Camille Sonar 08
Sónar is like a season in itself. It imposes a new sleep cycle, calls for dietary and wardrobe changes (e.g., “Will my Red Bull fit in these hot pants?”) and, now in its 15th year, comes around as predictably as sunrise. The international event marks a turning point in the year—all becomes divided into a ‘pre-Sónar’ and ‘post-Sónar’ temporal framework for festival loyalists and artists all over Europe, not to mention for the slew of organisers employed by the larger Sónar group who, aside from the festival, are responsible for Sónar Music (the record label), Sónar Online (the magazine) and Sónar Events (the promotional branch).
All of these projects have the same aim: to support and disseminate what they call Advanced Music. And it is advanced—technologically, conceptually—but it isn’t homogenous or exclusionary. The festival’s programming always reflects this, proving that underground (and Advanced) doesn’t mean monotonous nor inaccessible.
In fact, maybe the greatest thing about Sónar is that it’s both the thinking man and the stupefied man’s festival: long days of short films, experimental electronics, museums and performances that fall somewhere between ‘interesting’ and ‘WTF’ give way to long nights of line-ups, warehouse raves, poor vision and the biggest names in electronic music (and, repeat... At essentially 72 hours long, Sónar is an unforgettable, and unforgettably exhausting, experience).
This daytime/nighttime formula generates a broad appeal, if not the artists themselves—most people won’t have heard of more than a handful of the 60 slated to perform this year. Justice, MIA and Madness (that’s right!) don’t require any introduction, but there are a few Metropolitan favourites who could probably use one. Among them are:
Any fan of Camille’s is currently gagging with excitement over her coming Sónar appearance, crossing off the remaining days on the calendar with the shaky-handed dedication of a prison inmate. It’s her singularity that inspires infatuation; born and raised in Paris, Camille is the chanteuse terrible of French pop—both a gifted vocalist and fearless explorer of the sonically bizarre. Her soaring, crystal-clear soprano reveals her standard jazz-club background but her creative mind is a fully-loaded weapon that explodes on everything she touches. Her albums are becoming progressively more eccentric and beat-heavy: her first, 2002’s Le Sac des Filles, most explicitly referenced her early interest in bossanova and musical theatre; on 2004’s Le Fil, Camille’s voice was accompanied only by bass or piano, with whatever sparseness of sound this might have produced filled in with yelps, gasps and fantastically thick vocal layering; and Music Hole, released in April of this year, is something else altogether—suffice to say that rarely are electro, hip hop, gospel, jazz and cabaret so clearly meant to be together. To hear Camille present this new disc in Palau de la Música will be to participate in the making of an “I was there” moment.
People just discovering Kalabrese (née Sacha Winkler) are wondering how they lived so long without him. His debut album, Rumpelzirkus, came out in May of last year, immediately setting the hearts and pens of music journalists aflutter; they dubbed him ‘the great house music defector’ and the best thing since sliced Isolée. It’s hard not to gush. It’s not often that minimal is effected with so much soul. Hailing from Zurich, Winkler has a sensuality not normally associated with either click-click electronica or the cold lap of Switzerland, but his voice and his carefully-constructed compositions have the overtly sexual vibe of Seventies pop: that is to say, disco. A self-professed fan of the genre, Kalabrese’s songs are often infused with its staple ingredients: horn blasts, slap bass, tribal drumming and breathy vocals about his desire to make sweet love or, alternatively, go his own way (“I’m gonna ride my own horse”). But he is, at heart, a minimalist; the flash of disco ultimately isn’t his thing. So he keeps himself in check, never going beyond just referencing the questionable genre. He plays at Sónar Day—a programming move that demonstrates some truly fine planning. Dancing to these beats in the summer breeze will be an unparalleled pleasure.
Hercules and Love Affair
Speaking of disco…Brooklyn-based collaborative project Hercules and Love Affair is one of DFA’s latest acquisitions, and if that’s not enough to recommend them (the US record label is also home to Hot Chip, The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem), just listen to their album—the whole album, not just lead single ‘Blind’. Then get it—you’ll want a copy. Released in March of this year, the self-titled debut explodes like a scandal from the first song, ‘Time Will’ (as in, presumably, ‘Time Will Prove Us as Deservedly Successful as Hot Chip’), and then heads ever deeper into the dimly-lit, sparkly netherworld of Seventies glam. By the time you’re three songs in, the cheesy synth effects are in full swing and you’re surrounded by cowbell. Fun, fun, fun! Headed by DJ and producer Andrew Butler, produced by Tim Goldsworthy (of LCD) and supported by collaborations with some of Butler’s famed New York circle (including Antony and the Johnsons’ Antony Hogarty) Hercules is poised for glory. Those wavering between buying a pass for Sónar Day or Sónar Night could well be pushed over to the dark side by this one.
These three groups alone presage the demanding days to come, as do Tender Forever (a solo artist named Melanie Valera who does a truly inspiring acoustic cover of Justin Timberlake’s ‘My Love’), Yelle (the latest electro-pop sensation from France, a remix of whose hit, ‘Á Cause des Garçons’ has become the anthem of trendy adolescent Paris), Little Dragon (an experimental funk/jazz/sad band from Gothenburg, Sweden, led by the phenomenal and Ann Peebles-like vocals of Yukimi Nagano) and Yazoo (the world-famous, groundbreaking and long-defunct duo made up of Depeche Mode founder Vince Clarke and punk anti-hero Alison Moyet, whose Sónar show, following the April release of a four-disc compilation of their re-mastered classics, will be their first since 1983).
There’s a trend here: girls. The stages of Sónar have gone equal-opportunity. One of the most exciting aspects of this year’s festival is the organisers’ chosen theme: The Female Factor. Sónar’s press release defines this (albeit reluctantly) as the vulnerable and sentimental qualities that inhabit the human soul—and, apparently, the female factor is “a significant presence in the most entertaining, daring and innovative ideas today.”
But the female factor could also be seen as the puzzling problem of the low visibility of women in the popular performing arts, and as Sónar’s response to this. Many of the female artists scheduled to perform are nothing if not atypical examples of femininity—androgynous, precocious and political rapper Tara de Long, for example—while others have the bewitching charm and eroticism that misogynists have long used to vilify women. But behind ‘tomboy’ and ‘femme fatale’ stereotypes are real people and, more importantly in this case, real artists.
What the programming of Sónar 2008 demonstrates is that many of today’s most advanced musicians are females, and that by inviting these women to take part the festival is just sticking to its one true mandate of organising the best three days and nights of the year.