Sónar, Friday

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

Sónar M.I.A.

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

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

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