Sonar 2015 – A Reflection

Art & Culture

If you’re ever lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Ransom Note diary, you’ll probably notice two engraved events, one being Sónar and the other being the illustrious annual National Cat Club meeting… which may or may not be a completely fictionalised affair in order to express Wil’s ardency for cats and Sónar equally. Either way, I was handed the reins from the veteran (watch it – Ed) himself to share my first time experience at one of the biggest electronic festivals of the season. 

It’s hard not to be swept away by the city of Barcelona with it’s beautiful weather, laid back nature and of course the hoards of attractive Spanish men. With over 100,000 people gearing up for the festival, the city didn’t seem to be over-run by ignorant twats running around on benders like those 'lads' you see in Majorca and Ibiza. This gave me great hope for the next few days. I actually thought I might get through the week without wanting to peg my shoe at some cocky jacked up so and so who advocates Skrillex as the sole creator of dubstep.

To kick things off, each year Red Bull Music Academy throw a pre Sónar warm up BBQ with loads of meaty treats and unlimited beverages, along with a few DJ sets from various artists to celebrate their collaboration with Sónar. I'm not one to refuse a free beverage or two so I trekked down alone, only to be told I was on the international guest list and they were at ‘capacity’ (I swear it was empty), so I had to wait until someone came out to scab their wristband. Luckily the security guard was understanding and did the dirty work for me. Next minute I’m in, sinking gin and tropical Red Bull two cups at a time, chatting to Argentinean gate-crashers while trying to pretend I wasn’t totally friendless.

One thing I found so unique about Sónar is all of the festivities that revolve around it. You could just go to Barcelona for the off-parties… but that would be missing out on all that the main event has to offer. That said though, Numbers party on the Thursday night at Nitsa Club with Jackmaster, Spencer, Optimo and a few others, turned out to be quite a night. They seemed to be hitting all the right notes; even Skrillex was having a good time. Not to sound like I’m bagging (Australian speak) on the guy, because I genuinely enjoyed some of his set at Sónar but my friends aren’t exactly his biggest fans. So when they came across him at the Numbers gig, it was hard not to slight poke the proverbial stick. There is some respect to be had for his screamo roots and I have to admit I’ve always had a soft spot for him, but as for my friends, they were all pretty quick to probe him about “that drop”.  (mean ozzies – Ed)

My friend Laura with Skrillex – it really captures the moment.

On Friday I ventured into Sónar by day at Fira Montjuïc for my first taste of digital bliss. As I walked into the Sónar Village, Redinho was pumping some casual day beats-ness, accompanied by two very talented backing vocalists. His set seemed to resonate well with the cerveza gulping, astro-turf ravers, prepping their bodies for the long day ahead. 

While exploring the venue I came across the SonarPLANTA installation and as I sat and watched, the whole thing became mesmerising. The RGB|CMY Kinetic Installation was designed by German studio ART+COM and consists of five circular discs floating in the air with reflective lights and interactive music. The music accompanying the project is designed to react with the movement of the discs, which was created by Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds. The whole experience was incredibly calming and I can see how it could become addictive to those with brain-altering vices at work. 

Moving on into the Sónar Hall, Bristolian producer Vessel had the crowd absorbed in his amalgamation of sound and visuals. Originally I thought I’d walked into another type of exhibition because the room was so dark. I didn’t catch a glimpse of Vessel once. The only thing visible was a huge screen projecting visuals that were a complete representation of his latest album Punish, Honey. Think flashing scenes of female nudity and sexual submission rendered in a tasteful way, if there is such a thing.

Over at the Red Bull SónarDome, US duo Teengirl Fantasy were up next on my agenda. It was about four thirty in the afternoon and everyone was just soaking it in, bopping here and there to the futuro sounds coming out of TF’s robotic brains. There’s nothing more fitting than urban-super-future visuals depicting everyday existence (strippers and all) in a crossover of warped animation and reality to really get the mind running. 

The day wasn’t short of technical difficulties, with Arthur Baker shaking his hardware in frustration while Kate Tempest on the other hand caught the brunt of it. The sound was cut halfway through her performance of Circles and wasn’t resolved for a good five minutes… Was she cut on purpose? That's what many people were thinking, but she was putting on a great show. Everyone seemed to really connect with her and rightfully so. That girl can spit out words faster than, dare I say it Slim Shady, nearly. Luckily the sound was resurrected, however she struggled to lift the bar back up to where it was. 

Sónar+D was full of innovative technology that held my interest – I came across The Ghost in the Machine created by Barcelona based studio Glassworks and production company Canada. In short, it was like creating a GIF of yourself. A 3D scan is taken as you stare into a triangular screen, which can then be edited using a multitude of different mapping techniques. The end result equals a ‘dancing’ robot displaying your image on a screen, which is described as an observation of one's soul. Can you see my soul? Can you see my entire face; is probably a more accurate question.

I like the idea of having two venues but it’s a tad frustruating when you want to see the last act at the day venue and the first one at the night venue (it’s not possible, it just isn’t) and you’re in an inebriated state come 5am you somehow struggle to find the shuttle bus back to civilisation and proceed to walk for four hours by yourself in probably the wrong direction because you’ve lost all of your friends (sorry Ro!). That being said, the night venue is insane and it is honestly the best festival venue I’ve ever been to. Salva was tearing up the main stage as we walked in and I instantly got over the fact that I could hear A$AP Rocky’s L$D from outside as I waited in the aforementioned queue. 

Die Antwoord – No explanation needed. Screaming ‘sny-sny jou snoekie cookie’ never gets old. 

Jamie XX closely after Die Antwoord was probably the biggest blunder timing-wise. Can you imagine what it’s like going from the messy, demented raucous of Die Antwoord to Jamie’s left of centre London house? I’ve been waiting to see Jamie for so long but circumstances were not ideal and it turned out being a colossal downer. 

So now we’re at the part where I say, thank god for Skrillex. His set was the pick me up everyone needed. He played some real ‘bangaz’ with a little bit of Kendrick to sweeten the crowd. Low points included Sam Smith snippets and a cringey Lion King tribute – ‘Scream for Simba’ Sonny shouts, appealing to the majority I’m sure. But lasers. Enough said. 

I didn’t make it to Róisín Murphy. Super sad face. She is a massive talent. If she played this song, my heart may break. Note, she starts singing at around the 2-minute mark.


Fast-forwarding to the night session – FKA Twigs was wistfully floating around the stage head to toe in white. I only caught the end of the token '80s rock band' of the line-up; Duran Duran. They successfully managed to enhance the electronic elements of their music to suit the crowd, with bigger, bassier drums vibrating throughout. 

Erol Alkan was a breath of fresh air with his clean house, while Southern Hospitality was ripping out all the gangster hits over at SónarCar. There is also nothing more satisfying than giving yourself whiplash on fluro high-speed dodgem cars when you’re hyped.

Flying Lotus had his boogieman goggles on, doing his thing inside that magical cube of light. But the majority were drawn to The Chemical Brothers over on the main stage, with the room at it’s fullest. Another aspect that makes Sónar so incredible is the effort they’ve gone to in creating an experience out of every set. The technology, lighting, visuals and spaces used all play huge roles in achieving this, which is something rare in this day and age of festivals. Annie Mac’s floating head was featured on the screens of her set.

Then suddenly I was being sucked into a vortex of light while dancing to Dubfire, until my feet couldn’t move any longer. 

The end product

If I could do anything different next time, I’d probably get to more day events and explore Sónar+D a little more. But other than that, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Bring on next year! 

Oh and this is Oscar, our Barcelona flat cat who took a bite out of my friends’ leg after someone stepped on his tail… Oscar made a full recovery; Stephen’s leg on the other hand has not been so lucky.