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Sonar 2015: Review

Sonar is at the forefront of its game by bringing one of the most beat-drilling and energetic festival experiences to dance revellers.

This year saw nearly 120,000 people from just over a 100 nations travel for the three day experience. Barcelona became even more vibrant. The energy in the city was high, people around alive and the Estrella beer truly flowing with the festival activity managing to transcend pockets of the city which heightened excitement.

Sónar by Day took place over three days at the emblematic Fira Montjuic, in the city centre by Plaza Espana. The set-up involved three indoor venues that included the RBMA Dome, Sonar Hall and Sonar Complex, as well as a huge outdoor area known as the Village. Revellers soaked up the sun in the Village - nicely aided by the portable Estrella beer-men who were (literally) everywhere - and managed to experience more up-and-coming producers that got their chance to play on the main stage. Despite the contrast of dark indoor pockets and bright sunshine, entering between spaces felt natural - showing that electronic music needs no time of the day.

The Village saw Swindle bring his UK flava with grime ‘n’ bass. He moved through genres such as garage, jazz and jungle dropping tracks from his new album ‘Long live the Jazz’ which is out on Mala’s Deep Medi imprint. Vienna based Dorian Concept also performed on the main Village stage with a live show that included Cid Rim and The Clonious. He showcased his signature and playful synth sensibilties that included the saxophone and electric bass on tracks from ‘Joined Ends’ (Ninja Tune) and ‘Planets Explode’ (Kindered Spirits.) J.E.T.S then brought the heat with their synchronised footwork, electrofunk and syncopated rhythms (Listen back here). Felix Dickson gave us a house-disco-balearic-dub-acid-party, squeezing in some Afro-house. And it was good to hear locals Colectivo +0 who have spent more than a decade promoting local Canarian talent through gigs and digital art events. Their set was eclectic, moving from funky, techno, and grime, through to electronica and some booty-shaking baile funk.

The highlight during the day had to be Floating Points who performed in the RBMA Dome. He effortlessly curated the most beautiful set that kicked off with smooth funk and soul, took us to Brazil, dropped some funky house to then left us with a soul train party. He literally got the crowd dropping to the floor and doing the train - leaving a few people confused as to what festival they were at. It was eclectic and magical, and assumingly so from the Neuroscientist slash Eglo label co-founder. The Dome then got grimey with Mumdance who's brought a fresh perspective to the genre. He was joined on-stage by the talented MC Novelist and his Square crew who made the crowd skank to his repetitive love-for-Lewisham lyrics. (Watch Instagram video)

Sónar by Night moves you to a whole other realm. The independant venue is a cross between an aircraft hangar and expo centre which combines indoor and outdoor stages, letting you dance into the sunrise. The moment you enter the space you can’t help but be absorbed by the emptiness yet sheer number of people everywhere, enormity of the sound-systems, blazing beats, striking visuals and of course neon dodgem cars going everywhere yet nowhere. It’s a ravers dreamland.

Friday night saw A$AP Rocky bring his narcotic slow rhymes and ghostly bass experience to the Sonar Club space with tracks from his long awaited ‘At.Long.Last.A$AP’ album. The stage and the crowd were on fire. Then Mr. Birchard a.k.a Hudson Mohawke (who played in India as part of an RBMA tour last year) made his presence felt with a seriously stunning live performance of smoke and visuals that complimented his neon-synth style including drops from his latest album ‘Lantern.’ He’s an example of making it to the top without barely modifying his sound. (Watch Instagram video)

Also at Sonar Lab was SOPHIE whose ultra-luminescent neon pop PC sound, stood-out like no other. Jamie xx performed outside taking us into his world of ‘in colour,’ his new debut studio album. He led us down a journey with a nod to the rave era then slowly created magic - visual more than anything - that reflected the gentle spaces of his new album. Seeing in sunrise was Seth Troxler whose magnetism seamlessly transcended to the decks with his voodoo house and techno.

The order of the night for Saturday was outside at Sonar Pub. Act after act brought their own energy and style, keeping the crowd hooked. FKA Twigs shined like a true artist with her dark future R&B conveyed intensely through every limb in her body. Cashmere Cat took to the decks sending shivers when he dropped ‘Mirror Maru’. And the party continued throughout the night with Annie Mac - one of the few female djs listed, Siriusmodeselektor with a trip-hop party and French house legend Laurent Garnier who closed off the night. But the main man was Flying Lotus. He took us through a cosmic visual and sonic journey of new compositions taken from his latest album ‘You’re Dead.’ He was masterful and enigmatic. (Watch Instagram video)

Another key component of the festival was Sonar D+. It’s a space that hosts future technologies and multimedia art through workshops, demos and keynote speeches during the day. It added a layer of depth to the scale and complexity of design visuals demonstrated during the live shows but also allowed aficionados to be part of creating music tech’s future. A couple favourites were the ping-pong sound game and Yancey Strickler, CEO of Kickstarter, view on design crowdfunding projects that left creative food for thought.

Sonar proved it’s ahead of it’s time with underground electronic music. Demonstrated not just through content and curation but meticulous organisation, from cashless cards to easy access stages which gave revellers the chance to consume many acts. It also struck me, that a few of the main-stage artists had recently played in India - Hudson Mohawke, Modeselektor, Kindness and Maya Jane Coles. India’s a market that’s opening up to new electronic sounds, slowly but surely. We can only hope that more artists recognise the potential they have there and with Sonar taking place in a further seven countries, maybe India will one-day be a player amongst the list.

Words: Amrisha Prashar

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26 June 2015

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