Sónar, 18th of June: In-depth

Sónar 2010

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

Sonar 2010 is on the brink of insanity! You’ll already know what we are talking about if you’re there. Waves of people fill every space, day and night. The energy force is overwhelming. We don’t yet know if it is a success in terms of attendance, but what we do know is that the Sonar by Night stages have taken the whole experience to a new dimension. For now, our task is to review a day that could be remembered as the day that LCD Soundsystem took the main stage at Sonar by Night and absolutely killed it, driving thousands of people wild in the process, or as the day that Mary Anne Hobbs programmed an (almost) perfect showcase. This is how it happened. RBMA: The ladies evening (SónarDome)If one thing has always characterised the electronic scene, it’s the scarce presence of women. Nevertheless, it’s true that this is becoming less notable every year (as more girls get involved). Proof of this was the programming on Friday at SonarDome. The first lady to appear was the Galician BFlecha, who offered us a spectacular live show. Receiving an ovation before the end of every song, the woman from Arkestra showed us that she is not lacking in fans (the tent was noticeably full for the time of day) and that she comes across really well live, simultaneously singing and playing synthesisers and other instruments at the same time. Lucrecia Dalt was the next to take the stage. Armed with the pedal made by her father, a guitar, and a laptop, she hypnotised a large, attentive audience. Two big names on the beatmaker scene were still to come. Up first was Pursuit Grooves, with an electrifying live show, full of dark bass seasoned with soulful samples (among them Sade’s “ Cherish The Day”). However, the peak was experiencing the rhythms of TOKiMONSTA. She was really into it, connecting with the audience, and it was much darker than her recordings. The Los Angeles performer did an anthological session of her own material and other people's, as well as having a few totally “commercialoid” moments—including 50 Cent’s “Ayo Technology.” GoldieLocks, the last lady of the afternoon, called more on soul than bass, and was sadly a little outshone by the whirlwind performance from TOKi. MF Nedry (SónarVillage)Of the material circulating in cyberspace by Nedry, their “ Huw Stephens introducing…” live session is legendary. In reality, it was this performance that gave them a starring role on the musical scene, and it was our only reference point for judging the trio’s live style. You can see the experience that they have acquired these last months touring the UK. At SonarVillage, we witnessed a vibrant, dynamic and empathetic show. Much more space was given over to improvisation than on the BBC Radio 1 recording, and the English and Japanese musicians garnished the songs from “ Condors” with moments of foggy ambient, deep atmospheres, and even dirty, cutting broken beats. Ayu’s voice, which reminds one so much of Björk, doesn’t match her attitude on the stage at all: although she had to pay attention to her voice and generate the loops with a pedal, the Japanese woman danced, jumped, shouted, laughed… She was giving it and living it up one hundred percent, and transmitting that spirit to a very full SonarVillage, the upper deck occupied by many fans who sang along to the band’s catchiest songs. “ A42” stood out, but without a doubt the moment of ecstasy was “ Condors” itself, the end overflowing with noise based on the friction of guitars. MF Aufgang (SónarHall)You want to hate Francesco Tristano and Rami Khalifé, really. They play the piano so well, with so much elegance, with so much imagination, that it is impossible not to feel eat-your-heart-out envy when you listen to their hands flutter over the keyboard and build scales that that command your spirits as though you were a puppet. You also want to hate Aymerich Westrich because he has mastered the ins and outs of the drum, but his work in Aufgang is darker, and resides more in the background than the two shining pianists with the golden hands. Nevertheless, there is no Aufgang without Aymerich: the whole structure of the concert rests on him, and he does his work humbly, rhythmically holding together pieces like “Barock” or “Sonar”, so that Francesco and Rhami can show off. Concerts like this one reconcile you with music understood as a mixture of passion and brains: we’ll never know what the great geniuses of classical music would have done if techno had been invented in their day, but the complexity of Aufgang, the incredible level of abstraction implied by mixing old music and that of Detroit, invites you to dream that it would have been something like this. I’m still blown away. RF bRUNA + Bradien (SónarComplex)It killed me that this show clashed with Aufgang, but I manage to juggle things around to see a good part of the concert by bRUNA, the very special Barcelona-based producer of electronic music. He played at home, in the familiar setting of the SonarComplex, to an audience who had come to see him. I totally get it now: the music is beautiful, concise and moving. The melodies emanate with energy that re-charges the batteries of your heart, and I am drawn by the simple, honest way that this young man shifts from bubbly ambient to Boards Of Canada-style IDM. At times the drums start to get away from him, but he always keeps them under control. And the sound is clear, ideal for submerging oneself in something so lovely. A pleasant surprise was Bradien, a lateral pop group who are very good at putting post-rock textures on the same level as the microscopic sounds of experimental currents. If this is what Barcelona electronic music sounds like, I’ll admit that I’ve become a fan. RF King Midas Sound (SonarHall)One thing was made clear yesterday at the CCCB: King Midas Sound’s live show sacrifices the subtlety, detail and sound perfectionism of the studio to set up a Jamaican wall of sound that turned the hall of the Barcelona setting upside down. Much of the blame for this evident change between the album and the live show goes to Kevin Martin, who, in the heat of the battle on stage, shows his more forceful, protuberant, and radical side, leaving his lab coat hanging up (another time, maybe). The producer, impeccably aided by his tandem of vocalists, poured out a mixture of dense rhythms, vigorous bass and incessant, hammering echoes; he gave you the feeling of being closed up in a smoking basement in a building from a futuristic megalopolis in your brain. In the artistic balance of Sonar, King Midas Sound is a serious contender as one of the main festival concerts. JP New Young Pony Club ( SonarVillage)The staging of the New Young Pony Club brought up several questions: Does Tahita Bulmer, the band’s leader and singer, have what it takes to be a front woman? Is there life and group beyond the hype and the two or three inevitable singles? Can the group subsist now that nu rave fever is a thing of the past? The British vocalist, as well as those accompanying her (especially drummer Sarah Jones), answered some of those questions. For example, Bulmer’s ability to keep up the intensity and hold the audience’s attention is one of the combo’s strengths. Although NYPC are still lacking songs and experience, the truth is that she takes on the weight of her discourse, and this bet pays off relatively well, with an attitude somewhere between challenging and so sure of herself that leaves no one indifferent, beyond the successes and failures (which there are) of her musical discourse. The group has an efficient, suitable live show, which is still a little unpolished and amateur, but in the context of Sonar the village was most obliging to her proposal, and they kept up appearances with ease. JP Delorean (SónarVillage)It is impossible not to find them at festivals, and considering how they sound on the acclaimed “Subiza”, it was clear that Delorean would be called to perform and indeed to triumph at Sonar, even more so if you take into account that they are now surfing the whole Balearic thing, and have abandoned the post-punk reminiscences of their beginning with BCore. SonarVillage wasn’t too big for them. At this rate, it shouldn’t surprise us that in the future, on their own merits, they will be on the lineup of the festival’s night programme, in a spot assigned to big names, with a longer history and greater status, and the headliners. Obviously, the compositions on their latest LP, along with the acclaimed EP “Ayrton Senna” were the exclusive basis of their live repertoire. Neither “Real Love” nor “Stay Close” went unnoticed. Onstage, they are like well-oiled machinery, a band whose sound is not too far away from their work in the studio –with the exception of “Deli”, in which Ekhi Lopetegui’s mic was noticeably set too low. To top it all off, John Talabot joined the band on stage for that bonbon of a song, “Sunshine”. Even after their “animalcollectivization”, Delorean can look the great names of electronic pop in the eye. SdA Nosaj Thing (SónarHall)

At first sight, Jason Chung looks like he might work in a shop or a restaurant somewhere in your neighbourhood. Charisma, glamour, and an artistic aura? Not so much. So how is it possible that someone apparently so grey and nerdy can manage to pull off a musical and visual show that is so contagious, powerful, exciting and surprising? The answer to this question came yesterday in the Hall of the CCCB. A table, a gadget, and a shiny set of lights are more than enough for Nosaj Thing to certify that his proposal goes much further than the post-Dilla nostalgic fever that we largely associate with the media fervour that the Los Angeles beat scene has aroused. Chung contradicts the horizontal spirit of the subgenre and knows how to arm himself live with a group of beats, melodies and effects that have a lot of punch, nerve, and muscle. No complaints. He combines the sound scaffolding with a vibrant play of lights and visual effects, with an exquisite aesthetic taste, giving the contents rhythm and dynamism. JP

AIR (SónarClub)No matter how much make-up AIR apply to their show -dressing it up with colourful, ambitious, affected staging which is very spectacular in its aesthetic conception and presentation, with neon lights, multifaceted visuals and epic arrangements- their current live show continues, in a strictly musical sense, to suffer from the same problem it always has done. The stigma that has accompanied them throughout their career, however brilliant and inspirational their studio albums are, is that on stage AIR are profoundly and utterly tedious, monotonous and irritating. It’s as if they had come on to put people to sleep on purpose; yesterday they didn’t stray from that script, and incorporate some blood and muscle—not even when faced with the massive presence of filling the public space of SonarClub. Once more, and this makes several times over the course of the last ten years, the French band’s performance ended in indiscriminate yawns, spontaneous chats, and the audience gradually leaving. Someone had to come out of this fiasco smelling of roses though, and last night the great beneficiaries were the British group Hot Chip, who were collapsing SonarPub as the same time that people were drifting away from AIR’s performance. JP

Hot Chip (SónarPub)People who have accused Hot Chip of having substantially lost their electronic essence are going to have to eat their words. Alexis Taylor and company, with an album like “One Life Stand”, certainly showed up with their homework done. They started with “And I Was a Boy From School” (a safe bet, you could say) and drew on pounding bass and amplified drum, like in “Over And Over”, where their legendary guitar riff magically disappeared, to please us sardines all packed into SonarPub. There was no trace of the ballads that litter their latest LP, or of their cover of Shakira’s “She Wolf”, which they have dared to perform in some other shows. Although they were approved in the midst of the alcoholic maelstrom of many of those in attendance –if not, it is impossible to explain why they got one of the biggest ovations with “I Feel Better”— Taylor and the band’s charisma onstage is light years away from what their albums transmit. And there is no comparison at all with the savoir faire of the capo of DFA. SdA Mary Anne Hobbs presents Joy Orbison + Flying Lotus + Roska (SónarLab)There were moments when I was feeling bad, thinking about the floor. I was afraid that any moment it would split open and swallow us all up, celebrating dubstep’s incredible capacity for mutation. Man, those basses hit hard: when she’s the DJ, Mary Anne Hobbs takes no pity on our stomachs, and she fires off cannonballs of wobble that bowl us over. With the last song in her set – track I.D., please!, just prior to Kavrave’s “PClart”– she left more than one person with their mouths hanging open, combining epic superhero film soundtracks with wild dubstep. Joy Orbison took over among applause and cheers, and didn’t miss a beat: he leaned more toward house than toward liquid dubstep, although he couldn’t resist quoting himself with “The Shrew Would Have Cushioned the Blow” and in the end, of course, “Hyph Mngo” as a sort of signature to top it off. Flying Lotus had a problem, if I may say so: that of take their production too seriously and abusing jazz, so their avant-hip hop strays dangerously close to ill-advised territories for such a festive occasion as this weekend. Anyway, Roska came to make up for it with the best funky house that I have heard in my whole fucking life. Hobbs’ showcase should have lasted two days—this dose wasn’t enough for me to get off on. RF LCD Soundsystem (SónarClub)James Murphy has never let us down, but Friday at SonarClub can only be classified as cum laude. For many of those present, there was an air of farewell –that’s the only negative thing I can say about it– so it was absolutely necessary to render homage to the great LCD Soundsystem. For an hour they showed us how they have come by their hard-earned position as one of the generational cult bands of the last decade. Murphy, behind that image of anti-idol that he may give off at first, is charisma personified. They could have stuck with a repertoire focused on the excellent “This Is Happening”, but the band rewarded their fans with that arsenal of hits that they’ve been handing out on a silver platter for the last five years. From “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”, to a more-than-celebrated “Tribulations”, they put on the final touches with an anarchic “Yeah” that was a pure dose of intravenous ecstasy. It had been a long time (too long), since I had so much fun at a concert that I felt like a little kid. So the only thing that I can say to Mr. Murphy –on behalf of the thousands of people present there– is to thank him for existing. SdA Plastikman (SónarPub)A glare of white light, and it seems like a flying saucer has landed. It is the invasion of the senses by Plastikman, who seeks the perfect techno show with all his might: aggressive lighting and technical effects, numbers on the screens, a curtain of LED’s protecting his machines, and a skeletal, basic sound that ends up getting smoke to come out of your feet. The floor is full: Richie Hawtin has done it again—once again he has shown that he is infallible when it comes to getting people to dance. Plastikman’s execution of the material –acid, techno, drumrolls, and minimalism, the old formula of “Sheet One” and “Musik”–is faithful on one hand to its original postulation– that is to say, 808 laying out the rhythms in a cascade of beats and cymbals, 303 sowing sporadic acid seeds. But on the other hand, he updates them again with more compression, clarity, and bombastic effect. It doesn’t sound as basic and essential as when we discovered techno, and Plastikman’s show is something of a collection of effects to stimulate the senses quickly and easily (the final part, pure out-of-control percussion—it was crazy), but I’ll tell you the truth: it got me dancing and gave me goose pimples. One of two things: either I’m impressionable, or Hawtin is God. I’m inclined to think the latter. RF The Sugarhill Gang (SónarLab)

The makers of “ Rappers Delight” need no introduction, the pioneers of hip hop, the first group to triumph commercially with a genre that at the end of the 70’s was restricted to the New York underground. And although they have made a comeback recently with Bob Sinclar, we were all expecting a genuine session of vintage rap with the classic formula, before the sampler appeared: someone on the microphone and a funk band. Many of us expected this, and the curiosity to see living legends of rap led to a total sell-out at SonarLab. What was not expected was that the most old-school proposal of the night would have more energy than many of the newest faces in the line-up. The Gang is aware of the wide spectrum of their audience. They obliged the masses and added a string of hits from yesterday, today, and always. We heard Michael Jackson, House Of Pain, and they even dared to do a salsa song that left us with our tongues hanging out. Although they called on other people’s material to get the audience going, the trio didn’t forget the songs that make them great. The end with “ Rappers Delight” was predictable; nevertheless, the first beats of “ Apache” drove the crowd wild, culminating a spectacle that was entertaining every moment. MF

Booka Shade (SónarPub)They leapt to fame with a very well-received debut album, right when minimal was making its way into DJs’ toolboxes. Nevertheless, the duo of Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier has taken up their essence again to manufacture “ More!”, an album faithful to their artistic principles. But this faithfulness has a down side: it extends to their live show, and was responsible for making the duo’s performance “ another Booka Shade live show.” They came onstage after veteran Dixon, who had imposed the monotone drum and obscurantism (in the good sense of the word). So the first beats of electro-house scared off some of the public, leaving just the right number (if the dances are frenetic, you have to respect people’s personal space). Merzinger and Kammermeier used their more commercial material. It’s true that the Germans make very electronic house music, with an attention to detail and of above-average quality and using the electronic drum has always helped them achieve these nuances of superiority. But using the same drum structure for sixty long minutes of performance and a lack of risk–taking when it came to choosing the repertoire both detracted from making the show a winner. Of course people danced, but at five o’clock in the morning, if you tied people to a chair, they still couldn’t sit still. MF 2 Many DJ’s / Carte Blanche (DJ Mehdi & Riton) (SónarClub / SónarPub)Not much can be said about 2 Many DJ’s at this stage of the game that hasn’t been said before. The Belgians were guilty of feeding into that hodgepodge in which any musical style, however mainstream it might be, had a place in the booth. For this year’s Sonar they gave us a show where they projected animated covers of the albums that they were mixing on location. How many times have we been a little irritated on the dance floor, without knowing exactly what we were dancing to? No sooner said than done. The enormous crowd of people danced to MGMT’s “Kids,” a hymn like John Paul Young’s “Love Is In the Air” and “Hey Boy Hey Girl” from our beloved Chemical Brothers. They are pure entertainment for the masses and they know it. The arrival of Carte Blanche was very different; under the auspices of Ed Banger, they turned SonarPub upside down with that Chicago-style house and four turntables. People were really starting to yawn by then. So the best thing that they could do was to retreat in time, taking into account that the machinery of Sonar was already starting up again. SdA


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