For the 20th anniversary of Sónar Barcelona, there was the promise of a new venue for the three daytime segments, a revised layout for the two nights and huge anticipation for an event that prides itself on innovation. Headline acts such as Kraftwerk, Pet Shop Boys, Paul Kalkbrenner, Diplo, Skrillex and Major Lazer indicated the organisers were prepared to mix the old and new, while the introduction of Sónar+D offered more interactive elements than ever before. From Thursday, June 13th to Sunday, June 16, more than 121,000 visitors from 102 countries visited Sónar for an edition that sets it up well for another 20 years showcasing advanced music and new media art.
Sónar by Day
Walking up to the new Sónar by Day venue of Fira Montjuïc by Plaza Espanya, the vast conference centre made for an imposing perimeter compared to the previous venue in the heart of the city centre at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA). The MACBA had become been reached the point of almost heaving at the sides in recent years yet in moving to the vast Fira Montjuïc, the festival organisers made a huge leap of faith that the crowds would both follow and grow. Stepping out into the SonarVillage courtyard where Tutu was providing deep grooves to get the early starters in the mood, the benefits of the venue move were obvious.
While the astroturf remained, the size of the focal area of By Day was at least trebled with the stage in one corner helping to split the Village into three. A trio of huge multi-coloured canopies offered shade from the blazing sun with a bar under the great structures at each end and the middle canopy making for the perfect shady section to sit and listen to the music while viewing the stage away from the main crowd. A pair of screens on either side of the stage ensured better visibility of the acts while a series of food stalls at the opposite end were served by benches and tables under the nearest canopy. This was the new heart of Sónar by Day, erasing the gridlock of MACBA. Fira Montjuïc would go on to be packed out every day by late afternoon, but never became a struggle to get around or find a place to dance.
Just to the left of the entrance to Sónar by Day, there was a hive of activity. Inside were the new SónarComplex and SónarCinema, both in seated auditoriums, however the busy people were those concentrating on the music hack day – a two-day Sónar+D event lapped up by music lovers and artists keen to engineer a new generation of music applications. The media marketplace featured handheld theatres, giant colour-changing robots and other innovative products while in the SónarComplex Wooky and the Videocratz were kicking off the forward-thinking performances. Wooky’s trippy beats were matched by the range of visuals Videocratz manipulated on the screen. Onlookers were treated to planets terraforming before their eyes as the deep sounds evolved, marking a futurist start to Thursday’s music.
The SonarHall almost shook as EVOL’s poings were dished out singularly at first and then in short, sharp bursts for the full gabber experience.
In the Village, Tutu’s set continued to compliment the mid-afternoon sun with Booka Shade’s “In White Rooms” and Daft Punk’s “Giorgio by Moroder” as a group of girls danced – fittingly – in tutus just in front of the DJ booth. The funky dubstep of Fantastic Mr Fox would follow, and I ducked out after half an hour to see what Roc Jiménez de Cisneros and Stephen Sharp – aka EVOL – were going to do in their 30 minute slot. Having previously mixed more than 100 hardcore gems in less than 50 minutes for FACT Magazine, their promise to explore Gabber’s “Poing” sound was even more bizarre than it sounded. The SonarHall almost shook as the poings were dished out singularly at first and then in short, sharp bursts for the full gabber experience. Strobes flashed to amplify the experience before Stephen Sharp took to the stage in a rabbit outfit to bounce around the stage like a loon, much to the delight of the crowd. Like some crazy dancefloor trip, the EVOL crowd were a mix of thrilled and baffled, but it was smiles all round when the final poing stopped reverberating around the room.
Back outside the cheeky house of Gluteus Maximus gave the ears slightly more conventional beats before Gold Panda provided an elixir of dreamy organic electronica that washed over the rapidly increasing masses in the Village. His hypnotic set was one of the highlights of the day as he won the hearts of fans old and new. French singer Sebastian Tellier was next, earlier spotted wandering the courtyard admiring the site and being chased by admirers – he’s still got it. The debonair performer was in a chilled mood, perhaps because of the soaring temperature, getting on his guitar and piano without too much excitement, though he did strut around the stage in typically pompous fashion dressed in suit and shades.
Up in the Red Bull SónarDome Metro Area were packing out another new space with disco vibes to an appreciative crowd – the old venue’s marquee would have struggled to hold even half of them and their set was going down a treat. Better was to come for after an interlude from Bestival curator Rob da Bank with some party bangers, Village headliners Lindstrøm & Todd Terje got behind their equipment for live cosmic disco from Norway’s (and probably the genre’s) finest. Terje’s “Inspector Norse”, the pair’s “Lanzarote” and a cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” crowned a magnificent day of music and made for a venue warming that must have had the Sónar bosses patting themselves on the back of a job well started.
Sónar by Day
During Sónar week, Barcelona becomes a clubbing mecca and energy must be reserved at all times to make the most of even the Sónar events, so the Day was given only the briefest of visits in anticipation of the first By Night of 2013. I arrived just in time to see the techno of Diamond Version in the SonarHall, and it proved to be one of the sets of the weekend as their industrial sound blasted out with a dedication to minimalist construction and maximum impact. In the Village, German duo Modeselektor took control of the vast crowd with their mix of techno, electro and hip hop but it was already time to make a move to Sónar by Night for the start of the pioneering German electronic group Kraftwerk.
Sónar by Night
The Sónar by Night venue at the Fira Gran Via L’Hospitalet remains the most suitable event space for such a large-scale night of music requiring cutting edge production, so it was fitting that when Kraftwerk took to the stage, the revellers were eagerly filling the main space – SonarClub – donning their 3D glasses ready to enjoy the show. Opening with “We Are the Robots”, the arms of the red-shirted mannequins on screen seemed to reach out across our heads to impressive effect and the souped-up retro tunes began to gain momentum. Hits such as “Man Machine”, “The Model”, “Autobahn” and “Computer Love” were met with rapturous whoops and applause. As they each stepped back from their equipment and walked off the stage, the night was well and truly rocking.
Turntablists C2C had a deck apiece melding techno, hip hop, R&B and funk.
After Kraftwerk, we found Eats Everything mixing the house in the SonarPub and dipping into drum and bass when his remix of Adam F’s “Circles” broke out into the original mid-track. Two Door Cinema Club followed him for an indie dance tip that Sónar always seems to serve around 1am. Closing track “What You Know” confirmed they were not intimidated by the dance dons around them, and proved the crowd were as ready to rock out as they were to make shapes. Meanwhile, back in the SonarLab, turntablists C2C had a deck apiece melding techno, hip hop, R&B and funk. Seeing them in action was a baffling experience: trying to work out how they could read each other’s vinyl actions was as much fun as listening to their music.
Maya Janes Coles got Richie Hawtin’s ENTER. segment of the night started in the Pub with her subtle blends of house, but we took a break to see how Skrillex performed in the Club. The vast room felt cramped as what seemed like the whole festival squeezed in to see the young American step into his DJ booth before stomping into an eclectic set that somehow veered from techno to dubstep to reggae and back to dubstep with possibly the most lasers ever seen on stage at once. His booth lifted itself from the stage into mid-air as the Barcelona-shirted Skrillex yelled at the crowd, clearly relishing every moment. It was a brave choice for Sónar chiefs to pick Skrillex that seemed to be well-received on the night. Back at the Pub Richie Hawtin was well into his closing set of stripped-back minimalist tunes combined with the sunrise emerging over the stage and a burst of ENTER. confetti providing an exuberant finale.
Sónar by Day
For the final day energy was conserved for the night, but a few acts were still seen at Sónar by Day, The Chromatics were getting arms punching the air in the Village while in the Hall a rarely-seen Jackson and His Computer Band was giving hints of what to expect from his new album. Stood behind a set of custom-made equipment that looked like a mix of arcade controllers built for a spaceship, his dense electronica buffered ears, featured only the slightest hint of “Arpeggio” and evolved into a gabber-friendly dancefest by the end much to the delight of the crowd. New album Glow released in September is the follow up to his 2005 debut Smash, and looks to be well worth the wait. Mary Ann Hobbs and AlunGeorge saw out a relaxing sit down in the Village for the group as we discussed strategy for By Night, then we made our way home for a recharge.
Sónar by Night
Following up Kraftwerk’s impressive set on the Friday was always going to be a tough task, but the Pet Shop Boys are fellow synth veterans who proved they are just as well loved even though they occupy the poppy end of the electronic music spectrum. “Opportunities” was played early, yet they chose to dedicate the vast majority of their set to newer music including 2012’s Elysium and the forthcoming Electric with a wild stage show full of elaborate hats, costumes and dances. The most striking image was that of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe wearing discoball hats that beamed light across the crowd, while the biggest cheers were reserved for their back-to-back sing-alongs at the end of the set including “Go West”, “It’s a Sin” and “You Are Always on My Mind.” Those wondering how the Pet Shop Boys would fit into such a fast-paced setting as Sónar by Night were shown their high energy show is as dancefloor-friendly as anybody’s.
Those wondering how the Pet Shop Boys would fit into such a fast-paced setting as Sónar by Night were shown their high energy show is as dancefloor-friendly as anybody’s.
Basque band Delorean fulfilled the alternative dance band slot on the Saturday, their post-punk tunes kicking off a long stint in the SonarLab which would take in the house of George Fitzgerald, the Jamie Jones-led Hot Natured, the interplanetary funk of Maceo Plex and the charismatic Seth Troxler, but it proved a disappointing night as all but Fitzgerald played well within themselves. Despite featuring the talents of Jamie Jones, Lee Foss, Ali Love and Luca C, Hot Natured seemed disjointed and even a cover of Azari & III’s “Hungry for the Power” fell flat, while Maceo Plex never hit top gear. Seth Troxler seemed busy pleasing his own ears so we made our way into the SonarClub for Luciano where the Cadenza label boss was laying on the music far more effectively, especially when he dropped a driving techno remix of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” which ensured those listening to his set left with a smile on their face.
For a 20th anniversary, it seemed fitting that Sónar signed off with a song from an album that has brought so much attention onto electronic music this year, as Sónar continues to dedicate itself to the cause so succinctly. The new By Day venue was a resounding success that will enable the event to grow even further, and surely there will be further enhancements to look forward to in the 2014 edition.
Next year’s Sónar dates have been confirmed. Sónar Reykjavik :: 13.14.15 February, Sónar Tokyo :: 12.13 April, Sónar Mexico City :: 16.17 May, Sónar Barcelona :: 12.13.14 June, Sónar Cape Town :: 16 December. For more information go to www.sonar.es.