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Sonic Router

Sonic Router 013: Sonar Review
Oli Marlow , June 24th, 2010 08:13

Our dubstep guru Oli Marlow sets sail for Spain in his pedalo, in order to bring us these sun dappled words from Sonar...

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On paper Sonar Festival in Barcelona is a dream. It takes place in mid June, and by day is housed in the museum of modern art and its grounds, with the festival organisers packing the three stages full to the brim with interesting and experimental beats producers - powered mostly by the Red Bull Music Academy and its legion of talented attendees. By night the festival takes over what is basically a series of airplane hangers on the outskirts of the city, curating the three stages with the best acts across the spectrum of electronic music, everyone from Roska, Joy Orbison and Flying Lotus meet the Chemical Brothers, Dizzee Rascal, Caspa, Plastikman and Booka Shade on adjoining stages. The 2010 edition of the festival was much more than it’s on paper description though, proving to be a debauched and beautiful tirade of great music and great memories.

The whole vibe of the city during Sonar is infectious; reams of bars, tapas spots and pavement corners are coated in music lovers, the glorious weather soaks everything in a sheen that simply feels 100% significant and isolated to this 4 or 5 day period; and bar the lime green lanyards sported by the festival goers milling around Barcelona’s awkward, thin streets it’s not obvious that everyone is there for simply for the music. In fact a lot might not be there for the festival, but for a bunch of the numerous off Sonar parties that pepper nightclubs, hotel roofs and secluded beaches around the same time as the festival – a glorious subculture that often holds more than the festival can accommodate.

For example Kode9’s Hyperdub party by the harbour at Club Mondo on the Thursday night held one of the most salivating line ups: sets from Darkstar, Cooly G, Ikonika, Kode9 himself were supported in the second room with people like Guido and the Nod Navigators signed Mweselee. Packed into a rigid and affluent venue it’s always one of the first places to go off every year, with a thick bass presence and free poured though super expensive drinks; the previous years it played host to Flying Lotus’ seminal Brainfeeder jam amongst other legendary happenings.

The day part of the festival split its wares, with the bigger, open air stage housing acts like Uffie, Nedry and bands like New Young Pony Club - it feels like the spot to relax, to lie on the astro turf and soak up the cloudless sky - but despite its glorious openness and adequately weighty sound; it’s often not the one. Sonar Dome - the tented stage powered by the Red Bull Music Academy - this year saw a hell of a lot of the same regular faces over the three day programme; packed with people invested in the beats movement and way beyond into the wider spectrum of bass music. Landmark slots from Pursuit Grooves – whose low end loaded hip hop album, ‘Foxtrot Mannerisms,’ released recently on Tectonic makes a whole heap more sense when its loud with her raps positively boomed at you – Australian producer Dizz 1, TOKiMONSTA, the veritably incisive Rinse FM DJ Braiden and Eglo Record’s first lady - and the possessor of one of the most classically beautiful voices in modern soul music - Fatima, riddled the first two days but the stage really came alive on day 3.

Sets from Space Dimension Controller – whose lush house rhythms and sporadic bursts of funkafied brilliance were the perfect soundtrack to a long supressed hangover – and the Lucky Me affiliated, 808 obsessed Lunice – whose on stage dance antics, improvised crowd interaction and all around energy will no doubt be a highlight for many of those in attendance, perfectly set the pace for one of the undoubted highlights of the entire festival’s programming: Numbers resident and mechanistic DJ, Jackmaster. Again bringing his own blend of selection, flicking from Robin S’ 90s anthem ‘Show Me Love’ to Ramadanman’s forthcoming Swamp 81 a-side ‘Work Them,’ it’s enlightening and satisfying to see a person you’ve done the funky march alongside numerous times absolutely tear it up in front of thousands of people, closing what was undoubtedly the livest edition of the daytime antics.

Nosaj Thing’s AV set within the museum, lodged deep in the basement of the place is another thing destined for the personal history books. Following King Midas Sound’s static drenched intensity with his own mixture of swung hip hop drums, seething melodies and flashing symmetrical lights, he put in a whopper of a performance dropping jaws with his relatively laid bare performance, relying purely on the power of his music and a selection of colour schemes to engage the ample crowd.

By night Sonar is a completely different beast. The intimacy, tiny flecks of personal musical genius and the heat are gone, and the daunting size of the venue looms over everything. With three stages, two outdoor and one undercover that reportedly holds 44,000 people, the size of the thing is hard to imagine but once you’re inside its endlessly impressive, massive stages – with the crowds to match - clear and weighted soundsystems that’ll house everything from big room techno to borderline pop (Roxy Music a case in point). Getting there incredibly late by any standards is never advised when the line up holds stages curated by bass music’s female overlord Mary Anne Hobbs and play host to a who’s who of bass music, but making it in time for Sugarhill Gang is a plus and a universal smile many festival goers will take away from the experience for a long time to come. A no holds barred set of funk, classic covers, big hitters and ‘Apache’ simply made for one of the most satisfying dances of the weekend, one that was only really paralleled with Spencer and Jackmaster’s back to back set at their Sunday night Off Sonar jam at Razmatazz.

Saturday night’s Lucky Me curated stage held it down in sterling form too with performances from Machinedrum, a last minute slot from Lunice after complications forced Mike Slott to cancel, The Blessings and Éclair Fifi who went back to back with the elusive, masked man, John Computer. Despite the crowd forcing themselves into the pulsing cavern of the main arena for a high proportion of the stage times owing to a performance by a couple of dudes called Chemical Brothers, the Lucky Me guys kept the pressure up with a delightful and bold showcase of cutting edge electronica. Their foreign guests Lunice – here recounting the same energy he displayed earlier in the day, dancing, rapping along to his set and even staying on to host the rest of the crew’s antics with Hudson Mohwake collaborator Olivier Daysoul and Machinedrum - who’s set veered smoothly through the wierd, to the boom bap to the Baltimore club – we’re highlights and even though a proportion of The Blessings set seemed to get lost in the grandeur and space inside the four walls of the open air arena, it was still a great achievement to put the damn thing together so well.

Rounding the festival off with a fierce and intimate rave duly dubbed ‘Something Very Very Epic’ by the co-promoters Numbers, Butterz from the UK and The Bus and Desparrame from Spain; was probably the best thing someone besotted with low end could do with it boasting an impressive collection of the UKs finest; Warp signed Rustie, Hemlock boss Untold, the ethereal Deadboy, Punch Drunks RnB infused Guido and one of Rinse FM’s most refined grime contingent Elijah & Skilliam. Whilst the turnout seemed those that made it took the festivities to an entirely different level, upping the already impressive amount of energy and fun to something a little short of ridiculous.

June 16th – 21st really was something of epic proportions; elevating it from previous years effortlessly. The organisation, the risks taken on the programming of the smaller stages and the setting – when combined with the beautiful weather - meant that even after being turfed out of the accommodation after one hour’s sleep and nothing short of a phenomenal intake of alcohol the night before the memory of the festival still can’t be scuppered. It’s hard to not remain sentimental when the crew of revellers you go with make it one of the most easy going, hilarious and all round enjoyable trips in years; and for what it’s worth it’s those memories that’ll stay ever clear for a long time to come, but without the bustling setting, the atmosphere or the music it’d be just another extended weekend of liver abuse, cheap cigarettes and great tapas.

Words: Oli Marlow for Sonic Router