Thursday 12th June 2014 saw the infamously lively city of Barcelona initiate its 20th anniversary of Sonar Festival. Emerging from its teenage years with an impressive line-up to cater for all electronically inclined palettes, it had a lot to live up to.
Sonar Festival is split into 2 events, Sonar By Day taking place in the centre of the city leading into Sonar By Night a shuttle or train ride away. As far as international festivals go, Sonar Festival is not like any we have ever been to before. The Sonar By Day venue can only be likened to a greener more open air earls court with Sonar by Night being made up of 3 air craft hangers linked by tiny open air stadiums.
Amongst the inaugural sets of Sonar By Day that saw wondergirl MÃƒËœ play out to the Spanish sun soaked ravers in the SonarVillage.
Our highlights of the first day were Elijah & Skilliam, who bought East London to the East Coast by introducing Flava D to the Red Bull Music Academy that took its home in the SonarDome for the weekend. Met by a Mexican wave of gun fingers, Flava D’s productions went down a tropical storm. Having gained a lot of momentum recently off the back of consecutive new dance floor classics Flava D did herself huge justice in a short 30 minute set. She was only strengthened by the Butterz boys who took over filling the Dome with a myriad of grime classics, Butterz bangers, and the odd curve ball like XE2 by Mssingno.
Back in the main open air SonarVillage, Machinedrum bought his latest venture Vapor City to the masses seeing him emerge from his state of being a one man band being only supported by a complex combination of iPads and beatpads to a live duo with the addition of a guitar and drumkit, to produce a fully three-dimensional live production.
The second day bought Simian Mobile Disco to the SonarHall who played out an intense set on a sound system that could support their heavyweight status in what can only be described as a velvety red womb of a venue.
Hop footing in between stages found us sitting back in the mid day sun listening to wavily named Hucci filling SonarVillage with his R&B hybrid set to a blissfully chilled crowd in preparation for the god like genius of Theo Parrish – who amazed the Village with a classic DJ set, which raised the energy of the crowd as the sun was preparing to set.
We took this opportunity to check out the well-hyped Despacio area of the festival. Despacio was tucked away above the SonarHall and was specially curated by James Murphy & Soulwax. They had clearly set out to make a unique festival & clubbing experience in which they succeeded. Equipped with a personalised McIntosh sound system, the blacked out room was filled with childish bedroom stellar dÃƒ©cor, complete with glow in the dark stars all orbiting the largest disco ball you have ever seen. The way in which the venue was set out forced you to dance in praise of this disco ball which also made the sound system suitably immersive as they were all equally spread out around the outside of this disco centric mosh pit. Despacio was a special place that was open for five hours everyday of Sonar by Day, which always had a huge queue outside. We hope that Despacio returns next year, as it was a truly magical thing to behold.
Having to drag ourselves away from the mystical Despacio, we rushed over to check out Buraka Som Sistema in SonarDome. The Portuguese act well and truly bought the carnival spirit to the Dome. It can only be described as another festival erupting within the walls of the festival. With so much energy emanating from the stage it was exhausting just watching them, let alone the intense dancing that it provoked throughout the entire venue. Buraka Som Sistema were the only act that we witnessed who managed to make everyone from the back to the front of the Sonar Dome dance quite so erratically. They played out all their hits including ‘Sound of Kuduro’ & ‘Weke Weke’, which blew the spherical roof off the Dome. Complete with a finale in the shape of a half naked female stage invasion, Buraka Som Sistema live is really a sight to be seen before you die.
Cooling down after the intense workout that was Buraka Som Sistema we found our way over to the first half of the By Night portion of Sonar Festival. Kicking things off was Visionist playing out at the SonarCar stage situated in the middle air hanger also housing the indoor Pioneer Bumper Cars (an interesting thing to witness we can assure you).
After what seemed like an urban exploring session orienteering ourselves around the maze of open air corridors, air hangers, and weird conference centre toilet cabins, we stumbled across Kaytranada whose set we only wish we had managed to catch all of as it was full of classic Kaytranada flips which sounded perfect coming out of the SonarPub. The SonarPub uses the term ‘pub’ very loosely in UK terms, as there was not a pint, a jukebox, or packet of pork scratchings in earshot. Kaytranada prepped the crowd well for the Fifa soundtrack and festival favourites Caribou who were met with a screech along to Odessa that could deafen. Whilst although the sun was well & truly set, Caribou could easy have induced a new day when they graced us with the crowd favourite ‘Sun’.
Only strengthening a run of strong back-to-back acts, Todd Terje came out in full force to keep the energy levels elevated not running scared from his suitably anthemic ‘Inspector Norse’. We would like to take this opportunity to commend the lone ‘Whateverest’ ranger who for the whole festival could be seen for a mile off dressed in a white poncho complete with fairy lights in dedication to the short film depicting the unlikely inspiration behind ‘Inspector Norse’.
Following a mood enlightening session of Todd Terje, we were well prepared for 2manydjs DJ set which was disappointing to say the least. Unsure as to how the sound levels managed to degrade so rapidly but the set was at points unbearable, which was upsetting, as their technical genius just was not audible.
Their set was a far cry on the electronic spectrum from our favourite act of the night Richie Hawtin, who was treated like an Adonis at the SonarClub, whose performance was so seamless it just felt like the most pristine 90 minute production to grace our ears.
The night ended well with the official soundtrack for the sunrise bought to the still strong crowd by The Martinez Brothers. Their chemistry never ceases to amaze, with the constant grins exchanged between the two really adding to an already classically energetic House set.
Following on from the madness that preceded the final day of Sonar a highlight of the last Sonar By Day had to be DÃ„M-FunK at the Red Bull Music Academy. The Ambassador of Boogie Funk had a shaky start to say the least. With a myriad of sound and staging issues, it was every present that he is a difficult man to please. After a Kanye West like rant at both the sound engineers and organisers about the state of decks set ups the world over, he eventually managed to get to the point where he was happy enough to start. He treated his set like an education speaking out about his desire to break the LA mould, and just bring good funk to the world. With an interesting hybrid of keytar solos, old school funk 12”, and vocal freestyles, he left the crowd in a state of confusion and joy as he came down to the pit to thank everyone for sticking with him.
Another notable act of the final Sonar By Day 2014 was James Holden who filled the SonarHall with his mechanical electro sound resonating from his modular synthesiser, accompanied by a live drummer and saxophonist. The live techno sound was hypnotising and left the crowd entranced for the full 60 minutes of his crisp, experimental and tantalising performance.
Making the final commute over to the Site of Sonar By Night, we mentally prepared ourselves for Massive Attack who filled the SonarClub tight enough to rival the crowd for Richie Hawtin the night before. Massive Attack bought with them a full onslaught of audio visuals with a set of tilting screens as a backdrop sporadically streaming politically motivated controversial statements in Spanish and Matrix-esque graphics, which complemented their powerful presence. Their world-renowned prowess was omnipresent in every corner of the venue as they barraged your visual and auditory senses with their anthems ‘Angel’, ‘Safe From Harm’, and ‘Unfinished Sympathy’.
Which contrasted to James Murphy over at the SonarPub, who even after having played three full days worth of sets over at Despacio during SonarByDay, was still on top form. However the real sight to behold was Chic featuring Nile Rodgers. A pristinely produced and rehearsed show that would leave any of the new wave of disco producers shaking in their platform boots, Nile Rogers left no Grammy unturned. Opening with a trio of classic Chic tracks ‘Everybody Dance’, ‘Dance Dance Dance’, and ‘I Want Your Love’. Then segueing into a medley of award winning and infamous Nile Rogers productions such as ‘I’m Coming Out’, ‘We Are Family’, ‘Moloko’s Lady’, ‘Like A Virgin’, and not forgetting ‘Get Lucky’, just to name check a handful! The bordering on self-indulgent medley was bought to a monumental finale with a stage invasion for ‘Good Times’, and last but not least… ‘Rappers Delight’. Although backed by an interesting Guitar Hero/Windows 98 screensaver style background visual, the whole set was an event in itself and was the crowning glory of an intense three day long spectacular.
The rest of the night saw controversially named and awkward to talk about in public DJ N***a Fox liven up the SonarCar arena with his Kuduro flavour, as well as Boys Noize blind the last standing ravers at the SonarPub ,with quite easily the most lairy visuals of the whole festival. Who was only to be outdone from a sonic point of view by loud man of the moment DJ Snake, who indeed didn’t let Sonar Club turn down for anything, not even a sit down after three days of violent shape throwing!
Although the full three days of Sonar Festival left us a tired and an emotional wreck, Sonar is a truly unique and special festival. Proudly now wearing its 20 year old badge of honour, Britain could learn a lot from Sonar on how to plough through a real inner city festival.
We would highly recommend going to Sonar Festival next year, but be warned! If you have not got the stamina for three full days of midday to 7am partying, then you may need to just stick to Sonar By Night!
See you next year, Sonar Festival!