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The Best Sónar 2012 Performances

Our selection of the ten best live shows and five best DJ sets we witnessed at the festival

After Sónar, we give you an overview of the best gigs we saw, heard and danced to over the past three days. Here's our selection of the ten best live shows and five best DJ sets of a Sónar that exceeded all of our expectations.

Everybody agrees it was a great Sónar, full of memorable moments and excitement. Wherever you went, there always was a good gig going on or a DJ with a great nose for what the people needed. Of course, it wasn't all brilliant, and not everyone lived up to our expectations, but many did, even exceeding them. Here's our selection of the ten best live shows and five best DJ sets, in strict alphabetical order.

Amon Tobin - ISAM

The cubes. Those damned cubes. I don't know if the ideas presented this year at Sónar, like Daedalus’ mirror machine, or Masaki Batoh’s neuronal helmet, will be part of the leisure of the future, or whether they will go down in history as picturesque ideas of obsolete technology. I also don't know if the holograms of dead artists will be making money for a long time. What I do know is that in a time of crisis for the music industry, an increasing number of artists are coming up with pioneering ideas about the entertainment of the future. Among them are the visuals for “ISAM”, without a doubt, Amon Tobin's most difficult album. I admit that it's a bit too much for me at times, with all of those monolithic noises; it’s a record that electronic music fans won't like, but which will earn him more industrial metal and progressive rock fans. Onstage is a white cubical construction, part of which is the booth that the Brazilian works from, covered most of the time. On the cube, moving images are projected that interact with the geometries of cubes: galaxies, cities, industrial machines with monstrous steamrollers that would crush us like paper leaves. In fact, the latter perfectly illustrate the blows that are the leitmotiv of the track “Piece Of Paper”. The 3-D screen where the musician stays as if he were in a chrysalis, with everything around him moving, can be interpreted in many ways, but the visual pleasure and wonder is extraordinary. Tobin made room for a succulent mini DJ set, playing hyper-accelerated drum'n'bass in the vein of Bad Company, and some bulletproof half time hip hop tunes, which the boys from V Squared Lab Studio could hardly keep up with on their visuals. Dani Relats

Azari & III

We had been looking forward to seeing Azari & III at a crowded event like Sónar. Especially because those who had seen them already spoke so highly of their live show, which was said to have low-cost but irresistible staging. The two main culprits are back-up singers and dancers Fritz Helder and Starving Fut Yell. While Dinamo Azari took care of the percussion, and Alexander III did the synths, the two black divas entertained the crowd with some excellent voguing (especially brilliant on “Reckless (With Your Love)”). They're not Hercules & Love Affair's Aerea Negrot, but they’re sort of in that line. The Canadians played that classic, queer house that they’ve been doing for about five years, with some nods to acid. They even played a colossal version of Adonis' “No Way Back”. A standing ovation from Álvaro García Montoliu

Daedelus Archimedes Show

So if I understood what was happening correctly, a former President of Catalonia and overcrowding conspired to make getting into Daedelus’ Archimedes show a real feat. Some moans, shoving and patience paid off, though, and we finally got to see the great dandy of electronica in front of his new “body”. Archimedes is an impressive audio-visual show, and like Amon Tobin’s ISAM, which is also playing tonight, it’s an immersive experience. Daedelus reproduces the energy of rave and hardcore dance music – which resonates with people here easily – and gives it a visual representation in the form of his mirror machine, not far from a Hollywood visual effect at times. Steampunk came to mind, especially seeing Daedelus in his usual period outfit distorted in different ways, reflected in his mirror machine – as if the music were coming alive. The way EMN and Daedelus have managed to integrate the visual element beyond mere eye candy, into something that’s closely linked to the music and to his previous work, gives me faith that there is still plenty of room to explore in this musical world.

Archimedes is the next logical step in the evolution of Daedelus’ live shows up till now. He has worked hard on it, managing to attract the audience with a proposal that’s more engaging than most performers of his kind. Around me there were punks (without their dogs), ravers young and old, and even a guy on crutches all dancing; everything was going fine until about 30 minutes into the show, when Archimedes was brought down by what was either a power cut or just the system unable to handle it. The volume was readjusted to the size of the audience and the monitors, and when everything started up again, people were cheering and clapping wildly. Proof that Daedelus had already conquered everyone beforehand. Laurent Fintoni

Diamond Version + Atsuhiro Ito

When have the people of Raster-Noton ever let us down? Probably never—that’s why they're at Sónar every year with shows, often almost exclusive ones, for electronica Epicureans. While last year's Cyclo show made considerable impact, label founders Alva Noto and Byetone's new incarnation alongside Japanese artist Atsuhiro Ito as Diamond Version was at least as impressive both visually and sonically. The fact that they had hardly played live together before, and possibly won't again, made it all the more attractive. While the Germans were launching waves of well-polished techno, minimal, crude, industrial and dry, the Japanese was desecrating people's ears with the Optron, a fluorescent tube modified for use as a sound source. It was quite an extravagant experiment, as the tube was used as a regular instrument, with Ito even playing it like a guitar. The symbiosis between the sound sources was complete. Ito offered some healthy doses of brutal noise, going straight for the jugular, which, in combination with the deafening sub bass of the Germans, made for a shock of epic proportions. The visuals, sober yet powerful, did the rest. AGM

DJ2D2 AV Show

The Barcelona DJ's audiovisual set is like a long version of Quasimoto's marvellous “Rappcats” : a daring tribute to the history of hip hop, didactic and danceable at the same time, last night serving as an accessory to the masterful teachings of The Roots. The visuals didn't consist of the original video clips alone; 2D2 used his own images as well: the video of KRS-One's “Sound Of Da Police” contained images of the Catalan autonomic police battering demonstrators at the recent 15-M manifestations. Someone said that if there are conscious Catalan rappers, Felip Puig, the Catalan minister of Interior Affairs, is our Giuliani. So there. He played a string of hits: the classic Coldcut remix of Eric B & Rakim's “Paid In Full” , which I had never heard with such great sound (thank you SonarPub), a Moombahton version of Beastie Boys' “Intergalactic” , A Tribe Called Quest's “Can I Kick It” , and some non-hip-hop tunes (Adele, Bob Marley, The Specials), mixed with excellent skill. Wonderful. DR

DJ Harvey

When Trevor Jackson is in the first row to see a DJ perform, you know something big is going to happen. Because nobody can deny the legendary status of DJ Harvey. Just like no one can deny his absolute power to intoxicate the masses. Hidden behind a Bozak mixer, a five-band equaliser, crossover filters, and sunglasses, the legendary British DJ gave a lesson in taking the people to a dancing catharsis, with a set that was somewhat odd. Who would expect him to play the Holden remix of “The Sky Was Pink”? Mixing it with Vitalic's “Poney”? In the hands of any other DJ at the event, those tracks would have been way too obvious a choice, but, at that very moment, they were the tunes everyone wanted to hear. The magic of the alchemist. As the set moved on, things went 'back to normal', with classics like Debbie Jacobs' “Do You Want My Love”, and Kebekelektrik's “Wardance”. A disco accent that was maintained until the end, and which had the crowd in a permanent state of effusiveness. It probably wasn't an anthological set for epicures, but it was the right set at the right time. Sónar's versatile audience had already been around for a few long hours on Saturday evening, and after thirty years in the DJ booth, a man knows perfectly well how to read the signs. Franc Sayol

DJ Spinn & DJ Rashad

Closing the RBMA stage, Chicago’s DJ Spinn and Rashad brought the Chicago ghetto to Barcelona’s city centre, and we had a blast. As the first song ordered us to “take note” I looked around me—especially at the eyeballs of the guy behind me, who looked pretty wasted – and all I saw were smiles, telling me that people were really enjoying the new vibrations and velocities of juke. Welcome to the Chi. People’s bodily reactions were a lot of fun to watch as the pair got into it on the system. Some people clearly embraced the speed and energy of the music, huge smiles on their faces, while others looked confused, unable to get their feet to keep up with the rhythm. Everyone was clearly having fun. As the hour went on, Spinn and Rashad dug for both instantly-recognisable anthems and new productions oscillating between incredibly hard 4x4 and syncopated beatboxes with smoking voice samples. And even so, the crowd never seemed to miss a beat. You could hear echoes of European hardcore and gabber in the harder stuff they were playing. The pair put the audience into a trance, and I could say that they seemed like modern shamans, but it would be better to call them by name: ghetto teknicianz. It’s the perfect word to describe what they do: they’re the ghetto shamans of 2012, shooting out music that is young, aggressive, and outside of the system’s channels, like others before them made in years past. LF

Fatboy Slim

Fatboy Slim appeared at the SonarPub with a true show: his setup looked more like a circus than a DJ show, and more than the music, the important thing was the moment, the communion with that sector of the audience that held on until the end, enjoying (at four in the morning!) the show that went with the of the extroverted veteran English DJ’s set. He sold us a live show, but in the end it was a DJ set (or maybe it was a pre-recorded thing; you have to be careful with Norman Cook). Either way, it was quite a spectacle: strobe lights, lasers, arms in the air, a great intro, mainstream music and exaggerated, even violent delivery, and a huge screen with videos and images that helped shape the very Fatboy Slim-type madness. The set featured the best moments of his career ( “The Rockafeller Skank”, “Right Here, Right Now”, “Praise You”, “Bird Of Prey”), with pinches of radio hits, classics and lots and lots of beer. Sergi Brunet

Hot Chip

These Londoners are incredible. We can debate endlessly about which is their best album or whether “In Our Heads” is innovative or not, but it's obvious that when Hot Chip come on stage, they give it their all so that nobody walks away unsatisfied. Of the many times I've had the privilege of seeing them live, they never scored anything below “very good”, and some, I would even call “historic”. Instead of playing a set with the odd ballad here and there, they went full-blast, even stripping “Boy From School” of its candid, innocent halo, turning it into a right party tune. Their songs made the people dance until the soles of their feet came off, with hits from yesterday ( “Over And Over”, “I Feel Better”, “Ready For The Floor”) and today ( “Flutes”, “Night And Day”), and they even played a respectful version of Fleetwood Mac's “Everywhere”. Their attitude on stage was the same as ever: infinite charisma, with Alexis Taylor looking like a cross between Super Mario and a Formula1 mechanic, and a keyboardist with plenty of chilled-out dance moves that spread the good vibes to the audience. AGM

John Talabot

It was the second acid test onstage for John Talabot and, again, he passed summa cum laude. This time he played on a smaller stage, in a dark, heavily-packed venue. But no mountain's too high for our man. Riverola and his label mate Pional shared the vocal and percussion parts, just like they did at San Miguel Primavera Sound. The set was the same, but the visuals were more impressive, displayed on a screen right behind the duo. Little by little they played the best songs from Talabot's debut full-length, “ƒin”, sensual house with a slow beat. The vocals were much more important than on the album, especially on the epic closing, “Destiny” (cell phones in the air), and on the enigmatic “Oro Y Sangre”, with its wild, almost desperate screams. It may sound daring, but the hundreds of people at the SonarHall (many couldn't get in) witnessed the consolidation of one of the biggest Spanish electronic talents in many years. AGM

Kode9

Sir Steve Goodman, the King Midas of the hardcore continuum, took the decks. And that means high expectations. Even Flying Lotus went up to the stage to witness the Hyperdub boss' performance. Anyone who wants to become someone in the DJ booth should take note of the ways of the Kode9. There are no style barriers for him, and he proves it in every set. With the first four tracks alone, mixing UK garage, UK funky, grime and hip hop, he already had everyone wide-eyed and open-mouthed. And he didn't stick to those four genres, either. Quite the contrary, in fact: he explored the outer limits of modern dance music, playing new values like Ill Blu, newborn anthems like S-X's “Woo Riddim”, and real glories like Africa Hi-Tech. Only to end up at 160 bpms with footwork and jungle. I hope someone has recorded the set and uploads it to the internet, for this was a master class in danceable electronica. Mónica Franco

Lana del Rey

The expectation at the more than full SonarPub spoke for itself. Hours before her debut in Spain, I had the opportunity to talk to her, and she confessed to me that she was really nervous about this gig (you’ll be able to read the entire interview here soon). And with reason. It was her first performance at a festival, an event attended by both fans and haters. Only two things could happen under these circumstances: she could either repeat the embarrassment of her appearance on Saturday Night Live, or walk away with everything. There was no middle ground. But the stars aligned in her favour, and the latter occurred. She captivated the audience with her naturalness (the kisses she gave to the first rows were worthy of any folk artist), her stage presence and her voice. Everything went like a charm. Accompanied by a string quartet, a piano and a guitar, songs like “Blue Jeans”, “Born To Die”, and “Million Dollar Man” sounded naked, with no beat props, maintaining the jazz substance they were written with. Apart from presenting two unreleased pieces (we think one of them is called “Body Electric”), the most outstanding thing was how she nailed “Video Games” and got everybody to perform with her as exceptional background singers. Lana del Rey has won us over, and she has made it clear she's a brilliant singer. Beyond the façade, she’s an absolute revelation with loads of talent, no matter how many haters she's got. Sergio del Amo

Mary Anne Hobbs b2b Blawan

Mary Anne Hobbs and her sequined jacket versus Blawan and his tattooed biceps. A set of strict techno with a few flashes of bass, something we expected from him, but not from her. We could say that the godmother of British bass music was playing an away game, while Blawan was clearly feeling comfy, even enough to experiment with beats and putting R&B a cappellas and spoken-word pieces over them. The set gained intensity when he took charge, ending up in a full-blown hard techno feast, a bacchanal of frequencies somewhere between drones and industrial to take one's hat off for. DR

Peaking Lights

There was a huge queue for the SonarComplex before Peaking Lights started their concert. Nothing new for the later of the festival’s day shows, but it was still a sure sign that the American duo has become one of the revelations of the last two years. They maintain the lo-fi charm of their records onstage, that home-studio, somewhat dusty sound, but they always keep it serious and reliable, playing that evanescent dub-pop with warm melodies that has made them an open secret on the American electronic underground. Indra Dunis and Aaron Coyes re-create the dreamy, liturgical universe that they evoke in the studio on their own, and the venue helped cement and reinforce the comfortable melancholy and mood of their songs. They went from less to more, and, more importantly, they made us forget about our beds and headphones, the natural surroundings for listening to their music. David Broc

The Roots

Here's some non-news: The Roots are too good. They burn any band or artist sharing the stage with them at a festival. They crush them alive. So much so, that the medleys of cover versions that they play at every show (with “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, among others, yesterday) can easily be forgiven, with everything that happens before and after. There was some news on that front: they didn't play a single minute of “Undun”, one of their three best albums, and the reason they're touring Europe these days. I don't know if that was because of the setting (their set full of classics was very “festival-friendly”), or for artistic reasons (if you don't play the conceptual album in its entirety, it might not make sense), but while it was disappointing that we didn’t hear anything from the album, the concert couldn't have been better. Especially the first forty minutes: a razor-sharp start with a tribute to Beastie Boys (a rendition of “Paul Revere”), and a string of hits, like “Proceed” and “Mellow My Man” moving reminders of their beginnings. The band, impeccable and rejuvenated, musically and mentally: we thank Mr. Fallon for this improved and well-oiled version of The Roots in a state of grace, who have grown in the only way possible: by playing and rehearsing more. At the end, they busted a move with “The Seed 2.0”, and their own particular version of Kool G. Rap's “Men At Work”. As a nod, when the band was leaving the stage, “The Other Side”, one of the highlights of “Undun” was blaring out of the speakers. Now that's attitude. DB

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