Data Transmission Does Sonar Barcelona
More than anything, and I can’t stress it enough: Sonar is massive. The festival brought together a record number of 121,000 visitors and the venues, one of which was an aircraft hangar, were no-where near full. This year Sonar celebrated its 20th year as a festival at the forefront of the electronic music scene. With its strong emphasis on progression and the celebration of the new, Sonar is generally considered a vital backbone to the electronic music community and industry, and acts as an important propeller and resounding choir for the entire culture. This year saw various changes and additions to what had gone before, which themselves acted as a solid representation of the festival’s tradition of growth and advancement. In order to facilitate its growing audience the daytime venue was moved from its previous location at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) and Centre for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) to Fira Montjuïc in Plaça d’Espanya. This year also welcomed the introduction of Sonar+D: an interactive section of the festival that, in its collaboration with the Mobile World Congress, added a professional dimension to the whole event.
I arrive on Wednesday 12th June, having given a whole-hearted two-fingers to the French air traffic controllers as I flew over France. Due to their – frankly, negligent – strike on the 11th and 12th, thousands of flights not only to France but flying over France were cancelled, delayed or re-directed, causing havoc to the majority of Sonar’s visitors. Wednesday is the inaugural night of what is dubbed OFF Week: an onslaught of parties that surround the official Sonar festival and thrive off the energy that descends on Barcelona for the week. Running on empty after more than 10 hours of travelling, I head out to the Electric Minds and Mono Cult party at BeCool, a relatively small underground club on two levels and only a short taxi ride from La Rambla. The place is rammed with an excitable British crowd, none of whom seem to be able to stay put. Finally, with the chattier crowd chatting outside, Move D lays down Cape Fear and gets the dancing crowd dancing with a string of down tempo bassline followed up with tracks like Dusky’s Nobody Else.
The next morning, Thursday 13th, sees the start of Sonar proper. The main stage is called Sonar Village and is a huge open air courtyard with three walls, Astroturf, shade, picnic bench seating and plenty of bar space. Gold Panda is playing out his new album undercut with heavier techno sounds, where tracks like Brazil, Junk City II and 2010s You stand out. There is something incredibly uplifting to his music live and in the sunshine – which, not surprisingly, in the office on the headphones, you can’t grasp fully.
As well as the forward thinking line up of performed music, there was also rich alternative program thanks to the addition of Sonar+D. Personal highlights were the various live interviews and panel discussions. Resident Advisor’s Will Lynch hosted an interview with Detroit techno innovator Derrick May; an intimate affair where the man himself told stories and mused on the difficulties of the industry today.
The Red Bull-hosted SonarDome – a huge rectangular room with concrete walls, a concrete floor and little to zero charm that was bizarrely reachable by escalator from SonarVillage – would soon become my second home. Metro Area were etched into my schedule with almost as much ferocity as Kraftwerk and I emerged on the escalator to hear them dousing a happy crowd with shimmering disco. What is it about disco? The pair managed to whip up a mad-keen crowd out of nowhere. With a new lease of energy I leave Sonar after Metro Area, hop in a taxi, and head to the FACT x Mobilee Pool Party, put on as part of OFF Week.
The one thing I would suggest as an essential for OFF Week is an iPhone (or any other brand of kick-ass phone). Barcelona taxi drivers – as friendly as they are – are not London taxi drivers. They don’t know where anything is. Especially not anywhere that has anything to do with OFF Week. What with this and my miserably non-existent Spanish, getting anywhere would have been ten times more difficult had I not had pre-loaded internet pages (for the addresses) and maps.