the Euroairport (thankfully only 30 mins away from my lab) and made it into Schipol for about 8pm. I met Rosie there, who informed me that the current weather outside was “freezing rain” (apparently distinct from snow or hail). We got a train followed by a tram to our hostel, Hotel Van Gogh, finding out on the way that it was indeed extremely cold. Charlotte, who arrived earlier that afternoon, met us there having already acquainted herself with all the other guests in the common room and made full use of the hot drinks machine.
After a reasonable nights sleep, we woke up to snow!
If you read my post last week you’ll know that I will never not find this exciting. With less than 48 hours in the city, we headed off to do some exploring.
Amsterdam has some great vintage shops, which we wasted no time in finding. Purchases included a jumper embroidered with ducks and a bucket hat with unicorns on. (I was disappointed to later discover that the “unicorns” in question were in fact just flamboyantly coloured horses, although this didn’t stop me proudly wearing it all evening.)
We also came across a great little sweetshop which had a huge range of vegetarian and vegan pick n mix. The staff were fantastic; one guy just could not give us enough free samples. This place is well worth a look if you’re in the area, vegan or not!
With a satisfyingly weighty bag of pick n mix each, we headed back to the hostel the pick up our tickets for the show that night.
So this is why we ended up in Amsterdam, really. Rosie and I both recently rekindled our teenage obsession with Thank You For The Venom (if you don’t love that album, fight me) which led to us joking that we should go and see Gerard Way live. Which led to me finding out that he was on tour, and playing in Birmingham (where Rosie lives). Unfortunately the Birmingham show was midweek, so I couldn’t really fly back without using up what’s left of my holiday allowance at work. Fortunately, his show in Amsterdam was on a Saturday night. Before we knew it we’d booked out flights..
We missed the support (sorry Nothing But Thieves!) as it turns out that it’s entirely possible to get lost in Amsterdam in the dark with only some hastily scribbled directions from google maps to help you find the venue. Despite my stubbornness (“I’m sure it’s just down here..”), Rosie asked a nearby restaurant owner who showed us the way.
The venue was housed in a former dairy, and the name (“Melkweg”) translates literally as “milky way”.
By this point my inner thirteen-year-old had taken over and I was inappropriately excited. I am now the proud owner of a 25€ t shirt, which Rosie kindly pointed out was more than the price of my ticket. I’m just going to put that down to gigs being waaay cheaper on the continent. At this point it should be clear to you that I won’t (nay, can’t) give you a unbiased review of the gig. Instead, a few observations:
- They served draught Leffe behind the bar at a reasonable price – this is infinitely superior to the Carlsberg you pay upwards of £4 a pint for at most of the mid-sized venues in the UK.
- I don’t think I have ever been to a gig with more women in the audience than men. This was most definitely the case here. It was chill.
- Gerard Way’s showmanship was predictably fantastic. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny he knows how to please a crowd. He played every track off his solo album, and threw in an impromptu cover of “Do You Want To Build A Snowman” from Frozen for good measure. This was admittedly a little lost on me, having not seen Frozen, but I think I was the only one.
- Gerard Way is now a certified silver fox.
We left the show to meet Charlotte, who for some reason opted not to spend her evening wading through a crowd of sweaty emo fangirls. Each to their own I guess. She was at Roest, a warehouse bar just a short tram ride out of the city centre. It was situated in an industrial estate, so we were greeted with a slightly post-apocalyptic vibe, despite the liberal amounts of fairy lights.
Thankfully on the inside it was really cosy!
Good music, old friends, and a few beers – a great (if cliché) end to a super fun weekend.
Of course, given more time I would have loved to have seen more of Amsterdam – any suggestions for what I missed out would be gratefully received in the comments!
The Basel music scene doesn’t compare to Birmingham very favourably, so I was super keen when I found out that electro-folk dream boy Patrick Wolf was coming to town! I snapped up a ticket as soon as the posters showed up around town, and was lucky enough to get the last front row seat.
The evening was a benefit for World Aids Day 2014. As such, it started with a speech which appeared to be at once both funny and moving. I say, “appeared to be” because, as regular readers may remember, my German isn’t up to much. Following this we were ushered into the venue where I quickly found my seat at the front. I proceeded to excitedly send pictures of my view of the empty stage to politely interested friends before realising that the place was packed out. Basel may not have a whole lot of live music, but people show up for it when it happens!]
Patrick Wolf took the stage alone to applause from the house; he clearly has a fan base here, and after his first song it was clear why. Those who know his work will be familiar with his distinctive voice. And for those who don’t:
It’s fair to say that live, his performances are on another level. A solo performer, Wolf makes great use of loop pedals to reimagine his studio works using violin, harp, piano, and guitars to build the tracks up piece by piece. However, relying on technology like this comes with risks. After a fantastic arrangement of Wind In The Wires, he started getting some pretty major feedback, and the sound team weren’t able to fix it. The rest of the set was unfortunately plagued with technical problems, but Wolf was more than able to charm his way through with talk of Virginia Woolf, Ghostbusters, and why he would like to be a pigeon for the day. His open and understated presence gave the concert a very intimate feel (following the ballad Enchanted, Wolf mused “I wrote this song at a time when I was drinking two bottles of Baileys a day”) which more than made up for the issues with the tech.
I was told that I couldn’t miss this show by my long suffering bff Drum, who’s seen Patrick Wolf before and likens it to some kind of glittery electro-folk religious experience. I was not disappointed.
Hi there! Sorry for the lack of updates lately – despite exams being over, I’m still managing to be super busy. Six days after finishing my last exam, I was straight back into the labs for a “boot camp” in preparation for my industry year in Switzerland. Between these sessions I’ve been trying to sort out my visa for Shanghai, so all in all, not the chilled out few weeks I wanted! I’ve found time to finally play Red Dead Redemption though – been wanting to get hold of it for ages. I realise how late to the game I am with that one, so of course I don’t need to tell you how super-fun it is (you can lasso people!)
That aside, I did get a chance to head over to University of Birmingham’s Valefest yesterday with the lovely ladies Anna of ALMSEE and Rosie (who has yet to get blogging..), both of whom finished the same day as me. Despite a pretty grim weather forecast, we donned the obligatory raincoats, glitter and flower garlands and headed over to the Vale.
Valefest is a yearly music festival run by students at the university, and this year was it’s tenth birthday. With loads of tents, stages and stalls featuring bands, DJs, comedy acts, and workshops, there was something for everyone. We turned up in time to catch Temple Funk Collective, an 8-piece brass section from Oxford, who managed to coax the sun out with their jazz-funk rearrangements of modern tracks. If this sounds like it might be up your street, give their “Drum and Brass” medley a listen:
When these guys had finished, the sun was shining so we sat out on the grass and watched Battle Reenactment Society do their thing. This is exactly what it sounds like (think chainmail, axes and shouting) and after seeing them open the Miscellany Gala earlier this year, I was keen to see them again. They did not disappoint.
After this we wandered over to the food court – there was a good amount of choice, although I was sad to see that purveyors of “gourmet toasties” The Jabberwocky, were absent. They were there last year, and their “4 Cheese Supreme” was one of the highlights of Valefest 2013 for me. We grabbed some sizeable burgers (Quorn! yey!) from the BBQ stall and ate them in the sunshine by the main stage. The Sons of Pitches were playing, who I’ve heard a few times and who are always good fun. An acapella group of uni students, these guys have quite a following. It’s not hard to see why – it’s hard not to smile when you hear them:
After The Sons of Pitches, we were treated to a set from Fresh Dixie Project. The self professed “crossover swing” band were perfect for the festival, and welcomed in the warm evening with their upbeat original tracks.
(Their cover of “I Wanna Be Like You” from the Jungle Book was a standout track for me, although it doesn’t seem to be around online. Anyone who’s heard Paulo Nutini’s version will know where I’m coming from, though.)
Next we wandered over to the Macmillan Stage and caught Signals‘ set. Math-pop/rock always makes for an impressive live show in my opinion, and Signals were no exception. As an act they were tight, and their clean harmonies were a breath of fresh air amongst the plentiful ska/funk bands we heard over the day. Their audience was unfortunately a little sparse to begin with, but after a brief shower drove lots of people into the tent, they had a lot more listeners. The new, bigger crowd was only in part thanks to the weather, though; the sun soon came back out, but no one left. Their song “Constructions” was one of my favourite tracks of the day:
They were followed by Ghouls, a lively band of “alt-gypsy-punks” from London. This was the headline act for the Macmillan Stage, and they certainly went out with a bang. Never stopping to lower the tempo, Ghouls got the crowd going with song after song of short punchy tracks – think Reel Big Fish meets The Meteors:
Finally, closing the whole festival was the Electric Swing Circus. I had heard a lot about these guys – as locals and ex-UoB students, they play a lot of shows near me, but until now I had never made it to one. They more than lived up to the hype. Fusing 20s swing with electro-house beats, the group put on a fantastic show, complete with smoke machine(!). Vocalists Laura Louise and Bridget Walsh had the air of seasoned performers, all twenties dance routines and unbridled sass. They even found time in their set for an electric double bass solo, which is pretty much all I want from a live band. Their new track, “Minnie”, tells you all you need to know:
So, all round, Valefest 2014 was exactly what the doctor ordered – live music, good food, and a few drinks in the sun with friends. Not to mention that all the proceeds go to Macmillan Cancer Support and Trekstock. What’s not to like!
Were you at Valefest? Have you made it to any other great festivals so far this year? Let me know in the comments!
Ears still ringing slightly, I thought I’d tell you about a gig I went to last night (all in the name of avoiding revision, of course!)
Playing at the O2 Academy in Birmingham last night were Blood Red Shoes with support from Slaves and DZ Deathrays – all three bands being two-pieces. Edgy.
First on were Slaves. I’d already looked these guys up so I was keen to hear their 15 second epic, “GIRL FIGHT” done live:
For anyone who first heard Blood Red Shoes as part of the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Soundtrack (cough), it’s hard not to compare Slaves to “Crash & the Boys”. Not all their songs are < 20 seconds long, but these guys really don’t mess around. A self-described “garage punk band from kent”, most of their songs were prefaced with some kind of explanation for the ensuing wall of noise. It was impressive to see a two piece that seemed too large and loud for the stage they were on, and as an opening act, they really got the audience going; I’ll be keeping an eye out for more chances to catch them. And “GIRL FIGHT”? It did not disappoint. (Incidentally, I saw I guy down the front with a “girl fight” t shirt on – if anyone can tell me where I might purchase one of these…)
Next up we had DZ Deathrays. They really had the grunge/garage aesthetic down, and it was a lot of fun. The guitarist had an orange stack which was making a nice sound, but for me last night it felt like that was about all they had to offer. There was the odd catchy riff in thrown in there, but all in all I felt like I was listening to the same track throughout their set. Technically their sound wasn’t as good as the other two bands – the sound team seemed to be running into trouble all night, and there was a lot of waiting around – so maybe this was what let them down. Listening now to their studio stuff, it seems like they just didn’t really deliver as a live band on the night. Maybe that’s one of the limitations of being a duo – below is a great studio track from them. Definitely worth a listen.
After more waiting (apparently “the sound desk was broken or something”), we were treated to a great set from Blood Red Shoes. They came out all smoke and lights, and set the tone for a show that didn’t dip in energy from start to finish. Most of what they played was from their new self-titled album, which is full of not only their most mature tracks yet, but also some riffs that sound really great live.
Their stage presence was understated (guitarist Laura May shyly admitted at the end of their set that they couldn’t match the in-your-face charisma of Slaves) but suited their moody sound, and played well against the lights show, which was delivered by a slightly strobe-happy technician.
As with the other two bands, Blood Red Shoes had ample energy to really fill the room. Overall it was a great night, and everyone in the audience left grinning and sweaty. (Although, at £4.40 a for a pint of Carlsberg, stone cold sober. This isn’t London, O2!)