Reviewed: Sonár Festival 2018
Sonar Festival turns 25 this year 2018 and, as it could not be otherwise, we all expected a very special date. After a quarter of a century being a reference worldwide as far as music festivals are concerned, the ‘advanced music festival’ has shown that it has not yet reached its peak. After expanding throughout the 5 continents, organizing events in cities such as Hong Kong, Sao Paolo, Cape Town or New York, this year decided to launch into space thanks to the project Sonar Calling, with which they have sent several musical capsules, created by artists who have played in the festival, to the exoplanet ‘GJ273b’, with the intention of contacting some kind of extraterrestrial intelligence.
It is difficult to maintain the same essence for so many years, preserving your identity, while adapting to constant growth. And, in recent years, this growth has become remarkable, both at the level of attendance – a new record of 126,000 people was calculated this year – and by the line up itself, which housed more than 150 performances among the Sonar by Day and the Sonar by Night. With a solid and complete musical commitment, the festival increasingly seeks to cover all possibilities and audiences, hosting from more secure and predictable bets, such as Gorillaz, LCD Soundsystem or Laurent Garnier, to more original ones, giving voice to the new national generations and international, as in the case of Atzar, Olde Gods, Yaeji or IamDDB.
Thursday 14 – Sonar by Day
Alex Silva AV Live Band
Alex Silva was in charge of giving the kick-off to the festival at the Dôme stage of Red Bull Music Academy this year, with an AV Live act with band exclusive in Europe. The Galician musician and composer, based in Baltimore (Maryland, USA) is also known for his project as ‘Astroboyz’, which is more focused on the dance floor. Owner of Canadian Duck Tapes record label that has served to give exit to his more experimental side, using his real name. With a set up composed by Alex, commanding a customized modular synthesizer and sequencer, accompanied by a drummer and the visuals of Greg St. Pierre, known for participating in live performances by artists such as Animal Collective, Dan Deacon or Future Islands among many others.
Kode9 x Kōji Morimoto (+ Kode9 DJ set Friday 15 Night)
Little has to be said about Kode9 that isn’t already known. One of the most avant-garde artists of the last decade, owner of Hyperdub record label, responsible for bringing to light countless releases that have become timeless music, like Burial or DJ Rashad. Not so many people know his facet as a university professor or researcher, through which he explores the capabilities of sound outside the limits of the listenable and that he explains in his book ‘Sonic Warfare’. During this Sonar we could see him on several occasions, showing in each one the different facets of his live show. From the AV Live on Sonar Day, accompanied by the famous anime director Kōji Morimoto (creator of Akira), up to two surprise DJ sets on the Cotch International and LowKeyMoves showcase at LAUT Club, and replacing Wiley after falling off the line up on Friday night. Dubstep, Grime, 2 Step, Footwork and Jungle with a dark character, mixed with a lot of technique and versatility where the ingredients of his set, bringing the UK flavour to the very firsts moments of the festival.
Sinjin Hawke & Zora Jones AV Live
After witnessing the Sinjin Hawke and Zora Jones Live for the first time this year at Sonar, we can affirm two things: the first is that the couple is living their sweetest moment in terms of creativity and the success of their projects; the second, that it seems that the aliens have answered to the ‘Sonar Calling’ and have sent us Alan and Zora as intergalactic messengers. Bubbling sounds, thunderous bass and endless frenetic rhythms, driven by percussive patterns influenced by Footwork, Ghetto Tech and Afro-American rhythms. AV Live prepared to delight the public, in which practically all the themes had been modified especially for the show, besides releasing some pearls of what it seems will be their next album (and the couple’s first fully collaborative work) for Planet Mu Records. As the icing on the cake, a performance made by a Kinect sensor, through which they interacted dancing, creating psychedelic effects in their visuals, which projected their silhouettes with organic and metallic textures, already familiar to everyone who knows their project ‘Fractal Fantasy ‘
You never know what you’re going to find when it comes to a Daedelus live show. With impeccable musical knowledge and staging, Daedelus always gives the impression that he is telling you a story while he plays. Totally focused on the dance and the enjoyment of the public, the LA artist went through all kinds of genres, from Hip Hop / Trap to UK Garage and Electro, through Footwork and Drum and Bass, maintaining the high bar that Sinjin and Zora lefted in Sonar Hall, breaking the hips of more than one assistant who was caught by surprise a show so energetic for the early hours of the festival.
Born in Queens and with Korean parents, Yaeji has become an internet phenomenon thanks to her way of mixing her origins with her influence as a Native American. With a pop and house-ish approach, the singer and producer delighted us in the Sonar Village with a simple but very fun live, through a DJ set on which she sang her own songs over the beats she was playing. In spite of the sun and the heat, the Village was full and the public seemed to enjoy the few direct listening music that morning.
Friday 15 – Sonar by Day
Atzar means Haphazard in Catalan, and it is the engine that directs this quartet formed by Headbirds, Cauto, Hosca and Vaca Mula, associated with the local label and collective Ochomel. Their shows are flexible and totally adaptable to the momentum and to the reactions of the public. Nothing is prepared, beyond the setup, composed only by hardware and driven by its 4 MPCs. The possibilities of creation are almost infinite and there lies the strong point of Atzar. From soundscapes and ambient sounds to Dub Techno, the Catalan group offered us on Friday morning a journey through its most melodic and hypnotic side, perfect to start the second day of the festival with a good foot and forget the heat that usually accompanies the mornings at the Fira of Plaza España.
One of the ambassadors of the festival in the world and possibly one of the most prolific artists of the last decade, Diplo has explored all the nooks and crannies of electronic music, from the most mainstream sphere, alongside artists like Skrillex, Justin Bieber or MIA, to the most experimental music, as in his solo album ‘Florida’. The DJ and producer from Philly took advantage of all the hype of electronic music through his side project Major Lazer and, after witnessing quite a few sets of his in recent years, I was expecting a show full of air horns and beeps. Nothing further from reality. Within the context of his showcase ‘Diplo Presents’, in which only artists from African origin such as Mr. Eazi (Nigeria), Kampire (Uganda) or the duo Distruction Boyz (South Africa) performed, the American showed us his most tropical side with a set full of Dembow, Baile Funk and Latin rhythms, showing that not only is it nourished by the mainstream, but it still maintains a very present love for Latin music, moreover after its incursion years ago in the Brazilian culture of the favelas.
The Catalan singer inaugurated her new staging and presented what will be her next album, co-produced with the Galician artist El Guincho, on Friday afternoon at Sonar Hall. The expectation, generated by the last songs that the artist has released, such as ‘Brillo’ with J Balvin, as well as the follow-up through their social networks, augured a special show that was difficult to miss. All eyes were on her and it was noticeable long before the concert began, with a full to the flag on the largest indoor stage of Sonar by Day. Rosalía appeared in front of an impatient audience, that came to discover her new musical facet and she didn’t disappoint at any time. Despite being totally at the back of the room and barely able to see her, the show of lights and movement on stage, on which the singer came out with a group of dancers, was superlative. The live show was very emotional, both for the musical content, influenced by the artist due to bad love and relationships, as well as the staging and performance.
Sophie’s live shows are a spookily beautiful show. It is increasingly common that the intention of a musician or producer, especially in the electronic music sector, is not made for the purpose of enjoyment, but to create a unique experience, which remains engraved on fire in your mind forever. A clear example was the sound performance of Arca last year at Sonar Hall, where manga images that contained hard sex, were the talk throughout the festival. On this occasion, Sophie presented a performance in which she danced more than she sang and during which the Sonar Dôme seemed too small for her. Accompanied by the vocalist Cécile Believe and two dancers dressed in a burlesque outfit, the lights, choreography and music turned the whole into a kind of futuristic cabaret for perverse minds.
DJ Rosa Pistola
Every year it is less surprising to listen to Reggaeton in Sonar, since the XS stage (apparently Xtra Small) was created last year, many are the DJs and producers who have made everybody dance, through a genre that has been loved and repudiated in equal parts for years in Spain. DJ Rosa Pistola was the highlight of this movement in this edition of the festival, giving us a set full of old Reggaeton to move the ass to the ground.
Friday 15 – Sonar by Night
The band captained by Damon Albarn was one of the highlights of the festival, both for the great success of their latest album ‘Humanz’, which they presented at the festival and for the fact that the group had only performed in Barcelona one time, about 5 years ago. The display on the stage, in addition to the lights and screens, show augured that it would be a massive spectacle. The band played a large part of their last LP, in addition to loads of their old hits like ‘Clint Eastwood’ or ‘Feel Good Inc’. We enjoyed the surprise appearance of Little Simz, with which they sang the song ‘Garbage Palace’ and a cameo of ‘Snoop Dogg’ on the screens with the theme ‘Hollywood’.
In just a few years, Helena has become the DJ with the highest prospects in the Techno scene. With live shows in which the strength and darkness are always present, through Acid and Rave sounds, driven by breaks created by the mythical Roland 909 and 606 rhythm machines, the German DJ has earned the respect of the whole scene thanks to his sets strictly with vinyl, in which he uses both his own productions and other artists rarities with which he always surprises the audience. All this has led her to DJing in the vast majority of festivals around Europe and, how could it be otherwise, to win a very special slot in this edition of Sonar. Closing the Sonar Pub on Friday night, the DJ gave a masterful lesson on how to throw down a stage, with a session full of energy and an impeccable technique. Despite her serious and impassive appearance, Helena offered us what for my taste was one of the best Sonar sessions of recent years.
With a relatively short career on the UK scene, Preditah was presented at the Sonar Club in one of the best moments of his professional career. After appearing in 2011, with the help of JME and other members from Boy Better Know where he is involved as producer and DJ since 2013, last year was one of the most famous names after producing the beat of the song ‘On My Mind’ by Jorja Smith. With a full set of UK Garage, Grime, UK Funky and Trap, the producer demonstrated his skills when making a DJ set full of fast changes and rewinds, in the purest UK style.
The Berlin duo is quite well known, both in Barcelona and in the Sonar Festival, in which they have performed numerous times since their first appearance in 2006, after the release of their first album ‘Hello Mom!’ (BPitch Control Records). After his journey with Apparat in the Moderat project, which the group has parked for a while after a few years of intense tours, Modeselektor returns to offer what they do best: a live full of electro, big bass techno and acid, mixed with punk, metal and psychedelic touches. Although at that time all the concerts were very interesting, the Germans had the Sonar Pub stage practically full, and it stayed that way, with a very dedicated crowd.
Bicep, a duo made up of Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar, is one of the most hyped groups right now. After releasing their expected first album, which came out last year on the British label Ninja Tune, the Northern Ireland couple has not stopped roaming the world, presenting it in Live format. With a mix of Techno, Rave music and a great nostalgic load created by their melodies, many of their songs, like ‘Rain’ or ‘Orca’, have become true anthems in the world of dance electronics. Despite the apparent simplicity and minimalism of his productions, Bicep seems to have found the formula to create themes that are as approachable as they are listenable, and that seeks to transport you to a recent past in which the raves were the main meeting places to listen to this type of music. Proof of this is the video clip they released for their single ‘Glue’, in which key places of the rave party culture appear, along with comments from people who were there partying in the 90s’.
Bonobo (Live & DJ Set)
Bonobo appeared twice this year during the night of Friday. In a first place, in the Sonar Club with his live band and then in the Sonar Lab with a DJ set. In both shows he showed us the two faces of his live shows, offering first of all a Live, accompanied by a drummer, several guitars, a saxophone and a keyboardist, in which he presented his latest work ‘Migration’. Here we could see the most organic, emotional and relaxed facet that characterizes the music of the Briton, something that became more relevant since it was one of the few live shows of the night that was not club music or forceful electronic dance. The artist alternated the presence of musicians and a singer with his solo presence in songs such as ‘Kong’. After the live show, Simon offered us his most festive face, with a DJ set more focused on club music, according to the time and the scenario in which he acted.
Saturday 16 – Day
One of the first Saturday appearances was made by Olde Gods, at the evergreen Sonar Village lawn. Their discombobulated House, Italo and synthetic Funk paved the way to the hottest ‘après-midi’ of the three days of the festival. The duo, dressed in silk shirts, combined sampled, resampled and live vocals together with a monstrous ‘Prophet’ synthesizer and the always-catchy sound of a talkbox. Their latest EP ‘Gitanes’, released by dutch label ‘Atomnation’, was the main dish of the Live set, accompanied by many of their repertoires.
Despite the apparent discretion in the presence of artists such as Valtònyc or Lory Money in the Sonar line up this year, especially in the face of foreign attendees who are not familiar with the country’s political and social situation, the message is clear and accurate. Our country is experiencing a situation of instability that does not seem to be improving, and this has been the focus of attention of many national artists in recent years. The case of Valtònyc is one of the most sound, given that the Mallorcan rapper has had to go into exile, after charging in his lyrics against the Spanish monarchy and the politicians who have led us to the current situation. As a form of support and protest against the lack of freedom of expression, Sonar, along with more than 20 Catalan festivals, have included the mc in their lineups, even though they can not act in any of them due to their exile status, after being persecuted by Spanish law to be imprisoned.
Amp Fiddler x Tony Allen
Sometimes, when we attend a music festival, especially when the main course is electronic music, we forget the magic of simplicity that a drummer and a couple of keyboards can create. Luckily, after a couple of days where electronic dance music was the main protagonist, Amp Fiddler and Tony Allen arrived and they were in charge of reminding us. A sober and elegant direct, with a dim light, to which Red Bull Music Academy had not accustomed us until this year. Through a hypnotic mix of Afrobeat, Disco and Jazz, with a great African influence, the direct duo was a balm for our ears, leading the audience into the lasts shows of the Sonar by Day this year.
DJ Earl x Nick Hook Live AV
One of the most curious duos of this edition of the Sonar Festival was formed by the Americans DJ Earl and Nick Hook, presenting their new joint project 50 Backwoods, through which they released at the end of last year their self-titled album on the Fool’s Gold Records. With a hybrid set up between the DJ set and the Live, with synths driven by Nick, while Earl directed the percussion with the midi pads, the couple presented their complete album, adding a lot of ‘footwork anthems’ in which the deceased DJ Rashad acquired a great prominence. The artists showed a brutal closeness to the audience, who responded in turn by singing all the hooks and trying to mark a step of improvised footwork moves.
DJ Stingray x Mumdance
Few are the occasions in which we can see two maximum exponents of the sound of two world capitals of electronic music, such as London and Detroit, adjust so well when making a b2b. And it is that, on paper, it may seem strange to bring together Mumdance and DJ Stingray in this format. Despite the particularities that unite them, such as mixing technique and eclecticism when selecting the songs, both DJs have very different sounds and influences and even belong to different generations. On the stage, everything flowed as if they had grown by playing together. With a versatility that led them to put from the dirtiest Grime, to Detroit Techno and Euro Dance, the set of these two masters of the djing was a masterful lesson on how to lift the spirits of anyone who has already 2 or 3 consecutive festival days.
Maribou State was another of the groups associated with the Ninja Tune label, whose role in this edition of Sonar was very present. The English duo presented their first LP, entitled ‘Portraits’, which was released through Counter Records, a subsidiary of the British label. The work reflects the emotion that accompanies the productions of the artists, with a great importance of the melodic lines and the creation of soundscapes, through its characteristic cinematic textures. On this occasion, they performed accompanied by a band to close the Sonar Village of this edition. They offered a direct with retro touches, with a great soul, funk and folk influence ideal to say goodbye to the Sonar by Day.
Saturday 16 – Sonar by Night
The Washington rapper performed for the first time in Spain in this edition of Sonar Festival. After a rapid rise in American rap game, Goldlink has been made a hole thanks to his Funky style, Hip House and RnB, through successful collaborations with artists like Kaytranada, Gucci Mane and even Christina Aguilera. The rapper came with plenty of energy, eating the stage on his own and interacting a lot with the public, which he quickly caught with his power. Alternating equally his lover side and his more intense face, Goldlink stirred the audience with a couple of final pogos as the climax of his live set.
Objekt’s DJ set was one of the most awaited ones for Saturday’s night in Sonar. Despite his relatively short career and apparent youth, Objekt has earned a place in the Techno scene based on his successful productions. With tracks that orbit around Techno, Acid or EBM, the Berliner has found a line of his own speech, both when creating and when mixing tracks. His session was very intense from the first moment and, although he played at the Sonar Club at a very good time, the fact of coinciding with front-line artists such as John Talabot, Ben Klock or the start of the Garnier session made perhaps that the stage was emptier than usual. Still, the Berlin producer did not break down and had the public delivered at all times.
The “shepherds” Mario Quelart and Albert Salinas (aka Lucient and Vera Rubin) were the representatives of the Club Excursionista de la Electrónica (which means Electronic Music Hikers Club in Catalan), sub-label of Lapsus Records, with which they intend to explore new musical territories. With just a few months of life, the team that runs Lapsus Records, organize the festival and weekly radio program on Radio 3 (RNE) with the same name or programs the lineups for LAUT Club in Barcelona, still needed one more element to satisfy their inexhaustible longing for creating, discovering and sharing music. With a DJ set of one hour and a half, the Catalans offered a progressive House session, starting with more melodic and quiet themes and increasing the intensity and BPMs little by little, passing through tracks with an Acid-ish and Rave touches. A session full of groove and percussion that perfectly fitted to move the skeleton.
Possibly the biggest ambassador of the festival, as well as one of the artists who has performed the most in Sonar since its first edition in 1994, where he played at the age of 27. After participating in 2016 in the transformation of the Sonar Car stage in a place dedicated to ‘selectors’, in which the guest DJs play all night long and that he premiered himself with a 7-hour session, the French DJ delighted us this year with two sessions in two of the festival’s most special slots: closing the Sonar Village on Thursday and closing the festival at the Sonar Pub on Sunday morning. On the first occasion, the artist offered us his show ‘Laurent Plays Garnier‘, in which the French DJ reviewed his career as a producer through all his tracks, such as the mythical ‘Crispy Bacon’ or ‘The Man With The Red Face’. In the second time, as it could not be otherwise given the anniversary occasion, the Frenchman closed the Sonar Pub giving rise to the end of the festival, with an absolutely packed crowd, delivered. Although the Garnier sessions are usually quite predictable and sometimes somewhat flat, this time the formula was successful and kept the audience dancing without stopping until the last breath of the festival.