Reviewed: Sonar Festival 2019
You could say that this year’s edition of Sonar festival has been the polar opposite to the last one, in which they celebrated their silver anniversary in style, beating their attendance record once again. On this occasion, forced to historically modify the dates to July, dealing with the annulment of two of its main headliners (Lil Uzi Vert & A$ap Rocky) or even with the rumors of the whole festival cancellation at the very last moments, Sonar faced too many setbacks, which resulted in over 20,000 less attendees compared to 2018. This data, although it is really significant, could have gone unnoticed in some way for the public, but it hasn’t. Unlike Thursday and Saturday, when it did not become that much palpable, on Friday the decrease in attendance was noticeable – both day and night – leaving a somewhat bleak vision of many of the main stages, moreover for those who have been coming for years.
Luckily for many, the festival shone in many other aspects, hosting incredible concerts like the Puerto Rican Bad Bunny – immersed in full political revolt in his country – London’s Grime artists Skepta and Octavian, timeless electronic music acts like Underworld and Paul Kalkbrenner or the multi-sensory experience created by Daito Manabe and Kamitani Lab.
We will review some of the best live shows we could see during the three days of Sonar festival 2019.
Sonar by day
Dengue Dengue Dengue
The Peruvian artists, who already performed during Sonar’s 2014 edition on the Enchufada showcase, were one of the most anticipated performances on Thursday. With their already particular Live set up, and dressed in their tribal masks, this time they were accompanied by two percussionists, who supported them with a drawer, the congas and some other South American folklore instruments. They played several of their greatest hits like ‘Simiolo’ or ‘Serpiente Dorada’, in addition to thier latest single ‘Agni’, showing their exquisite way of mixing sounds of African American origin, such as cumbia, with the most avant-garde electronics.
DJ Lag is one of the great standard bearers of the expansive wave of electronic music that is emerging from Africa, which is reaching more and more festivals in the world, and conquering fans with sounds like the GQOM of Durban (South Africa). In this edition of Sonar – particularly on Thursday by day – there was a remarkable representation of artists of African origin, with DJ Lag as one of the main dishes. His session came full of tension, an essential element in the GQOM, generated by percussive progressions and monotonous melodic elements, which give the feeling of a constant rise. A session that without being very dynamic, managed to keep the Dome public in a constant movement, as if we all were in a trance.
One of the students of the last Red Bull Music Academy’s edition, held in 2018 in Berlin, is the Irishman known as J Colleran. Although his name may not be familiar to you, it will not be long until it is on everyone’s lips. Having shared stage with peerless artists like Aphex Twin – with which he also shares a more than palpable musical similarity – and having toured the US and Europe, the Irish artist presented a new Live show, accompanied for the first time by the visuals of Camille Doussy. With his own sound landscapes as a central element, the artist fluctuated between jungle and IDM breaks, going through some moments of acid and electro breakbeats, showing an almost infinite ability to link beats of different BPMs in a continuous track. A youth and enormous talent to keep in mind for the present and future.
Dressed in a ‘Making Greece Acid Jamaica’ slogan t-shirt – which it is apparently related to an inside joke between Erol Alkan and Switch – and with a seemingly calm and serious attitude, Leon Vynehall started turning on the crowd at the Sonar Village, playing some melodic house like ‘Snakes Crawl’, from Phil Kieran and Bush Tetras, or his own hit ‘It’s Just (House of Dupree)’. He gradually elevated the BPMs as he went into darker house and techno tracks like Objekt’s already-classic ‘Theme From Q’ and some other breaks tunes’. He was acclaimed during his whole set, which was for many the best performance of the day.
The Iranian artist returned to the same stage in which she performed on 2016 Sonar’s edition, with a brand new show and with rumours that a new album is coming really soon. Sevdaliza presented, for the first time in Spain, her show ‘The Great Hope Design’, a Live performance accompanied by other musicians, in which the artist turns the stage into a space of creative freedom, where theatre, music and experimentation enhance her power. In addition to combining a mix of her best-known songs from the albums ‘The Calling’ and ‘Ison’, the singer presented her latest tracks ‘Darkest Hour’ and ‘Martyr’, with which she dazzled the audience of the Dome. With the aura and attitude of a diva, the scenario seemed sometimes too small for her, that projected loads of energy with her voice and moves.
Sonar by day
This has certainly been Aleesha’s year. The Ibizan artist has taken over urban music in Spain, standing not only as one of the most active artists on this scene, but also as one with the most national and international projection, with the likes of big names like Diplo. Teaming with $kyhook as her DJ and accompanied by her dancers, they performed a show in which they presented her latest work ’19:19′, the artist’s first studio album. Despite having seen her several times, she still surprises me by the self-confidence with which this 20 years old girl steps into the stage every time. Going from RnB to trap and hip hop, she played many of his hits like ‘Peligrosa’ or ‘Famous’, a song from $kyhook’s ‘Moochies’ album.
Roman Daniel is one of the few national artists who, with just 25 years, can boast of having played twice in Sonar (in the Village on 2015 and in Sonar Hall on Friday). This year he presented ‘Three Stages of Change Appreciation’, a very personal project, with which he has released 3 albums in one, each made in a different way of production, and united in a USB which has been crafted manually by the creative studio ‘Society 0’. For the show, the Catalan artist appeared with Candela Capitán and Pau Arnal, two performers who accompanied him dancing, while music and visuals were played automatically. The performance showed the different talents of the young producer, which began in music through dance. A unique and creative show where a structure that simulated the USB, but made with metal, became a percussion element, while a sequencer and other instruments were programmed to play his music.
The American artist, born in Jamaica, took the Village in the hottest hour of the day, with a very crowded stage and accompanied by his band, with which we could see him last year playing at the biggest party in Barcelona. Masego has been on the palate of all these last years, thanks in part to the hit ‘Tadow’, which he created alongside FKJ and which was a success on YouTube last year, but above all for his great talent and versatility. With a lot of energy, the artist moved all around the stage while singing, playing the saxophone or creating a beat on the go with his MIDI MPC controller, showing his skills as a musician in very different styles.
Maya Janes Cole
Maya Janes Cole demonstrated her technique and extensive musical knowledge by making a great and diverse session from beginning to end, linking perfectly with the dubstep songs played previously on DJ Krush’s set, and taking us through much of the Hardcore Continuum spectrum. The DJ managed to cheer the little public in the Village, considering that it was Friday. This time slot was probably the one in which we most noticed the decrease in attendance at the festival. Even that the crowd was still bringing a vibe, dancing like it was full of people.
Joan Canyelles aka Shelly is one of the most active and younger local talents. Member of the last batch of the Red Bull Music Academy, this year premiered in Sonar twice, first with a DJ set on Friday and then in collaboration with Hamill Industries, a creative studio in Barcelona. His vision of music is very open and covers a wide spectrum of musical genres, but when he shows up with his alias Shelly, you know that you have to put on your best dancing shoes and hold on tight because curves are coming. For this occasion, the Catalan artist prepared a very peculiar session, mixing techno, rave music and even footwork and jungle, with the difference that all the songs were slowed down to 111BPM, creating for each track a completely different mood and perspective.
Sonar by night
Although, after more than 20 years behind the decks, the surprise factor is not one of the key factors of Andy C’s sets, you know that if you are going to see him play, you will not stop dancing for a single minute. The technique of the British DJ while playing 3 deck sets is brilliant and unmistakable, thanks to its energetic mixes. The response of the public is usually the same: simply going on beast mode. With a set of 1h30, Andy turned the Sonar Lab upside down on Friday night, demonstrating once again why he is the king of Drum and Bass and one of the best DJs in the world in terms of technique. Bringing back old bangers from Pendulum, Sub Focus or himself, the Ram Records boss demonstrated why we should see more Drum and Bass acts at Sonar festival.
The return of Disclosure to the festival circuit has been more than celebrated by many people. It doesn’t surprise anyone after seeing the ability of the young Lawrence brothers to turn up a party like they did on Friday night. In a DJ set format, they performed many of his best-known tracks, such as ‘White Noise’, ‘Latch’ and even the Flume remix of his ‘You & Me’. As you could guess, their return to the stages implies more than their desire to party, and they also played some unreleased stuff, which together with their last track ‘Talk’ – alongside Khalid – make us think of an imminent third studio album, showing also the direction they’re taking on their artistic project after a long break.
Murlo (Live AV)
Murlo is a multifaceted artist full of magic. Beyond his incredible talent as a producer and DJ, his ability as a cartoonist has become more than remarkable for those of us who keep track of him. Author of many of his artworks, the artist presented his recently premiered AV Live, in which he projects his drawings on a screen, through which he tells a story with each song, all of them produced by himself. In addition, a transparent canvas covered the entire visual space of the stage, in which other drawings and shapes overlapped their own presence and the drawings on the screen behind, creating new forms and textures. Through his songs, in which he mixes elements of UK Garage, Grime or Bassline, the artist performed what for us was one of the best live shows of the entire festival.
After the premiere of his latest album ‘Endorphins’, Octavian has gone from conquering the UK to wanting to eat the world, being the image of Louis Vuitton and even getting a huge statue on their LA store. The artist took to the stage like a whirlwind of energy, which infected the public from the first moment, responding like crazy to him shouting ‘let’s get wasted tonight’. Singing many of the songs from the new album, such as his collaboration with Skepta and Michael Phantom ‘Bet’ or ‘Lit’, along with Asap Ferg. Singing older songs such as his hits ‘Party Here’ or ‘Move Me’, produced by Mura Masa, the artist created a festive vibe that remained throughout his live, while glasses, t-shirts and many other objects flew over our heads.
Peggy Gou & Palms Trax
As usually happens every year, after a certain time in Sonar by night, the scenarios seemed to be tuned in to the same frequency, where heavy techno is the only music played, turning the field of “La Fira de Barcelona” into the Walking Dead stage. This year, as it usually and luckily happens on Sonar Lab, Peggy Gou and Palms Trax made sure to offer a great alternative, for all those who have a different vision of how to close a festival night. Transmitting a renewing energy and coming down to earth with more melodic and vocal songs, the duo made a set full of good vibes to close Friday night, playing disco, house and some breaks.
Sonar by day
The Portuguese artist, founding member of Buraka Som Sistema and the Enchufada record label, has managed to take his particular sound all over the world, with an electronic vision of kuduro mixed with other tribal rhythms, soul-ish melodies and warm sound landscapes. Branko began to play as the temperature fell slightly on the Village, presenting mostly his latest album ‘Nosso’ in addition to other of his best known songs, such as the ‘Bout Konpa’ or ‘Na Madrugada’ edits and putting the perfect soundtrack to recharge our batteries for the final stretch of the festival. The artist was also participating with his music on one of the installations of the festival, made by Desigual and Barcelona’s creative studios Lateral Thinking and LowKeyMoves.
At this point, surely everyone has heard of Cecilio G, either because of his charisma and authenticity or because he is the only one in Sonar’s history to get into the festival riding a real horse. For those who don’t know him beyond the anecdote, Cecilio G is undoubtedly the most charismatic, pious and real character of the Spanish hip hop scene. With a murky past wrapped in drugs, mental problems and even a few months in jail, his departure along with the association with DJ/producer Limabeatz – creator of many of his greatest hits such as ‘Pikete Espacial’ – have catapulted his career towards the most high. As usual, Limabeatz began to light the fire by playing some baile funk and club-driven beats, while Cecilio started getting in tune with the audience and his friends on stage. The crowd was fully delivered, to the point that it was rare to see any phones shooting or recording in the air, as the singer himself proudly said.
It is no longer new that Latin music has taken over the world and that dembow has become a mainstream rhythm, but some artists and DJs still come out with interesting visions and much to contribute to these musical genres. Although Sonar introduced him as the king of reggaeton in Barcelona, thanks to his residence in Suave (Razzmatazz), Raymond Rojas aka La Diabla is much more than that. I have never seen a single session of him in which everyone is not dancing, but to appreciate that in Sonar by day, at just 2pm and with almost 104°F, is something really unusual. With a set full of RnB, dancehall, UK funky or dembow, the Canary Island artist had a considerable audience dancing throughout the whole set, with some stellar moments like when he played the Jamaican song ‘Palance’ by JW & Blaze, with which the audience moved from left to right, jumping to the rhythm of the song.
Red Axes Live
The Israeli duo that performs as Red Axes were presented on this occasion with a third musician, in charge of adding electronic drums and percussion to their live. Their show was mostly focused on his project ‘Trips’, in which they musically visit different places like Africa or Vietnam, taking inspiration from their culture and collaborating with local musicians. Seeing the drummer standing and without a bench, we all agree that the concert was going to be huge. We did not have to wait long, while the vocal of the song ‘Sipoor’ appeared little by little from under the dense trance bass, a catchy characteristic of the group. With a constant progression in which the band performed their most danceable tracks, such as ‘Sound Test’ or ‘Addis’, they plunged us into a one hour trance in which the fall of the sun made Sonar Day an increasingly comfy place.
Theo Parrish’s love for music can be seen in every movement he makes, either for the music he produces, the songs he mixes or the releases of his Sound Signature record label, which we could see on many people’s t-shirts among the public. His ability to convey that passion when it comes to playing is gratifying and has been perfected since he was 13 years old, age when he began mixing music with turntables. With a wide range of black music in his repertoire, it became clear that the American grew up between Chicago and Detroit. With a 3-hour session where he fused house, funk, afrobeat, Detroit techno or salsa, he gave us a master lesson on how to carry on a DJ set.
Sonar by night
Rumors about the possible annulment of Bad Bunny were extended until very late, due to the protests in his native Puerto Rico after President Ricky Rosselló corruption facts, who after an intense campaign has had to resign. The artist, aware of this, came out with his face and body covered, leaving most of the audience in doubt until the end of his show. His performance was as we expected, with a crowded stage of people twerkin’ to the floor and singing each of the songs that Benito has turned into hits. With a very prepared show and accompanied by spectacular visuals, the singer presented almost all his songs, in reduced formats in which he barely sang an entire song. Near the end of the show, the artist made a very emotional speech about Puerto Rico and the political situation, as well as thanking all the people for their unconditional support for their music and their cause.
The news that Lil Uzi Vert was not coming to Sonar wasn’t a big surprise, although if something disappointing, especially when we saw that the replacement was Sheck Wes. An artist whom many only knew for his well-known track ‘Mo Bamba’, a song that has been heard to satiety throughout the world. The big surprise, in fact, was to see that the live was pretty good, that Sheck was loaded with energy and that the public responded with the same enthusiasm, especially a large sector on the front row, which chained pogo after pogo on every single drop. Sheck show was like an earthquake, in which the simple lyrics weren’t that important, focusing more on the visceral experience, carried by loop rhymes over ultra saturated basses, transporting you to the deepest Atlanta trap style.
Paul Kalkbrenner is considered one of the electronic music fathers, as we know it today. You may like it more or less, but it is one of those names that you have undoubtedly heard countless times and seen in festivals all over the world for decades. For this occasion, he came in a Live format, accompanied by a set of cameras that projected its face on the screens behind and on the stage sides. His live began bluntly, with techno songs, several of them taken from his album ‘Parts of Life’. The German was in his sauce, enjoying the live almost as much as the public, which was heard shouting and raising their hands to the sky throughout the pavilion with each kick drop. For the most nostalgic, the good was swift, since it held almost until the end to put the best known songs of his album ‘Berlin Calling’, among which they sounded ‘Bengang’, ‘Aaron’ or the hit ‘Sky and Sand’.
For Brainfeeder label sound lovers, Rrucculla is going to become your newcomer favourite artist of 2019. With the creativity and imagination of FlyLo, the madness of Gaslamp Killer and bleeps & bloops reminiscent of Iglooghost, the very young Basque artist has managed to find a sound of her own, and above all a lively work. Through his set up with MIDI instruments, and his favourite weapon – the drums – Izaskun González performed a spectacular live, mixing electronic sounds with devilish breaks, all wrapped in dense and futuristic atmospheres, making her experience something very unique at the festival. As if that were not enough, the artist was accompanied by some visuals made by herself, demonstrating to the public her enormous talent. Without a doubt, one of the greatest revelation talents of this year’s Sonar edition.
The evolution of the king of grime has been very present in each of his performances in the different editions of Sonar festival. From his first performance in 2015 accompanied by much of his Boy Better Know crew, until this year’s edition, in which he alone stood on the biggest stage of the festival. With a much more worked show at the production level, his figure moved as if floating across the whole stage. Presenting his latest work ‘Ignorance is Bliss’, which was alternating with other of his older bangers, such as ‘Energy’ or ‘That’s Not Me’. As usual, Skepta had an ace hidden in the sleeve and brought Shorty from BBK to sing with him on stage, in an old school format in which they did a mash up of several of the group’s themes, such as the anthem ‘Too Many Man’, making the audience go completely crazy.