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Sónar 2012: The Thursday Report

Nostalgia with New Order, darkness with Trust, freakiness with Mostly Robot, geometry with Flying Lotus and good vibes all around

At the press conference, the Sónar organisers said that this year they expected 80,000 people to attend the event, and for now, those numbers seem to be correct: the first day was completely sold out (the CCCB was rammed, which hasn't always been the case on the Thursday at previous editions), plus Sónar By Day sold out on both Friday and Saturday. And we still have to see what the attendance will be like on Friday and Saturday night.

Musically, the balance is very positive: New Order settled their historic debt with Sónar with their opening concert, and on the CCCB stages (Hall, Complex, Dome, and Village) we witnessed wild DJs, fun gigs and a feast of fat bass lines and irregular melodies. From DJ Spinn & DJ Rashad to Flying Lotus, from Mostly Robot to Trust, from Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs to Thundercat, this is how we experienced the first day of Sónar 2012, already on its way to an epic conclusion.

d.Forma (SónarHall)

It's truly great to be welcomed to this edition of Sónar with a slap in the face like this. In SónarHall, as the rays of daylight filtered through, Barcelona producer Mario G. Ferrer taught us a lesson in noise with his MacBook and a Roland MC-909. He sounded much more abrasive live than on his records: listen, for example, to his evocative “Amplia Grey” (Lovethechaos, 2011). Live, Ferrer added layers of deafening noise to the field recordings and incidental music used on the album, without interfering with the sometimes delicate core of his music. Have you ever been in a fire? The sound of the flames devouring the surroundings must sound something like this. Dani Relats

El_Txef_A (SónarVillage)

It's no news that taking a stage on the first day of Sónar, at 1 in the afternoon, is no easy task. Firstly, because you never know how large the audience will be, nor what it'll be like. Secondly, because there are certain kinds of music that just don't go down well at that time of day. That wasn't the case, however, with El_Txef_A. His deep-house, and, most of all, the more pop oriented songs from his debut album, had the potential to fit the sunny SónarVillage stage like a glove. Which is what happened: tracks like “Breath” and “Broken Bridges” got the punters dancing on the artificial grass. Aitor Etxebarría proved to be pragmatic; the first half hour of his set was dubby, slowly adding more rhythmic elements and bass, to finish with some unreleased and danceable material. Discreet but effective, in spite of the sometimes complicated sonic circumstances on stage. Mónica Franco

Eltron John (SónarDôme)

Eltron John is another name on a long list of ambiguous DJs and musicians experimental music has given us. On stage, the Polish artist was sporting a friendly schoolgirl hairdo, and a terrible black dress that showed enough to see he has no breasts, but a bit of hair on his chest. The ambiguity, however, was already there. Transvestite or actor? We saw him off-stage later, in 'normal' dress, and he looked like Nathan Fake, though while he was playing his crunchy house, we couldn't help but think of a Slavic version with savage sense of humour of the tremendous DJ Sprinkles, the dance alias of Terre Thaemlitz. But he had the crowd moving like a perfect student party. His looks were a bit gruesome, but his music was good. Mario G. Sinde

Jeremiah Jae (SónarVillage)

Jeremiah Jae, the youngest pup of the ones Flying Lotus brought with him for the Brainfeeder showcase, proved somewhat inexperienced. Or maybe the expectations were just too high. One needs to know what they’re doing, and a lot of presence, for the huge stage that is SónarVillage. Jae, however, was alone with his laptop and a microphone; which is a good setup for a small venue or club, but just didn't cut it yesterday. Preceded by a rep for manufacturing delirious beats and possessing a dragging and taciturn flow, he started with much more orthodox, old school productions, rushing through his rhymes. It wasn't until halfway through his set that he let go of the mic and started to feel comfortable, producing abstract rhythms that were much darker and unnerving (even including some rave-like breaks). Too spontaneous, or - something which boils down to the same conclusion - simply unprepared for the occasion. MF

Lapalux (SónarVillage)

With the heavy task of starting the Brainfeeder showcase, Lapalux found himself in front of a half-full SónarVillage (you could see it was Thursday and the locals still had to work). Armed with a laptop and a Midi controller (and with FlyLo appearing every now and then to pass the smokes), the Briton offered a set of nebulous beats and glitchy psychedelia in the vein of his latest EP on the California label. A recipe based on granular textures and faded evolutions, which became a tad dull, maybe because of the abuse of the delay when twisting the tracks. Paradoxically, the most exciting moments came with sidesteps like Danny Brown's a capella, and fragments of Puff Daddy's “I'll Be Missing You”. Even so, it all sounded a little bit too homogeneous, and it never really took off. Franc Sayol

Daedelus Archimedes Show (SónarHall)

So if I understood what was happening correctly, the king of Catalonia and overcrowding conspired to make getting into Daedelus’ Archimedes show a bit of a pain. Some moans, shoving and patience paid off though and I finally got to see the dandy of electronica in front of his new ‘body’. Archimedes is an impressive, audio-visual show, and like Amon Tobin’s ISAM which is also playing tomorrow night, it’s an immersive experience. Daedelus squashes down the energy of rave and hardcore dance music – which resonates with people here easily – and gives it a visual representation in the shape of his mirror machine, not far-off a Hollywood visual effect at times. Steampunk came to mind, seeing Daedelus in his usual dandy outfit, while at times this machine seemed to appear behind him in strange physical shapes – as if the music was coming alive. The way EMN and Daedelus have managed to integrate the visual element beyond mere eye candy, but into something that’s closely linked to the music and works with it, gives me faith that there is still plenty of room to explore in this musical world.

Archimedes is the next logical evolution of Daedelus’ live shows up till now. He’s gotten harder for sure, yet he still manages to capture the audience in a way that’s more engaging than most performers of his kind. All around me punks (sans dogs), ravers young and old and even a guy on crutches were dancing and responding in their own ways. However 30 or so minutes after coming to life, Archimedes was brought down by what was either a power cut or just the system being unable to handle it. As the room’s noise readjusted to only the audience and the monitors, people were cheering and clapping wildly. They’d done their job. Laurent Fintoni

Kutmah (SónarVillage)

Kutmah's role yesterday afternoon during the Brainfeeder showcase could have gone two ways: he could have been ignored completely, or he could have become one of the heroes of the day. Kutmah was what we know as the in-between DJ. He came on several times, between the gigs of his label mates, with 15 to 30 minutes each time to keep the spirit high with his selection. The man nailed it. Not only did he prove to be an excellent and versatile selector (archaic cumbia, fun disco and funk, yesterday's and today's hip-hop, reggae, and then some), he's also technically gifted, with agile mixes that allowed him to play anything he wanted in the little time he had at his disposal. He even had time to be the speaker, introducing his label mates' gigs. While he had already won our hearts with “Free Kutmah”, yesterday he turned us into devotees. MF

Yosi Horikawa (SónarDôme)

The mood was already 100% Sónar when the Japanese walked on stage: an eclectically dressed audience that was well up there, like a Star Wars cantina. His music was received well: robust beats, somewhat crunchy, and melodies that sounded like timeless IDM (Plaid, maybe), but with an Oriental touch and, in general, with a preference for the high-pitched registers. His music could easily fit the Brainfeeder sounds on the neighbouring stage. As his live set went on, the rhythms, which started with a hip-hop cadence, began speeding up and became more tribal. At the end, with the wealth of drums sounding, we were reminded of the “Akira” soundtrack. One to watch. DR

Masaki Batoh – Brain Pulse Music (SónarComplex)

The image of Diana, a dreadlocked girl who became a volunteer in the most curious and puzzling experiment of the day, with her head full of cables and protected by a military-like helmet, was impressive and somewhat scary. Alongside her, Japanese agitator Masaki Batoh, best known as a member of Ghost, was playing with toys, instruments and weird sounds (Buddhist chants, ocarinas, unrecognisable noises), in order to give some zen meaning to his “Brain Pulse Music” project, which makes rhythms and music out of brain waves. In 2012, zen equates to putting the loss of your team in the Champions League semi-finals into perspective, but Batoh went a little bit further than that, which is praiseworthy. There will be people who say this is just more nonsense, a new episode in the rise of white-collar criminals setting up camp in the crowded realm of experimental music, but this search by the Japanese creator seemed sincere and convinced of its own value. It was a curious and at times attractive exercise of neuronal noise with the excuse of being conceptual, and with some good artistic results. David Broc

Thundercat (SónarVillage)

Walking out of a cave like Sonar Hall to go see Thundercat play the Sonar Village stage was a nice contrast. Sunlight and the warm weather made it the perfect setting for the bass player to step up and deliver a refreshing, organic break from what ended up being - for me anyway - a day spent listening to electronic and dance music. The band around him were solid and they delivered a mix of some of the most recognisable album tracks with what sounded like deep, longer jams – the audience seemingly subdued during those moments until a crescendo allowed for them to respond. Brainfeeder’s growth with musicians such as him is an interesting counterpoint to the primarily digitally made music that’s also found on the label.

As a friend said halfway through “it’s almost like jazz for the kids”: generalising a little, but also giving a new generation a chance to understand where the music it likes so much partly comes from. Plus he’s a mean bass player, and it’s nice to see a bass player as a front man. He’s the perfect front man for the LA based cross-over that has been going on over the last few years, between sound system culture and beats (and of which Brainfeeder is a perfect representation). Bass is the place. LF

Flying Lotus (SónarVillage)

Knowing he was the most anticipated name of the day, Flying Lotus went on stage all smoker's charisma, including a permanent smile. His performance, however, left a bittersweet taste in the mouth; while his most loyal fans looked on suspiciously, the better part of the audience was experiencing one of the first moments of things spinning out of control at the event. Because the Brainfeeder boss seemed to know very well where he was playing (the SonarVillage has always been rather festive, there's no point in denying it), and he played it safe. Far from it being a live show in the strict sense of the word, the Californian cut his own tunes - like “Zodiac Shit” - up with all kinds of hits; from the Jackson 5's “I Want You Back” to Tyler, The Creator's “Yonkers” and the eternal “Idiotheque”. And in spite of his typical cosmic sound with polyhedric rhythms peeping around the corner at times, the general tendency was marked by fat beats and thunderous, wobbly bass lines. After a pause because of problems with the sound (a recurring thing yesterday afternoon; it happened three times to Daedelus), Thundercat appeared on stage, dressed as a Dragon Ball Space Warrior, as did Dorian Concept, to accompany FlyLo on bass and keys, respectively. Though the setup was interesting, based on spontaneous improvisation, their contributions were hard to make out due to the muddy sound. Despite all that, it would be unfair to deny that the set ended up being extremely fun; mainly thanks to the beat-maker's connection with the crowd (even asking them what they wanted him to play). And for the fans who were longing for the complete FlyLo experience, we still have his gig today at the SonarDôme. FS

Mostly Robot (SónarHall)

Get five ace musicians together in a mansion for four days and give them hard and software from Native Instruments, and you get Mostly Robot, to neutralise all prejudice about live electronic music. They played just like that, without MIDI, and their music sounded spontaneous, fresh and very funky. Their live set was set up like the promotional mixtapes by rap crews: the “Mostly Robot” filler sounding on each track, and several rendition of tracks by others (Herbie Hancock's “Rockit”, Notorious B.I.G.'s “It Was All A Dream”), mixed up with new and not-so-new originals: Jamie Lidell resurrected his “Little Bit More”, in an updated version with Tim Exile's vocoders, and it sounded glorious. Sometimes, the five-piece sounded like an updated and very much up-for-it version of Super_Collider, and sometimes they ventured into crushing footwork improvisations (drill'n'footwork, or something). Also worthy of mention were the virtuous scratching by Shiftee and the live rhythms by Jeremy Ellis. Add to that Lidell's excellent vocals, pulverising R. Kelly on the most soulful moments, and you have an impeccable set. The key? Repeat after me, ladies and gentlemen producers of today: mu-si-ca-li-ty. DR

Om Unit (SónarDôme)

As I went in and out of the Sonar Dome stage curated by the RBMA during the day, the vibe definitely seemed to be towards house and its many forms, so when Om Unit stepped up as the second-to-last act before Chicago’s Spinn and Rashad it was almost like a changing of the guard. Easing people into his world courtesy of some blissful music from Teebs, he slowly crept up towards the 160 speed that’s become his preferred DJing area over the course of his 90-minute set. Seeing him work the crowd reminded me that the sound system can be like a physical extension of the artist performing. Daedelus uses Archimedes to give it another visual dimension and DJs and producers like Om Unit and others work the frequencies in a similar way through their selection, projecting the music onto people – it’s not a simple listening experience, it’s a full-body experience. Old house folk say that women respond to bass and, well, it’s true, the tent soon filled up with a crowd that was distinctly less shiny on the outside than before, but just as responsive.

Om Unit’s experience in music shone through in his selection and mixing – the Ras G t-shirt he was wearing was more than appropriate, the crowd got to experience a world of frequencies. The Salva and RL Grime remix of Mercy showed that really all that happy hardcore was missing for a comeback is 808s. Dream Continuum’s “Set It” lived up to its name, quite literally. A big smile on his face, Om Unit continued to showcase a lot of his own work and people he’s been working with, and the crowd responded in kind, increasing the noise and energy every time he gave them more. Ending with the anthem tribal vibes of Marka, Om Unit proved that honesty in your art will take you a long way. LF

Trust (SónarComplex)

Desecrating a holy place like the Convent dels Àngels, Trust appealed to our baser instincts. When Robert Alfons got on stage (no trace of Maya Pstepski, even though she'll be playing with Austra today), accompanied by a drummer and a keyboardist, the drama was palpable. He was completely out of it, staring into space like a zombie. During the first few minutes of the concert, people were speculating about him possibly being on LSD or something, but thank Satan, we were worrying for nothing: his Saint Vitus dance moves and the living dead pose were all part of the act, as if not, we wouldn't have understood him singing the falsettos of “Shoom” and putting himself in front of the guttural rhythms of “Bulbform” as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The songs from their morbid debut album sounded powerful (like for example the marvellous “Candy Walls”) and extra evil-sexy because they were played in a church. After seeing them in action, their record should be vindicated as one of the best things to happen this year. Unconditional love. Sergio del Amo

When Saints Go Machine (SónarHall)

One of the big incentives for this concert was to find out firsthand if Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild's falsetto sounds as good live as it does on record. It took about ten seconds to take away any doubt. To see the Danish prodigy sing is quite an experience, and if you don't get all hot after listening to him, you have no blood running through your veins. While he sang his heart out, his band mates were giving it their all as well, starting with the drummer putting wild rhythms to the sexy songs ( “Jets”). When Saints Go Machine's sound is very similar to Wild Beasts, albeit without guitar and bass. And so they played a synthetic set, with “Church And Law” and “Kelly” as the absolute highlights. If Antony no longer answers Andy Butler's phone calls, he knows who to call for the third Hercules & Love Affair album. These people should become stars, right now. Álvaro García Montoliu

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (SónarVillage)

It's not that he's on the rise; this man is already a huge star in electronic entertainment. Sporting his trademark Comanche suit, Orlando Higginbottom was convincing right from the start, received by a crowd that was waiting for him with their arms already in the air. Both playing the monstrosity that is his equipment and taking the mic when needed, the Oxford artist proved to have excellent skills, leaving us without space to breathe. Keeping in mind that his debut album is a real time-bomb, mixing everything from 2step to the messiest pop, there was something there for everyone. On “Garden”, he left the vocal parts to the lady who sings on the original, but the most glorious moment was the dancer who showed up from time to time, starting with “Stronger”, to show that blonde girls can shake some mean booty, too. As far as we're concerned, he can come back every year, because his show means instant success. Hats off to him. SdA

DJ Spinn & DJ Rashad (SónarDôme)

Closing the RBMA stage, Chicago’s DJ Spinn and Rashad brought an hour of Chicago ghettoes to the Barcelona city centre, and it was a lot of fun. As the first song commanded to “take note” I turned around and the eyeballs of the guy behind me – who looked pretty wasted – appeared to be vibrating at new speeds, his smile indicating he was probably enjoying it. Welcome to the Chi. People’s bodily reactions were a lot of fun to watch as the pair got into it on the system. Some people clearly embraced the speed and energy of the music, huge smiles on their faces, while others looked confused yet unable to stop their body from leading the dance. Everyone was clearly having fun.

As the hour went on Spinn and Rashad dug for both instantly recognisable anthems and new productions, oscillating between incredibly hard 4x4 and blunted sample flips with incredible syncopation; the crowd never seemed to miss the beat. You could hear echoes of European hardcore and gabber in the harder stuff they were playing, two strains of dance music that come from similar places – young, ignored people screaming at the world through their music. The pair worked people into a trance, and if I was going to be superlative I’d say they did it like modern shamans but really their ghetto teknicianz name already says everything it needs to. It’s the perfect word to describe what they do; they’re the ghetto shamans of 2012 giving their music shape and life through the system, as others did before them.

It was also interesting to hear what seem to be new influences in their music, considering how often they’ve played in Europe recently and the interest around them, it seems that the newer work – like Welcome To The Chi – is a direct result of them embracing Europe’s excitement for their music and the tradition of sound system music. Chicago inspired the world and it’s coming round. They played productions by non-Chicago artists like Mark Pritchard and Addison Groove, almost like tipping their caps in their direction with respect. The vibes were incredibly right and it was a nice reminder that things are incredibly exciting at the moment. LF

Ricardo Donoso (SónarComplex)

It's really annoying that in places like the Convent dels Àngels, people just can't shut up during concerts. Given the acoustics of the place, built so that the word of the Lord can reach all the parishioners without too much effort, we could say every word spoken while the music is playing is one too many. However, it has to be said that Ricardo Donoso's attitude with the crowd was the same: while part of the audience wasn't there, he wasn't, either. He just played the presets of his music (more than once he left it playing while he reached for his beer), and didn't interact a lot with it. The sound was basically drones and keyboard sequences. As a friend of mine said: if I want this, I'll go home and put on a Biosphere CD. DR

New Order (SónarClub)

The Manchester musicians have played their fair share of glorious concerts, so what we were going to see on the opening night of the festival wasn't going to surprise us. They have less charisma on stage than a plaster cat, and their repertoire is perfectly designed for collective ecstasy. But blimey, what a string of hits. Few bands can bring out such heavy artillery in little over an hour, like “Crystal”, “Ceremony”, “586”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”, and the immortal “Blue Monday”. Though they use Windows 3.0 visuals and Bernard Sumner is a worse dancer than your dad at a wedding party (the increasing size of his hump will be analysed at another time), the band were kind enough to surprise us with two Joy Division tunes that weren't on the setlist of their previous gigs: “Isolation”, ten years after they said goodbye to it, and “Transmission” (the first encore of the night, before “Love Will Tear Us Apart” had the masses shouting along). On Saturday we'll have a new chance to see them— maybe they'll surprise us with another one of their gems. SdA

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