IDM was there to soak up the sunshine and basslines. Here’s what went down…
What struck me first was the eclectic mix of people— the tattooed Spaniards in their shorts and designer shades; the painfully pale British kids; the electronica geeks whose pretention was perfectly offset by the hoards of gorgeous woman in their bohemian-chic festival outfits. Whoever you talked to had one thing in common: they wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world except Sónar.
Walking into Sónar By Day is one of those festival experiences which has few rivals. Becoming familiarised with the clean, austere architecture of the MACBA and CCCB (two galleries) and each of the 5 distinctive stages really makes you feel like a kid in a candy store. The next step is to rush around trying to see all the acts you’ve highlighted on your programme – and then realising that you’d need to split into at least two people to see all the acts you want to see! The plethora of music, the infectious excitement of the crowd and the excellent venue makes Sónar by Day a truly extra-sensory experience.
When we arrived Floating Points was spinning a cocktail of sexy disco and downtempo house. Then on to SonarDome where beat scientist Kidkanevil was dropping a bad-ass blend of dubstep and instrumental hip hop. Later, Little Dragon’s lead singer Yukimi Nagono redefined the term ‘stage presence’ with her soul-wrenching vocals and percussion. We then ventured into the cavernous SonarHall where obscurity hunters stared wide-eyed at Open Reel Ensemble (Japan), a group who constructs their music by playing sounds, melodies recorded on magnetic tape reels. South African wonder-kid Jullian Gomes made us beam with pride as he closed the jam-packed Red Bull Music Academy floor with his South African flavoured deep house. We see big things ahead for Mr.Gomes.
That night the official opening concert featured the works of world-renowned composer; ‘godfather of minimalism’ Steve Reich – who wasn’t there in person due to bad health, so we decided to give that a skip and save ourselves for the next two days of mayhem.
Day 2 the festival shifts into gear and the venue is noticeably busier; the beats a touch heavier.
Sónar by Day
We started at SonarDôme where we caught a wicked set from cool-as-ice DJ Zinc who made his name in Drum ‘n Bass but has since shifted to his own style of dubstep/house beats (which he describes as ‘crack house’). Next England’s new diva of dubstep and pop, Katy B seduced the crowd with her angelic voice and the support of a full live band. To my surprise, a huge crowd had filled the open-air floor SonarVillage to see Fourtet, one the artists on my must-see list. His live set blew me away: familiar Fourtet melodies over crunchy tech beats, gradually building up to a manically fast finale. Discodeine, a duo from France played some dirty and deep tech house in the SonarDome and they join my “must-google” list. We then ventured into the subterranean SonarHall which was well-suited to Ghostpoet’s melancholy rhymes. He performed with his laptop— recording vocals, creating loops and manipulating them live during his set. This was, in my opinion, the top Hip Hop act of Sonar. Check him out.
Sonar by Night
The Sonar by Night venue is constantly described as an aeroplane hangar and when we arrived we understood why. The exhibition venue Fira Gran Via space is immense. Again, the night time’s festivities are divided by the 5 stages each with a unique look and outstanding lighting and sound.
Trentemøller’s live set was the night’s top act for me. The Danish producer performed with a live ensemble and vocalist amidst eerie stage props. On the main stage, over-hyped headliner M.I.A gave a lack-lustre performance but this was counteracted on the SonarPub stage by Dizzee Rascal who blew the roof off. At one point, the thumping sound managed to bump the DJ’s table right off the raised platform, leaving the CDJs and mixer dangling from the table! But Dizzee took it in his stride and simply shouted “Quick! Make a video! YOU TUBE, YOU TUBE!”. Next up Die Antwoord on the outdoor stage. I asked the guy standing next to me what he thought and he replied “they have really cool music videos but their music is crap”. Waddy and Yolandi didn’t impress me much either. The final act for the night was A-Trak (5 time World DMC champ now collaborating with Armand van Helden). He had all the gimmicks: a tuxedo and a massive 3D stage set-up in the shape of an A, but the nature of his performance – a turntablism and house combo didn’t quite convince me. At half past 3 in the morning you really want to dance rather than concentrate on technical cuts, scratches and beat juggling. Just as the crowd was beginning to enjoy a track, A-trak was cutting and juggling and breaking its flow. Technically, the man is a genius but I felt as though his set would’ve worked better earlier in the evening.
We rolled into the last day at Sonar with shades on and heads a little heavy from two previous days of madness. We arrived at Sonar by day quite late and only caught the tail end of the day’s festivities, sadly missing the third and final South African act ‘Shangaan Electro’. From there we caught some tapas in the Gothic quarter, a famous section of Barcelona just outside the venue and then hopped on the Sonar bus to Sonar by Night. As we approached, the whole bus erupted into cheering and applause – everyone shouting ‘Sonar, Sonar, Sonar!!’ . Despite mass exhaustion after two solid days of partying, the enthusiasm hadn’t faded. Little moments like these add a lot to your experience.
Despite my scepticism, Underworld were very good live and stirred up a lot of buried memories with their nostalgic anthems. The Gaslamp Killer, who I’d been dying to see (and who’d been hyped-up a lot by the media) was set to play at 2.15am, but his manically energetic and eclectic performance didn’t manage to excite the crowd. Obscure Japanese rock from the 60’s wasn’t quite cutting it. Luckily we discovered Austrian DJ Clara Moth on the Sonarcar floor who delivered the goods. Magnetic Man (dubstep “supergroup” made up of Benga, Skream and Artwork) was up next on the main floor. I’d also been very excited about seeing them but found them very boring and subdued. Their emcee kept bellowing into the mic and there were long uncomfortable silences between the tracks. Their set lacked the energy required to rock a 35,000 strong crowd at two in the morning. Most of the crowd streamed off the main floor in favour of a crisp techno set from Paul Kalkenbrenner who rocked a packed outside floor. The final night seemed to be plagued by line-up oversights, but this didn’t detract from an excellent collection of acts overall.
The faultless organisation and attention to detail makes Sónar a pleasure to attend, but perhaps Sonar’s greatest strength is the diversity and quality of its line-up. By placing of the more experimental and ‘out-there’ acts alongside well-established artists and presenting this cross section of global electronica as one event— it creates the sense that all electronica is connected; as are all it’s followers. In my mind this is the point of music festivals and I felt truly enriched by the days and nights I spent with Sónar as my host.
Photography By : Paul King
Written By : Heather Mennel