Sónar, Saturday

A day to float on gas clouds and to have epileptic fits

Sónar 2011 Jackmaster

By Sergio del Amo, Mónica Franco and Álvaro García Montoliu

It’s over. Sónar has closed its 18th edition as a box-office success (79,000 people, including the sold-out performance tonight by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto at the Teatre Grec) during which things have happened that will be talked about for years. That’s the best thing about it: when eyes and ears are impressed by unexpected aesthetic shocks. Before thinking about next year’s edition, let’s talk about Sónar 2011 and the spectacular Saturday.

David Rodigan (SónarDôme)

You should be ashamed if you’re complaining about tiredness today, when you’ve at least slept a few hours and you’re younger than 35. David Rodigan got on stage without any sleep, with his 59 years. And not only that, he gave it his all during an hour and a half. This wasn’t a reggae, dub and brother sounds set. This was the basic aural encyclopaedia of the Jamaican genre and its derivatives throughout the ages, guided and commented by the radio show host. From the initiators and classics (King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Skatalites and the final part with the Marley hat-trick) to the new talents (a nod to the Italian part of the crowd with compliments to Alborosie) and the latest representatives of the dub school. Without any hesitation, he played Breakage (when the jungle came, madness broke out), Caspa, Major Lazer and Shaggy. He danced like everybody else, talked as if he were on the radio and gave everybody a lesson about vitality and passion for the music. For all of that, he got a standing ovation, possibly the longest and most heart-felt one on the whole festival. The legend ratifies his status. Mónica Franco

Gilles Peterson (SónarVillage)

He returned, turned the SonarVillage upside down and (as expected) triumphed. Gilles Peterson dug through his record bag full of exquisite vinyl like nobody else. Beforehand, he had threatened to put on an Arsenal T-shirt, but he didn’t. The BBC Radio 1 guru played an eclectic set with sunny house to get things warmed up, some piece of spaghetti western music and even some salsa and bachata. As expected, he paid tribute to the late Gil Scott-Heron and played devastating remixes of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” and Charlie Winston’s “In Your Hands”. Is there a better way to start the day? Sergio del Amo

Global Communication (SónarHall)

Yesterday we said how lucky we are to have an annual date with Aphex Twin since 2009. Well, on the last day of Sónar by Day, we witnessed one of the most important concerts of recent time when it comes to electronic music. While many were pulling the petals off the daisy waiting for Burial and Boards Of Canada to come out of their caves, we got a visit from Global Communication, a key name in ambient, who played “76:14”, maybe one of the three most important albums of the genre. Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard got on stage covered by some canvas screens, on which spectacular visuals were projected. The ultra-high expectations could be measured by the amount of hands in the air holding cameras and cell phones to capture the moment. One of the best parts of the performance was when the clock of “14:31” started to sound. Goose bumps, literally. They played “8:07”, with its samples from “Love On A Real Train” by Tangerine Dream. When we thought they were going to play the LP from start to finish, the stopped, came out to greet the audience and got back behind the screens to give us two unexpected encores: their deep house classic “The Way” and the remix they did of Lamb’s “Gorecki”. As they say on “0:54”, “global communication: emotional expression through the medium of sound.” A lot of emotion. Álvaro García Montoliu

Downliners Sekt (SónarComplex)

Downliners Sekt

The uproar the Disboot duo have caused outside of Spain could be noticed in the audience. It wasn’t a completely full house at the Complex, but there was Joe Muggs to prove some kind of expectation existed. Downliners Sekt didn’t disappoint, thanks to a live show that seemed very carefully planned, given the hour of the performance, and they gave the attendees a taste of all the different sensibilities of their music. The first part of the show was the darkest, the most chaotic and dense. For the newbies, it was probably the hardest part to digest, but it was also the most enjoyable part, if you could get yourself to go with it. Sensual vocal samples relieved some of the tension and gave a taste of what was coming in the final part, also the most rhythmical one, getting the people to dance. They’re perfectionists, serious and meticulous, which also made them seem a bit distant. But that’s the only negative thing that can be said about yesterday’s performance. MF Illum Sphere (SónarDôme)

Illum Sphere Mancunian Ryan Hunn (aka Illum Sphere) is one of the biggest nocturnal agitators of the bass scene. Though he has played the guitar on several occasions, yesterday he brought a bit of the Hoya:Hoya parties he does to the festival. Which meant a cocktail of IDM, invertebrate post-dubstep with its genes modified and some hip-hop vocals thrown in for good measure. While he was marking the future sound (and increasing the bass levels to the point of our hearts almost exploding), people started to leave for the performance of Apparat, minutes later. Nevertheless, Illum Sphere showed he’ll be giving us a lot of fine music in the years to come. SdA Apparat Band (SónarHall)

Apparat Sascha Ringis fed up with the solitude behind the decks, the dancefloors and the people who only go to the clubs to end up foaming at the mouth and bedding anything in their path. That’s why he decided to get a guitar and battle with the sound engineers during soundchecks. This loss of faith coincided with his new adventure under the wings of Mute, which gave us "Ash / Black Veil" a few months back, the taster for the album that probably won’t come out until next autumn. The new Apparat, as a band (guitar, percussion and keyboards), pays tribute to the most famous lazy-eyed leaders of recent times: Radiohead and Sigur Rós. Yes, that’s right. Ring, using Jónsi’s falsetto when the occasion called for it, creates a sensorial (not exclusively ambient) kind of pop-rock that makes people sensible. During the show (which was rammed with people minutes before it started, a good part of that new material was played (we heard the title “Some Of Love”), and the only thing we can say is that it was more than convincing, despite them only having played a few concerts. And if we add the interpretations of “Arcadia”, “Sayulita” and a memory of Moderat with “Rusty Nails” to that, we can safely say that we like the new Apparat as much, if not more, as the old one . SdA Shangaan Electro (SónarVillage)

Shangaan Electro Finally, the surreal and culturally alien moment Sónar has been giving us over the past few years, arrived. Memorable was the performance by Omar Souleyman and his Syrian gas station pop, and so was Shangaan Electro’s visite to the Village. Obviously, playing tribal music with little technology and MIDI percussion doesn’t look all too spectacular on stage. They appeared with four vocalist/dancers and an MC who pressed play and announced the tracks with the number of visits they got on YouTube. Actually, the music wasn’t the most important thing about the show, as the real star of Shangaan Electro is the dancing. And that’s what it was like at the Village, both on and off stage. The skill, speed, complexity and surrealism of the Africans on stage got the crowd going like there was no tomorrow. The magic thing is not that the artists can dance to those speedy sounds, but that thousand of people in the audience lose their shame and dignity trying to imitate them. And the brotherhood of Armani Empire T-shirts and tribal tats applauding as if it were Chus & Ceballos on stage. I can’t wait to see the YouTube videos. MF

Tiger & Woods (SónarDôme)

The seventies are more alive than ever, the mirror ball is the most wanted prop once again and the groove is the only thing capable of getting us moving when our legs have to ask us permission to keep walking. Tiger & Woods presented us with their recent “Through The Green”, a cocktail of tracks that pinpointed them as some of the major revitalisers of disco music (and, while they’re at it, of early house), with a sound that makes it virtually impossible to stand still, mainly thanks to gems like “Love In Cambodgia”, self-released on Editainment). If Tiger Woods would have paid a visit to Sónar he would have loved it. After the Danes, it was time to get ready for the party under the stars. SdA

Hype Williams (SónarComplex)

Hype Williams were one of the big unknowns of this Sónar. In theory, behind the name are Inga Copeland and Roy Blunt. The first could be seen (she took almost all the vocal parts), while the second, we suppose was the guy with the gloomy mask. He started the show throwing whiskey on the stage before getting behind the machines. A third person, with a band T-shirt and sporting a bandana with a marihuana leaf on it, did some jogging during the first five minutes. They completed the puzzling set-up with a photo of Haile Selassie I, an icon of Rastafari culture, and some deafening flashes. It promised to be an ultra-sensorial experience, and it was. Their music widened our pupils and entered our bodies to make us separate endorphins. At times, they sounded like they wanted to reinterpret “Selected Ambient Works”. In the 30 minutes it lasted, we could only make out “Dragon Stout”, “Your Girl Smells Cheng When She Wears Dior” and the last track, “Blue Dream”. The rest was unreleased material, and if any of it is going to be on their upcoming EP for Hyperdub, you should run to the record store and pre-order a copy. The duo convincingly proved why they’re one of the artists to keep an eye out for on the present electronica scene a. AGM

Chris Cunningham (SónarClub)

Another essential performance, both because of the artistic quality of Chris Cunningham and the fact he doesn’t play very often. What he offered us was music by himself and others, accompanied, of course, by some outrageous visuals. The videos of Portishead’s “Only You” and Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy” are masterpieces, but the rest of the material wasn’t any less good. With fear always as a leitmotiv, the producer showed some terrifying images, like the one of a girl lying on a bed with her face getting disfigured and her chest being split open. But the best example of how the recital worked was “Flex”, during which a naked man and woman are hitting each other to the rhythm of the brutal “Elephant Song” by Richard D. James. Nobody danced, we were all staring at the screens with our mouths wide open. On top of that, he recovered some of his other audiovisual works, like the legendary PlayStation girl, “Rubber Johnny” and the acclaimed remix of the late Gil Scot-Heron’s “NY Is Killing Me”. It was one of those deliciously uncomfortable performances. Look away or not? If you had nightmares last night, you know who’s to blame. AGM

Yelle (SónarLab)

The former queen of the tecktonik sound, now an electro-pop diva, Yelle, appeared on stage in her usual costume: red leopard leggings. Her dance machinery was working and it was time to sweat. She went all out with her incredible charisma, jumping, dancing, running from side to side, hitting the drums, cheering on the crowd and going wild to “Safari Disco Club”. They played many of the tracks form their new album, like “Comme Un Enfant”, which, even though it’s only a year old, sound like an anthem. Without time to breathe, they attacked with the devastating “Je Veux Te Voir”, an ideal piece for those who want to lose weight, prolonged by the singer so that the dancing would never end. They finished the set with the track that got them in the eye of the hurricane, “A Cause Des Garçons”. She didn’t need much to make the show be a pop spectacle, and that’s something praiseworthy. AGM

Janelle Monáe (SónarPub)

It’s not that she’s born to become a star, she is one. Janelle Monáe returned to Barcelona only a few months after her debut at the Barcelona Apolo venue, without changing the script and showing that next time, she should play at the SonarClub, too big for many other artists. With a show that is theatrical and classy any which way you look at it, the American and her excellent band (including two dancers, a string quartet and a couple of wild trumpet players, among others) restored our faith in those concert-shows that are a breath of fresh air for show business. Connecting “Dance Or Die” and “Faster”, from the very start, she gave it her all, dancing and spreading good vibes like few other artists aspiring to become divas, many of which simply don’t do their homework, can. Far from limiting herself to play the material from her “The ArchAndroid”, the petite Monáe, with her hair pointing at the stars, played “Smile”, from her first EP, accompanied by her guitarist, making it clear that she was “the voice” of the festival. And, as if there weren’t enough reasons already to crown her as such, she sang the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back”, causing a collective delirium. Michael would have been proud to see that the art is still running through her veins, making history. SdA

Underworld (SónarClub)

Underworld took no prisoners on their return to Sónar. They started with “Rez / Cowgirl”. Despite the fact they came to present the discretely received “Barking”, they got out many of the gems that made them one of the biggest electronic bands on Earth. The superb “Always Loved A Film” was received incredibly well by part of the audience. Masters when it comes to structuring their songs, “Between Stars” had a lukewarm start, but ended up being sung along to by everybody. The high volume of “Dark Train” provoked the same convulsions Ewan McGregor got in the “Trainspotting” scene where the track is played. Karl Hyde was the undisputable master of ceremonies, a complete showman. He place a spotlight on the audience; during “Pearl’s Girl” he got behind a screen to become an improvised go-go dancer; he never stopped dancing like he’s always done; and he played with a camera on his face during “King Of Snake”. He controlled the stage like the bog star that he is. And then, the big moment came: “Born Slippy” started and thousands of arms were in the air. The end of a show everybody had dreamed of. Their best moment since they’ve been a duo? Quite possibly. AGM

Africa HiTech (SónarPub)

If they made me choose between myths like Underworld and other stars like Pritchard and Spacek, I wouldn’t doubt for a second: Africa HiTech is the one for me. But there can’t be too many people thinking like me, at least judging from the small crowd at the SónarPub. However, those who were there were totally devoted at all times. The primordial objective was to enjoy, once more, “93 Million Miles”, but this time, live. A couple of turntables, a mixer, a controller and the voice of Steve Spacek made the show an explosive mix of original material and that of others, always with enough bass and cutting edge attitude. Grime, jungle and beats seasoned with synth stabs and rewinds. Exceptionally original, incredibly danceable and maybe even too devastating if you wanted to go on for the rest of the night. MF

Buraka Som Sistema (SónarPub)

Buraka Som Sistema are part of the collective memory of the festival, because of the havoc they wreaked at the Village when nobody knew them yet and everybody was blown away. Between that performance and last night’s gig we got a brilliant debut album, and they entered the big league of global electronica. That kind of stuff can be costly. The Portuguese band are still using two drummers and a DJ, they’re still a lot of fun on stage, they can play any track from “Black Diamond” and the crowd goes beserk. But they have this strange tendency to magnify their songs even more when playing live, duplicating and triplicating the percussion and drums. And this drum beating seems to be the norm on the new tracks. Dangerous, because its starting to sound like Safari Duo. And Safari Duo are not okay.. MF

Magnetic Man (SónarClub)

Dubstep for the masses got on the main stage. Though there is one aspect to keep in mind: Magnetic Man are stars in the UK, while in Spain they’re only the makers of “I Need Air”. Which is why their first gig in Spain didn’t get the people to go see them en masse. Despite that, those of us who did go expected a lot more from the trio which, put coldly, might suffer from overestimation. It didn’t help much that a kind of Zack de la Rocha impersonator was trying to cheer on the audience every ten seconds. Someone should tell Benga, Skream and Artwork that the buffoons asking the people to stick their lighters in the air during “Flying Into Tokyo” are just too much, while they’re doing their thing with the laptop and MIDI controllers. When some hooligan is wrecking the tunes and doesn’t let you hear the pre-recorded vocals by John Legend or Ms Dynamite (no, not even Katy B got on stage), you get angry, very angry. But apart from this personal complaint, Magnetic Man are still the ones who gave many people the opportunity to learn about dubstep, basically a genre for a minority that abandoned its underground status to go overground . SdA

Numbers Showcase (SónarLab)

I left Buraka before they finished to go see Redinho and I almost lost Spencer. The delay of the concerts at the SonarPub left the Numbers showcase with a full but pleasantly spacious room, perfect for dancing. And that’s what I did during the last part of Spencer, but without overdoing it. The man played some nervous and rave-y sounds, something that is becoming a bit too much of a habit among the new DJs from the UK. After that, it was the turn of Deadboy (and we could see his face – another mystery unveiled), sporting a T-shirt paying tribute to the R&Bass dive par excellence, Cassie. The clothing choice was as good as his selection of tunes. They had told me that Deaboy doesn’t know how to mix; he even admitted to the fact himself, during interviews. But he must have been practising, because he did a great job of mixing house, 2step, bassline and his new material for the label hosting the showcase. Jessie Ware came on next, but she was only there for two songs (one of which with the mic turned off for a full minute), we don’t know if it was because of time pressure or because of the anxiety the imminent arrival of Jackmaster on the scene was provoking. To know what the label head honcho had prepared for the occasion and to be able to experience it and later remember it for another year was the main objective of the audience. To sum up, Jack came close to heaven, reached levels of originality and technique that are hard to beat. From grime to hip-hop and from there to juke, in three clean mixes (and that’s only an example). What a guy. Lory B closed the Numbers night on a trance tip with structured acid, at times so symmetric and hypnotic that it almost sounded like Minus. It was the finishing touch to a night during which the best label of this year, led by the best DJ of the year, went on to form part of Sónar history. MF

Paul Kalkbrenner (SónarPub)

There are times when the music world is capricious. Paul Kalkbrenner has been producing for over a decade, impeccable albums such as “Zeit” and superb EPs like “Steinbeisser” or “Tatü-Tata”, to name but a few. But it wasn’t until his appearance in “Berlin Calling”, a kind of Berlin version of “ Trainspotting”, and the 12” with his brother Fritz, “Sky And Sand”, when people started to take notice and the big festivals started to book him. This year, he will be playing at Pukkelpop, Melt!, Bestival and, of course, Sónar. All in all, it’s clear that he was born to be a star, a leader of the masses, because he seems to play to 20,000 people rather than 2,000, as we could see last night. He recovered like a hero and gave them straight up techno with some melodic embellishments that bring his sound closer to trance, winning everybody over like it was nothing. And if there was still any doubt about his live show, there were the boys from Pfadfinderei to make it even better with their visuals. He only needed to put on his huge sunglasses and football shirt to become the Kalkbrenner we all know. AGM

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