Last month we had the privilege to attend the 30th edition of Sonar. Here are some notes and our picks of the anticipated madness.
The iconic event hosted in Barcelona showcases an eclectic but curated mix of certified legends as well as cutting edge acts in electronic music, art, and culture. Originally beginning as a vanguard festival on the fringe of the scene, these days it has a globally known clout, but stays principled to incorporating local artists while interrogating electronic music and art on a broader stage. The numbers speak for themselves: 120,000 attendees throughout 3 days and 2 nights, and more than 250 activities including concerts, masterclasses, conversations, installations and presentations. As with every year, it is impossible to see everything, but we present a sampling that encapsulates what we feel is the essence of Sonar – that is interesting, to say the least. With our work cut out for us, lets get into it.
Celebrating 30 years of alternative and groundbreaking music, Sonar had a lot of expectation to live up to and they surpassed it by booking more than a few acts up to the task. Across several days and locations within the festival we got taken on a ride to remember, a stand out performance from Oneohtrix Point Never was as innovative as expected and more – especially considering one year prior he had to cancel his appearance in this city. The event was absolutely worth the wait. At Sonar Hall, with visual accompaniment of Nate Boyce, who also became one of our top picks this year, we saw the presentation of his show ‘Rebuilds’. We managed to pack in close for a spectacular seat to this experience, where Daniel Lopatin wizarded his way across many apparatus, the rhythmic motions of the music obligated the crowd to different phases of emotion and dance. And the wink to musique concrète throughout his different interventions unfolded a third voice that would resonate even deeper. It felt hypnotic, otherworldly and (retro) futuristic.
Ryoji Ikeda presented ‘ultratronics’, a new set of compositions based on material recorded in the ’90s, released last year in Noton. Ryoji always manages to craft a sound that is new and hypnotic with trippy geometrics speaking to the minimalized chaos. There is a storytelling effect to Ikeda’s work although so minimal in visual presentation, if a star ship could convey itself across its infinite journeys perhaps it would sound like this. We never cease to be amazed by this glitch hero.
Sonar Complex always deserves attention, our favourite stage is the ideal place for the experimental and cutting edge, and events that may demand a more detailed focus can be taken in from the seated theatre. Among our favorites there was Klara Lewis and Nik Colk Void presenting their new album ‘Full On’, accompanied by sublime visuals from Pedro Maia. Maybe the most emotional moment of the festival is owed to the delicate yet profound handling of the exploration of drone and textures from Lewis and Void.
Saturday also had its great moments there, with the dazzling Alba G. Corral, whose spectacular visuals got taken to another level accompanied by Carles Viarnès. And the talented Lucrecia Dalt, who offered a very special scenario to show us all of the possibilities of percussion with a whimsical touch.
And yes, one of the main attractions of the 30th anniversary of Sónar was Aphex Twin, who had just started performing live for the first time in 4 years a few weeks ago. It took place at Sónar Club, the main stage of Sónar Night, event that gathered more than 70.000 people in its 2 parts. It was our first time seeing his show in an indoor setting, and probably the most packed experience, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying an intense set that had all the elements to turn into one of his epic performances: tracks from his old Soundcloud account, unreleased music, a new version of Xtal, several brain-melting momentums, an ending with a piece of Drukqs -his celebrated album from 2001-, and an ace stage setting and visuals from Weirdcore, not using live footage from the audience like a few years ago. Aphex Twin’s live show has been evolving non-stop and can definitely adapt to different scenarios, and he knows what to do in a massive rave situation, blowing everyone’s mind away in the process.
As with any great festival lineup, there are the unknowns that surprise us and are sure to be looked for in future programming. With Sónar this is even more of a guarantee since there is a focus on local and under-the-radar acts as much as the big names. Such was the case when we wandered into SonarHall, beaconed by the sounds emanating inside to find one of our favorite surprises: Perera Elsewhere performing ‘Home’ with a live band and visuals from Hugo Holger Schneider. We found an elite cross-genre jam session punctuated with a specific narrative with tinges of trip hop, ska, downtempo and electro. We give extra applause to the drum solo of Toto Wolf.
Also new on our radar was Ralphie Choo, a true click of eclectic here carried through with etheral melodies played live by string performers. Ralphie Choo was our bedroom artist resident traversing a catalogue as vast as the Internet in our time with him on the dancefloor, while managing to keep things interesting without overwhelming. The set closed with a surprise treat with the up-and-coming madrileño producer Rusowsky, who was also featured at Sónar this year.
Lolo & Sosaku present ‘The End’: The mood had quite the shift on Saturday when Lolo & Sosaku broke our brains, a car windshield and all sense with a spectacle of noise with an elaborated setup to tinker with, featuring a hydraulic pump, cigarettes, and endless machinery. We won’t forget “The End” anytime soon.
The irreverant Russell Hasswell offered up an early DJ set for a late night crowd that was absolutely performative and full of noise and provocations, this proved to be very unexpected for parts of the crowd who had come prepared for Âme b2b Marcel Dettmann. Delightful.
Moor Mother & Kode9: In a more toned down moment at SonarAgora, we witnessed short yet profound presentations and conversation from Moor Mother and Steve Goodman (Kode9). There we found deeper meaning and playfully theorized about Escapology vs. Escapism; previously in the festival we experienced Kode9’s audio-visual presentation of the album Escapology. Moor Mother also performed an excerpt of a spoken word performance, as a part of the Black Quantum Futures collective, she utilizes free jazz, spoken word and other methodologies to trace the non-linear of time, space and histories, and to challenge the past-future-present. We were left impacted by the experience amidst the high energy of the acts. “Sometimes we feel like we have to be validated to then speculate. What is Future? What is Joy?” (Moor Mother)
To warm up the festival at Sonar Village we got into it with Sergi Botella, a well known figure in the Catalan scene and the perfect primer for a 3 day intensive. The following day we danced to Crystal Murray and her unique sound. Adding vibrancy perfectly suited to the Sónar Village stage in live band mode, complete with Murray dressed with a possible homage to Joan Of Arc, the vibes were absolutely lush. Our personal favourite from the stage was the takeover of 2manydjs invite Peach & Tiga, even more appreciated since this was the last minute change up for some prior cancellations. The result was the four DJs spinning together for the first time, and we heard classics from Tiga (such as Louder Than a Bomb), some Soulwax and an expertly remixed list of favourite old school tracks.
We left with a renewed energy – inspired by the innovation in sounds we had experienced.
Review by A. Sixta & Paranoid