It’s so nice to be the headliner of your kind and Sónar festival is definitely the headliner among electronic festivals. The proof is not only that many other festivals around the world copy its structure but also that, although it’s such a huge event, very few things went wrong and many thousands of people will remember those 3 days— till the next 3 days. The thing that I also love in Sónar is that it keeps allowing room for new artists and also that is has understood the concept of the art it represents: the breakthrough in technology of electronic music and visual art.
So, trying to write a small review, I feel that I need to make some introductory comments before the actual review, mostly because Sónar contains some unique features. The festival is split in a day (Sónar by Day with 4 main music stages and an exhibition) and a night venue (Sónar by Night with also 4 main stages). In three days and two nights you can attend 46 hours of live performances and DJ sets which leaves you so little time to sleep. When I first took this year’s program in my hands I started taking notes, asking friends if they could give me some hints, trying to find more info about the artists… It was only when I saw that it was impossible to be in 4 different stages at the same time that I realized I had to chill and follow my ears and inner vibes instead of some pre-organized timetable.
The first day was mostly spent in the Sónar +D area. In 2013 Sónar made a different organization that focuses in bringing the technology and innovation to the public. So with the motto ‘Music, Creativity & Technology’ there were 4 floors of exhibitions, talks, workshops, meetups and hackathons from startups, small companies, universities, institutes and everyone that had something to show over the future of electronic music. Τhe highlight of Sónar +D was certainly the showcase of Brian Eno that could be summed up into few sentences that he shared with us ‘I always thought that my mission as an artist was to try to make the objects that belonged in the world I would like to live in. To sort of imagine that if I made the music that I thought would belong in the future, somehow it would help to make that future happen’ and ‘Kids learn by play, adults learn by art, I hope you fight to defend it.’ I found his talk rather political. In a sense, making revolution with music is a small rebellion.
A big part of the exhibition was also dedicated to the visual arts: Many virtual reality installations that let you try and create a digital world. In my opinion, the most sensational project was the Earthworks digital wall that translated earth vibes into images on a long wall. For me, that I can understand some of the technical parts, the project is not noticeable because of the coding/hardware programming part. It is important for the actual outcome and the emotion of thrill that the visual representation leaves you with. Standing among colorful digital waves can make your heart flow too.
Closing the off-music happenings of the fest it was also important to see the evolution of the organization and the affiliations that have been created from the long past of Sónar. Hearing about the ‘We are Europe’, talking with experts and seeing the people and the work that actually formed the whole festival was much more important as an experience than the music itself.
Let’s listen to some music
And now let’s talk about music. I’m planning not to bother you with the artists that were just ok but with the true highlights of the festival. Of course I have to include some negative features that are under debate.
Day 1 – The most attractive stage was for sure the SónarVillage with live appearances from local artists and two beautiful dj sets by Acid Arab and my personal favorite The Black Madonna. Actually, I wish TBM had made a live performance instead of King Midas Sound and Fennesz that played in the SónarHall stage and that I found rather ‘mainstream’. The best finish for day one was definitely the live performance of the video game’s ‘No Man’s Sky’ soundtrack by 65daysofstatic. I love the band and its madness, and the opportunity to watch something so different from them was a unique experience.
Day 2 by Day – Lloret Salvatge in the SónarHall stage was a real apocalypse. Smooth sounds and a great emotional video following the music was the perfect start of the day. It was also ideal because few people that had come early and we could appreciate the live lying on the floor. One person made the start and lay down and many followed. After that we ran into SónarDôme stage with great hope that unfortunately flew away. Silkersoft was not my cup of tea and Sapphire Slows that sounded promising on Bandcamp did not meet our expectations. The Japanese producer had some technical problems that affected her performance. Back in the SónarHall, Mikael Seifu was really good especially in the second part of his live.
And now comes the part that made me love +D and the SónarComplex stage: Myriam Bleau and her soft resolvers! I had been fascinated by the exhibition on the first day of the fest and on +D the performance of Myriam brought to life everything I had seen. I’ll let the video speak for me and applaud her one more time. After that nothing else could move me that day, not even the anxiety of attending Sónar by Night.
Day 2 by Night – Sónar by Night takes place in one of the biggest convention areas in the outskirts of Barcelona. Getting into the venue while is still rather empty makes you realize that it was chosen because of its potential. Although the 4 stages are located one wall apart, sounds are not mixing together and each stage can host hundreds of attendees.
By 22:30 the stages were already packed. Jean-Michel Jarre in SónarClub did a great show with his characteristic light installations. Anohni in SónarPub introduced some beautiful videos that accompanied her songs but the whole show felt kind of monotonous. Equally disappointing was the DJ set by Four Tet in the SónarCar stage. We entered the surrounded by red curtains room before he started his set and we waited patiently for him to warm up but unfortunately I felt that he didn’t try to make his choices solid. We stayed there for almost 40 minutes and we came back later too, since his set lasted 7 hours-all night long but his music was not enough to make us dance. It hurts to admit that, especially since I am a big fan. In the biggest stage, the SónarClub James Blake gave a very successful concert. For me is a surprise how this artist grew and how he made his music more popular without taking away its main characteristics. He also performed a remix with Trim from the 1-800 Dinosaur album that for me was the only low part of his live, but I guess people that are into r’n’b or rap enjoyed it. After that, Mind Against were just ok. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to stay till John Talabot‘s DJ set, but I heard that he managed to have the audience dancing even after much alcohol.
Day 3 by Day – I woke up early this day because I wanted to listen to as many artists as I could. I even had a plan on how I would move around the stages that again I didn’t follow. So Tendts were a success even if the punctuality of the organizers made them start their performance before doors were open. SónarVillage stage definitely suited them and during their performance weather was kind on us, since all day was either raining or the sun was burning. The sky was playing schizo. After their melodic tunes Ison made a two-hour DJ set with many references in Greek artists which I found rather interesting. We stayed in the same stage till BadBadbNotGood’s performance. I love free jazz so they were playing my kind of music but as many other choices the Sónar organizers had made (El Guincho, James Blake, Anonhi, New Order etc.) I would prefer it if they had played another festival and left more space for pure electronic artists. The rest of the day was spent in SónarComplex with great live visual shows of Alva Noto and Cyclo that for me were the essence of Sónar Festival. Byetone unfortunately had many technical issues with his visuals. He played well but I felt that all the time we tried to encourage him because we love his music.
Day 3 by Night – I’ll cheer for Coyu, Booka Shade and Laurent Garnier’s second part of the 7-hour set. Their shows and DJ sets were not different from what we expected, and we expected good music for sure, but were ultra-vibed by the packed up stages and kept us dancing the whole time despite all the tiredness we already had. Because of the huge audience the atmosphere was heavy but, anyhow, cheers again!
Text: Malina Tzachristou, Photos-Videos: Malina Tzachristou & Nikos Roussos