Sonic Visions 2013 festival review

'A rich trove of live music, waiting to be discovered'

Sonic Visions 2013 festival review

Photographer: Peter CorkhillChris Swindells on 04 December 2013

Twinned with the fast-rising East-London ghetto of Bethnal Green, Esch-sur-Alzette is not the hip side of Luxembourg, if there was one. Like its little Green sister though it has its own stoic beauty and magnificence in its desolate corners, no more visible than at Sonic Vision's Rockhal venue that sits on old industrial wasteland, with relics of industry still casting their shadow over the 8,000 capacity venue. The grand concert structure, less than a decade old, is ideal for stage hopping and all four rooms adjoin neatly in a courtyard where the beers and musical discussion is always flowing.

From the smallest corner of the site, Dirty Crows (7) are making a noise dirtier than you're likely to hear all weekend. Soaked in whisky, infused with Southern rock and with an unexpected appearance for 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)', theirs is a 40 minute set that is as unsubtle as it is loud, like Motörhead trying to play with you through your in your pants.

Across the venue and Benjamin Clementine (8) is pouring his life into a sprawling sonical narrative and animating every plot twist and revelation from behind a grand piano. The former resident of Paris has that continental ear for an aching soul vocal but deals too in witty London vernacular, his hometown clearly adding dimension to an unconventional but emotive style of self-expression.

The headliners at Sonic Visions could hardly be described as animated, or indeed witty, but their reticent attitude warms them to the European crowd, seemingly equal in numbers with French and German as it is Luxembourgers. Hurts (8) take up the first night and shine on what is to be the final night of their 21 date European tour. The main hall of the Rockhal is a cavenius coliseum decorated with metallic grey rafters and needs a big sound, an easy order for the Mancunian duo who deal in sweeping synth pop. Newer singles 'Miracle' and 'Somebody to Die For' ooze sophistication and bring together a Friday night crowd clearly long taken under the Hurts umbrella.

The latter of the two headliners, Sigur Rós, have greater plans for this show (9). Fresh from Wembley Arena and Jón 'Jónsi' Þór Birgisson seems buoyed by the experience, happy to pose centre stage and let his unearthly, ethereal voice do its magic, set against the uniquely raw strings and orchestral arrangements forming behind him.

Their trademark sound shines no better than on, arguably, their greatest hit, 'Hoppípolla' - now unifying in its many international roles fronting advert and TV campaigns, the whole hall seem harmonious at this moment, like nothing else is important but the Icelandic symphony.

Frightened Rabbit (7.5) are seemingly finding less love within Luxembourg. Cherry-picking their favourites from a discography now four albums deep, older singles 'Nothing Like You' and 'Fast Blood' have never sounded better, whereas their latest era 'The Oil Slick' and 'The Woodpile' is far from pedestrian in verse. Frontman Scott Hutchison is nevertheless unimpressed by the feedback and leaves the audience with a short profane tirade ringing in their ear.

For all the travelling international fanfare there's also a rich trove of local artistry to discover. The LUX highlights include Sun Glitters (7), glittering inside a new venue with the warmer moments of Four Tet, hometown heroes Mutiny On The Bounty (8) and the psychedelic ramblings of now London-based Antimatter People (8).

The Sonic Visions evening programme straddles, quite uniquely, the fence between old and new, rewarding patrons with thousand strong 'star name' shows whilst simultaneously offering a bar-like atmosphere in the Rockhalcafe with a earnest selection of up-and-coming names. With a train link to both the centre of Luxembourg City and Esch-sur-Alzette, which is free for ticket-holders, the experience is thoroughly recommendable and in six years this festival has forged its own reputation for keeping its fingers on the musical pulse.


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