Review: Sonar Festival

4 July 2012

Sonar Festival couldn’t get any better if it tried. Set in the cosmopolitan coastal city of Barcelona the smell of excitement fused with slowly sautéing seafood and frothy Estrella beer (the brewery is in the centre of town) provides the perfect cyclorama for the five-day groundbreaking international electronic music festival.

Kicking off proceedings on Tuesday night, Red Bull Music Academy threw a BBQ bash with free flowing food and drink at Real Club Maritim de Barcelona. The venue, normally a luxurious boat club, welcomed movers and shakers from the international electronic dance music scenes to cut the rug and celebrate 12 years of The Academy. We caught ear of Numbers affiliate Jackmaster rinsing out 80s classics and house before checking out the impromptu port side dance off between Flying Lotus and some of his crew. The party set the tone perfectly for their RBMA Dome stage at Sonar by Day in the centre of town.

Running Wednesday to Saturday Sonar by Day hosts two spanking outdoor stages and one inside, the later caters perfectly for artists wanting to showcase AV shows, case in point was Deadlus and his Victorian mirror inspired ‘Archimedes’ show. On the main stage revellers were treated to a flawless good vibes set by Brainfeeder founder and the guy with the cheekiest smile in EDM Flying Lotus. The LA native rinsed out tunes from his jazztastic ‘Cosmagramma’, ‘Los Angeles’ and ‘1983’ releases plus new numbers from his expansive imprint. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (TEED) played a set that included his latest single ‘American Dream’, ‘Stronger’ and ‘Household Goods’. Famed for captivating live shows with costumes, confetti cannons and a pair of bootilcious dancers; this performance exceeded expectation. Meanwhile over at the Sonar Dome, Om Unit wowed the crowd with his perfect mix of jungle sounds and progressive bass music including new cuts from his excellent ‘Aeolian’ EP (due for release in July on Civil Music). Things started to get really sweaty when juke legends Rashad and Spinn played back-to-back wheeling tunes for their footwork dancers. Other highlights from Sonar Dome include disco legend DJ Harvey, former RBMA participants Chicago house and booty specialist Brenmar, French collective Club Cheval, Nightwave and XXXY.

The venue for Sonar by Night is on the outskirts of town and is a large building that looks like a cross between an airport hanger and exhibition centre. On entering the event a small stall by drug prevention agency Energy Control were on hand to test the purity of clubbers drugs to ensure that if people are going to ‘get on it’ they do it safely. ‘Pill Testing’ has been happening since the early 90s in select countries in the EU providing education and information on the drugs most commonly found in nightclubs.

Two of the three stages were open air with Sonar Pub and Sonar Lab sandwiched between two buildings allowing for the ample sound systems to boom at a good level whilst ensuring enough space to dance. At the Sonar Pub ravers were treated to an awesome performance by live alternative dance act Friendly Fires who played hits like ‘Hawaiian Air’ from their latest album ‘Pala.’ LCD Sound Systems James Murphy stepped up to the decks to play a disco set that was pure perfection. Norman Cook a.k.a Fatboy Slim stole the show with his stealthy techno influenced DJ set. He excelled as both a legendary selector and performer donning masks and puppeteering the audience without the need for his chart topping cheesy club hits.

Saturday night presented a mixed bag that included: Raf Rundle and Joe Goddard’s 2 Bears DJ set, Philly hip-hop outfit The Roots, Modselektor’s epic 3D live show and Mary Ann Hobbs b2b with techno heavyweight Blawan. Deep house selector and producer Maya Jane Coles warmed up the crowd for the seriously stylish Toronto house group Azari & III. The band blasted the crowd with bubbles and vogued on stage between songs including a huge rendition of hypnotic smash ‘Hungry For The Power’ and anthem ‘Reckless (With Your Love).’

For the pop-up Sonar Car stage crunk was definitely the order of the night with a selection of unlisted DJs played anthems by Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Rocky, Clams Casino and dizzying juke cuts. This laid back dirty hip-hop sound leaked its way into Kode 9’s set with him mashing up tempos rinsing out hyperactive Amens to early dubstep as part of the Hyperdub stage take over at Sonar Lab. Bristolian house expert Julio Bashmore closed the stage with a breathtakingly awesome house set - it was a hands in the air affair!

When the Sonar By Night venue shut the crowd cheered and whooped as they left the building seeking after parties with everyone from Secret Sundaze to 50 Weapons staking a claim on the best party. For a lot of people the beach was the place to be where the vibe was electric with cocktails, sun loungers, a truly international crowd (with not a cloud in the sky): the perfect way to end a festival and start a Spanish holiday.

Here's a couple of radio shows from a couple of our writers favourite sets at Sonar:

Words: Hayley Joyes


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