Sonar Lisbon 2022 – A Reflection
The latest edition of the festival series in focus.
We tend to associate the heady days of Sonar with blistering June heat. The streets of Barcelona become a tonic as optimism returns to the air for those short few months in the early Summer when the whole world feels like a great place once again.
You also associate Sonar with the international beast it’s become – ‘branded’ events around the world in Reykavik, Sao Paolo, Hong Kong and Istanbul. For us it’s always been a struggle to imagine the energy of the Spanish original across other weekends but when Sonar Lisbon announced itself it did feel like the perfect opportunity to try out ‘the brand’ elsewhere.
Lisbon is the new cool, right? Or it’s the new Berlin? Or maybe it’s the old Berlin? Or at least it’s the old new cool?
Whatever… It’s beautiful, a city that continues to go through endless stages of reinvention and rejuvenation. Lisbon’s latest incarnation seems to be as the crypto capital of Europe – attracting people through low business and entrepreneur taxes.
As the rest of Europe loses its head in escalating living costs, Lisbon’s unofficial claim as being one of ‘the most economical capital cities to live’ quickly manifests itself when you step into a taxi from the airport and discover a ride into the centre only costs €8.
This is all well and good for us Northern European tourists and ‘digital nomads’ descending on the capital. However, with it comes the intrinsic problems of gentrification, of displacement and everything else the rest of the world brings when they discover somewhere warmer and cheaper than the grumbly old hole they live in.
Now… where’s my avocado and poached eggs on toast and my oat flat white, ah yes here it is.
One of the most pleasant year-round temperatures in Europe means not only are the summers long and glorious but the winters mild and tolerable compared with the misery further north. This is all well and good but the weekend in question brings with it rain and what can only be described as ‘northerly winds’. But you can’t control the weather can you so let’s just get on with it, shall we.
The festival proper’s Friday night is given over to two venues. First up, is the beautiful Pavilhão Carlos Lopes: the Pavilion of Portuguese Industries built-in 1922 during the International Exhibition of Rio de Janeiro and transported brick by brick back to Lisbon.
Tonight, the historical venue would be a palimpsest, playing host to two artists distinctly representing Lisbon’s ‘now’.
Nídia and DJ Marfox are at the forefront of the most character-defining movement of the city’s contemporary dance music scene, representing the record label currently trailblazing Portugal’s batida revolution: Princípe Discos. A far less intimate setting than the home of their infamous Thursday night parties at Musicbox, the two delivered a high-energy amalgam of uptempo kuduro, sensual kizomba, and tarraxinha beats to an ecstatic audience which included other members of the label who danced emphatically at the front of the crowd, and a fellow performer who joined in from stage left.
Eagle-eyed crowd members could spot the ferocious hair whips of an ever-frenetic Arca who spent the entire hour of Marfox’s set voguing from the wing. Her abundant energy – though one would expect nothing less from an artist whose entire raison d’etre is based on being un-overlookable – surely came from the set she had just played, giving a new meaning to the word ‘kaleidoscopic’ and her loyal ‘mutants’ exactly what they came for. Donning a textbook sexy cleaner outfit and some suitably extraterrestrial platforms, she waltzed around the stage with a cigarette and a glass of champagne poised in her hands alongside a microphone into which she performed ‘Rakata’, ‘KLK’ and ‘Riquiqui’ during intervals of dembow pitched up to breakneck speed and seemingly-incongruous-yet-somehow-perfect blends of hip hop into noise. This was a rare opportunity for Arca stans to see her in action and will have provoked many international journeys; disappoint she did not.
Elsewhere the distinctly underwhelming Centro Congresso Lisboa – a shiny-floored conference centre on the outskirts of town, reached by scooter (not recommended late at night) – is given over to the more straight-up techno with Vim, Cravo and Imogen hammering it out early doors as the cavernous hall fills. Considering this hammering has ensued for the past 3 or 4 hours solid, Stingray’s live set feels distinctly lacklustre. In a different setting it would have been perfect but sandwiched between the energy that came before and Richie Hawtin and Hector Oaks’ all vinyl b2b after feels like a slight misstep for the excitable crowd. Hawtin and Oaks are incredible by the way, opting for the full vinyl approach, which imbues a sense of reality into Richie’s at times clinical persona armour. Hearing them clang mixes makes it all the more engaging and you’re reminded that Hawtin isn’t actually a robot, of how great that Plastikman-era really was.
No, it wasn’t a dream.
Saturday’s action is split between the Pavillion, indoors and out – a fitting daytime stand-in for Barcelona’s Macbar if we’re doing comparisons – and the impressive +D programme of art and talks. The +D setting in the Factory Lisbon, up the coast road (and yes reached by the inimitable electric scooters), is a myriad of abandoned and derelict warehouses in the early stages of redevelopment that has seen many decades of decay.
Back at the Pavilao and IAMDDB, The Blaze and Nicola Cruz all turn in performances of note with India Jordan rounding out proceedings outdoors with a high energy closer as the daylight disappears.
The evening’s more dance focussed programming is reserved for Coliseu dos Recreios, a hugely impressive 19th-century auditorium that hosts the very excellent Chloe Robinson, rRoxymore, Floating Points and Bicep. Watching Matt and Andy Bicep’s celestial live show fill the auditorium from way up in the gods is a majestic way to end any evening.
We’re barely standing by Sunday but witnessing the rise and rise of Overmono, in an almost headline slot, weave in ‘Rollin’ & Scratchin’ is enough to stir any weary feet. Couple that with Rádio Quântica’s most excellent Viiolet and Bleid closing out proceedings and you walk away from Sonar Lisbon 1.0 with a sweet taste of things to come.
It’s great to dance outdoors again and it’s great to experience Sonar in a format, away from the Brits abroad which Barcelona can sadly be party to in June.
Whilst there’s a few tweaks needed to the format – is €8 for a pint too much to charge in a city where you could get one for effectively a quarter of this price? Would we rather have more daytime dancing on a Friday vs the Sunday when energies are low? perhaps…
However, what has been most noted is that in enlisting local promoters Neopop’s assistance on the ground in Lisbon was a wise move and there’s a ton to build on from that first incarnation.
Photos by Si Hill