Reviews

Sónar Barcelona: 16 - 18 June 2011, Spain (Friday)

Alex Baker
M.I.A. Photo Credits: Jessy Boon Cowler

One of the advantages of both the Night and Day editions of Sonar is that, as opposed to your normal festival format, it is quite easy to make your way between stages and thus line-up clashes are less profound.

Sónar Barcelona

City: Barcelona, Spain
Date: 2011-06-17

FRIDAY

Switching the order of proceedings round, Day Two began instead with an Off Sonar party and ended with the closing of Sonar by Day. Hosted at the Miramar bar on the side of Montjuic, one of the two ‘mountains’ to be found in Barcelona, legendary Berlin club Watergate and online music store Whatpeopleplay (who seem to have ousted last year’s sponsor, rivals Beatport) combined to throw the Secret Villa party, featuring You&Me, Tiefschwarz, Seth Troxler and Heidi among others. Walking out into the blinding sunshine onto the elevated terrace overlooking the whole of Barcelona and the harbour to the sound of James Blake’s ‘Limit to Your Love’ was one of those moments which will remain in the memory for quite some time. Berlin DJ’s You&Me’s set started things off perfectly, as the place began to slowly fill up. They have cited their love of the deeper side of music as the main influence on their sets, playing electronica, techno, house and dub, and it was the gentle and eclectic performance which slowly drew people away from the periphery, and peaked with the playing of Gill Scott Heron & Jamie xx’s Summer 2011 anthem "New York Is Killing Me".

Troxler

Moving off the terrace to lie on the grass beneath a tree amongst other refugees from the unrelenting heat with Tiefschwarz DJ’ing in the background was an experience in itself, and the moment was summed up beautifully when Radiohead’s ‘Everything in its Right Place’ floated down from above. As the venue filled out, the atmosphere and the music became livelier. Although not initially scheduled to appear, Seth Troxler was a late addition to the set-list and one which was most welcome. The Detroit-born but Berlin-based Troxler’s brand of up-beat house music lifted everyone and drew people out of the shade and onto the dance floor, the steady 4/4 beats and uplifting melodies suiting the surroundings perfectly and providing a refreshing break from the bass-heavy music on offer almost everywhere else you turned. The curse of being unable to be in two places at one time struck though as just as things got going, Sonar by Day, and more importantly, Four Tet beckoned.

Four Tet

Making the 30 minute walk back to Sonar, we arrived just in time to see Kieran Hebden start his set. Having already established himself as one of electronic-music’s greats with his early album Rounds, he, along with Dan Snaith (Caribou) seems to have caught the dance-bug in recent years and as such his live sets have moved away from glitchy and experimental affairs into beautifully constructed and epic performances. One friend had joked prior to the festival that by only giving him an hour slot, it would encourage him to ‘get on with it’ rather than indulge in his usual habit of taking his good time moving between tracks. However an hour, if indeed he had been given an hour as opposed to the 45 or so minutes he was given here, is simply not enough when it comes to watching music of this calibre be performed. One of the beauties of Four Tet is that he doesn’t ‘get on with it’, and takes meticulous care with everything that he does, allowing him to build his performances into intense and deep constructions that are greater than the sum of their parts. As such, the limited time given did not have the effect of snappier mixes, but rather resulted in only allowing him to play three discernable tracks. He began with the danciest tune he has ever produced, the epic "Love Cry" off his most recent album There Is Love in You, before moving onto "Pinnacles", the fantastic effort from his collaborative release with Caribou’s alter ego Daphni. SonarVillage was the most packed it had been, and would be all weekend as the crowd surged to and fro in time to the music for one of the best performances of 2011’s edition. As his set criminally came to a close, he all of a sudden drastically sped up the tempo to 160-plus BPM to usher in "Spirit Fingers" off of the aforementioned Rounds which sent the crowd absolutely wild.

Four Tet Crowd

Alongside the disappointing decision to have Nicolas Jaar, Apparat and Actress all playing in the limited-capacity SonarHall, is the propensity of the Sonar organisers to put some of the festival’s main acts on at the beginning of Sonar by Night. When you take into consideration the fact that Sonar by Day draws to a close at around 10pm, and that Sonar by Night commences at 11pm, the Herculean task of fitting everything you need to do in a day into the time given is made all the harder by a minibus service to Sonar by Night that is plagued by 30-40 minute queues, and the fact that you have 10,000 or so taxis servicing 80,000 festival goers. As such, plans to kick off the night-time festivities with some classic synth-pop in the form of The Human League were dashed, and indeed we only arrived in time to catch the very end of one of the acts I had wanted to see most, Trentemoller.

Anders Trentemoller has moved on from the darker and more stripped-down 12” orientated music of his earlier years and now plays with a live band, putting on bombastic, loud and altogether rockier live shows. This was no different, lighting up the night sky on the outside SonarPub stage, with bright lights and loud guitars, crescendoing with their rendition of "Moan". The 10 minute Trentemoller hit was at the same time equally thrilling and disappointing, as the enjoyment was tempered largely by the disappointment of having missed the preceding 50 minutes.

Trentemoller

One of the advantages of both the Night and Day editions of Sonar is that, as opposed to your normal festival format, it is quite easy to make your way between stages and thus line-up clashes are less profound, as even the furthest apart stages are no more than a five-minute walk away. In contrast to the quaint and beautiful setting of Sonar by Day, Sonar by Night’s venue is a gargantuan building complex and is essentially the biggest warehouse party you have ever been to. Divided into four sections, SonarClub, SonarLab, SonarCar and SonarPub, all four areas combined cover approximately 10,000 square meters [over 100,000 square feet], with SonarLab and the larger SonarPub being located outside. With impossibly high ceilings and such a vast floor space, it is hard not to feel like you have stepped into another world and are attending a Borrowers rave in a garage.

Conscious of having just missed a large chunk of one set, we made our way across the venue to SonarPub to ensure we arrived in good time for M.I.A.’s performance, the results of which were doubly pleasing. Not only were we assured of a good spot, but also had the pleasure of enjoying an unplanned, but extremely enjoyable set by Moombahton DJ Munchi. Originating in New York in 2009, Moombahton was spawned by the slowing down of a track called "Moombah" to the speed of Reggaeton and has been steadily gaining pace ever since. Munchi, hailing from The Netherlands, is one of the chief proponents of this new genre and his set was one of the best featured at the festival, with beats reminiscent of a mash-up between Reggaeton, Kuduro and other Afro-Caribbean dance music styles, cut with sonic samples and clipped vocals, demonstrated perfectly by his track "Sandungueo". It is a rare, but special sight when the biggest smile to be seen during a DJ set is the one plastered across the DJ’s face.

M.I.A.

As the set wound down, the air of excitement in the room grew in anticipation of the performance from one of this year’s more ‘populist’ heavyweights. As the stage lit up, with huge visuals of Hindu iconography setting the backdrop, M.I.A. stormed on, with bleached-blonde hair and sunglasses. Starting out her set with a slew of hits including "Galang", "Boyz", "Bucky Done Gone" and the particularly well received "Paper Planes", things gradually progressed as she moved into more experimental territory in what seemed to be an attempt at electronic credibility. It was a move which was a bit of a shame, as she is essentially a pop act and in attempting to portray herself as something that she isn’t, her credibility was undermined somewhat. Nevertheless, she put on a great show, shouting out her lyrics, tearing off her trousers to reveal patterned hot pants and doing her utmost to throw herself into the front of the crowd.

M.I.A.

M.I.A. Crowd

Next up, it was to SonarLab to see Katy B, dubbed by The Guardian as the "Queen of Dubstep". Standing somewhere between chart-pop and the dubstep wave which has well and truly overtaken the UK, the last year or so has been highly successful for the South Londoner, so successful that this was her second performance at the festival, having performed earlier that day at SonarDome. Cited by one YouTube fan as “the only ginger with soul” she confidently tore the stage up to an adoring crowd, belting out songs about going out clubbing and meeting boys, or as Time Out Barcelona so eloquently put it, soundtracking English ‘chav’ culture. Quite. Her confident performance peaked with her biggest hit so far, "Katy on a Mission" and ensured that her appearance at Sonar was not at all out of place.

Depending on your standpoint, the next act to perform highlighted what can either be portrayed as Sonar’s great strength or great weakness in terms of the diversity of artists on show. Aphex Twin needs no introduction, and indeed the vast majority of acts featuring at Sonar this year owe him a debt of gratitude, as his eccentric touch could be, particularly after this timely reminder, seen in almost every performance. His doubly catastrophic and precision-laced sonic assault demonstrated his genius, layering repetitive beats, interspersed at one point with a breathtaking harmonic interlude and Gregorian chant, only served to emphasise how relevant he still is.

Aphex Twin

The end of the night provided the first true line-up clash as Tiga and James Murphy went head to head on the closing slot. After much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth, Tiga won out. As the sky slowly turned from black to grey, the Canadian brought to a close the first night edition of Sonar. Although disappointingly lacking in any sit-down stunts, his performance was expectedly fun and was the perfect way to round off proceedings, the highlight being his classic "You Gonna Want Me", where his aggressive dropping of the beat halfway through the chorus sent the crowd delirious time and time again.

Tiga


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