Although the cohort may not fully agree, Barcelona is truly one of the great cities of the world. Great climate, amazing food, affordable, a beach on your doorstep… We could go on. For around 12 years now R$N has trodden the now very well worn pilgrimage to Barceloneta and the superior intellectual property that is the aural heat wave of Sonar and it's outlying off-ness. Tired of outlaying the best part of 200 quid for a wet field full of trench foot – of which I've quite happily gone back to in recent years – we forfeited a Glastonbury ticket all those years ago in favour of a week in the sun on the recommendation of a sibling who'd discovered the enormity of the Catalan phenomenon a year previous…and we've been back pretty much every year since.
For those without the time to read my ramblings here's the one-liner:
Another epic year of greatness for ears, feet and sunshine eyes in one of our favourite cities in the world. Why would you not be booking your flights for next year now…
And the long one:
The festival has morphed and mutated over the years but the premise remains the same; By day in the heart of the city (Sonar By Day) for the more left of centre strands of electronic music the globe has to offer, by night an altogether more nocturnal affair – obviously – for the more club orientated global players alongside a classic/veteran group or artist. The now mythical anti-Sonar, a rather 'crusty' shall we say happening which took place on a piece of scrubland over the road after Sonar by night has gone but the unofficial 'Off Sonar', a series of label parties across the city's various clubs now runs alongside the main festival beats throughout the city during the week of and post. There's even a 4 day mini-festival 'easternder' which takes a place just out of town serving up the more tech-house strands…
This year begins with the customary Red Bull Music Academy network-fest BBQ on Wednesday evening where free stuff and rather fine cuts of cooked Spanish meat and fruit skewers are washed down with customary gin and RB silvers and everyone gets a little more drunk than they need to be on a school night whilst listening to Jackmaster bashing out a mighty fine wedding hip hop set.
Day 1 proper of Sonar begins for R$N with the Brain Feeder showcase which quickly becomes a little difficult for our party's virgin Thursday ears and we opt for a quick dash to Eltron John and then out into the throng of Barcelona and a beer cold beer in the sunshine in one of the abundant and mostly amazing bars surrounding the MACBA – the cultural centre sonar by day is held in. Back inside, fuelled up to catch the Daedelus live show finds the Sonar Hall customarily oversubscribed as per Nicolas Jaar last year and any other rising stars which are booked and quickly outgrow their surroundings by the time the festival comes around. Too rammed to get in we opt for more cerveza imbibing and a wander round the – rather scant this year – weird stuff and demos area. Not content with that we sway around the more permanant exhibitions upstairs in the MACBA before heading back underground to Jamie Liddell's ace new project Mostly Robot downstairs post-Daedelus carnage is surprisingly empty. Those that are there bear witness to one of the highlight sets of the day replete with a cover of Aphexs Windowlicker
Upstairs as the sun sets behind the main stage Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs shows how to enhance a live show which, otherwise, could just be another lad behind a laptop looking like he's checking his emails. Instead he's head-dressed up and the flamboyance of the dancers in tow produce a suitably fitting and positive end to what is always the best day of Sonar day.
All becoming a little blurry by now – we swerve east bender and Mac Arena Mar and head to the rather fine Life and Death party taking place up on the mountain and in what looks like the control tower for the cable cars. Tale of Us – pretty serious contenders for next big things – close proceedings. Quality music all day.
Head hurts – Trevor Jackson sorts that out with his noticeably deep and refined tones outdoors on the main stage, quickly followed by an unknown and impressive Nightwave over on RBMA's dome. Wandering past the main stage again and another unknown catches our ear in the form of Austra. Initially put off by the live proposition of 3 not massively likeable – R$N likes no-one remember! – girls bouncing around the stage. Oddly the aural overtones quickly win the outsider over and we resolve to investigate them further on our return de Londres.
The dog is hot – oh yes it is. The guaca dog is also close to being one of the best hot dogs these tastes buds have ever experienced.
A quick cab ride down to the bazzathon taking place on the beach and a pretty much instant return – deleted at the behest of a few – back to fight our way into John Talabot proves fruitless so we head over to see what Nina Kraviz is saying with her debut live performance. For someone so blessed with a confidence only a face like that would give you she looks mightily nervous. The bass tones not really going anywhere for our ears – I heard it got quite good when we departed – and with chants of Talabot Talabot chiming in our ears we head back to give it one last go… it works. We elbow our way to the front speaker and – whilst missing So Will Be is a massive disappointment – are rewarded with the religious experience that is closer and stone cold classic Destiny. Buzzing with excitement we leave what has been a mighty fine afternoon of ear and soul pleasing
And on into the night… Entering Sonar by Night we're instantly assaulted by Amon Tobin's incredibly engrossing and overwhelming visual show. You almost forget that the music isn't actually that ground breaking and realise this is more of an installation with a sound track as opposed to a 'live' show proper. Visually stunning. Following them Espana upstarts Coyu, another new addition to R$N's musical education tear the metaphorical arse out of the main room post Tobin.So much so that Mr Hawtin's much anticipated set that follows feels a little underwhelming. Perhaps it's just us, we'll be sure to give him another whirl at Bloc next week. In need of a little pick me up we head to James Murphy who seems to be making the incredible outdoor space that is the Sonarpub his own for the past few years and he doesn't fail once again, technically on point too (!) and winding through disco and other, you can't help feeling he should have been given another hour. Next year please the 'ar? Especially once the absurdity of Fatboy Slim's show follows. Finding ourselves like salmon trying to swim upstream as some really bad acid is kicking in, we finally escape and head to Brodinski whose ear bleeding tech edged boyz noize bang-a-thon is just the antidote. Back for what can only be described as an epic Jacques Lu Cont and his outdoor closer and that's another Sonar by Night well and truly done and done. Superb.
Saturday daytime is only soothed by Nicholas Jaar's absurdly great and powerful new project Dark Side which is the only hangover cure that's ever worked for a final day of a festival followed by the coup that is DJ Harvey for RBMA. Beginning with what I'd almost describe as a little dull chugging techno and moving into the strangely obvious choice of Holden's mix Nathan Fake's The Sky Was Pink he finally hits his stride with customary obscure disco aplomb, what ensues is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the weekend and one that gratifyingly overruns by a fair, fair bit…
Sadly missing New Order due to the aforementioned Harvey overrun – we're told they were amazing – something is wrong with the sound with Azari and III as we dive into the night of sonar mark 2. Which is shame because we were hoping they'd be one of R$N highlights… Mmmmmmmary Ann Hobbs b2b Blawan. She's just ace isn't she…and she still looks amazing. Not that age or looks come into anything!
"You know he's actually got a mouse for a head? What a great gimmick"
Ignoring a rather cynical friend's sarcasm we satisfy our obsession for these incredibly over the top 'EDM' shows and feed 15 mins of absurdity into our brains and head to Deadmau5. You understand why Sonar book acts of the magnitude these days. With the influx of close to 200 off sonar parties this year, you have to book these headliners to fill the enormodomes of the nightime. You just couldn't compete with the cheaper off sonar parties otherwise. If that's the way it has to be for it to happen you've got no complaints from this side of the fence. ..as long as I'm not effectively forced to listen to Fatboy Slim like I was the night before.
Outdoors Modeselektor prove why they are consistently one of the most interesting and amazing live electronic prospects today and then Laurent Garnier and his LBS as the sun comes up….well! What more could you ask for really? Done
An incredible festival once again…one thing tho my dearest – what feels like almost a relative these days – Sonar, next year please feed us more weird stuff, demos and larger showcases outdoors as opposed to fighting to get into a basement.
8.5 / 10 if such a thing exists in R$N reviews. Done it twice this week too… this rating thing!