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Review: Sónar 2011

Sonar turned 17 this year, and for a good number of people it’s an essential part of the calender. The schedule is fairly well mapped out – bask in the hazy bonhomie of Sonar By Day, conveniently located a stones throw from Las Ramblas, before allowing yourself to be pulled gently into the mayhem that is Sonar By Night. Those still standing when the sun rises over the back of the unnervingly large complex that houses the evening’s festivities can give themselves a pat on the back. All of this usually takes place in the standard Barcelona summer weather (scorchio) – oh, and at some stage you’ll probably get pickpocketed too.

After picking up our accreditation, the temptation to indulge in the quite tasty looking free buffet nearby was eschewed in preference of soaking up the daytime atmospherics across the various stages and areas of the impressive MACBA, before eventually settling at the bar just outside the Red Bull tent where the first taste of Catalan talent was witnessed via the rambunctious Matador Rockers.

Agoria’s mid afternoon set at the Sonar Village stage followed soon after and was one of the most finely crafted of the entire festival, with a selection that included Lone, Vakula and the excellent Julio Bashmore remix of High Powered Boys – sleazy sax ahoy. The fact that two of the best received tracks were Tiger & Woods productions was a telling clue for the following days proceedings. It was also interesting to note that Agoria’s hands off approach to running his InFiné imprint extended to the label’s showcase the following night, during which the Frenchman allowed the younger stars to take centre stage.

After a brief respite in the press area we joined the assembled masses at Sonar Complex to indulge in the Tri Angle Records showcase, just missing out on the spectral cooings of oOooOo, but catching enough of How To Dress Well to feel the hype surrounding the label is justified. Returning to the Village stage in advance of Four Tet’s DJ set the crowd was treated to a dose of sunshine boogie from DJ Raff which brought a smile to many a face. Sadly Four Tet opted to bring the mood down with a decidedly experimental set that waited a full fifteen minutes for a kick drum to appear during a elongated version of “Love Cry”. The swerve towards 160+ bpm gabba/techno towards the end brought ironic raving from the Juno Plus team which some around were nonplussed by.

Arriving at Sonar by Night early enough to watch the excellent Melbourne outfit Cut Copy, it was then time to indulge in a series of swift manouevres as the sets of MIA, Dizzee Rascal and Katy B were all witnessed and somehow each of the trio’s biggest tracks were dropped as we arrived – walking out to the cavernous Sonar Pub area as DJ MK chopped up Lynn Collins before dropping the beat into “Old School” and marvelling at the subsequent effect on a baying crowd stands in memory. Friends were lost and friends were found – such is the way at Sonar by Night – Die Antwoord were at their theatrical best/worst depending on your opinion of the band, whilst Redlight did a fair job of destroying Sonar Lab aided and abetted by Miss Dynamite and Dread MC. Despite all this Sonar By Night is renowned for its brash, unforgiving techno and Boys Noize certainly provided that with a main room set that displayed all of Ridha’s obvious talent for eking new levels of euphoria out of the banger. Dripping with sweat, the complex was departed to the sight of the morning sun settling over Catalonia sometime around 7am.

Perhaps the most enjoyable hours of the whole festival took place in the Red Bull tent on Saturday, where veteran UK selector David Rodigan ruled the afternoon with a set that encompassed all strands of bass culture. It’s rare that so many people can enjoy a set that ranges from personal King Tubby dubplates of Dawn Penn to Shy FX and Breakage rinseouts to Caspa remixes with a spot of Riva Starr and Major Lazer also in the mix.

Cosmin TRG, up next, opened his set with “Sirop”, the best track on his excellent Rush Hour Direct Current release A Universal Crush and it set the tone for a magnificent 45 minutes of incendiary techno blessed with the Romanian’s touch. Among the highlights were the crowd pleasing drop of “The Bells” by Jeff Mills and Levon Vincent’s acid techno jam “Love Technique”, although the inclusion of Cosmin’s own “Separat” had the Juno Plus editorial team squealing with delight – just listen to those hi-hats and low frequencies! Up next, mystery duo Tiger & Woods turned in an hour of insouciant filtered disco edits. Eschewing the opportunity to use their anonymity as an excuse to don ridiculous costumes, the pair sported refreshingly plain black shirts and hats, working through their repertoire of 12″ hits (“Gin Nation”, “Come Down”, etc) which worked the crowd up into a lather. It was also a bit of a treat to see Gerd Janson step out unannounced and slam on Stardust’s “The Music Sounds Better With You” on vinyl, which unsurprisingly got a huge response.

Sonar By Night on Saturday offered the better of the two line-ups, and we commenced the evening by checking out the new Sonar Car stage, at which Agoria’s InFiné imprint was hosting a showcase that included sets from Arandel, Clara Moto and Rone. Following a brief dodgem car interlude, it was time to witness the Stroboscopic Artefacts showcase. Techno-wise, this was what we were looking forward to most – a big call considering the presence of Surgeon and Silent Servant among others on the bill – and label boss Lucy (aka Luca Mortellaro) did not disappoint, turning in a set of thumping, swinging techno that had everyone dancing.

Night Slugs in the Sonar Car area was also a certified highlight, with the attending crowd stretched all the way back to the bumper cars and dancing in rhythm (mostly) as label bosses Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990 frenziedly worked through everything from modern day Rush Hour classics to juke and grime. The final few hours of the festival were spent in the correct fashion, outdoors at Sonar Pub watching James Holden weave his magic as the sun rose above once again.

Tony Poland & Aaron Coultate

Pic credits:
1. Juan Sala
2. Carles Rodriguez
3. Red Bull Music Academy