Sónar 2012: The Saturday Review

New Order, The Roots, Hot Chip, and Metronomy on the final day of a festival that's broken all its own records

After 19 editions, Sónar has reached a new peak. The total number of visitors at the CCCB in Barcelona and the site at the Fira Gran Via in L’Hospitalet almost reached the magic number of 100,000 people (98,000 to be exact, according to the organisation), which makes this the most successful Sónar ever. But it's not only been a commercial victory: musically it has been splendid, too. On the final day, we were swept away by the power of electronic pop by the likes of Metronomy, Hot Chip, and New Order, we had the privilege to see The Roots live, and we witnessed the music of music in real-time. Here goes.

1. Sónar By Day

Santiago Latorre (SónarDôme)

What a friendly guy is Santiago Latorre; as friendly as his music. The artist worrying about his audience (small and mostly Spanish), and about finding the best way for them to enjoy his live show, is something you don't see too much at festivals. Before starting his set, masks were handed out to keep the attendees from getting any visual stimuli (and, as the man said, so that they wouldn't have to see any vests for a bit) and make sure that they could focus on listening. Latorre gave an overview of his discography, playing his music in such a way that you entered his world little by little, ending up in total calm. First his whispering voice, then the ambient soundscapes, then the enveloping sound of the clarinet, then transcendent harmonies, until finally reaching the top with the modern Gregorian chant that is “Si El Sol No Calienta”, from his latest album. It has been proven: it's possible to enjoy relaxed and relaxing electronic live music at the SonarDôme. Mónica Franco

Cornelius presents salyu x salyu (SónarHall)

Japan in its purest form. Of what we've seen in the past few days at SonarHall, Cornelius's production and show concept delivered the striking elements and Japanese essence we like so much over here. His band was accompanied by four ladies in white who moved to the indietronica of Keigo Oyamada, who was hyperactively switching all kinds of instruments and directing the particular chromatic palette of his songs from the back. Cornelius chose to revise “Salyu X Salyu”, in a less explosively danceable fashion than was usual in his early days, with low intensity, playfully electronica, flirting with indietronica and with a more monotonous and uniform version of his sound. The show went from more to less, especially once the surprise effect of the start had worn off, and ended up somewhat mechanical; almost on automatic pilot. David Broc

Darkside (SónarVillage)

Darkside is a side-project by Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington. Last year they released a single on New York label Clown & Sunset, which featured three tracks fusing a wide variety of sounds: dub, jazz, funk, rock, and more. The psychedelic set they offered yesterday evening was one of their first, but they connected wonderfully. Facing each other, Nicolas was singing and taking care of laptop and synths, while Dave played the guitar. Their music, irresistibly sexy, was especially appealing to those who like their dancing horizontal, tickling their ears with elegant beats. Though sometimes they would put the pedal to the metal, like on , stretched out like chewing gum, and sped up towards the end. They played a wealth of new tracks, most likely from that debut full-length they promised for the end of this year. There was one particularly tasty one, quite poppy, with Jaar's refined singing and Harrington creating some very Chris Isaak-like sensual moods. Álvaro García Montoliu

Maria Minerva (SónarComplex)

The opening concert of the 100% Silk showcase. Sporting tennis clothes, the Estonian girl entered the Convent dels Àngels apologising for the cancellation of her gig in Madrid, and expressing her wonder at this being her first ever performance with a security fence in front of the stage. With the music pre-recorded, the strongpoints of her concert were the vocal improvisations and some spasmodic, but powerful choreography: with her hair in front of her face, Minerva had the charisma of a tribal shaman. The repertoire consisted of her most danceable tunes, leaving the more ethereal songs aside and remodelling others, like “Soo High”, which sounded much more disco, with a cathartic final part, including a noisy mini version of Sade's “Love Is Stronger Than Pride”. There were more surprises, as linearity is not her thing. She also presented a track from her upcoming album, featuring a surprisingly thick bass line. At the end, barefoot on stage and receiving a long ovation, she threw her trainers in the audience – a way of saying thank you. Yes, she's a freak, but with a lot of talent. A star is in the making. Dani Relats

Star Slinger (SónarVillage)

The masses, eager to burn some calories after ingesting the umpteenth hot dog, turned to the British producer to guide them on their quest. He could have included all kinds of sounds in his set, but the Mancunian opted for the easy option; knowing all too well that at that time of day, nobody wants to be confronted with cryptic, cerebral melodies. He mixed up his own productions and edits with tunes like M.I.A.'s “Bamboo Banga”, Daft Punk's timeless “One More Time”(beefed up with some very thick bass lines), and a dancehall-ready version of Modjo's “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)”. You can imagine the response: hands in the air at the start of every mix and a lot of early evening booty shaking. A perfect warm up for LA Vampires. Sergio del Amo

Diamond Version + Atsuhiro Ito (SónarHall)

When have the people of Raster-Noton ever let us down? Never, that's when; which is why they're at Sónar every year with, often exclusive, shows for electronica epicures. 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 Versionwas at least as impressive visually and sonically. The fact that they had hardly played live 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 artist was desecrating the people's ears with the Optron (a fluorescent tube, modified for use as a sound source). It was quite extravagant an experiment, as the tube ended up being used as a regular instrument, with Ito playing it like a guitar in the end. The symbiosis between the sounds was complete. Ito offered some good 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

Magic Touch (SónarComplex)

The part of the 100% Silk showcase that took place at the SonarComplex made for a curious situation. Because, maybe due to the darkness of the room, the people gathered there were more like insatiable party goers than hipster trainspotters. For the former, Magic Touch's live show was a gift from the heavens. Damon Palermo presented a set full of old school flavours, starting with his setup on stage: no laptop, just an Akai sampler, a Yamaha QY700 sequencer, and a synthesiser. His set was a succession of references to the classic house of the 90s; harsh, analogue rhythms, ecstatic pianos, rave-like vocals and a wealth of melodies and moods between bright and psychedelic, directly pointing at the British Summer of Love. All that resulted in a primitive set (in a good way) and unbridled energy, making the SonarComplex look and feel like an old-fashioned warehouse party. Franc Sayol

DJ Harvey (SónarDôme)

When Trevor Jackson is in the first row to see a DJ play, 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 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. FS

LA Vampires (SónarVillage)

Continuing with 100% Silk. Amanda Brown, the label boss, presented her twisted vision of house, live. The genre is often compared to a liturgy where the preacher is the DJ, promising his flock gifts from the heavens, in this case Inner City's “Good Life” alongside Joe Smooth's “Promised Land”. Well, LA Vampires are the equivalent of the opposite: a Satanist ritual for a pack of rats taken to the dark side. Or at least, that's what it sounds like on the powerful “Wherever, Boy”, the opener of the concert, something like the apocryphal version of “Good Life”. Bad life. Curiously, Amanda - like a Jamaican dj or a drum'n'bass MC rather than a pop singer - stood next to her band mates, rarely acting like a front-woman. Their repertoire, always danceable and full of reverb, sometimes sounded more corporeal, more punky than one might expect, reminiscent of the forgotten classics of Zé Records. On a side note: during the final stage of the gig, we spotted Maria Minerva gobbling up a tortilla sandwich between the curtains, breaking her ethereal image. Dani Relats

The Suicide Of Western Culture (SónarHall)

Twenty-four hours after John Talabot became a national hero, The Suicide Of Western Culturedid the same, at the same place and at the same time. The SonarHall was perfect for their hypnotic, sonic apocalypse. Accompanied by visuals with images from the Spanish civil war and about the relation between man and machine, and sporting their trademark hoodies (though not for long; too hot), the Spanish duo violently played their acclaimed debut album. They also performed some pieces from their upcoming second LP, due out this autumn, like the promising “Love Your Friends, Hate Politicians”, and “El Cristo de la Buena Muerte”. Their live show has grown more solid, exciting and visceral over time, and their fan-base is growing. And with good reason. SdA

Ital (SónarVillage)

I wasn't sure about Ital's live show in front of a SonarVillage audience that, minutes before Daniel Martin-McCormick got on stage, looked like the casting for a combination of “Walking Dead”, “Camorra” and “Skills”. But then, I didn't expect him to almost completely get rid of the soul and old school diva house feel either, in order to make way for the wildest intelligent techno. The flashes of murderous synths, euphoric and schizophrenic melodies, and the galloping 4x4 beat had the better part of the crowd moving. Even “Only For Tonight”sounded like a track from a rave in the English countryside in the early 90s. Though I suspect that the movement was pure inertia, after two (or more) days of partying and endless dancing. MF

Arbol (SónarComplex)

"She Read The Wrong Book”was the perfect excuse for Miguel Marín to take on new challenges and ways to expand his music, especially live. During the presentation of the LP at the SonarComplex, the closing set on that stage, the Spanish musician and producer surrounded himself with a proper band (including cello, violin, guitar, percussion and all kinds of details), in order to best translate the essence of an album on which Marín shows his soundtrack rather than his ambient side. It was a notable show - with much class and subtlety - intimate and delicate, drawing towards modern classical, and moving away from the floating and evanescent aspects of his music. This more organic and emotive side of Arbol is substantial, and the band accompanying him did a proper job of proving that. Mario G. Sinde

2. Sónar By Night

The 2 Bears (SónarPub)

When they were announced for the festival, we jumped up from our chairs with joy, as “Be Strong”has given us so much pleasure in the past few months. Nevertheless, the happiness faded somewhat when we learned that they would not be playing a live but a DJ set. I didn't expect much, but in the end it turned out to be brilliant. Raf Rudell and Joe Goddard don't only know their house and warm rhythms; they are also capable of keeping the pulse of a perfect set (except when the technology abandoned them at the start of “Jump To The Beat”). While waiting for the spectacular “Gabriel”, we danced our heart out to Goddard's remix of Nneka's “Shining Star”. But the most remarkable moment was when the two bruins took the mic and rocked the place singing the fabulous “Bear Hug”. Those two are oozing class and savoir faire. SdA

New Order (SónarClub)

class="mce"> The second round of New Order - this time for everyone who had a normal ticket instead of just a lucky few with invitations and litres of beer in their bellies - was like the first, only in condensed form. It was just 60 minutes, during which they forgot about the minor songs and went straight for the hits: “Bizarre Love Triangle”, < “The Perfect Kiss”, “586”, “Blue Monday”

The Roots (SónarPub)

Here's some non-news: The Roots“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 one minute of “Undun”

Metronomy (SónarLab)

With “The English Riviera”, the Britons not only became a four-piece on stage, they also sweetened their melodies, saying goodbye to the nu-rave sounds of their beginnings. The change may have been for the worse to some, but thanks to the metamorphosis (apart from having gained a whole new fan-base), their sound is more classy and organic than ever. Focusing almost exclusively on their latest album (though there was room for some old gems, like the playful “Heartbreaker”), the band gave meaning to their new status, with a powerful and very consistent live set full of hits. Sporting white shirts (except for Anna Prior, who's become a new drummer muse in record time), they looked like a band you'd find on a cruise ship. But the most important thing of all is that the change of formation, sound, and intentions is for the better, and they're well on their way to becoming a new big hitter in indie music. The challenge will no doubt be their next album. SdA

DJ2D2 AV SHOW (SónarPub)

The Barcelona DJ's audio-visual set is like a long version of Quasimoto's marvellous “Rappcats”: a crushing tribute to the history of hip-hop, didactic and danceable at the same time. Last night, it served as a complement to the majestic teachings of The Roots. The visuals didn't consist of the original video clips alone; 2D2 used his own images as well. For example, the video of KRS-One's “Sound Of Da Police” contained images of the Catalan autonomic police battering demonstrators at the recent 15-M demonstrations. 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 up with excellent skill. Wonderful. DR

Maya Jane Coles (SónarLab)

Miss Maya Jane Coles took the baton from Metronomy in a totally rammed SonarLab. It's clear the girl has a huge attraction, given the size of the crowd and the diversity of its components. On the back of her releases on Hypercolour, 20:20 Vision, Mobilee and her “DJ-Kicks”- on which she showed she's not only a top notch producer but also an excellent selector and mixer - Maya Jane Coles played it safe last night, with a selection of tech- and deep-house, which would have been better for a closing act. However, she knows how to read her audience, so the connection with the crowd was perfect at all times, with “Parallel Worlds” as the highlight of the set. MF

Die Antwoord (SónarClub)

If you missed out on Die Antwoord's “Ten$ion”, under their belt. Given the number of people at the SonarClub, they have gained a lot of fans and expectations were high. Ninja, Yo-Landi, and a DJ Hi-Tek - who seems to have done a Dukan diet - came on stage with some delay, but the first notes of “Enter The Ninja” immediately unleashed the madness, and the South Africans were immediately redeemed. There were some new tunes, alongside some from their first album, and we even heard Ninja spit a few verses from Enya's “Orinoco Flow”(respect). You might not be convinced by the concept of these art students come ghetto personalities, but it has to be said: they're pure entertainment. An ocean of hands in the air and the crazy dancing throughout the concert was proof of that. MF

Hot Chip (SónarPub)

These Londoners are incredible. We can debate endlessly about which their best album is - and whether In Our Heads” is innovative or not - it's obvious that when Hot Chip come on stage, they give it their all so that nobody leaves the room unsatisfied. Of the many times I've had the privilege of seeing them live, they have never scored anything below 'good', and some would even say 'historic'. Instead of playing a set with the odd ballad here and there, they went full-blast, even stripping “Boy From School” from its candid and 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”) - 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 engineer, and a keyboardist dancing like there was no tomorrow. Good vibes. AGM

Azari & III (SónarLab)

We had been waiting to see Azari & IIIat an event like Sónar; especially because those who had seen them already spoke rapturously about a live show with a low-cost aesthetic, but irresistible staging. The two main culprits are 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 divas entertained the crowd with some excellent voguing (especially brilliant on “Reckless (With Your Love)”

Mary Anne Hobbs b2b Blawan (SónarPub)

Mary Anne Hobbs and her sequin jacket versus Blawan and his tattooed biceps. A set of strict techno with some flashes of bass; which we expected from him, but less so from her. We could say 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 between drones and industrial, to take one's hat off to. DR

deadmau5 (SónarClub)

class="mce"> There was a guy walking around with a giant mouse head (I even had my photo taken with him, like many other people), the same head Joel Zimmerman puts on when he plays live. It says something about the level of popularity the Canadian has reached. deadmau5 is definitely one of the most famous and highly-regarded producers in electronica right now and he invaded the SonarClub with his electro-house and flashes of multi-coloured LED lights – getting off to a spectacular start, full of hard and echoing sounds. The whole set was equally astonishing, with an intelligent use of video and 3-D images, and a string of hits: “Ghost N’ Stuff”, “Sofi Needs A Ladder”, “Strobe”and the like, with some obvious nods to Daft Punk. All this, in front of a huge, flabbergasted crowd: this is probably the best thing in current mass dance music. Sergi Brunet

Hyperdub presenta Cooly G + Kode9 (SónarLab)

After the hurricane of Azari & III and the mass exodus from the SonarLab, Cooly G opened the Hyperdub showcase with a new live show based on her debut album on Kode9's label, due out in July. While the press release for the LP already warned us that she sounds a lot more introspective now, more soulful and less danceable, last night we could hear it for ourselves. We also learned that she's into singing now, holding the mic in her hand at all times and vocally accompanying the sounds from her laptop. The crowd's reaction was lukewarm, with some eyebrows raised when she played a rendition of Coldplay's “Trouble”, also included on her new album. We suppose it wasn't her choice, but Cooly G's gig would have fitted better on Sónar By Day, under the sun in the early evening.

Sir Steve Goodman, the King Midas of the hard-core continuum, then took to the decks; and that's synonymous to high expectations. Even Flying Lotus approached the stage to witness the Hyperdub boss' performance, because anyone who wants to become someone in the DJ booth should take note of the ways of Kode9. There are no style barriers to 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. Quite the contrary in fact: he explored the outer limits of modern dance music - playing new values like Ill Blu, new-born anthems like S-X's “Woo Riddim”, and glories like Africa Hi-Tech - only to end up at 160 BPMs, with footwork and jungle. I hope someone has recorded the set and puts it on the internet, for this was a master-class in danceable electronica. MF

Modeselektor (SónarPub)

Die Antwoord already said it at the end of their gig: nobody's going to tell them what to do; they play by their own rules. Well, Modeselektor are doing just that. After saying hello in abominable Spanish, with filtered voices, they kicked off with a wonky tune - slow, sinuous, and with a synth reminiscent of Gerson Kinsley - only to follow it up with a thug-like crunk track (remember they were tagged “ Euro-crunk” when “ Hello Mom!” came out? Those were the days), and one by their French rapper buddies TTC. Then, they made a faux phone conversation, after which they tore us apart with some saturated but very danceable techno. Some people should take note. Frantic and very mischievous. DR

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