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13th July 2015

Festival: Sónar 2015

The Mancunion’s own Rachel Connolly has her mind blown by Sónar’s electronic extravaganza

18th – 20th July

Sónar, Barcelona


Music, technology, creativity. This is the mantra of Sónar, exemplified by the visual differences in the four SonarDay stages. SonarVillage, a nod to the traditional festival with a greener-than-green field of fake grass, sets the scene beautifully for Dorian Concept’s upbeat Friday set. Concept exploited the chilled energy of the crowd for a fiesta vibe that even had passers by dancing their way to other stages.

Blinking away the bright white sun, the stark contrast of pitch black SonarComplex comes into focus. Rows of chairs form a sort-of cinema, with the DJ in complete darkness. An incredibly detailed and meticulous light show illustrates ambient electronic offerings from the likes of Klara Lewis. Lewis’s mesmerizing Friday set is slow, serious, at odds with the usual festival connotations, yet intensely provocative. The blacked-out performer is mysterious and shifts focus completely from performer to music. This may be a glimpse at the future of electronic music performance. If not it is at least an interesting experiment and captures the experimental spirit of Sónar at its best. Memorable and striking, a counterpart stage at SonarNight would be welcome.

In the eerily dim, red-lit SonarHall, Squarepusher transports the crowd from sunny Barcelona to an industrial other planet. Wasting no time on buildup, the set starts with frantic, apocalyptic lights to match ‘Exjag Nives’. Bold, but so well choreographed the crowd adjusts quickly to the sudden change in atmosphere. As the set ends, the trademark LED mask lifts and the lights dim to bring the crowd back down to earth for a more light-hearted riff; leading fittingly into the end of Floating Points’ excellent set.

SonarNight opens with impressive fan love for A$AP rocky. The crowd swells when he takes the stage with fans rapping furiously along to all the words of every song. The energetic start to the night leads on to upbeat sets from TEED and Hot Chip. The mishmash of European accents singing along in unison when Hot Chip close on a cover of ‘Dancing in The Dark’ is quite a special moment. Jamie xx keeps the momentum and the good vibes going, opening with ‘Good Times’, and an unapologetically fan-pleasing set with the likes of ‘Gosh’ and his much loved remix of Radiohead’s ‘Bloom’.

The evening’s stellar lineup was topped off with Daniel Avery and Seth Troxler. Avery plays a set less refined and meticulous than his usual offering but still raw techno at its very best. While the likes of Squarepusher and  Flying Lotus push the boundaries of visual performance, Avery deliberately does not. He adds meat to the skeleton operation of DJ booth and black curtain with skills that speak for themselves. Often the murky 3 – 5 set, with people too fucked to notice or care, descends into tinny, repetitive techno. Avery’s show has a subtle nuance, he throws you off balance with an unexpected drop here, or a long build up there for ‘Knowing We’ll Be Here’ and ‘Drone Logic’ and somehow always keeps you guessing.

Technology is a keystone of Sonar, with all manner of weird inventions linking technology and music on display. A warehouse at SonarDay full of elegant wooden structures houses futuristic inventions from music activated robots to ‘situation helmets’ that virtually transport the wearer. Stumbling from a fiery Kate Tempest set into a room full of strange, futuristic gadgets was trippy to say the least, but the opportunity to spend the lull between acts pretending to be in an episode of Futurama is a selling point unique to Sonar. The art on show was similarly futuristic. A personal highlight was a giant, three-legged-spider robot. Nailed to the floor, it was made to lurch and sway before crashing to the floor. It is touches like these that cement Sónar’s cool.

SonarNight Saturday kicks off with an incredibly sensual performance by FKA Twigs. Lights, stage decorations and her outfit are minimal. Twigs is the one focal point for the entire performance, her tiny frame dominating the massive space with a stage presence of the sort of magnitude reminiscent of Kate Bush, and unfortunately absent from most modern pop. Her writhing dancing holds attention over each drawn out note of the incredibly slow likes of ‘Papi Pacify’ and she closes the set with a magical rendition of ‘Two Weeks’.

Flying Lotus is the set of the evening. The pitch black nightsky is the perfect backdrop to FlyLo’s feat of visual creativity. FlyLo fits rap to the festival scale, using every scrap of stage space to the utmost. In the centre of a giant holographic cube, clever lighting makes him fly through space and other worlds, taking his performance literally into another stratosphere.

The night, and Sónar, ends with the sun rising over Laurent Garnier. The sky glows red and yellow as a final, unscripted light show for the crowd gathered, an end that sums up the visual ethos of Sónar perfectly.

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