If Brighton is known as ‘London by sea’ for its preponderance of big city hipsters drawn by the thriving music scene, relaxed atmosphere and proximity to the beach, then it’s safe to say that, for Sonar at least, Barcelona feels the same.
Now entering its 17 edition, this year’s Sonar (or International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art to give it full credit) is like a home away from home with London’s sun-starved music cognoscenti taking full advantage of the festival’s expansive scope, which takes in everything from outdoor experimental noodlings during Sonar Day to full-on face melting techno rave in the cavernous setting of Sonar night.
Even Pete Tong, Radio One’s soothing voice of dance conservatism, gets off our flight on the sunny Thursday afternoon to head for the faux grass covering in front of SonarVillage, where he’s playing a special 2-hour ‘Pieces In A Modern House’ set later.
For now, however, a stampede of horses’ hooves echoing around the courtyard (courtesy of the Go Mag DJs) has us seeking shelter in the subterranean depths of SonarHall where Warp’s Broadcast are taking to the stage. Backed by psychedelic projections that envelope singer Trish Keenan as she wanders the stage, their re-imagining of eerie early 60s electronic pop holds the huge audience in sway and encapsulates precisely the kind of off-kilter leftfield imaginings that Sonar’s organisers are happy to embrace.
Now pulling in as many punters as its official counterpart, off-Sonar’s array of club nights piggy-back on the festival’s popularity to provide a head spinning array of options. Plumping for Soma’s party at Le Terraza, the famous outdoor club in Pueblo Español, a creepily authentic recreation of a Spanish village in the hills of Barcelona, most people unfortunately seem to be elsewhere or saving themselves for tomorrow night’s main event.
For first timers arriving at Sonar Night the next evening the imposing venue lives up to its monolithic reputation, Batman style spotlights burning holes in the clouds above a massive complex swarming with attendees. Part conference centre, part aircraft hanger, it’s fitting that when we enter SonarClub Aeroplane are playing somewhere in the distance, a lone figure illuminated on an expansive stage firing out gleaming nu-disco gems.
Orientation takes a while, a peek at the sweaty mass jammed in front of Hot Chip revealing that, contrary to its name, SonarPub is actually a huge outdoor arena packing in an unbelievably large number of people. We soon find ‘home’ though in the equally open-air setting of SonarLab where the line-up has been assembled by DJMag favourite Mary Anne Hobbs.
Taking in everything from glitched-out hip-hop to techno, Flying Lotus has the crowd jerking about to his avalanche of beats like a deranged puppet master, grabbing the mic to further fan the hype. Roska (Roska, Roska) follows, switching between sub heavy urban house and more syncopated rhythms, the leap from Kyla and Crazy Cousin’s ‘Do You Mind’ to Deadboy’s ‘I U Want’ showing the scope of funky’s influence.
By comparison Dixon’s deep house lacks oomph while 2ManyDJs wedding set delivers the same old tracks they’ve been peddling since their inception so we’re soon back out for Hudson Mohawke who’s bobbing manically behind the decks and dropping beats so hot not even the presence of an MC can douse their fire.
The truly formidable spectacle of SonarPub comes into its own during Carte Blanche’s closing set, thousands of wide-eyed ravers illuminated by the morning sun as Riton and Mehdi drop everything from French touch to booty bass, Inner City’s ‘Good Life’ echoing around the surrounding walls and providing a fitting send off.
Crosstown Rebels enduring popularity makes them a tech-house homing beacon for UK clubbers of all accents and age, so Saturday night finds us surrounded by plenty of familiar faces at Oshum Club.
Down in the thumping, underground liar of Damian Lazarus, dressed like a mad sorcerer as he waves his hands in the air to accompany his deep, dirty house incantations, the crowd is so young it’s probably never heard of City Rockers, but as the stage behind him, filled with an entourage that includes Jamie Jones and Guy Gerber, shows, this is the place to be.
To prove it, upstairs and outside Seth Troxler steps forward to the decks overlooking the terrace, a pulse of electronic noise signalling his intent to the wild abandonment of the people below as they jostle for dancing space and air in the cloying squeeze.
The end arrives unexpectedly soon, Barcelona’s usual morning lack of taxis dispersing the fleeing crowds in different directions in search of transport to the next stop of Sonar’s never ending party. Whatever the final destination, however, there’s no doubt that all roads will converge again on Barcelona next year.