Sónar 2011 Review

Our review

Sónar 2011 Toro y Moi

By Sergio del Amo, Mónica Franco, Álvaro García Montoliu and Mario G. Sinde

Sónar, Thursday . The first day of the event at the CCCB Sónar has started, and started well, as usual, with the arrival of the intense heat and the flooding of Barcelona’s city centre with audiences ready to share the cultural and musical experiences on offer at the festival. The CCCB was full and vibrant from the early hours of the afternoon, an unmistakable sign that Sónar has kicked off in fine style. But not only that: the music on offer was of the highest standard. This is our report from the first day, Thursday, where the engines were nicely warming gearing up.

Toro y Moi (SónarVillage)

Though it’s not even been a year since Toro Y Moi came to visit, their presence at Sónar was more than justified (with the release of the second album, the acclaimed “Underneath The Pine”, being a key pieces of 2011’s landscape). Like back in the day, Chaz Bundick came with a band. While he was in charge of the vocals and keyboards (which sounded heavenly on “Go With You”), the rest supporting him with guitar, drum and bass. After a brief introduction, they opened with “New Beat”, probably the best track on the new album. But the older tracks didn’t pale in comparison ( “Talamak” was greeted with applause and chants). In a time when it’s so easy to tag artists, the South Carolina band definitely buried the chill-wave while highlighting the best of what black music of the past decades has on offer, from funk to R&B and disco.They did a good job of erasing any trace of the crime ( “Blessa”), reconstructing the track with more details and giving it a more organic sound. And speaking of remakes, they played a version of “Elise” as well, turning it into a cosmic odyssey to finish a notable performance. Álvaro García Montoliu

Red Bull Music Academy (SónarDôme)

As the hours go by, the stage curated by Red Bull Music Academy becomes fuller and fuller, making it harder to breathe. But in the early hours, when there’s still room and the sound is good, it’s an oasis of good vibes and music, a kind of separate space at Sónar where there’s freedom for everyone and everything: to experiment, to make people dance as if they were on some Balearic beach, to play with styles. We saw Pai Mei, the new project by Griffi and Aqeel, and knew that Matador Rockers’ performance was going to be brilliant. Later on, Hiroaki Oba came on, playing stabbing techno and changed the register completely. Then, another twist with AEIOU (a very bizarre pop performance by the Mexicans; the gold-coloured costume of the guy with the strings was better than their schizo pop), and then another one when Poirier got on stage to liven up the party with all kinds of broken beats and unusual links with world music. After all that, it was better to move on, to other stages. Mario G. Sinde

Floating Points (SónarVillage)

I had to check out the program a few times before I realised Floating Points wasn’t going to play his singles on Eglo Recordings live, but that he was coming with a bag full of records. He made a fine transition from Toro Y Moi’s live show, despite some minor technical problems. He started out with some eighties disco boogie, only to move on to more effeminate and primitive house. And from the ambivalent point that is old school dance music, Shepherd began to try out different currents (a bit of more commercial UK garage, a bit of funky house), surprising the listener more and more. It was a pity that so few people stayed to see how the set would end, but the larger part of the crowd left en masse in order to get a good spot at Nicolas Jaar’s gig. Anyway, the sun was shining, the crowd was dancing and, most of all, smiling. Sónar couldn’t have started with better vibes than these. Mónica Franco

Nicolas Jaar (SónarHall)

The first big concert of this year’s edition, and the SonarHall was impossibly full, something that is becoming a ritual element of the festival for better or worse. But, obviously, Nicolas Jaar’s performance needs the sonority and atmosphere of the CCCB’s downstairs hall. The New Yorker came on stage with his musicians forming a half circle, like a witches’ coven. The result (once more, this year we come to the same conclusion after seeing the live show of a stand-out artist) remdered his debut album a mere promotional tool (and what a tool!) to drive people to the live show. It sounded like Sade’s band mixed with Gotan Project and with all the elegance the world contains. Latent guitars, Latin percussion with a certain air of improvisation; some jazz mannerism, some progressions with techno-like crescendos. Apart from the suffocating atmosphere in the room, it was an experience well worth it. MF

Little Dragon (SonarVillage)

After an album like “Machine Dreams”, we were eager to see Little Dragon in action, with the lively Yukimi Nagano up front (in a dress bought in the cardboard Mexico of the Port Aventura amusement park), but everything got lost in a tedious presentation of the new material of “Ritual Union”, which we won’t be able to hear until a couple of weeks from now. Despite opening with “A New” (and only playing “Feather” and “My Step” from their second album), the fact that the Swedes based the better part of their show on the tunes we haven’t been able to soak up yet (though “Summertearz” sounds very promising), endlessly extending the instrumental parts, didn’t help much. Nagano could do little to lift the spirits despite her energetic predisposition. I have to confess: after the show, I locked myself in the bathroom to listen to the debut albums of Chew Lips and The Golden Filter in order to get back to the festival with a smile. Sergio del Amo

Open Reel Ensemble (SónarComplex)

Pierre Schaeffer would be proud (like Trevor Horn, Coldcut, DJ Shadow and other masters would, historical or recent) of the manipulation of sound via sampling. Because what these crazy Japanese guys do is compose their music (in a way derived from funk and rock) by connecting previously recorded sound samples. The difference is that they’re using eight Revox tapes, the tape from the days of old, no longer used on the radio or anywhere, pure vintage, playing in real time to fill the space with noise, contamination, effects and voices without ever losing the groove (which is why they have a bass player). Weirdo moment of the day . MGS

Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble (SónarDôme)

The afternoon looked promising. Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble (if you’ll allow the freedom) were destined to be the erudite version of Elektro Guzzi, who last year gave a grand performance at the festival. However, the sound gave them a lot of problems. What’s the use of bringing a violinist, a harpist and a trombone (and other instruments) player, if you can’t hear any of them? If their objective is to play techno in an organic way, the worst thing that can happen is that nobody dance to the music. And that sadly enough was exactly what happened in the sweaty SonarDôme, as the people could only hear the piano and the percussion played by the huge combo. We don’t doubt their efficiency, the show would have been a lot better on a different stage more apt for their kind of set-up, like the SonarComplex or the SonarHall. We’ll give them a new chance in the future. SdA

Tyondai Braxton (SónarHall)

Sitting at a table surrounded by a series of machines, triggering bewildering and puzzling loops, Tyondai Braxton started his show (though perhaps the correct term would be “jam”, as for the better part of the concert he improvised and experimented). The crowd was not amused and many left, in search of other sounds. Musically, the concert went from less to more, and the audience went the opposite way. It took about fifteen minutes to get some kind of grip on the performance, and it only happened when the former Battles man started with the beats. From a man who we know loves to play with guitar and vocal samples, we expected exactly that. But his voice was hardly there, and the guitar appeared only briefly, after half an hour, in a slowed down version of “Platinum Rows”, the only track he played from his debut, “Central Market”. And knowing that he recently played the same avant-garde gem with a full orchestra, this concert was a bit disappointing. AGM

Raime (SónarHall)

The big mystery of Sónar 2011 (figuratively and literally speaking, as we know very little about the duo) confirmed their status as exactly that at 9.30pm yesterday. Though Raime only have two releases on Blackest Ever Black, the flavour of the month label for those who look for twisted, industrial and phantasmagoric sounds, their gig was a mandatory dish. They played the four tracks of the singles alongside a fistful of unreleased songs. The spectral choruses of “Retread” made steam rise, and the dubstep rhythms cut with clinical precision heard in the deep and stabbing version of “This Foundry” left the crowd breathless. As if British Murder Boys had reunited and moved from Birmingham to London. However, the room was too brightly lit and noisy to allow us to immerse ourselves completely in their dark world, thus completing the fascinating sonic experience. AGM

Ninja Tune & Big Dada Showcase (SónarVillage)

The Ninja Tune and Big Dada expedition arrived at SonarVillage with the room half full and the majority of the crowd lying on the artificial grass waiting for the music to raise them. The first artist to play was Shuttle, probably the least well known of all of them. Their mix of dubstep with thunderous basslines and metallic beats didn’t get the people warmed up. However, DELS did get people to come to the front, waiting for the MC and the productions from “Gob” to slap them in the face. DELS was devastating on the mic and he left the stage to a standing ovation, but his band doesn’t really cause you to get a hair out of place – they accompany the rapper and little more. Those who wanted beats were left empty-handed, those who wanted to sing along got 45 minutes of pleasure. After DELS, Offshore got in the DJ booth to open with the one who wasn’t there but was sorely missed: Wiley. “Numbers In Action” opened a bursting set featuring such varied sounds as zouk, hip hop, grime riddims, UK garage, funky, jungle and even juke, played with a technical skill that made me want to cry. The Village was full, standing up and partying for an hour, burning the last bits of energy we had left. The cadence of Eskmo’s productions, with organic textures organised methodically according to industrial chain patterns, were perfect for the comedown and we could appreciate the man’s little details on stage that make his “IDM-ised” hip-hop so special. MF

Denseland (SónarComplex)

David Moss is a veteran who’s hard to impress. With the amount of concerts he has played over the years, the grey-haired vocal scientist had all eyes on him while playing with Denseland, the project he came out with last year, alongside Hannes Strobl and Hanno Leichtmann. Though their “Chunk” can be a tough one to crack, the trio offered a genuine spectacle, focussing on mathematical improvisation. A guitar remoulded with effects and drums are the only things Moss needs to start to play with his vocal chords. Though he doesn’t sing (at most he takes on a role as a preacher or a schizophrenic master of ceremonies), you couldn’t take your eyes off him for one moment. We’d love to see what he reads in his little notebook before his two band mates start with the tracks. The man is a genius like few we’ll ever see. SdA

Sónar, Friday. The night when Aphex Twin and M.I.A. gave us what we deserved.

Sónar smells like a full house: you could sense it on Thursday at the CCCB, which was a sauna, and yesterday confirmed it. Luckily, we’d had the first of the two nights of the festival to look forwards to, when it cooled down a bit and the music matched our expectations. Risk-taking, noise, pop, dancing, and everything requisite to leave the gigantic Fira Gran Via with big smiles on our faces, uttering sentences like “I can’t feel my legs.” How did it come to that? Here’s how.

oOoOO (SónarComplex)

Of the three points of the Bermuda Triangle the Tri Angle Records label has set up, oOoOO is probably the most witch house. Although it’s not a good idea to give way to reductionism when talking about a guy who successfully unites rap, IDM and Balearic sounds. His music has a saturated atmosphere, it’s an electric storm in the middle of an eastern desert, creating a cloud scarier than the one from “Lost”. Minutes before the gig, Sónar gave us some good news: what was going to be a performance somewhere between DJ set and a live show, finally ended up being more of the latter. In fact, it was one of Christopher Dexter Greenspan’s first ever, and he came on stage accompanied by a female vocalist dressed in a fluorescent red and yellow veil. At times she sounded like Beth Gibbons. Although they played “Burnout Eyess” early on in the set, they mostly played unreleased material, with a big role for the vocals. While the first part was dedicated to horizontal dancing, the final part of the concert started with fat basslines (very powerful on “Hearts”). But when the room started to heat up, the recital stopped at exactly 30 minutes. It was short but they left a good impression, and the new tracks sounded promising. Álvaro García Montoliu

Katy B (SónarDôme / SónarLab)

The concept of playing club music with traditional instruments is always tricky, though not impossible. And normally it only gives me two different sensations: either it’s crap, or it’s incredibly good. Katy B managed to give me something in between for the first time, though admittedly it was closer to good than indifference. In her favour: the quality and quantity of the musicians on stage, who excellently captured all the details of the productions and her voice, despite the amount of concerts she’s done in the last couple of weeks, lived up to the expectations and the energy coming from the stage (that MC/animator was great!) made the festive atmosphere at the Dôme worthwhile. One flaw was the lack of surprise, Katy says the same things at the same time over and over again. If you’ve seen footage of her live gigs on YouTube, she loses credibility. Some of the lyrics lose you a bit as well, talking about the vital routines of the young clubber when you’re in the centre of Barcelona in broad daylight, in a tent. MF

How To Dress Well (SónarComplex)

Linked from the start with the witch house movement due to situational rather than musical circumstances (they’re signed to Tri Angle Records, home to some key artists of the genre), How To Dress Well began his set with references to R&B and lo-fi pop where sensuality shared the stage with darkness, similar to oOoOO’s live set. Tom Krell appeared on stage with just a microphone. We don’t really know where the music came from, but it sounded pre-recorded. After such disappointment, all that was left was to hang on to his voice. The falsetto of “Ready For The World”, of which Justin Timberlake would be proud, was intoxicating. He also tried to win the audience over with his words (lots of thank yous and congratulations for the 15M movement), but it wasn’t enough. It’s better to listen to “Love Remains” at home. AGM


Though I’m familiar with the orthodox fanaticism of the Teebs camp, I never thought I would find the SonarDôme so rammed. Maybe the traffic jam after Katy B’s performance had something to do with it. Anyway, Mtendere Mandowa left the stage to an ovation, after a performance that induced us into a state of collective emotion only interrupted by the applauses at the moments of climax. The initial effects of mild sunstroke helped us allow ourselves to be guided by the movements of the producer, both hypnotising and dance-inducing. Or, rather than dance, it’s corporal balancing on the voluptuous rhythms and exuberant textures of Mandowa’s tracks. Great moments of total abstraction that were quick on the uptake of that off-beat, throwing you off but marking the next rhythmic pattern that hypnotises you again. It happens during Flying Lotus gigs, and Teebs does it, too, and that’s a good thing, as well as being a big compliment. MF

Hauschka (SonarHall)

Erik Satie gave it a try, but if anyone pontificated on the matter of prepared pianos (i.e. the strategic positioning of objects between the strings of a piano), it was John Cage. At least, until now. Volker Bertelmann has taken over the proposition, taking it to modern times. There was no camera projecting the inner workings of his piano (from the first rows you could only see a couple of drum sticks sticking out), although the better part of the sonic mutation of his beloved instrument came from an effect controller. Accompanied by a percussionist, Bertelmann united technique and technology to spit out icy, metallic and sensorial from his piano. Magic? Probably. But the truth is that his sound (somewhere between Sigur Rós and Apparat at his most ambient) was a big surprise for those who didn’t want to watch Four Tet like sardines in a can. SdA

Four Tet (SónarVillage)

We’re not exaggerating when we say Four Tet is a lucky man, coming to Sónar in top shape. He’s part of Thom Yorke’s inner circle and one of the few people who has been able to collaborate in the studio with Burial (not once, but twice). Not bad for a Londoner who already had a career of more than a decade under his belt anyway. After starting with an unreleased song, people cheered when the first notes of “Love Cry” sounded, entering final ecstasy when Kieran Hebden unleashed the beat. It was exactly what everyone wanted at that time of the day. The Londoner went all out with the track, knowing that it’s his biggest hit, playing around with the filters. It turned out to be the only song he played off of the superb “There Is Love In You”. He prolonged the good vibes at the SónarVillage with “Pinnacles”, from his split single with Caribou, and a lot of new 4x4 material, finishing off with an accelerated piece at about 170 BPM that was reminiscent of Aphex Twin at his most accessible. A good sign for what was going to happen hours later at the Fira Gran Via (M2). AGM

Cyclo (SónarClub)

What a start of the night. It wasn’t a beating like Aphex Twin, but Cyclo’s gig was brutal nonetheless: Ryoji Ikeda and Alva Noto, with a stage that was very big for them, empty except for the first rows (fanatics of abstruse post-digital techno or, very likely, die-hard fans of The Human League), a perfect sound system and a deconstruction exercise that still has my gut trembling. All the details of their sound (high pitched sounds, glitches, low frequencies, dry beats) were crystal clear, and the Raster-Noton pair managed something we didn’t think possible: to further develop and improve the sound of late-Pan Sonic. And to hear a concert that complex in a place that big and in a club context is priceless. Mario G. Sinde

The Human League (SónarClub)

Every year, the festival invites a band to the SonarClub that increases the average age of the public. Last year it was Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, and this year it was the turn of the ever moving Philip Oakey. The Human League, despite having just released a more than decent album, “Credo”, took the opportunity to show, once again, why they’re untouchable in the business of timeless synth-pop. With sparse references to their new repertoire (they played “Never Let Me Go”, “Egomaniac” and “Night People”), the Britons are still boss, even though their set-up smells of mothballs. How wrong can you go with a gig that features “Tell Me When”, “The Sound of The Crowd” or “The Lebanon” in the first minutes? They played what they had to play (from “Empire State Human” to the mandatory “Don’t You Want Me” and closing track “Together In Electric Dreams”), but if we have to pick one thing, it’s Susan Ann Sulley (she dances freely like the queen that she is) and Joanne Catherall. I had a great time and I lost about two kilos during “Love Action (I Believe In Love)”. Could one ask for more? SdA

Cut Copy (SónarLab)

This edition of Sónar gave us the opportunity to compare how electronic pop was made in the old days, with The Human League’s gig, and how it’s being relived now. Cut Copy, the big name of the Melbourne sound, had to end up at the festival one day, and yesterday we finally got them, possibly at their best, presenting “Zonoscope”, the final examination of their fantastic “In Ghost Colours”. Although the record isn’t as immediate as its predecessor, they took the easy way out and played the most accessible tunes. So no trace of that cosmic 15-minute epicness of “Sun God”, which they play on other occasions. That way, the concert was a kind of greatest hits where there was no time to rest, apart from the innocent “Saturdays” from their debut album. The Fleetwood Mac-like “Take Me Over”, “Pharaohs & Pyramids” and “Need You Know” mixed with the unbeatable “Hearts On Fire” (virtually the only moment when the guitar took the centre stage), “Out There In The Ice” and “Lights & Music”. It was, of course, enough to please the young audience, euphoric and dancing, who had come to the SónarLab en masse. AGM

Trentemoller (SónarPub)

Trentemoller moves big crowds, but he hadn’t played at Sónar yet. Maybe because “Into The Great Wild Yonder” isn’t as referential an album as “The Last Resort”, nor as highly acclaimed. But the man from Denmark has a powerful live show, with a compact and energetic band who, at times, sounded like what LCD Soundsystem would sound like if they turned into a James Holden cover band. There were a few rockist details, with Trentemoller pounding his keyboards and the guitars on stage (which served to sharpen “Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider Go!!!”, his surfest track), but when the lights went down, the stage turned blue, there were shadows instead of people and the more electronic passages were played, like “Take Me Into Your Skin”, then you just wanted to get down on your knees and kiss the ground he walked on. MGS

Annie (SonarCar)

From princess to wannabe, Annie has played her cards worse than Uffie (which is saying something). However, the pretty Norwegian came to the festival not to present her “Don’t Stop” but as a deejay for the people who didn’t feel like seeing Cut Copy or who were simply waiting for M.I.A. She didn’t play the obvious stuff, like for example her greatest hits (we would have loved to hear a bit of “Anthonio” or “Songs Remind Me Of You”). Annie let herself be guided by house beats, some easy listening and the odd pseudo-mainstream remix (like The Ting Tings’ “Hands”). A bit clumsy when it comes to the mixing, she nicely warmed up the mood of that weird space that is SonarCar, the perfect stopover for a tasty crêpe. The best was the immortal phrase uttered by a friend of mine during the set: “Norway is the new Sweden”. If you want to know what that’s all about, you’d better ask him. SdA

BBC Radio 1 presents (SónarLab)

Benji B started the engines with the room nicely full and a relaxed atmosphere at the SonarLab. Mary Anne Hobbs’ successor gave us a set without boundaries, full of the great tracks he plays on his radio show. At the end of the day, 45 minutes of “hits” from 2011 in bass music. Easy? Sure. Efficient? You bet. With “Out In The Streets VIP” as the final part, he let Ramadanman aka Pearson Sound take over. As soon as he got behind the decks, the basslines became deafening. Playing some tracks of his own under his different monikers, unreleased ones like the remix of “Oh My Days” by Auntie Flo and stuff by friends like Untold. With incredible skill and a great connection with the audience, the first part of the night finished fulfilled all expectations and more.

Katy B was the pillar of the second part. Our underground diva did a copy of her afternoon gig, with one notable difference - the presence of Ms. Dynamite during “Lights On”. The other curator of the BBC night was Annie Mac, who took the mic and decks with the audience still radiant from Katy B’s fun performance. Even if you don’t follow Mac’s show, it’s clear she has a way of taking in the music of these days that’s different from Benji B’s. But I never expected her to come out with a set of modern progressive house with whistle and vuvuzela overdose. I think she mistook Barcelona for Ibiza or maybe she let herself go a bit too much. Luckily, Redlight arrived, who played a lot of his own work. He kept our spirits up and didn’t leave out any of his favourite genres: bassline, grime and UK funky. We all wanted to be in the front rows with “What You Talking About?” and Ms Dynamite, with whom Redlight also presented a shared single, as of yet unreleased. Musically it was better, but the volume had been too high for a while. Toddla T exhausted the decibel tolerance of a minor group of people, but his more bombastic and commercial material was well received by the rest of the audience. MF

M.I.A. (SonarClub)

We feared the worst. The clock was ticking and the diva still hadn’t shown up. Did she throw a last-minute fit? Had she found a copy of the New York Times in her dressing room? Almost a half hour late, M.I.A came on and she came to kill. With all her cockiness she played “Sunshowers”, “Galang”, “Bucky Done Gun”, “BirdFlu” and “Boyz” at the off. Even her haters (gathered in the front rows to spit at her when they got the chance), confronted with that bombardment of hits, had to give in and shut their faces. Soaking with sweat and dehydrated, we got “Paper Planes”, but the best part came when she invited some people from the audience on stage to jump around a bit during the devastating “Meds And Feds” and “Born Free”. Without singing at all times (shaking her booty was enough), M.I.A. turned the SonarClub in an orgy of dance and beats from which we’ll need time to recover. Despite coming on when she felt like it, she left through the big door. SdA

Aphex Twin (SónarPub)

If I could talk to the me of 2007 about music, I would most likely say that these days, Aphex Twin comes to Barcelona once a year. He would probably not believe me, but I could boast about having such an elusive star so close on so many occasions. The key question yesterday was: which side of himself would Richard reveal tonight? Well, he started with broken beats splashed with 303 sounds, then heated things up and acid started winning ground (the classic “Jesus Loves The Acid” by Ecstasy Club, one of the few recognisable pieces he played), later turning towards techno to end up with frantic rave-like hardcore, even including whistles. The master among masters. The undisputable king of electronica. A special mention for some interactive visuals featuring his face on the bodies of women, in the style of the “Windowlicker” video, and his silhouette in 3D. But the big stars were the attendees, who they made thermographies and other audiovisual tricks of. Their happy faces said it all. AGM

Die Antwoord (SónarPub)

You have to take them as a joke in order for it to work properly. Die Antwoord are so cartoonesque that fiction becomes reality and you enjoy their characters. For example, Yo-Landi wouldn’t be her if she weren’t yanking her undies up her back and front all the time. And Ninja, who would be the winner of a skeletal beauty contest in prison, has a mouth shooting off dirty words like a machine gun, an apocalyptic flow and a very impressive stage presence. So, Die Antwoord are a joke, but a good one, which works perfectly, with their sound made up of world music, prison hip-hop and bad taste details, like that projection of Casper the friendly ghost with a 50 cm cock, and hits like “Enter The Ninja” and “Rich Bitch”… As if that weren’t enough, they had a sample of Enya and Ninja was wearing those mythical Pink Floyd shorts that have enough room for the windmill movements of his member. MGS

Sónar, Saturday. A day to float on gas clouds and to have epileptic fits.

It’s over. Sónar has closed its 18th edition as a box-office success (79,000 people, including the sold-out performance tonight by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto at the Teatre Grec) during which things have happened that will be talked about for years. That’s the best thing about it: when eyes and ears are impressed by unexpected aesthetic shocks. Before thinking about next year’s edition, let’s talk about Sónar 2011 and the spectacular Saturday.

David Rodigan (SónarDôme)

You should be ashamed if you’re complaining about tiredness today, when you’ve at least slept a few hours and you’re younger than 35. David Rodigan got on stage without any sleep, with his 59 years. And not only that, he gave it his all during an hour and a half. This wasn’t a reggae, dub and brother sounds set. This was the basic aural encyclopaedia of the Jamaican genre and its derivatives throughout the ages, guided and commented by the radio show host. From the initiators and classics (King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Skatalites and the final part with the Marley hat-trick) to the new talents (a nod to the Italian part of the crowd with compliments to Alborosie) and the latest representatives of the dub school. Without any hesitation, he played Breakage (when the jungle came, madness broke out), Caspa, Major Lazer and Shaggy. He danced like everybody else, talked as if he were on the radio and gave everybody a lesson about vitality and passion for the music. For all of that, he got a standing ovation, possibly the longest and most heart-felt one on the whole festival. The legend ratifies his status. Mónica Franco

Gilles Peterson (SónarVillage)

He returned, turned the SonarVillage upside down and (as expected) triumphed. Gilles Peterson dug through his record bag full of exquisite vinyl like nobody else. Beforehand, he had threatened to put on an Arsenal T-shirt, but he didn’t. The BBC Radio 1 guru played an eclectic set with sunny house to get things warmed up, some piece of spaghetti western music and even some salsa and bachata. As expected, he paid tribute to the late Gil Scott-Heron and played devastating remixes of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” and Charlie Winston’s “In Your Hands”. Is there a better way to start the day? Sergio del Amo

Global Communication (SónarHall)

Yesterday we said how lucky we are to have an annual date with Aphex Twin since 2009. Well, on the last day of Sónar by Day, we witnessed one of the most important concerts of recent time when it comes to electronic music. While many were pulling the petals off the daisy waiting for Burial and Boards Of Canada to come out of their caves, we got a visit from Global Communication, a key name in ambient, who played “76:14”, maybe one of the three most important albums of the genre. Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard got on stage covered by some canvas screens, on which spectacular visuals were projected. The ultra-high expectations could be measured by the amount of hands in the air holding cameras and cell phones to capture the moment. One of the best parts of the performance was when the clock of “14:31” started to sound. Goose bumps, literally. They played “8:07”, with its samples from “Love On A Real Train” by Tangerine Dream. When we thought they were going to play the LP from start to finish, the stopped, came out to greet the audience and got back behind the screens to give us two unexpected encores: their deep house classic “The Way” and the remix they did of Lamb’s “Gorecki”. As they say on “0:54”, “global communication: emotional expression through the medium of sound.” A lot of emotion. Álvaro García Montoliu

Downliners Sekt (SónarComplex)

Downliners Sekt

The uproar the Disboot duo have caused outside of Spain could be noticed in the audience. It wasn’t a completely full house at the Complex, but there was Joe Muggs to prove some kind of expectation existed. Downliners Sekt didn’t disappoint, thanks to a live show that seemed very carefully planned, given the hour of the performance, and they gave the attendees a taste of all the different sensibilities of their music. The first part of the show was the darkest, the most chaotic and dense. For the newbies, it was probably the hardest part to digest, but it was also the most enjoyable part, if you could get yourself to go with it. Sensual vocal samples relieved some of the tension and gave a taste of what was coming in the final part, also the most rhythmical one, getting the people to dance. They’re perfectionists, serious and meticulous, which also made them seem a bit distant. But that’s the only negative thing that can be said about yesterday’s performance. MF Illum Sphere (SónarDôme)

Illum Sphere Mancunian Ryan Hunn (aka Illum Sphere) is one of the biggest nocturnal agitators of the bass scene. Though he has played the guitar on several occasions, yesterday he brought a bit of the Hoya:Hoya parties he does to the festival. Which meant a cocktail of IDM, invertebrate post-dubstep with its genes modified and some hip-hop vocals thrown in for good measure. While he was marking the future sound (and increasing the bass levels to the point of our hearts almost exploding), people started to leave for the performance of Apparat, minutes later. Nevertheless, Illum Sphere showed he’ll be giving us a lot of fine music in the years to come. SdA Apparat Band (SónarHall)

Apparat Sascha Ringis fed up with the solitude behind the decks, the dancefloors and the people who only go to the clubs to end up foaming at the mouth and bedding anything in their path. That’s why he decided to get a guitar and battle with the sound engineers during soundchecks. This loss of faith coincided with his new adventure under the wings of Mute, which gave us "Ash / Black Veil" a few months back, the taster for the album that probably won’t come out until next autumn. The new Apparat, as a band (guitar, percussion and keyboards), pays tribute to the most famous lazy-eyed leaders of recent times: Radiohead and Sigur Rós. Yes, that’s right. Ring, using Jónsi’s falsetto when the occasion called for it, creates a sensorial (not exclusively ambient) kind of pop-rock that makes people sensible. During the show (which was rammed with people minutes before it started, a good part of that new material was played (we heard the title “Some Of Love”), and the only thing we can say is that it was more than convincing, despite them only having played a few concerts. And if we add the interpretations of “Arcadia”, “Sayulita” and a memory of Moderat with “Rusty Nails” to that, we can safely say that we like the new Apparat as much, if not more, as the old one . SdA Shangaan Electro (SónarVillage)

Shangaan Electro Finally, the surreal and culturally alien moment Sónar has been giving us over the past few years, arrived. Memorable was the performance by Omar Souleyman and his Syrian gas station pop, and so was Shangaan Electro’s visite to the Village. Obviously, playing tribal music with little technology and MIDI percussion doesn’t look all too spectacular on stage. They appeared with four vocalist/dancers and an MC who pressed play and announced the tracks with the number of visits they got on YouTube. Actually, the music wasn’t the most important thing about the show, as the real star of Shangaan Electro is the dancing. And that’s what it was like at the Village, both on and off stage. The skill, speed, complexity and surrealism of the Africans on stage got the crowd going like there was no tomorrow. The magic thing is not that the artists can dance to those speedy sounds, but that thousand of people in the audience lose their shame and dignity trying to imitate them. And the brotherhood of Armani Empire T-shirts and tribal tats applauding as if it were Chus & Ceballos on stage. I can’t wait to see the YouTube videos. MF

Tiger & Woods (SónarDôme)

The seventies are more alive than ever, the mirror ball is the most wanted prop once again and the groove is the only thing capable of getting us moving when our legs have to ask us permission to keep walking. Tiger & Woods presented us with their recent “Through The Green”, a cocktail of tracks that pinpointed them as some of the major revitalisers of disco music (and, while they’re at it, of early house), with a sound that makes it virtually impossible to stand still, mainly thanks to gems like “Love In Cambodgia”, self-released on Editainment). If Tiger Woods would have paid a visit to Sónar he would have loved it. After the Danes, it was time to get ready for the party under the stars. SdA

Hype Williams (SónarComplex)

Hype Williams were one of the big unknowns of this Sónar. In theory, behind the name are Inga Copeland and Roy Blunt. The first could be seen (she took almost all the vocal parts), while the second, we suppose was the guy with the gloomy mask. He started the show throwing whiskey on the stage before getting behind the machines. A third person, with a band T-shirt and sporting a bandana with a marihuana leaf on it, did some jogging during the first five minutes. They completed the puzzling set-up with a photo of Haile Selassie I, an icon of Rastafari culture, and some deafening flashes. It promised to be an ultra-sensorial experience, and it was. Their music widened our pupils and entered our bodies to make us separate endorphins. At times, they sounded like they wanted to reinterpret “Selected Ambient Works”. In the 30 minutes it lasted, we could only make out “Dragon Stout”, “Your Girl Smells Cheng When She Wears Dior” and the last track, “Blue Dream”. The rest was unreleased material, and if any of it is going to be on their upcoming EP for Hyperdub, you should run to the record store and pre-order a copy. The duo convincingly proved why they’re one of the artists to keep an eye out for on the present electronica scene a. AGM

Chris Cunningham (SónarClub)

Another essential performance, both because of the artistic quality of Chris Cunningham and the fact he doesn’t play very often. What he offered us was music by himself and others, accompanied, of course, by some outrageous visuals. The videos of Portishead’s “Only You” and Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy” are masterpieces, but the rest of the material wasn’t any less good. With fear always as a leitmotiv, the producer showed some terrifying images, like the one of a girl lying on a bed with her face getting disfigured and her chest being split open. But the best example of how the recital worked was “Flex”, during which a naked man and woman are hitting each other to the rhythm of the brutal “Elephant Song” by Richard D. James. Nobody danced, we were all staring at the screens with our mouths wide open. On top of that, he recovered some of his other audiovisual works, like the legendary PlayStation girl, “Rubber Johnny” and the acclaimed remix of the late Gil Scot-Heron’s “NY Is Killing Me”. It was one of those deliciously uncomfortable performances. Look away or not? If you had nightmares last night, you know who’s to blame. AGM

Yelle (SónarLab)

The former queen of the tecktonik sound, now an electro-pop diva, Yelle, appeared on stage in her usual costume: red leopard leggings. Her dance machinery was working and it was time to sweat. She went all out with her incredible charisma, jumping, dancing, running from side to side, hitting the drums, cheering on the crowd and going wild to “Safari Disco Club”. They played many of the tracks form their new album, like “Comme Un Enfant”, which, even though it’s only a year old, sound like an anthem. Without time to breathe, they attacked with the devastating “Je Veux Te Voir”, an ideal piece for those who want to lose weight, prolonged by the singer so that the dancing would never end. They finished the set with the track that got them in the eye of the hurricane, “A Cause Des Garçons”. She didn’t need much to make the show be a pop spectacle, and that’s something praiseworthy. AGM

Janelle Monáe (SónarPub)

It’s not that she’s born to become a star, she is one. Janelle Monáe returned to Barcelona only a few months after her debut at the Barcelona Apolo venue, without changing the script and showing that next time, she should play at the SonarClub, too big for many other artists. With a show that is theatrical and classy any which way you look at it, the American and her excellent band (including two dancers, a string quartet and a couple of wild trumpet players, among others) restored our faith in those concert-shows that are a breath of fresh air for show business. Connecting “Dance Or Die” and “Faster”, from the very start, she gave it her all, dancing and spreading good vibes like few other artists aspiring to become divas, many of which simply don’t do their homework, can. Far from limiting herself to play the material from her “The ArchAndroid”, the petite Monáe, with her hair pointing at the stars, played “Smile”, from her first EP, accompanied by her guitarist, making it clear that she was “the voice” of the festival. And, as if there weren’t enough reasons already to crown her as such, she sang the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back”, causing a collective delirium. Michael would have been proud to see that the art is still running through her veins, making history. SdA

Underworld (SónarClub)

Underworld took no prisoners on their return to Sónar. They started with “Rez / Cowgirl”. Despite the fact they came to present the discretely received “Barking”, they got out many of the gems that made them one of the biggest electronic bands on Earth. The superb “Always Loved A Film” was received incredibly well by part of the audience. Masters when it comes to structuring their songs, “Between Stars” had a lukewarm start, but ended up being sung along to by everybody. The high volume of “Dark Train” provoked the same convulsions Ewan McGregor got in the “Trainspotting” scene where the track is played. Karl Hyde was the undisputable master of ceremonies, a complete showman. He place a spotlight on the audience; during “Pearl’s Girl” he got behind a screen to become an improvised go-go dancer; he never stopped dancing like he’s always done; and he played with a camera on his face during “King Of Snake”. He controlled the stage like the bog star that he is. And then, the big moment came: “Born Slippy” started and thousands of arms were in the air. The end of a show everybody had dreamed of. Their best moment since they’ve been a duo? Quite possibly. AGM

Africa HiTech (SónarPub)

If they made me choose between myths like Underworld and other stars like Pritchard and Spacek, I wouldn’t doubt for a second: Africa HiTech is the one for me. But there can’t be too many people thinking like me, at least judging from the small crowd at the SónarPub. However, those who were there were totally devoted at all times. The primordial objective was to enjoy, once more, “93 Million Miles”, but this time, live. A couple of turntables, a mixer, a controller and the voice of Steve Spacek made the show an explosive mix of original material and that of others, always with enough bass and cutting edge attitude. Grime, jungle and beats seasoned with synth stabs and rewinds. Exceptionally original, incredibly danceable and maybe even too devastating if you wanted to go on for the rest of the night. MF

Buraka Som Sistema (SónarPub)

Buraka Som Sistema are part of the collective memory of the festival, because of the havoc they wreaked at the Village when nobody knew them yet and everybody was blown away. Between that performance and last night’s gig we got a brilliant debut album, and they entered the big league of global electronica. That kind of stuff can be costly. The Portuguese band are still using two drummers and a DJ, they’re still a lot of fun on stage, they can play any track from “Black Diamond” and the crowd goes beserk. But they have this strange tendency to magnify their songs even more when playing live, duplicating and triplicating the percussion and drums. And this drum beating seems to be the norm on the new tracks. Dangerous, because its starting to sound like Safari Duo. And Safari Duo are not okay.. MF

Magnetic Man (SónarClub)

Dubstep for the masses got on the main stage. Though there is one aspect to keep in mind: Magnetic Man are stars in the UK, while in Spain they’re only the makers of “I Need Air”. Which is why their first gig in Spain didn’t get the people to go see them en masse. Despite that, those of us who did go expected a lot more from the trio which, put coldly, might suffer from overestimation. It didn’t help much that a kind of Zack de la Rocha impersonator was trying to cheer on the audience every ten seconds. Someone should tell Benga, Skream and Artwork that the buffoons asking the people to stick their lighters in the air during “Flying Into Tokyo” are just too much, while they’re doing their thing with the laptop and MIDI controllers. When some hooligan is wrecking the tunes and doesn’t let you hear the pre-recorded vocals by John Legend or Ms Dynamite (no, not even Katy B got on stage), you get angry, very angry. But apart from this personal complaint, Magnetic Man are still the ones who gave many people the opportunity to learn about dubstep, basically a genre for a minority that abandoned its underground status to go overground . SdA

Numbers Showcase (SónarLab)

I left Buraka before they finished to go see Redinho and I almost lost Spencer. The delay of the concerts at the SonarPub left the Numbers showcase with a full but pleasantly spacious room, perfect for dancing. And that’s what I did during the last part of Spencer, but without overdoing it. The man played some nervous and rave-y sounds, something that is becoming a bit too much of a habit among the new DJs from the UK. After that, it was the turn of Deadboy (and we could see his face – another mystery unveiled), sporting a T-shirt paying tribute to the R&Bass dive par excellence, Cassie. The clothing choice was as good as his selection of tunes. They had told me that Deaboy doesn’t know how to mix; he even admitted to the fact himself, during interviews. But he must have been practising, because he did a great job of mixing house, 2step, bassline and his new material for the label hosting the showcase. Jessie Ware came on next, but she was only there for two songs (one of which with the mic turned off for a full minute), we don’t know if it was because of time pressure or because of the anxiety the imminent arrival of Jackmaster on the scene was provoking. To know what the label head honcho had prepared for the occasion and to be able to experience it and later remember it for another year was the main objective of the audience. To sum up, Jack came close to heaven, reached levels of originality and technique that are hard to beat. From grime to hip-hop and from there to juke, in three clean mixes (and that’s only an example). What a guy. Lory B closed the Numbers night on a trance tip with structured acid, at times so symmetric and hypnotic that it almost sounded like Minus. It was the finishing touch to a night during which the best label of this year, led by the best DJ of the year, went on to form part of Sónar history. MF

Paul Kalkbrenner (SónarPub)

There are times when the music world is capricious. Paul Kalkbrenner has been producing for over a decade, impeccable albums such as “Zeit” and superb EPs like “Steinbeisser” or “Tatü-Tata”, to name but a few. But it wasn’t until his appearance in “Berlin Calling”, a kind of Berlin version of “ Trainspotting”, and the 12” with his brother Fritz, “Sky And Sand”, when people started to take notice and the big festivals started to book him. This year, he will be playing at Pukkelpop, Melt!, Bestival and, of course, Sónar. All in all, it’s clear that he was born to be a star, a leader of the masses, because he seems to play to 20,000 people rather than 2,000, as we could see last night. He recovered like a hero and gave them straight up techno with some melodic embellishments that bring his sound closer to trance, winning everybody over like it was nothing. And if there was still any doubt about his live show, there were the boys from Pfadfinderei to make it even better with their visuals. He only needed to put on his huge sunglasses and football shirt to become the Kalkbrenner we all know. AGM

PlayGround is a media partner of Sónar

Sonar ended its 18th edition on a high note: 79,000 attendees, very impressive artistic standards all round, a lot of memorable gigs and DJ sets, and a great atmosphere. This is how it was for us, and how we tell it to you now.

Photos by Tana Latorre , Sergio Mendoza, Maxime Dodinet, Silvia López, Juan Sala and Oscar García.

The first day of Sónar 2011: An unbeatable atmosphere, fantastic music, and it looks like it’s going to be a great edition. This is what we saw and heard.

The second day of Sónar has passed: full house by day, full house by night, memorable performances and others that came up short. But in general, Sónar lives up to all the expectations and more.

Sónar has ended: 79,000 people, a big success, and some unbeatable moments, like the shows of Chris Cunningham, Global Communication and Hype Williams. Was it worth it. Of course it was.

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