The only downturn going on in Barcelona from June 17th - 21st this year was a void of early risers missing out on hotel breakfasts. Perhaps that was an isolated experience for myself and my traveling companion but, what was prevalent at Sonar festival this year was that not only were the huge number of attendees, 3 day passes and Saturday Day sold out, but the curiosity and hunger of those in attendance. Over the past few years of this festival, an occasionally disjointed roster has often attracted a more laid back, diverse and interesting crowd to Sonar by Day. Sonar Night though, seemed to lure a louder, beer swilling and toxic mix that were more intent on hunting down the most repetitive, recognizable or 'banging' beats on showcase that particular evening way out In Fira 2, Hospitalet. Sonar 2009 however, was quite contrary.
A festival that many see has one of the most influential brands in electronic music today. The organizers have been steadily building strong relationships with other global electronic music channels such as the always compelling Red Bull Music Academy and, fast becoming a leader in the breaking of new underground music worldwide, club and BBC radio DJ Mary Anne Hobbs. Indeed the latter connection with BBC has even grown to include another stage during Sonar Day featuring BBC radio DJ Huw Stephens and several introduced acts. Alongside these newly established partners, stalwarts of electronic music and Sonar veterans (Hawtin, Mills, Garnier and Carl Craig), fresh beatmaking talent and many bands convened to make this one of the most fluent and well blended Sonar's I have witnessed. For such a large festival and with a global reputation, the music selection and event organization is always going to be a tight rope of opinions and critique. For really to the point up to date line-ups it would be much easier and self-satisfying for electronic music enthusiasts to check out smaller and younger festivals such as Italy's Dissonanze, Norway's NuMusic and even the only comparable North American counterpart Mutek, held in Montreal. However, what Sonar holds over these other festivals is a consistent mix between new and old, underground, uncovered and well-known acts. A healthy move toward a more band friendly festival was also a real feather in the hat for Sonar this year. Having been trumped, in many critics opinions, by fellow Barcelonian festival Primavera Sound in terms of quality and depth of the line-up and perceived 'coolness' of the crowd this year spelled out a strong comeback for a date that crosses all electronic music enthusiasts minds come mid June every year.
In terms of the actual festival, a mixture of classic acts making comebacks (Grace Jones and Orbital), genre defying experimental acts (Animal Collective, Fever Ray, Crystal Castles) and a strong showing from what we now generally call the 'Beat Generation' was solidified by a plethora of off Sonar events. Strangely these off events seemed to actually compliment the core festival as opposed to detract from it. Pick of the bunch probably being Flying Lotus's Brainfeeder night taking on local Barcelona night Plat Du Jour (ran by the former organizers of Friends and Family). Our very own DO IT! collective also had a night on that you can read about below.
Sonar highlights were witnessing a room fill to the bassy wobbles and wibbles of the ever charming Vienna based Dorian Concept and courtesy of his Korg machines, keyboards and at one stage shoe. You can watch some highlights here. Fever Ray had a very stylish yet brief set taking influence from the Gothic and Futurist fashions du jour at the moment. Glasgow's Rustie put in a very strong performance mixing wonky, r'n'b and rave inspired breaks to a rather limp crowd, showing he has a lot more than just exciting production in the armoury. But, festival highlight was undoubtedly the performance that was but never was. Crystal Castles and Alice Glass in particular normally pack a punch or two musically wherever they perform but, after numerous sound problems I don't think anyone expected Glass to layout a security guard with a fist after failing on first attempt with the biggest drum on stage. Check here for THE highlight of Sonar this year. Thanks to Delia Dumitrescu for the photos, who I met mid Dorian Concept. You can check out her latest blog entries and photos via her site here.
Photo: Muhsinah (USA) live during Sonar Day by Delia Larisa Dumitrescu.