Sonic City Festival, held in early November in Kortrijk, was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. With an interesting mix of international bands and artists with line-ups that were carefully curated by Cate Le Bon and Shame, the event followed the model of All Tomorrow Parties with prolific panache.
In what was the twelfth edition of the festival, whose previous curators were of the calibre of Thurston Moore (2017) or Beak (2013), Sonic City the definition of a laid back and a comprehensively thought through music festival that combines some terrific performances with a cosy venue.
For three days Sonic City brought out music that cannot be easily seen altogether, even at famous summer festivals in the country. The concerts took place across three stages while we could only attend some of the late shows on Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday kicks off with the appealing young Belgian band Whispering Sounds and led by an androgynous singer with a magnetic voice. With clear inspiration from Joy Division and Ian Curtis (for vocal parts and drums) but also from The Cure and Robert Smith (for the sound of guitars and synths), the band sounded precise if not particularly reinventing the wheel. Nonetheless, from the main stage, they crafted a show that worked masterfully, extending the great legend of gothic depressive music, as on their hits Got a light and Hollow. Unexpectedly, the public was more and more electrified by the show, principally due to the singer and the reason was twofold; her voice stifled from the first note and she spasmodically moved like a lioness in a cage.
Up next, it was the turn of Cate Le Bon, one of the festival curators. The Welsh singer-songwriter is one of the best living representatives of art-rock. She reached the main stage flanked by five musicians and altogether pleased the audience for more than an hour with hits from the last album Reward as well as other singles from previous works. Indeed, even is she admittedly wasn’t the best name of the evening, she was warmly welcomed in these parts because of her eclectic approach to pop music. Her richly arranged songs sound tasteful on stage, with an almost no-wave-like bass loop here or a touch of folk, a kraut groove or a staccato-sounding saxophone, but somehow they always elegantly complement into each other.
We closed the day with Thurston Moore’s group, who enchanted the public, mostly made by the many Sonic Youth fans (who writes is one of them). Thurston’s guitar sound is of obvious paramountcy and was unsurprisingly perfect. The warmth of the metallic chords reverberated through the valvular amplifiers with the correct set distortion knobs represents Thurston sound trademark. Accompanied by his band, they gave more than one hour taste of Spirit Counsel released earlier this year. This uninterrupted musical voyage mesmerised us although he only allowed us to ascend to a limited extent.
On Sunday, it was the turn of the volcanic Mykki Blanco, of whom we could understand his wacky attitude, to say the least. Astonishingly, we were wrong as the rapper was even more reckless. Known activist for LGBT rights, Mykki Blanco is a creative rapper and his songs portray important political messages usually touching inequalities in terms of gender, ethnicity and sexism. During the whole show, he energetically moved left and right, hopping down the stage, creating spaces among the public and wandering around without a goal while rapping. The cherry on the pie arrived when he smashed a chair on the floor synchronously with the beats.
The night closed with the Atlanta quintet, Deerhunter, came to make a gracious concert. A special mention goes to the immense (in every sense of the term) Bradford Cox, who looked like someone who just woke up on stage. He explained that the shabby look was the fault of Cate Le Bon since she left him after regularly touring together on the last weeks. Deerhunter concert delivered an absolutely remarkable warm and spatial sound. Widely dedicated to their latest album, Why Has Not Everybody Already Disappeared? the concert remained compact, with Bradford Cox limiting his speaking time to leave room not only for brilliant pieces (such as Death in Midsummer) but also to long soundtracks, engulfing at irregular intervals a hypnotized crowd. Here lies the great strength of Deerhunter, in the ability of the group to fill the spaces without ever exceeding, to have their music propagating endlessly in every direction.
Finally, according to Elisah Vandaele, one of Sonic City organisers, “…Our organisation Wilde Westen looks back at this edition as one of the best Sonic Cities we’ve had over the last 12 years. This was the third time in our new location Depart and we really feel we finally found & feel the location as our own. Regarding organisation and production: everything went really smoothly and we’re so happy everything worked out so well.”
Sonic City hosted around 3000 music lovers across Belgium and north of France and is not like any other festival. Its music selection, was an assembly of the various post-rock and alternative bands in circulation, with some winks towards both synth and darkwave and the most genuine punk and hardcore scenes. As Sonic City 2019 concluded, we couldn’t be more excited for next year’s event.