Sónar 2012: The Friday Report

From Amon Tobin's cubes to Lana Del Rey's growing charisma: an overview of a second day full of surprises

Another full day at Sónar: sold out by day, with house and experimentation dominating, and memorable moments at night, with Lana Del Rey's show and the hysterical clubber moments of the finale. A second successful day at the festival.

Sónar passed its mid-point, saw a very interesting Friday in every way (with a mix between easy leisure and proactive experimentation during the day at CCCB, where John Talabot, Mouse On Mars and Jacques Greene shone especially), and finally exploded with the big party of the first Sónar By Night at the Fira Gran Via de L’Hospitalet. There Hawtin, Murphy and Fatboy Slim made us dance, James Blake made us tremble, Lana Del Rey made her people cry (from the emotion), and Amon Tobin and Squarepusher almost burned our eyes out of their sockets with their stunning shows. That's how it was, we can tell you.

1. Sónar By Day

Raisa K (SónarDôme)

Though she played at the SonarDôme, curated by RBMA, Raisa K is not a recently graduated student from the Academy. She is the keyboardist in Micachu & The Shapes, and also in DELS live band, so the girl's an old hand. However, in spite having known some success with her band, she decided to pass through the electronic music institute, which suggests she's all didactic hunger and curiosity; something that fits the experimental and versatile focus of her solo project perfectly. Alongside her two musicians, she walked on a stage full of instruments to offer up an endless string of sounds and influences that went together wonderfully well. Math-rock, EBM, folk, world music: they all made for an outlandish gig that went down rather well at that time of day, even with some acid thrown in for good measure, in the form of DJ Deeon's “House-O-Matic”. Interesting and enjoyable, even to those who find Micachu & The Shapes' music too much to digest. Mónica Franco

Psilosamples (SónarVillage)

One of the characteristics of Sónar that has been most actively maintained when exporting the brand (Cape Town, São Paulo, Tokyo), is the discovery and promotion of local talents. That's how Brazilian Zé Rolê came to Barcelona with his Psilosamples project. His “Mental Surf” is the homemade electronic version of the fusion of deep Brazilian roots as done by Som Imaginário and Azymuth, decades ago. Homemade but not tame; with his plugins he destroys the samples of traditional music he uses, mostly from his state, Minas Gerais. But at a lazy SonarVillage, with half naked people sunbathing on the artificial grass, burping sangria and caipirinhas, the music miner showed his friendliest face and left aside the digital ugliness of his arrangements. Maybe because of the language, the television samples - which were good for the audience - the quality level of his concept seemed lowered; and we already have so much electronic music with Brazilian flavours. However, it's not for nothing that Simon Reynolds himself talked about his hit “Homem do Rá” as the Brazilian answer to hypnagogic pop, with all those picturesque references and abrasiveness. All in all, he did show some considerable talent. Dani Relats

Trevor Jackson (SónarVillage)

One thing you can always expect from a DJ as unpredictable as Trevor Jackson, is that he knows how to adapt to any situation - but yesterday, this was not the case. While the Kraut-flavoured, bright psychedelia of Psilosamples left him with the opportunity to serve up a gliding set, that could slowly get the still half lethargic audience at the SonarVillage moving (the effects of the night before was still notable, and the people seemed more preoccupied with finding some shadowy place than dancing), the Briton opted for a dark selection that started with echoing dub, and then moved towards vaporous techno, with heavy and vague textures. Beyond the quality of the tracks (which is beyond discussion with a fine selector like Jackson), the problem was that the excessively blurry sound didn't quite fit the frame. The sound problems on the SonarVillage stage (definitely one of the things to improve on) didn't help, either. In spite of the escapes to genres like reggae offering some freshness, the set was a bit disappointing, especially when you keep in mind what marvels Jackson can do. Franc Sayol

Supersilent feat. John Paul Jones (SónarHall)

The Hall at the CCB being very crowded in spite of the hour, on a working day, suggested that the presence of John Paul Jones - the veteran and restless musician best known as the bassist of Led Zeppelin, was an extra attraction for both media and public. On stage, his role in the mini improv, dark jazz and avant-garde ensemble put together by Supersilent was of relative importance, no matter how much the Norwegian combo gave him and his bass guitar the centre stage. Supersilent and Jones moved through territories of abrupt and defying free-jazz and dark ambient, in a show that wasn't exactly easy to digest. But those who found a way through the thick jungle of dark drones, schizophrenic bass lines and undefinable structures, found themselves in one of the most intense moments of the day. David Broc

Austra (SónarVillage)

While yesterday we spoke of the importance of the voice in bands like When Saints Go Machine, the same goes for Austra. Katie Stelmanis is a prodigious singer, as she already proved on their notable debut last year, “Feel It Break”. However, on the first two songs, her voice was absorbed by the powerful bass sounds. You could imagine she reached the high registers, but you couldn't fully enjoy it. The audience had to step in, and she heard them, so from “Lose It” on, she asked the engineer to raise the volume of her microphone, and things got a whole lot better. On tracks like “The Villain”, she best expressed her opera education, which she stressed with very theatrical gestures. Again it was proven that the SonarVillage (and its public) is as versatile as they come. One would expect the band's dark-wave would be better suited to a closed space, but the reaction to any beat was always met with joy. We suppose that, for some, the freaky production (those backing vocalists!) helped, too. Álvaro García Montoliu

Esperit! (SónarComplex)

One of the constants in the musical career of Mau Boada is his ability to depend on himself to get any of his ideas and projects off the ground. The most extreme and eloquent example of that is his latest adventure Esperit!, which he defended rather well yesterday on the SonarComplex stage. True to the idiosyncrasy of this personal project, the Catalan musician got out his palette of instruments and expressive options - accompanied by a set of ad hoc visuals - and built a complete set based on trippy folk, psychedelic ambient and hypnotic mini-songs; with no other intention than to let the musician's endless ideas flow in a very particular sound. The production was sober and minimalist, underscoring the concept of a one-man band generating a complete musical universe. It gave impact and a lot of sense to an idea that has life beyond the bedroom and home studio. D B

Flying Lotus (SónarDôme)

With two live appearances in two consecutive days, each attracting the biggest audience to its respective stage I’ve seen so far, Flying Lotus was very much one of the public highlights of Sonar By Day 2012. While yesterday’s set on the Sonar Village stage left me feeling like some of the soul had gone from his live show compared to earlier, more memorable experiences, today’s set at the RBMA curated Sonar Dome was a bit more focused. However, althoughat timesit harked back to fonder memories of seeing himlive;it ultimately still left a fair bit to be desired.

The hour-long showwas in fact more of a DJ set than a live per se, with anthems, classics and his own productions all delivered in a quick fire way - alongside a lot of southern club rap and bass-heavy dance music that’s oh so popular right now, but which wasn’t as integral to the previous shows I saw. As he got started some shade finally graced the non-covered side of the stage and as the crowd filled to critical point it was quite a sight looking at all the people dancing on the wall alongside the Sonar Dome with the same energy and seeming happiness that had the inside of the tent vibrating.

The 15 or so minute section of his own productions towards the end of the hour felt like the most genuine and honest part of the show, and the crowd’s reaction and engagement was just as strong as when the obvious bangers were dropped. The music is still great, as is the show itself, but as his notoriety grows there is a distinct split from his previous live work towards something more readily accessible and digestible, a laptop version of a club DJ set almost. It is a shame considering that his own music should still be capable of keeping the crowd engaged - it would be more rewarding for both parties. Laurent Fintoni

Daniel Miller (SónarVillage)

Sónar always gets the best DJs, whether they have a brilliant career or because they're true music experts. Daniel Miller will never be as popular as Richie Hawtin (he doesn't even want to), but he knows a thing or two about music. He's been at the helm of one of the most prestigious labels around, Mute Records, since 1978, and therefore it was anyone's guess what his set was going to be like. In fact, he didn't even know it himself, as he recently admitted, though the fact he would be playing right after Austra must have given him some clues. He started with minimal-ish techno, only to slowly move towards more melodic stuff. It wasn't much different from any regular DJ set: a break here, a tribal climax there and start over. Disappointing to those who expected a set for connoisseurs or, at least, an overview of the best of the legendary imprint. AGM

Mouse On Mars (SónarHall)

Expectations were high for the always youthful Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma to present their latest effort, the excellent “Parastrophics”. With a dramatic start in rock band style (an epic crescendo with lots of smoke and sounds of car races), Jan and Andi came out with their impressive drummer Dodo Nkishi, the three of them playing like their lives depended on it: make no mistake, this is a live show. But what could be a big attraction, turned out to be an obstacle: the three played at the same time, they didn't respect the silences, filled every space the tracks could have (which is also the case on the record). Instead of a reasonable display of musical ideas, with room for listening and response, it seemed like a Jerry Springer show with all the participants shouting at the same time. Not only did they get lost in cenophobia, the format they used - adapting their sound to more than dubious musical trends - wasn't exactly spot on, either. At times they sounded like an Ed Banger band, or even Modeselektor, the cadence was always the same, and they forgot about the bass; it was all distorted mid-range sounds. Not even Skrillex would have felt comfortable hearing them. All in all, tracks like the absurd “Baku Hipster” (imagine a hipster from Azerbaijan: does he sport an ironic moustache?) sounded as weird as they do on the record, and the hooligan ending of “Seaqz” was great in two ways: the tempo went up considerably, and, well, it was the end of the set. DR

Jacques Greene (SónarVillage)

The good thing about SonarVillage being so big is that, if you're a fan, you'll always find a spot in the first rows. From there, the sound of Jacques Greene's live show was pretty decent, which, I was told, wasn't the case in the back. Something that rather lowers the quality of one of the most lovingly put together live sets I've witnessed in a long time. With his inseparable squire Ango, and a wealth of analogue equipment, Jacques Greene served up his tracks, always using the machines to give them a different twist. From the fractured anthems of his EP “The Look” (using the Roland, he started with a version of “Tell Me” that sounded a lot like the Kingdom remix) to the unreleased “Prism”, and the tunes released on his label Vase. Ango showed that even with an average voice you can win the hearts of your audience based on feeling. Distinction, originality and the perfect balance between dance moments and sweet R&B transitions. I would give the man twice his fee and stuff his dressing room table with exquisite delicacies. MF

Nguzunguzu (SónarDôme)

The duo of Asma and Daniel Pineda – officially known as the annoying to remember how to spell Nguzunguzu – brought an interesting vibe to the Sonar Dome in the evening with a mix of scuzzy house (with heavy percussive and bass leanings), alongside grime, dirty south and some classic 90s hip hop and R&B joints refixed for the dancefloor. Looking slightly subdued on stage in the first parts of their set, they soon warmed up and I caught Asma dancing and smiling on quite a few occasions. Their set seemed to be well received by the audience, and the way they worked towards grittier moments – including a Wiley remix and some well-placed instant rewind classics – was perfectly suited to the mood.

I couldn’t help but smile at the instant reaction caused by the first dirty south track they played, about half way through their set. After nearly two full days, southern hip hop was one of the most consistent crowd pleasing genres of my Sonar experience, with its trademark 808 bass drums and 16th note hi hats always triggering some memorable reaction on the part of the audience. Funny how a hip hop spin off built for the clubs of a specific part of America took almost 20 years to become the darling of the global club scene; though considering how increasingly central bass and sub frequencies are becoming to a lot of clubbing and live experiences, it’s perhaps not so surprising. Nguzunguzu’s eclectic set was one of the highlights of the day for me, made all the more pleasant by their inclusion of some Bone Thugs and Jodeci remixes towards the end of the set and a clear understanding of what’s exciting – and more importantly good – about the various global bass movements everyone’s harping on about. LF

John Talabot (SónarHall)

It was the second acid test on stage for John Talabot and, again, he passed with summa cum laude. This time he played on a smaller stage, in a dark and rammed 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, ƒ in”. The vocals were much more important than on the album, especially on the epic final of “Destiny” (mobiles in the air), and on the mysterious “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 one of the biggest Spanish talents in many years. AGM

Peaking Lights (SónarComplex)

There was a huge queue for the SonarComplex before Peaking Lights started their concert. Nothing new on the festival, given the time, but it was still a 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 on stage, that home-studio, somewhat dusty sound. But they always keep it serious, playing that evanescent dub-pop with warm melodies that made them an open secret on the American electronic underground. Indra Dunis and Aaron Coyes re-create the oneiric and liturgical universe they make 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, which is the natural surroundings for listening to their music. DB

Nina Kraviz (SónarDôme)

This year, Sónar is full of men. The queues at the men's lavatories are miles long, as opposed to the ones at the ladies'. The gender difference is palpable everywhere, but nowhere as obvious as at Nina Kraviz's gig. The smell of man, of beer and polytoxic sweat was in the air when the Russian came on, who warned us it was only her fourth time playing live. The set started with a muddy sound (which was especially bad for “Ghetto Kraviz”, the second song she played, to the delight of the crowd). Although it got better in the second part. But the horn dogs around me couldn't care less about the sound. On stage, Nina's sex appeal draws more attention than her equipment, and the formula works for those who are less demanding, because her beauty is hypnotising. And she's not a bad singer, either, as she proved towards the end of the set. But for those who expect a little bit more, the show was only alright. More house, less pouting, please. MF

2. Sónar By Night

Amon Tobin (SónarClub)

The cubes. Those damned cubes. I don't know if the ideas of this year's Sónar - like Daedalus’ mirror machine, or Masaki Batoh’s neuronal helmet - will be part of the leisure of the future, or if they will go down in history as picturesque ideas of obsolete technology. I also don't know whether holograms of dead artists will be making money for a long time. What I do know is that, in times of crisis for the music industry, the number of artists coming up with pioneering ideas about future entertainment is increasing. Among them is the visualisation of “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 those monolithic noises: a record the fans of electronic music won't like, but will gain him more industrial metal and progressive rock fans. On stage is a white cube construction - part of which is reserved for the booth the Brazilian works from, covered most of the time. On the cube, moving images are projected that interact with the geometry of cubes: galaxies, cities, industrial machines with monstrous steamrollers that would crush us like paper leaves. In fact, the latter perfectly illustrates the blows that are the leitmotiv of the track “Piece Of Paper”. The 3-D screen where the musician stays, as if he were 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 mini DJ set - playing hyper accelerated drum'n'bass in the vein of Bad Company, and some blinded hip-hop mid-tempo tunes - and the boys from V Squared Lab Studio could hardly keep up with their visuals. DR

Nicolas Jaar (SónarLab)

Having unceremoniously thanked the crowd for coming, Nicolas Jaar and his band lost no time and got straight to the music with an hour long live show that was both immersive and impressive. For most part, it definitely lived up to the expectations the young American musician has invited in the last year with his dedication to his art and craft.

The first half or so of the show felt not unlike a DJ set in its construction and delivery. Especially with Jaar’s manipulation of frequencies and how the band played with tension and release, giving the crowd exactly what they wanted – slowly and in short doses at first before building up to more and more. Jaar himself proved to be a tight live performer: sequencing, playing keys and directing his ‘band’. He also sung and the crowd’s excitement was palpable when the mic first became visible leading to an inevitable wave of cheers once the vocals started seeping through the system.

The live band format worked well to inject a human feel and vibe to what was essentially a set of dance music productions, which also included some of the highlights from his 2011 album – the latter getting the crowd excited all over again. As I walked away from the stage towards the back of Sonar Lab the view was impressive – a sea of people dancing, smiling and having a good time.

Having brought some fairly high expectations with me to the show I left feeling that Jaar had lived up to his growing reputation. The show isn’t perfect, yet, but there’s a lot of potential there and it’s already one of the more solid live dance music performances I’ve seen in recent years. Against Amon Tobin on one side and Lana Del Rey on the other, Jaar held his own and the crowd celebrated him in kind. LF

Lana del Rey (SónarPub)

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 she was nervous about the gig (read the 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 in those circumstances: she could either emulate her dramatic appearance on Saturday Night Live, or do the job and triumph. 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. Her singing was great. 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, 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 notable thing was how she took on “Video Games” - getting everyone to perform with her as exceptional background singers. Lana Del Rey won us over, and she made it clear she's a brilliant singer. An absolute revelation with buckets of talent, no matter how many haters she's got. Sergio del Amo

James Blake DJ (SónarPub)

All of the care and attention he shows to tone on his studio recordings, turns to freedom when djing. James Blake might raise much more interest in his facet of artist playing his songs live, but what he did as a DJ yesterday was no small feat. Rather the opposite: he started his set with some accelerated post-dubstep strokes, slowly but surely enriching it with flashes of R&B, ragga and hip-hop. He mixed it all well - playing with the enviable naturalness of someone who plays music and connects songs without prejudice or limitations - with a perfect sense of cohesion and a great respect for the music. D B

BBC Radio 1 presents Jack Beats, Annie Mac & Simian Mobile Disco (SónarLab)

Although the sound of some stages during the day are a weak point of the event, it should be said that the technical department of the night part is absolutely brilliant. A prime example of that is the impressive sound at the SonarLab, which allows for dancing miles from the actual stage, surrounded by thousands, and still feeling the sonic pressure as if you were in a club. In a setting like this, it's no wonder that acts based on whirling energy, like Jack Beats, roll through the masses like a steamroller. The duo formed by Niall Dailly and Ben Geffin were explosive from the very start, playing their trademark combination of festive house with colossal wobbly bass lines to the ever growing delight of the crowd. It goes without saying that these two aren't exactly champions of the subtle, but with a sound system like this, it's hard to resist their burning bass stabs.

Annie Mac seemed to start a little bit more discreet, turning towards broken beats, but soon she picked up where her predecessors had left off - playing some easy house that sounded like an update of Chicago jacking house, from a UK perspective. Supported by somewhat poor visuals (they looked like a Real Player animation with the BBC logo spinning on top of it), the Radio 1 DJ confirmed her status as mass agitator with sporadic shouts into the mic. Hits like Cajmere's “Percolator” and Azealia Banks' “212” did the rest; Sonarlab was one big party. Her set became a string of climaxes and corpulent rhythms which, again with the added value of the sound system, were more than effective when it came to driving the crowd mental. Because in spite of the populist aspect of her sound, at that time of night any other thing was not an option.

While until then the crushing sonic pressure took Jack Beats' and Annie Mac's sets higher, Simian Mobile Disco got stuck halfway. Because the live sound of the British duo turned out to be too swampy, and not bright enough, which made it get lost in the immensity of the room. As expected, their set was an overview of the various episodes in the history of electronic music: techno with obsessive sequences, acid bubbles, rave outbursts, house with classic bass lines, and some nods to pop, like their “Cruel Intentions” with Beth Ditto. Despite the fact that their setup is perfect for Sónar By Night, the burden of the flawed sound made their concert not as good as it should have been. FS

Friendly Fires (SónarPub)

A Friendly Fires gig is a safe bet. If you find yourself lost in the immensity of a festival in the wee hours of the morning, without knowing exactly what to do, but feeling like shaking some behind, the St Albans could save your night. As they did last night. Again, they showed their solidity as a band, with a setup similar to that Cut Copy had a year ago on the same stage, but with much more experience, or at least, more appetite. You could see their popularity has grown considerably over this last year, because the SonarPub was almost completely full, which is significant, given its size. As usual, Ed MacFarlane was a complete showman, with his usual repertoire of dance moves and the instrumental accompaniment gave the whole an extra organic touch. Their dance-rock with a festive synth-pop feel, ideal for big stages such as last night's, became bigger and bigger, and the songs from their two albums were played with ease, stressing that Pala is no mishap.

Richie Hawtin (SónarClub)

The incombustible Richie Hawtin returned to Sónar, where he appears every year without fail, playing a two-hour set marked by its linearity and a brilliant finale in Plastikman style (with confetti). Skinny and summery as ever (sporting his classic fringe and vest), he compensated for the Ibiza casualness of his set with a spectacular stage setup, bathed in light and full of effects. Few times he looked for the reaction of the audience. Hawtin was focused, without party-like interaction, taking on his set as a real-time puzzle rather than a clubber pastime: in the booth, with a laptop, a controller and a sampler, building loops like skyscrapers. He started with the kind of techno that characterises him the most, but soon he went on to a more plain brand of minimal that went on a bit longer than it should have, leaving the impression he didn't dare to go further. Eventually he saved the day with a final fifteen minutes of Plastikman-like techno, with the drum machine blowing smoke. Sergi Brunet

James Murphy (SónarPub)

Retirement has been good for the American. After he dissolved LCD Soundsystem, Murphy has been busier than ever as a DJ. From a purist point of view, he may lack some technique to mix the tracks and dominate the rollercoaster that is any set. But settling the score after his thudding house set of last year (full of heavy bass and second-rate techno in the early morning), this time he brought a spot on mix of funk and house percussion. With more grey hair than ever, the DFA boss showed his expertise with an incendiary DJ set that we danced to from the first minute to the last. Murphy is God. And more so when he's relaxed and ready to be the master of exceptional ceremonies like last night's. SdA

Untold (SónarClub)

After the infernal Richie Hawtin, the masses exited SonarClub, and in came Untold. A super tall, metrosexual and well-groomed Dutch guy was wreaking havoc, jumping and throwing around confetti in the first rows. He had two messages for me, with his eyes almost popping out of their sockets: firstly, he introduced me to his robust but pretty lady friend, saying “she’s fat”, which I found rather rude; secondly, looking at Jack Dunning djing, he said: “this is techno music: loud and clear”. And then he disappeared. But yes, he was right: Untold is the return to the classic virtues of techno. No distortion, no trickery. A lot of space. Every element at the volume it needs: a robust bass, somewhat rugged, like Basic Channel but more corporeal, combined with a strict 4x4 beat and metallic and industrial sounds. Hardly any mixing with dubstep and derivatives (like Hemlock), just a picture-perfect set. Loud and clear. DR

Fatboy Slim (SónarPub)

Fatboy Slim appeared at the SonarPub with a true show: rather than a DJ, his setup looked like a circus. More than the music, the important thing was the experience, the communion with that sector of the audience that held on until the end, enjoying (at four in the morning!) the show of the extroverted and veteran English DJ. He sold us a live show, but 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-like 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. SB

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