Sónar, Thursday

The first day of the event at the CCCB

Sónar, Thursday Toro y Moi

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

Sónar has started, and started well, as usual, with the arrival of the intense heat and the flooding of Barcelona’s city centre with audiences ready to share the cultural and musical experiences on offer at the festival. The CCCB was full and vibrant from the early hours of the afternoon, an unmistakable sign that Sónar has kicked off in fine style. But not only that: the music on offer was of the highest standard. This is our report from the first day, Thursday, where the engines were nicely warming gearing up.

Toro y Moi (SónarVillage)

Though it’s not even been a year since Toro Y Moi came to visit, their presence at Sónar was more than justified (with the release of the second album, the acclaimed “Underneath The Pine”, being a key pieces of 2011’s landscape). Like back in the day, Chaz Bundick came with a band. While he was in charge of the vocals and keyboards (which sounded heavenly on “Go With You”), the rest supporting him with guitar, drum and bass. After a brief introduction, they opened with “New Beat”, probably the best track on the new album. But the older tracks didn’t pale in comparison ( “Talamak” was greeted with applause and chants). In a time when it’s so easy to tag artists, the South Carolina band definitely buried the chill-wave while highlighting the best of what black music of the past decades has on offer, from funk to R&B and disco.They did a good job of erasing any trace of the crime ( “Blessa”), reconstructing the track with more details and giving it a more organic sound. And speaking of remakes, they played a version of “Elise” as well, turning it into a cosmic odyssey to finish a notable performance. Álvaro García Montoliu

Red Bull Music Academy (SónarDôme)

As the hours go by, the stage curated by Red Bull Music Academy becomes fuller and fuller, making it harder to breathe. But in the early hours, when there’s still room and the sound is good, it’s an oasis of good vibes and music, a kind of separate space at Sónar where there’s freedom for everyone and everything: to experiment, to make people dance as if they were on some Balearic beach, to play with styles. We saw Pai Mei, the new project by Griffi and Aqeel, and knew that Matador Rockers’ performance was going to be brilliant. Later on, Hiroaki Oba came on, playing stabbing techno and changed the register completely. Then, another twist with AEIOU (a very bizarre pop performance by the Mexicans; the gold-coloured costume of the guy with the strings was better than their schizo pop), and then another one when Poirier got on stage to liven up the party with all kinds of broken beats and unusual links with world music. After all that, it was better to move on, to other stages. Mario G. Sinde

Floating Points (SónarVillage)

I had to check out the program a few times before I realised Floating Points wasn’t going to play his singles on Eglo Recordings live, but that he was coming with a bag full of records. He made a fine transition from Toro Y Moi’s live show, despite some minor technical problems. He started out with some eighties disco boogie, only to move on to more effeminate and primitive house. And from the ambivalent point that is old school dance music, Shepherd began to try out different currents (a bit of more commercial UK garage, a bit of funky house), surprising the listener more and more. It was a pity that so few people stayed to see how the set would end, but the larger part of the crowd left en masse in order to get a good spot at Nicolas Jaar’s gig. Anyway, the sun was shining, the crowd was dancing and, most of all, smiling. Sónar couldn’t have started with better vibes than these. Mónica Franco

Nicolas Jaar (SónarHall)

The first big concert of this year’s edition, and the SonarHall was impossibly full, something that is becoming a ritual element of the festival for better or worse. But, obviously, Nicolas Jaar’s performance needs the sonority and atmosphere of the CCCB’s downstairs hall. The New Yorker came on stage with his musicians forming a half circle, like a witches’ coven. The result (once more, this year we come to the same conclusion after seeing the live show of a stand-out artist) remdered his debut album a mere promotional tool (and what a tool!) to drive people to the live show. It sounded like Sade’s band mixed with Gotan Project and with all the elegance the world contains. Latent guitars, Latin percussion with a certain air of improvisation; some jazz mannerism, some progressions with techno-like crescendos. Apart from the suffocating atmosphere in the room, it was an experience well worth it. MF

Little Dragon (SonarVillage)

After an album like “Machine Dreams”, we were eager to see Little Dragon in action, with the lively Yukimi Nagano up front (in a dress bought in the cardboard Mexico of the Port Aventura amusement park), but everything got lost in a tedious presentation of the new material of “Ritual Union”, which we won’t be able to hear until a couple of weeks from now. Despite opening with “A New” (and only playing “Feather” and “My Step” from their second album), the fact that the Swedes based the better part of their show on the tunes we haven’t been able to soak up yet (though “Summertearz” sounds very promising), endlessly extending the instrumental parts, didn’t help much. Nagano could do little to lift the spirits despite her energetic predisposition. I have to confess: after the show, I locked myself in the bathroom to listen to the debut albums of Chew Lips and The Golden Filter in order to get back to the festival with a smile. Sergio del Amo

Open Reel Ensemble (SónarComplex)

Pierre Schaeffer would be proud (like Trevor Horn, Coldcut, DJ Shadow and other masters would, historical or recent) of the manipulation of sound via sampling. Because what these crazy Japanese guys do is compose their music (in a way derived from funk and rock) by connecting previously recorded sound samples. The difference is that they’re using eight Revox tapes, the tape from the days of old, no longer used on the radio or anywhere, pure vintage, playing in real time to fill the space with noise, contamination, effects and voices without ever losing the groove (which is why they have a bass player). Weirdo moment of the day . MGS

Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble (SónarDôme)

The afternoon looked promising. Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble (if you’ll allow the freedom) were destined to be the erudite version of Elektro Guzzi, who last year gave a grand performance at the festival. However, the sound gave them a lot of problems. What’s the use of bringing a violinist, a harpist and a trombone (and other instruments) player, if you can’t hear any of them? If their objective is to play techno in an organic way, the worst thing that can happen is that nobody dance to the music. And that sadly enough was exactly what happened in the sweaty SonarDôme, as the people could only hear the piano and the percussion played by the huge combo. We don’t doubt their efficiency, the show would have been a lot better on a different stage more apt for their kind of set-up, like the SonarComplex or the SonarHall. We’ll give them a new chance in the future. SdA

Tyondai Braxton (SónarHall)

Sitting at a table surrounded by a series of machines, triggering bewildering and puzzling loops, Tyondai Braxton started his show (though perhaps the correct term would be “jam”, as for the better part of the concert he improvised and experimented). The crowd was not amused and many left, in search of other sounds. Musically, the concert went from less to more, and the audience went the opposite way. It took about fifteen minutes to get some kind of grip on the performance, and it only happened when the former Battles man started with the beats. From a man who we know loves to play with guitar and vocal samples, we expected exactly that. But his voice was hardly there, and the guitar appeared only briefly, after half an hour, in a slowed down version of “Platinum Rows”, the only track he played from his debut, “Central Market”. And knowing that he recently played the same avant-garde gem with a full orchestra, this concert was a bit disappointing. AGM

Raime (SónarHall)

The big mystery of Sónar 2011 (figuratively and literally speaking, as we know very little about the duo) confirmed their status as exactly that at 9.30pm yesterday. Though Raime only have two releases on Blackest Ever Black, the flavour of the month label for those who look for twisted, industrial and phantasmagoric sounds, their gig was a mandatory dish. They played the four tracks of the singles alongside a fistful of unreleased songs. The spectral choruses of “Retread” made steam rise, and the dubstep rhythms cut with clinical precision heard in the deep and stabbing version of “This Foundry” left the crowd breathless. As if British Murder Boys had reunited and moved from Birmingham to London. However, the room was too brightly lit and noisy to allow us to immerse ourselves completely in their dark world, thus completing the fascinating sonic experience. AGM

Ninja Tune & Big Dada Showcase (SónarVillage)

The Ninja Tune and Big Dada expedition arrived at SonarVillage with the room half full and the majority of the crowd lying on the artificial grass waiting for the music to raise them. The first artist to play was Shuttle, probably the least well known of all of them. Their mix of dubstep with thunderous basslines and metallic beats didn’t get the people warmed up. However, DELS did get people to come to the front, waiting for the MC and the productions from “Gob” to slap them in the face. DELS was devastating on the mic and he left the stage to a standing ovation, but his band doesn’t really cause you to get a hair out of place – they accompany the rapper and little more. Those who wanted beats were left empty-handed, those who wanted to sing along got 45 minutes of pleasure. After DELS, Offshore got in the DJ booth to open with the one who wasn’t there but was sorely missed: Wiley. “Numbers In Action” opened a bursting set featuring such varied sounds as zouk, hip hop, grime riddims, UK garage, funky, jungle and even juke, played with a technical skill that made me want to cry. The Village was full, standing up and partying for an hour, burning the last bits of energy we had left. The cadence of Eskmo’s productions, with organic textures organised methodically according to industrial chain patterns, were perfect for the comedown and we could appreciate the man’s little details on stage that make his “IDM-ised” hip-hop so special. MF

Denseland (SónarComplex)

David Moss is a veteran who’s hard to impress. With the amount of concerts he has played over the years, the grey-haired vocal scientist had all eyes on him while playing with Denseland, the project he came out with last year, alongside Hannes Strobl and Hanno Leichtmann. Though their “Chunk” can be a tough one to crack, the trio offered a genuine spectacle, focussing on mathematical improvisation. A guitar remoulded with effects and drums are the only things Moss needs to start to play with his vocal chords. Though he doesn’t sing (at most he takes on a role as a preacher or a schizophrenic master of ceremonies), you couldn’t take your eyes off him for one moment. We’d love to see what he reads in his little notebook before his two band mates start with the tracks. The man is a genius like few we’ll ever see. SdA

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