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theartsdesk in Luxembourg: The Sonic Visions Festival | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk in Luxembourg: The Sonic Visions Festival

theartsdesk in Luxembourg: The Sonic Visions Festival

The Duchy showcases homegrown and international acts

Bonaparte, from Switzerland: 'A mind-numbing, post-rave quasi-freakshow that have forgotten to write any songs'

Luxembourg's musical landscape has few claims to represent the Grand Duchy itself. Most of Luxembourg's Eurovision entries weren't actually from the Duchy, as there was little local music to draw on. So Belgium's cod punk-gone-blando Plastic Bertrand became 1987's entry (with “Amour, Amour”). In 1965 Luxembourg won Eurovision with France's France Gall's “Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son”, a song written by her countryman Serge Gainsbourg. Radio Luxembourg began broadcasting to the outside world in the 1930s and went on to define the Swinging Sixties until the BBC woke up to what was going on. Then there's Placebo's Brian Molko, who was raised there. But now, in its third year, the Sonic Visions festival is bravely stepping up to make the claim: Luxembourg's own music needs to be heard.

Which is why theartsdesk finds itself in the tiny state with a population of half a million. The economic landscape does the defining, rather than anything cultural. Holding the world's second most valuable conglomeration of investment funds (after America), Luxembourg is a tax haven. There was a thriving steel industry, but money's what it's about now. The cash sloshing around has led to investment in infrastructure and ventures like The Rockhal, which opened in September 2005. Housing rehearsal rooms, venues of differing capacities, a bar/restaurant and a media centre, the monolithic Rockhal is serious in intent. Its grey concrete interiors are more for purpose than comfort. High-end touring acts like Herbie Hancock and Simply Red are coming soon. This is where Sonic Visions is taking place.

Disused_steelworks_opposite_Rock_Hal_01The Rockhal isn't in Luxembourg city, but on the outer edges of Esch-sur-Alzette, the Duchy's second largest and predominately working-class conurbation. The border with France is 50 meters from the complex. In a forbidding industrial interzone of monstrous steel works (a few are still working, pumping smoke out) and empty stadium-sized plots that once held now-demolished factories, arrival at the Rockhal feels like a journey through the opening scenes of David Lynch's Eraserhead (pictured above: the view from the Rockhal). This is a destination venue, and it's the quality booking policy which ensures it pulls people in. The Rockhal is the first stage of the regeneration of this area. A massive university planned for opening in 2014 is under construction on adjacent land.

But still, however grand the vision, however laudable the ambition, the thought is inescapable - just what music is there from Luxembourg?

Sonic Visions seeks to answer the question with three days of live shows and a series of panels and conferences. They've even enticed ex-Creation Records boss Alan McGee here for an hour-long anecdote-ridden canter through his career. His thesis is that excess is needed to produce good music – drugs, alcohol, too much of anything. Could this be the model that Luxembourg's music business might follow? Probably not.

It's amazing to see a stadium-sized show in a bar the size of a high-street branch of Boots

I ended up on a panel as part of "Get to Know Your Fans", a discussion and evaluation of ways to increase fan bases. Loads of obvious things about using all the internet has to offer, social networking, Twitter, and so on were said, but people took notes. A panellist from a German music publisher said one of the acts they work with wanted to return to mail-outs as it would attract more attention then anything submerged in the internet's white noise. Beyond that, nothing new or especially enlightening was said. Although few in number, Luxembourg's music industry was paying attention.

Numbers were inescapable. Of the 26 acts playing over the three days of Sonic Visions, nine were from Luxembourg. The balance was filled out by Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland; Britain, Canada, China and Ireland too.

Vermin_TwinsIn a parallel with the economic world, Luxembourg's homegrown music can be seen as an emerging market. Some of the non-Luxembourg acts at Sonic Visions were tough competition. Switzerland's Bonaparte are a costumed, always moving, mind-numbing, post-rave quasi-freakshow that have forgotten to write any songs. Whatever the shock value, this circus was overwhelming, relentless and ruthlessly professional. Also nodding back towards rave were Belgian duo Vermin Twins (pictured left), little more than a laptop bloke and a dancer. More interesting and fun were China's Pet Conspiracy, a half-female, half-male quartet fronted by Helen Feng, Time Out Bejing's 11th coolest local rock star (pictured below). The complete article, Pet Conspiracy were full-on and engaging. With dashes of CSS and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and blobs of synth pop, they're a fine ad for what China might have on offer.

Pet_ConspiracyFrom closer to Luxembourg, French three-piece Jamaica sloughed off the laboratory-cold Phoenix/Justice/Daft Punk hybrid of their recent album and concentrated on being a rock band live. Clipped, melodic and direct, they might have wanted to represent this version of themselves on album. Canadian trio Young Rival charmed with their Gang of Four-ised take on the Magic Numbers' harmony pop and don't really fit in with anything going on right now. Which is something that can't be said of Germany's Jacob Brass and his dead boring James Blunt-with-a-guitar songs and his pedestrian band. Still, he did attempt to get the audience singing along. Belgium's Mintzkov were more fun, a new wave-influenced outfit with chugging Cure-like melodic songs. Just as Pet Conspiracy stood out, Ireland’s Wallis Bird shone. Playing a stage squished at the end of the Rockhal's small restaurant/bar she tore onto the stage and blazed from the get-go, breaking guitar strings and singing as if playing to thousands. It's amazing to see a stadium-sized show in a bar the size of a high-street branch of Boots. The Waterboys and Paul Brady bubbled up in her folk rock, but force of personality wiped out any thoughts of anything but Wallis Bird.

With its carefully broad range of non-local music, Sonic Visions is telling locals that this is what they can aspire to

Some of Luxembourg's bands were much more tentative. Three-piece Metro's live set moved from straightforward synth pop to something this close to Pulp. “Do You Remember the First Time” is a classic, but does the world need a re-written Luxembourger version? Although Mutiny on the Bounty were similarly in hock to existing templates with their efficiently anthemic, riff-laden Emo/metal they would go down a treat at any festival. The tricksily named Sug(r)cane melded trip hop to moody shoegazing, but the reliance on programming and a computer meant their live set lacked focus. Streets ahead were Hal Flavin, a stylish three-piece from Esch-sur-Alzette that refracted early Midge Ure-era Ultravox through an almost hardcore punk edge. Although it sounds unpromising, their set-closing overhaul of Eurythmics's “Sweet Dreams” was terrifically compelling.

Some gentle prodding revealed that – more numbers – Luxembourg is home to 200 bands, 60 of whom are active. With its carefully broad range of non-local music, Sonic Visions is telling locals that this is what they can aspire to, this is where they might go. And with Hal Flavin, Luxembourg can be confident that there's already a local role model. Luxembourg might not be on the musical map yet, but Sonic Visions is gamely pushing things along. What a great use of Luxembourg's money.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Watch Hal Flavin's "Uplift":

Could excess be the model that Luxembourg's music business might follow? Probably not

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Comments

"Also nodding back towards rave were Belgian duo Vermin Twins (pictured left), little more than a laptop bloke and a dancer" @ Kieran : You obviously didn't see their show if that's the only thing you can write about them. They were a singing, talkboxing, keyboardplaying & bassplaying duo with a fresh new sound and also a handfull of great songs. It's a pitty that journalists these days are too lazy to watch a band or inform themselves about it.

This is really a poor review, It's sad that reviews have come to 2 lines of non-information, I mean either you admit you did'nt see it or You write something with a point of view. Nothing about Luxembourg band " Metro" ? you were still at the bar or at the toilet? And by the way Jamaica was playbacking all of their vocals and you didn't notice it? I saw them three times and checked out their FOH mixer @ work , and yes they are definetely singing under a "produced" vocal track that runs along. Oh well, I guess journalists will always be around.

no, that's a good review.

don't quite follow the comments, the 'journalist' clearly was there and did bother to 'check out' these performers. How many other so called specialist music publications have covered this event ? If you feel differently about an artist, your perogative and equally valid, but to call someone lazy for actually being there and watching is bizarre. Personally the main point about Luxembourg's emerging musical scene, it's redistribution of wealth towards the Arts is very interesting...and strikes a note of optimism unlike the Uk which is intent in cutting off the Arts without a penny.

Rather than general reaction - who knows from what sources? - wouldn't it be more helpful for Mr. Tyler to answer the specific charges in the first two entries? Clearly he has written much more than '2 lines of non-information', but if his facts are wrong he needs to acknowledge or counter that. Oh, and your word verification is just bizarre. Not only are those nonsense words, I can barely read them...

Ok this is not a bad review, but It's not great either...Fact is that the author of this article only talks about the non luxembourg bands that evening (Metro?), and that Vermin Twins was indeed a lot more then "just a laptop bloke and a dancer" ...But hey this is musicbizz so indeed be glad the review is up here and there's a positive message going out from the article.

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