Feel the pulse of the electronic music landscape

There were 110,000 people at Sónar in Barcelona this year. We know that because Massive Attack told us – in green LEDs. They also taught us that Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffiths have divorced after 18 years of marriage, and something about Shakira and the new King being appointed. (Not together.) The news headlines zipped past in Catalan, so it’s hard to say.

Whilst Inertia Creeps, it’s good to see the Bristolian headliners are still as academic, moody and thought-provoking as ever, flashing not-so-subliminal political messages in front of our retinas and whatever brain cells might be capable of working on the last night of ‘The International Festival of Advanced Music and New Media Art’ – the 21st edition of Sónar. Now, lets go back in time.


Sónar is split into two halves, very much like a football game (topical!), except unlike pro-footballers, festival-goers are encouraged to indulge throughout the shenanigans. And they do. Despite the insane temperatures in the mostly open-air Sónar by Day and the futuristic air hangar Sónar by Night, everyone is up for it. You have to be to cope with the pretty hardcore 72-hours. It’s best to pace yourself and take it slowly.

A big hype this year was Despacio (translation: slowly) (nice segue). 2ManyDJs and James Murphy managed to create the biggest queues of the entire festival by building an epic disco soundsystem featuring 11-ft high 360-degree surround speakers in a whopping 6-hour sun-filled set playing everything from Grace Jones to The Beatles. Here Comes The Sun indeed.

Another massive day draw was courtesy of the Mercury Music prize-nominated Jon Hopkins. A sweaty bottleneck didn’t stop crowds barging into Sónar Hall for his genre-bending sounds of the future. In the same room Simian Mobile Disco’s new project ‘Whorl’ saw James Ford and Jas Shaw get minimal with just an analog synthesizer and a sequencer within the Twin Peaks-like red curtain confines. Fans emerged attempting to take off the 3D glasses they thought they had on. For something blue with your red, Audion saw Detroit’s Matthew Dear get visual playing inside a space age LED cage of interlocked triangles and flashing lights.

Other highlights included Peru’s Dengue Dengue Dengue and Portugal’s Buraka Som Sistema who provided major bounce. Plus, weirdly, everyone seemed to go loco for FM Belfast (like watching Keith Lemon on stage.) Kid Koala, on the other hand, might have been playing the kids’ entertainer role in a furry onesie that he has surely owned since starting in the game, but was addictively hilarious.

For more musical tapas at Sónar by Night, Caribou was popular with ‘Odessa’, ‘Sun’ and their newest hit ‘Can’t Do Without You’. However, the deer was eaten by bigger beasts such as Todd Terje who opened with Bee Gees’ ‘We Should Be Dancing’ and continued played disco-funk around massive hit ‘Inspector Norse’, Richie Hawtin whose tech-house is always a crowd-pleaser, and kings of the mash-ups 2Manydjs. Who doesn’t like to dance to MGMT at a party?

Now onto Nile Rodgers and the aptly-named Chic, all dressed in white. From the second they opened with ‘Everybody Dance’ and kitsch 70s visuals floated across the giant screens, they personified a giant glorious ball of disco. As electronic mirror balls and hearts floated into the consciousness of the crowd, generations of fans got on down. I’m Coming Out as a massive Chic fan. Good Times indeed.

A hop, skip and a dubstep away and it’s the homerun. Apparently in order to “be free with Rudimental” you have to move your shoulders. A lot. The crowd did what they were told as the London collective did the running man and even a cover of DJ Zinc’s ‘Super Sharp Shooter’ and Shy FX. The word ‘energetic’ doesn’t even come close.

A few hours later skies opened on the hardcore trying to find taxis to after parties. A special mention needs to be given to Off-Sónar, the side terraces and pool parties that surround the official festival. The hot ticket was Resident Advisor’s monastery fiesta which saw Barcelona’s John Talabot and Stockholm’s Axel Boman (AKA Talaboman) become one in front of a sweaty crowd of those in-the-know. If you made it to more than one Off Sónar, as well as the 3-days, sunnies off to you.

Adieu Barcelona. And now to sleep.



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