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Sónar, June 19th: in-depth

Sónar 2010

By Sergio del Amo, Mónica Franco, Ronald Fritze and Julio Pardo.

It’s official: this year’s Sónar has broken all the records. The Barcelona festival has not only confirmed its pole position in the global league of large-scale electronic music events, this year it has also received more visitors than ever before: around 100,000 across the three days during which our senses have been working overtime. Sónar 2010’s closing ledger is over-balanced with talent, emotion, fiesta and memorable performances. So without another moment’s delay, this is how we experienced the third and final day. Moodymann (SónarDome-Red Bull Music Academy)He made us sweat, but that comes as part of the Moody package. A Moodymann set without sweat, without the blackness and soulful accuracy wouldn’t be a Moodymann set. The man from Detroit did not fail us. He manned the turntables to give us every bit of class that he had in him. He is not one of the greats by coincidence. Nor is he one of the most veteran Motor City producer by accident. Moodymann stays true to what he does –soul loops set in a frame of lo-fi techno– and he takes it to the very end. His exhibition of technique and taste on the stage hosted by Red Bull Music Academy felt complete, mixing in his own productions with those of other artists, and winning us over with a string of hidden soul gems, smooth funk classics and a lot of the luxurious disco tunes he has been sampling throughout his extensive career. It was a tribute to his roots and his philosophy, from an artist who deserves every prop he’s ever gotten. RF

Bomba Estéreo (SónarVillage)Duty called and I had to cut short my much-needed siesta to see Columbian outfit Bomba Estéreo. By the third day of the festival the need for sleep becomes considerable; you don’t get up so easily and even if the artist performing shows bounds of energy and life force, it isn’t always enough to get you in a dancing mood. Despite my black karma, I have to admit that Li Saumet did lift the people’s spirits with vigour and the rest is BS. Those who did dance frantically were the punters in the overcrowded SónarVillage –and it was even clearer on the Saturday that the venue is becoming too small– and not because everybody had such high expectations beforehand. Saumet’s rhymes and cumbia were infectious; he even got a couple of girls on stage for a demonstration a champeta dancing, which has one of those rhythms that shape the sound of the band along with some reggae, pop and cumbia as a the connecting thread. It’s a fun, fresh and light-hearted concept, but not more interesting than other things being created in today’s Latin America. Bomba Estéreo keeps on trying for the title of inheritor to Carlos Vives’s mantle for the 21st Century. It’s music to dance to, as you party and get drunk. MF Necro Deathmort (SónarHall)A bit hidden, and almost slipping by unnoticed in a programme lacking in post-metal and noisy avant-gardism, Necro Deathmort didn’t leave those who approached the SónarHall in a terrible, scary cave. Their musical concept doesn’t hold a lot of secrets. It’s a pretty predictable and accepted revision of doom-metal with one variation -the use of electronic beats as rhythmic support- but the way they do it draws more attention and curiosity. With the help of just a laptop, some effects and a guitar, in a totally unorthodox stage set up the British duo created a cloud of black noise drones and spiralling breaks which was complemented by a set of well-chosen visuals with clear expressionist influences, which helped to accentuate the feeling of fear and terror. And all this in the dark, claustrophobic and terrifying – definitely the darkest moment of the festival. JP Uffie (SónarVillage)The Ed Banger favourite who took four years to make Sex Dreams And Denim Jeans, yesterday took to the SónarVillage with a diva-like air, as a woman who loves herself to bits. Those who have been following her since the infamous “Pop The Glock” –which ended her show, as we expected– still remember how she gave it her all when she, preggers and all, was in the habit of displaying an almost unhealthy fascination for rolling around on the floor. In those days, she was a proud alcoholic creature of the night. What we witnessed last night however was something completely different. Uffie showed there’s more to her than that –with a little help on stage from a DJ and a keyboard player– but unfortunately only a few of those who were there were familiar with her new repertoire. The people wanted the hard stuff, the dirty electro, and you could almost taste the indifference in the air, up until she played “Robot Oeuf”. Which was a pity, because thanks in great part to the huge arsenal of producers who helped create the album, the twenty-something’s repertoire is more than worthy. Had this concert taken place four years earlier, the reactions would have been quite different. SdA The Slew festuring Kid Koala (SónarHall)Here we go again with the crowd, the saturation, the elbowing and the general all-round bad humour. Kid Koala’s and Dynomite D’s display of their new project was yet more proof that the festival site in the heart of Barcelona is steadily becoming too small for the masses of people it attracts year after year, especially on the peak day of Saturday. Not to mention the queues; not even years of Kegel exercises would have given me the pelvic muscle tone I gained standing in line at Sónar. It was clear from the start that the SónarHall would be rammed – after all, it’s not too often that you get to see six turntables, a guitar and a drumkit on one stage. In fact, it was the pair’s first and only gig of this kind in Europe. Kid Koala and company displayed those soundtrack themes to an unreleased documentary by Jay Rowlands, all built on DMC virtuosity, crazy scratches, seventies-like guitar licks –Myles Heskett didn’t have to change a whole lot to achieve stylistic comparisons with his band, Wolfmother– and the freshness a live drummer brings to a live set to build the frame for the tracks. The overcrowded SónarHall paid more attention to the hand movements of the two DJs than to the physical discomfort of standing in the crowd, but none of it mattered, because both DJs were highly enjoyable. Which brings us to the one point of critique: a couple of cameras pointed on the turntables and a few big screens wouldn’t have done any harm, because the real show here was the technique. MF Roxy Music (SónarClub)Many in number were my doubts in the hours prior to Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay took the stage. The last time Roxy Music played in Barcelona yours truly hadn’t even been born. Which is why I didn’t think twice when presented with the possibility of witnessing the rebirth of one of the most important bands in “art-rock”. Sadly, not everyone thought the same: the room wasn’t completely full. In spite of everything, the biggest question that remained was whether the band could live up to the expectations, because they’re not exactly a bunch of young Turks. Fortunately, starting with “Re-make/Re-model” –with Ferry on piano during the first minute– Roxy Music showed they haven’t lost their touch. Dressed in a black suit and white shirt (he left the tie at home), Ferry was his old dandy self: class, in the flesh. Even so, the festival format did them no justice. Their show was supposed to last two hours and twenty minutes but was cut to a bit over one hour, and key tunes like “More Than This” and “Avalon” weren’t played. However, the final part of the concert, which included “Jealous Guy”, “Virginia Plain”, “Love Is The Drug” and “Do The Strand”, was worth its weight in gold. Backed up by a band that included a sax player, a violinist and two black divas on backing vocals, Roxy Music taught us a brilliant lesson of how to handle oneself. SdA Jónsi (SónarPub)As if it were a film script, the presentation of Jónsi’s solo debut drew a sonic and emotional crescendo so huge that it achieved something really important - to set aside the memories of Sigur Rós for a while and put forth some new goals for his musical career. Faint, atmospheric and slow, the first minutes saw the show start from the bottom up, stealthily and with moderate melancholy, at a slow and contemplative pace. Bit by bit, following a brilliant pattern and perfectly paced, the Icelandic and his band, backed by a beautiful stage set, started to speed things up, shed a lot of light and uncovered the pop essences within “Go” which on stage sounds even more consistent and magnificent. The performance ended with an instrumental, emotional and visual climax that will be talked about for years to come, boosting our overall impression of the festival and while we’re at it, helping to put this up there with the top ten of concerts of the year. JP Dizzee Rascal + Caspa featuring MC Rod Azlan (SónarClub)Running late, with his usual carefree, defiant stance, and an image of his face all over the screens at the SónarClub, Dizzee Rascal -backed by DJ Semtex, who moments before had been tweeting of his Barcelona fatigue and complaining a bit- got on stage with the intention of giving it his all for a little over an hour. Relentlessly. The leitmotiv of this concert was of course his latest album “Tongue N Cheek”, which is why we got to see the most frantic, danceable and gymnastic side of Dizzee Rascal, which feels even more like you’re getting a lyrical shower every time the British MC grabs the mic. The SónarClub stage might have been a little bit too big for such an austere, minimalist set up. One got the feeling there either weren’t enough people or there too much space up there, but that didn’t stop the extremely motivated and brutal Rascal from coming out like a bullet. Literally. To complement his excess saliva, Caspa came on after him to confirm that the popular and media success of dubstep is no passing phase, as he succeeded at SónarClub with his repertoire of wobbly basslines, upsetting sub-bass and heavy beats. JP Fuck Buttons (SónarLab) Right from the start, I had an orgasm as they played “Surf Solar”. Live, they sounded as they do on the album – at first the space sounds bubble and then the trance beat steps in, ripping your muscles, but much louder, to the point where you can actually feel them in your stomach. Believe me when I tell you that I experienced physical sensations I never thought were possible. Fuck Buttons tickle one’s intelligence, and those first minutes were a crescendo like when a dog marks its territory, they showed who was boss. Later, the swelling between my legs receded a bit, after a few minutes of digression and spacial waves with distorted effects, but the short-circuit in my brain remained. When they started playing “Olympians”, I was rolling on the floor with pleasure. If this wasn’t the best concert I have seen at Sónar 2010, then I don’t know what was. RF Matthew Herbert’s One Club (SónarPub) Matthew Herbert is set to release three records this year – like Robyn, he’s attempting a triple– and one of them is “One Club”, which is constructed with sounds recorded in the cavernous Robert Johnson, in Frankfurt. I haven’t heard the album yet so I don’t know if it sounds anything like what the man brought us at the SónarPub, but if it does then we’d all better get ready for a weird and oblique experiment in the vein of his other alias, Radioboy. I’m not sure if I fully understood what Herbert was doing: he put up a tent on stage, got behind his sampler and started to play dance music with an inaccurate groove, not a lot of feeling and without any populist intentions. I would even say it was the most colourful show I have ever seen, because after coming out of the tent a pushing buttons, we saw him high up on top of a ladder. Following this login, the best album of the set could be called “One Pig”, made entirely out of pig sounds. I believe he has lost his mind, or maybe, I’m just getting too old for these kind of eccentricities. RF Lucky Me Showcase ( American Men, Machinedrum, Lunice , The Blessing, Eclair Fifi & John Computer) (SónarLab)Before we talk about this gig, where the hell was Zomby? It didn’t seem probable that it was the mysterious fourth member of American Men (the trio had invited a guest for the occasion), and so it was: Zomby didn’t appear. The fourth member turned out to be drummer Robbie Cooper and the result of his contribution was a kind of post-rock mixed with fluorescent synths, a LuckyMe trademark. It was quite interesting, but the audience didn’t really take it that well, and they moved on to other stages. The breakdown of the atmosphere was immediately eradicated by Machinedrum’s set, which was short but intense. The man is great at both producing and spinning; and whether it be glitch-hop, dubstep or fidget house coming out of his machine, it all breathes the essence of Detroit, Chicago and Baltimore. We were warned about Mike Stott having cancelled his show but it was his substitute Lunice who turned out to be a real surprise. DJ producer, dancer, MC and troublemaker – Lunice was all that and more, not only during the hour of his set but also throughout the rest of the showcase. He wreaked havoc at the SónarLab playing mega-hits (Beyonce, Rihanna, Brandy, Cassie, Soulja Boy, Lil’ Wayne...) anchored to a steamroller of bass. The Blessings started off on the wrong foot because of sound problems, but all in good spirits. That lovely version of Ciara’s “Go Girl!” was to blame. And to close off the Glaswegian showcase, the label’s girl Eclair Fifi, joined by John Computer Hudson Mohawke in a dinosaur mask– for a four-deck set that moved from fat beats to nineties acid house seemingly without effort. Glasgow brats, thank you for existing. MF Chemical Brothers (SónarClub)“Attend a Chemical Brothers show,” should be the advice dished out by diet consultants the world over. Basically, it’s impossible not to lose at least two kilos in one session when confronted with such monsters of electronic music. The excuse for their visit was the presentation of their latest effort “Further”, an album on which the two-some play it safe by giving their parishioners new exercises in techno and climaxes that never end, and that we all long for. Supported by excellent visuals designed by regulars Adam Smith and Marcua Lyall –video art that has nothing to envy in the stuff you can see at the MOMA– the SónarClub was rammed all the way to the toilets. The deserted look of the other stages spoke for itself. Although the first part of the show focussed on the tracks of “Further”, after they played “Hey Boy Hey Girl” they started churning out hits like “Out Of Control” or “Believe”. Despite the ever-present shadow of play/stop in their live shows, the Chems are a living legend. The times they have disappointed us are few, and this was not one of them. This was their most overwhelming show ever and they left it indelibly marked on our retinas. That’s why they are and always will be a sure-fire hit. SdA

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