Sonar 2011: A Reflection

Art & Culture

“What the fuck is your obsession with James Murphy?”

It’s often difficult to keep an open mind about something you’ve loved and admired for so long and no I’m not talking about the above quote of my weekend. This year I went with an even stronger opinion towards this year’s Sonar event than normal. All I’d gotten in my inbox for the weeks preceding Sonar Week were “come to this party” or “come to that party ‘off-sonar’.” A few weeks back, I got on my soap-box and had a whole heap of a rant about said subject on these here virtual pages. Said rant landed me in a whole heap of backlash. I got quite a dressing down by the (tech) house mafia for dissing these parties and not showing my support for them.
My point was not that they shouldn’t be doing them, just that my preference for my loosely termed ‘holiday’ lay with the sort of ear-bleeding beauty that can be found within the confines of Sonar by Day… and indeed by Night… and once again I was, with great delight proved right.

To a lot of the more ‘underground’ publications the festival has recently gone too ‘commercial’ and is seen to have sold-out. That’s kind of like saying that fabric has sold-out or indeed Bloc have lost it because they’ve started booking house acts. Just because it’s a popular stop on the summer festival circuit, doesn’t automatically mean it’s sold-out. Obviously this is all relative and to me, musically this is still the European festival of the summer.

The beginning of the festival doesn’t get off to the best of starts for our roving reporter/old btd. Frantically putting the week’s R$N issue together in our flat takes the best part of the morning and early afternoon and that’s with posting a load of spam for the ‘This Week’ section. Finally making it down MACBA way (where the day part of the festival happens), pass finally in hand, I bump into my co-hort and pretty much flat(tend) mates coming in the opposite direction. Flattened in the sense that they can barely stand… this is around 2pm you understand. Casting my petulance aside – realising this is what I should expect from an over-excited Sonar Thursday afternoon in the blazing streets of Barcelona – we head into the fold of all that is good and proper to be confronted with the mixed bag of wonderment from the 19 year old walking encyclopedia that is Floating Points. That boy got some rekkids…and they sure sound good in the sun.

Can’t get into Nicolas Jaar in Sonar Hall… it’s like putting the Arctic Monkeys on in the smallest tent in Reading just as they were about to blow up or Pulp on the Park Stage at Glastonbury this year… fun for those that have made it in and a legend to talk about for years to come but for the rest of us… well. Manage to sneak in the side entrance and catch the last minute of him, which is well… a minute. Still, nothing will beat seeing him on top of the Standard Hotel earlier in the year with his full band for the first time… I’m not bragging, I’m just saying. He is an amazing live prospect, even if there’s more hype on him than…

Elsewhere on Thursday Poirer, kidkanevil and rising newbies Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble at Red Bull Music Academy‘s Sonar Dome are all highlights…

Drunken night on the Don (Simon) ensues…

Friday’s always the biggie at Sonar for I generally and this year to be fair isn’t any different. It’s a toss up between Agoria and Zinc, so we plump for a bit of both. It’s hard to beat Sonar Village mid-afternoon – outdoor, astro-turf, sun, booze – and Agoria is tearing a sublime hole through the daytime ‘terrace’, with just a tad more refinement than the billing at the same time last year. You know who you are/I’m talking about. The allure of Sonar Dome draws you in time and again. Behemoths aside, RBMA puts it’s sizeable coffers where it’s mouth is time and again and Zinc is ripping a whole in the roof of the Dome… as I stand and pity the residents around there!
Teebs on the same stage later on is quite a surprise. Herein lies the beauty of Sonar. You’ll discover electronic oddities you never knew existed which starts you on another spiral of discovery. I know the same can be said for a lot of festivals but to have it here in such concentrated measures is a true delight. A wander back to the Village to grab a decent spot for everybody’s off-kilter hero Four Tet, we catch the second surprise of the day. Chilean born, turned local boy DJ Raff is pretty much destroying the mid-afternoon faithful. If he ever comes to town… go see. If you’re at Sonar, you would’ve followed Kieran Hebden AKA Four Tet for time and this performance is a crystallisation of those many great years of watching him grow into the master he’s become. He twists and turns tracks old and new into brand new creations. Love Cry’s bassline’s been replayed and beefed up, the vocals are wrenched into something altogether more cerebral. A true, true master. Anyway I’ll stop there, it’s time to go get fed and watered afore we get the fabled cab to the nocturnal um cha um cha…

And so to the enormo-rave of the evening that so many seem to be swerving this year. “Oh I just can’t cope with big groups of people”. OK, fair enough but I’m off to smash it. I’ve been told not to write reviews like a diary of who I saw, when… so I won’t. Human League played to a surprisingly half empty auditorium, they are still great. M.I.A. a big surprise… in that she’s not nearly as much of a let down as when I last saw her. Benji B is great. Aphex is an average affair once again. Have to make that pilgrimage back to Space again this year for a proper fix of the last time he was. The rest is pretty much a blur… until James Murphy emerges for the closing set as the sun comes up in SonarPub (you can hardly call this a pub mate).

Text conv:

A: Where are you?
W: James Murphy
A: What the fuck is your obsession with James Murphy?

My obsession being that by this time in the morning you want to stop thinking too much and just move those feet. Nosebleed techno (almost) next to disco next curveball oddities next to this…

Overplayed? Yes. Still sounds as amazing as the first time you ever heard it all those years ago? Indeed.
We leave happy and smiling (except perhaps A) and wander back to the city… and wake up on the pavement in Park Montjuic. An amazing move for all concerned…

Doubting myself that I’d made the wrong decision and been overly harsh, we venture to a roof top on the Sunday to be confronted by Barry central… I can get my fix of that every weekend in London town so head downstairs to drink possibly the best and cheapest Mojito I’ve ever drunk… If I were less of a cynic I’d behave like Mr G and manage to take the piss out of it all. As it stands I’ll just have to hide behind my backpack, the festival proper and these words.

At a time when I’m considering jacking this whole business in a going and living under a rock Sonar once again confirmed why you love the things you love… all over again. Next year I’m not drinking at all and will make it to the full 3 days, 2 nights… yeah OK then.

Download Rob Da Bank’s Radio 1 show live from Sonar last week with Floating Points, Four Tet, Toro Y Moi & Barcelona Laptop Orchestra here.
Check Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble live from Red Bull Music Academy dot com Sonar Dome.