An eclectic range of acts played out Sónar on Friday evening, including Chilean producer/DJ Matias Aguayo and German techno DJ Gerd Janson. Despite the sun and the sounds of Santigold blaring outside in SónarVillage, the slightly gloomy indoor setting of SónarHall filled up in anticipation of singer-songwriter and, of course, talented musician, John Grant. Walking out onto a stage flooded with pink and blue laser lights, Grant sported his usual modest attire; black shorts, a black cap, an old t-shirt and some trainers. For some who haven’t witnessed him in action before, Grant’s piano ballads may have seemed like an unusual choice for the end of Sónar’s daytime festivities. However, the array of funk, synth, disco and soul on his latest album, Grey Tickles and Black Pressure (2015), made for a hip-shaking performance.
Impressing the crowd with his Spanish, Grant awkwardly introduced himself, his jolly laugh creating an immediate rapport with the crowd. His music essentially involves him spilling his heart out through his lyrics, filled with heartache, loneliness and rejection, sometimes accompanied by an upbeat bassline and often a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor. Opening the show with the beautiful piano intro to ‘It doesn’t matter to him’, it outlines his thoughts on how adulthood has given him a more positive outlook on things. He is getting better looking with age, he sings to crowds all over the world, but the irony is that despite all this he can never win back his lost love. Grant’s literal lyrics make even the most cynical amongst us question how life pans out.
Things got a bit funkier, when then the deep bass line of ‘Snug Slacks’ boomed through the speakers. Grant’s theatrical performance of the sleazy storyline about 40-somethings that are a bit out of their depth on the love scene livened things up. The title track, the name of which comes from a translation from Icelandic and Turkish, 'Grey Tickles' meaning ‘mid-life crisis’ and 'Black Pressure' meaning ‘nightmare’. The song is a reflection on the state of the world and where he sees himself within it. His inability to understand the what’s happening in the news, and that although he is 47 and HIV positive, there is always something worse, something to outdo him on the sympathy scale. Grant’s live performance constantly reminded us of his skills as a lyricist, musician and anthropologist.
‘You and Him’ is a harsh put down, aimed at people who cause hurt for no reason. It's a cutting song, with references to historical tyrants such as Hitler, Pol Pot, along with lyrics like ‘You’re so sweet I really love how you hate. You seem like someone they should chemically castrate’, allowing Grant to vent his anger. Despite the strong message, the song got the crowd and Grant shaking their hips, and he’s a real mover.
The beautifully, wistful lyrics of ‘Queen of Denmark’—‘I don’t know what to want from this world’—got fists in the air, emotions flying and heads banging. The strange combination of piano, with an almost heavy metal course, was reminiscent of Queen; a comparison which seemed more obvious at the live performance.
The grand finale was epic with ‘Disappointing’, another funk-filled tune from his latest album. Grant made sure to encourage the crowd to do what they came for, to get involved and dance with electronic beats encouraging everyone to shake it as much as Grant. Although his dance abilities, at times, resembled those of a drunk uncle at a wedding, his lack of inhibitions got everyone involved. Followed up by the very much awaited GMF (Greatest Mother Fucker), it was a chance for us all to sing our hearts out.
‘Voodoo Doll’ was the perfect disco finale tune. A mixture of soul, disco, funk and synth, it’s what every song should be made of. There wasn't a still body in the house.