Sonic City 2012.

Sonic City 2012.

Let me start by making a confession: though I’ve loved Suuns ever since I heard them first around two years ago, I’d hardly heard of any of the bands on their curated line up for this year’s Sonic City. At first I planned on checking out each and every band thoroughly, but in the end I listened to the mixtape (put together by De Kreun) only a couple times. At which point I took the executive decision to make it a festival of genuine discovery.

I figured that, if I loved Suuns so much, I’d definitely like at least a few of their picks. Here follows my experience…

Having been to De Kreun several times before, it is no surprise to be warmly welcomed. A venue known for its friendly approach and passion, at Sonic City it’s all about the music and none of that commercial shit you often have to endure at festivals/ venues in general. No complaints so far, then!

Having sadly missed the first act on the bill, Jerusalem Is In My Heart, due to public transport issues we kick off Saturday with Valleys. Valleys are a girl/ boy duo making murky electronics that sound ethereal and dreamy, whilst at the same time dark and noisy. They rattle off a rather enjoyable set, though never manage to fully convince. It all feels too much like something seen before somewhere or other…

Next up are the intensely anticipated Each Other, who clearly bounce off each other’s energy – simpering faces abound. It’s always good to see bands enjoying themselves on stage, but if they sound really tight on top of that then, well, it’s an absolute joy. And that’s exactly what Each Other do. The vocals have a very distinctive sound that’s probably not to everybody’s taste, but I can’t get enough. Their music sounds both playful and thoughtful, and in doing so demonstrates some great promise.

Naytronix, in the starkest of contrasts, are a strange bunch to say the least. Whilst two of them wear matching t-shirts, the third member wears an ethnic-looking vest that’s a polar opposite. Their vestiary choices reflect the music they make: mismatched. Nothing sounds quite right, and everything just blends into everything else. There’s nothing that makes them stand out in many respects, and their every track sounds just as unexceptional as the previous. Naytronix fail to leave any impression at all, and will go down as the blandest band of the weekend.

In the past, Demdike Stare’s sets would often be entirely soundscape-based but tonight is definitely different: there are some beats that lean further toward the feel of techno, and their heady builds prove phenomenal. To say that they are the surprise of the evening would be a gross understatement. The pairing are located by the side of the stage and have gigantic visuals being projected right down the middle, so it’s obvious where you should be looking. The whole experience is literally like watching a movie. It’s all very consciously thought out, and works just perfectly.

Not long after the curators themselves take to the stage. Suuns have been hanging around all day making conversation with anyone and everyone wanting to engage in it all, and are evidently thriving off of their curatorship.

Their set is a perfect mélange of old and new, this old tweaked and reworked ever so slightly. Though they haven’t toured in a year, they sound absolutely grand. Seeing Suuns for the fifth time now, it feels as though they’ll always come back better and stronger than before.

Closers of the day are Fuck Buttons, who’ve been away for a while, too. Having heard beforehand that they’ll be premièring new material, the band is awaited with great anticipation. It ends up being a total mindblower. So often electronic acts have nothing to offer live, but Fuck Buttons are different. There’s so much to behold on stage (there’s an impressive amount of wires to be seen, for one thing) that you’d almost be distracted from the primary purpose of it all, but for the music’s vigorous ability to throttle the attentions of all. Flawless transitions from one song to another, thrilling new material, and stuff that gets your body moving – it’s all there, and it’s all sublime.

Day two, and I also manage to miss the opening act (blame Sinterklaas this time – Google that one) so the first artist witnessed is Lucrecia Dalt. A solo act with just a guitar and some sampling, there’s little on offer to enthral. Her songs are sparse and simple, but miss a certain something. Quite what that is is a pulse I struggle to put my finger on…

Matana Roberts is also a lady doing it solo, though she manages to rivet to a much greater effect. Playing an experimental sort of jazz and asking the audience to interact makes for an act that is all the more exciting. Perhaps Dalt ought ameliorate her interpersonal skills?

Onwards: I had often heard people compare Suuns to Clinic though I hadn’t actually ever listened to them previously, thus it took until Sunday to hear what they were all about. As ever, they scrubbed up as demoniacal nurses – suitable to their name. A couple of songs into their set, and that which everyone has insistently been noticing becomes clear though Clinic are a much more straightforward band, and experiment with different kinds of instruments (a clarinet, par example). All in all though, they sounded a bit flat and uninspired.

Then there’s Tim Hecker: one of the most noteworthy exemplars of the ambient biosphere, he likes to approach his live shows in different ways. He’s been known to play entire shows on church organs, his spine to the audience all the while. This time, however, he opts for a pitch-black room with his illumined face peeping out from behind a laptop. Demdike Stare had proven on Saturday that that’s not necessarily a guarantee for a dull show. Unfortunately for Hecker, that said, it did work out that way. His live shows seem a bit hit and miss, and this one just left us disenchanted, in all honesty. Probably better experienced in an alternative context…

Beak> played two supreme sets in London recently – which we duly frothed over – and this one was no different. Very much worth catching live.

Ending the night in pathos, were Swans. No band comes across as impressive and heavy as Michael Gira et al., that you have to give them, but the whole thing should’ve been cut short half an hour. Two hours just felt too tiring, and sometimes you’re just left feeling the impulse to push the proverbial fast-forward. Other than that though, the perfect ending to a festival that undulated between highs and lows like a Fuck Buttons behemoth. Space Mountains, or Olympians, or any other for that matter. And with that, we’ll be keeping a close ear on next year’s Sonic City…

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