Sonar Festival – Barcelona
I’m still not entirely sure how I managed it, but for a short period I was able to flee my window-less bunker and somehow assimilate myself amongst the Beautiful People, who, for the record, were all to be found last weekend at the Sonar Festival, or to give it it’s full name – the “Barcelona International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art.“
Sonar was celebrating its 15th year, and typically it was doing so with a line-up that most normal people wouldn’t bat an eyelid at, whilst dj’s and dance music boffins were to be found genuflecting in awe. For those that don’t know, Sonar is a festival of two halves: there are three full days of fashionista posturing and the odd music performance in the centre of town, but once darkness falls, the action relocates to two full nights of sweaty hedonism in a vast warehouse complex on the outskirts.
Having swiftly dealt with the naïve mistake that is Ryanair, I carefully selected one of my choicest, most esoteric tee shirts, collected my craftily-blagged press pass, donned a pair of ridiculous sunglasses and made my way to the festival..
The first day is traditionally a bit slower than the rest, as people ease into the mood of the place and get their bearings a bit. After a couple of beers we found ourselves watching the rather energetic XX Teens in a tent outside. The highlight of the day however was the ZX Spectrum Orchestra – half an hour of scratchily nostalgic electronic bleepery composed entirely with Spectrum computers (I’m assuming the 48k model). The 2 performers announced themselves as Clive-1 and Clive-2, danced a sort of sub-Kraftwerkian shuffle, and at one point played a hilarious short film called Red Box which “contained half the information of a standard email” and sent me crashingly back to a childhood of wrestling with mis-placed commas and error codes.
After a quick freshen up and a tummy of tapas, a lack of a Sonar by Night meant it was off to the Thugs’n’Hugs party in town. Hyped Young Things – Rustie and Hudson Mohawke were both on hand to deliver their dubstep-influenced hippety hoppity sounds, and the bulk of attendees seemed to be made up of excitable Glaswegian teenage girls. Rather amusingly though, clearly the music (excellent though it was) wasn’t popular with the locals, and a cupboard-sized side-room was soon teeming with Catalonians dancing to some chart friendly happy clappy house.. Good for them, I guess. When we eventually discovered that a vodka and coke cost 10 Euros each, and that we had used our free drink tokens, it wasn’t too long before deciding to call it a night.
Day 2 was gently eased in with some of the mellow sounds of Quiet Village before making a pilgrimage to the Ninjatune / Counter records showcase. J Mountain had the crowd up and moving to some fidgetbloghypehouse-type stuff by the time we got there, with plenty of Herve / Sinden tracks, a bizarrely bassy remix of the Carpenters, and the always pleasing acid edit of Windowlicker. Next up was Daedalus – a man who understands the meaning of the word Performance and dresses like a fine dandy. Using a magical box of lights called a monome, he controls his macbook to chop and change the music.. I tried to film a bit of his captivating show, but realised far later that my camera was on “time lapse” setting. Still, it’s worth a look just to see how dynamic one man alone on stage can be!
A short while later, he returned on stage with his wife to perform as The Long Lost – a folky 4-piece act. The kindest thing I can say is that they’ve got potential, and singer Laura Darling’s obvious nervousness was infectious – I’m sure they will find their feet in time.
Witnessing the androgenous Tara De Long shouting “Business!” for several minutes was a strong enough signal to head back and get ready for a big night out..
Arriving at Sonar by Night for the first evening was like catching up with a long-lost friend. It is pretty hard to describe the immensity and sheer unadulterated scale of the place, suffice to say it is absolutely massive, and home to some of the loudest noises known to Earth. I was suspicious of the somewhat incongruous inclusion of Madness on the line-up, but within seconds of them coming on stage it all made sense as they made a bouncy, energetic, and well recieved start to the night. Next doors, Mary Anne Hobbes demonstrated to the naysayers that she could actually mix, and a wall of bass nearly knocked me over as some wobbly dubstep charged out of the speakers. Diplo was next on the agenda, and he seemed to be keeping his b’more tendencies in check by playing several euro and electro-house tracks. By the time he was finishing up, the main hall was getting pretty crowded with Justice fans, and an airing of MIA’s Paper Planes mixed into Dead Prez’s Bigger than Hip Hop got the audience reaction it justifiably deserved.
Justice were without a doubt the biggest and most-anticipated act of the entire weekend, and their live show pretty much met all expectations..
Closing with their remix of “We Are Your Friends . .” whilst teasingly only playing snippets of the vocal had the entire place with hands in the air and singing along.
After a bit of fresh air, it was back inside to see Boys Noize djing – I can’t say there were many surprises, but it was as solid and entertaining as one would have expected. At one point, he played Outlander’s rave classic The Vamp, and the rest of the night became a bit of a blur…
That is, apart from the big Big BIG surprise of the night when the expected dj set by Erol Alkan transpired to be a surprise set from Ghent’s finest, 2ManyDJs.
I can remember being rather happy about this revelation, but the best part of a litre of cheap vodka prevents me from recalling much else, beyond shuffling home in the morning sun, totally elated, bemused and vocally wondering if a little old Spanish lady was one of the infamous Ramblas whores I had heard speak of..
My head hurt on Saturday afternoon, and most of the rest of me did too. A misguided idea to hide in the cool and dark of the SonarCinema resulted in me enduring animated clips from Osaka which, at the time, seemed sent from the very bowels of Hell to torment me.
Curiosity in the sound of Skwee led me outside to see a Floggsta Danshall showcase, but its plodding nature and my fragile state failed to convince me other than to head back to the apartment for a bit of a lie down.
We got to the 2nd Sonar by Night just in time to catch the live performance of DeLorean fetishists Neon Neon, who were a lot of fun: some great visuals, and tongue in cheek 80s pop. Things took a bit of a turn when guest vocalist Har Mar Superstar appeared on stage and squealed atonally for about ten minutes, but he’s not on the album, so no lasting damage has been done.
Morbid curiosity led us to go and see a bit of Miss Kittin’s show – I honestly don’t understand her appeal, but they seem to go crazy for her at Sonar. Still, she did what she does, sang a load of (slightly out of tune) hardcore-porn rated filth over some techno, and we consequently made for the main auditorium for what I had been looking forward to the most- Soulwax live.
Soulwax are touring to promote a documentary dvd called Part of the Weekend Never Dies, and their current live show largely involves the 4-piece live band performing their remixes of other people. Let me just say right now that their performance of Daft Punk’s Robot Rock that segued into Justice’s Phantom pt.2 was practically tear-inducing. To speak colloquially, they absolutely SMASHED it, and already I’m counting the days to see them live again at the Summercase Festival in July. In my mind, no-one comes close to what they do these days, and if you have the chance to see them live I strongly urge you to pursue it.
Inevitably, the rest of the night was to be an anti-climax after that, and Radioactive Man was no exception: what should have been a great live show off the back of a brilliant new album was unfortunately a bit half-hearted, and decidedly crowd-unfriendly.
Next up was Jeff Mills and “Mad” Mike Banks (of Underground Resistance infamy) working together under the name “X-102.” Having two of the biggest (and oldest) names in techno music should have been a storming affair, but after about 15 minutes of bubbling ambience and an audience’s waning patience, curtains pulled across the stage and the music stopped. . . Ten minutes later, the curtains opened again, and the act started from the very beginning again. I suspected at the time, and have since discovered it to be the case that there is a concept album somewhere in the works – I think the show might have fared a lot better had the audience been a bit clued in on the concept though. I really wanted to enjoy this show, but it left me a little bit cold, so curiosity compelled us to see what Ed Banger’s enfant terrible SebastiAn was doing outside.
Well, to put it succinctly, he was pleasing the crowd!
I’d heard talk that he wasn’t much of a dj, but technically he seemed absolutely spot on, as he mixed from anthem to anthem and whipping everyone into a frenzy – Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up, Wink’s Higher State of Consciousness, The Gossip’s Standing In The Way of Control, and so on.. Even a canny interlude of Pharoah Monche’s Simon Says Get The F*ck up had arms in the air. He finished his set with David Bowie’s Life on Mars, and the ironists in the crowd had their lighters aloft. By this point, it was 5am on Sunday morning, the night sky was beginning to lighten, and it seemed like the perfect way to say a fond and exhausted farewell to Sonar 2008. My time with the beautiful people in the sunshine was over, and my cave beckoned…..
– 2Manydj’s surprise dj set, and their subsequent live performance as Soulwax.
– Justice, SebastiAn and all the Ed Bangers proving that their reputations are well earnt.
– Some outstanding visuals and light shows throughout the weekend.
– Daedalus’ quirky show – its nice to see something a bit different!
– Barcelona is a beautiful city populated almost entirely by beautifully relaxed people..London could do well to take note!
– Oh yes, free stuff. That’s always good.
– The no-shows: Toddla T; XXXchange; Erol Alkan, you all stand accused.
– Drinking far too much vodka may seem like a good idea at the time, but you will live to regret it, unfortunately.
– The Euro is defiantly strong against the pound at the moment, so things in general just ain’t as cheap as they once were.
– Ryanair. Just say NO, kids.
– Jeff Mills ought to have been a lot better.
The Big Tunes
Fake Blood – Mars. Destined to be massive It is also incredibly cheesy and reminds me in no small way of Age of Love.
Justice – Phantom pt2. Potentially a different remix played by every different dj all weekend.
Armand van Helden – Je T’aime (Switch remix). Another massive anthem in waiting, but this time with added police sirens.
Feist – My Moon My Man (boys noize remix). Slightly older than the rest, but still worthy of a decent crowd reaction.
Needless to say, I took loads of slightly skewiff photos over the weekend,which can be seen if you click on this link, should you have the patience and the interest, of course…
Edit: My good friend and Co-Sonarian has a proper camera, like what grown ups use. His vastly more focussed pics can be seen HERE.