The Sonar Festival - Review - Barcelona

The Sonar Festival

Sonar Festival

The Sonar festival in Barcelona has been gaining a fabulous reputation over the last few years as a music festival with a difference.

Featuring alternative dance, hip hop and electro music from all over the globe, Sonar prides it's self on its standing within the avant-garde music community and I was going to spend a day and night making my own assessment.

Now, I am well and truly a UK club junkie and it was with slight apprehension that I embarked on my quest to sample the finer aspects of Finish Euro pop and Spanish minimal electro.

My thinking was that even if I did find the music slightly obscure the fact that I was sunning my self in Barcelona would make up for any discrepancies. Any hesitation was to be short lived, though, as I was about to spend an amazing day finding out what alternative music has to offer in fantastic surroundings.

Due to time constraints Friday was my day of choice.

Friday is the first day of the weekend which encompasses 'Sonar By Night' and was also when the headlining Beastie Boys were playing.

At around one o'clock I wandered down to the Museu d'Art Contemporari de Barcelona (MACBA): a set of modern contemporary buildings containing exhibitions of contemporary art from the 20th century; surrounded by ancient and middle age buildings. Situated in Barcelona's 'Las Ramblas' this is in the true old town and made for spectacular surroundings in which to party.

The day event it's self was split into three main parts, Sonar Hall, Sonar Village and Sonar Dome.

Sonar Village was the biggest of the three and consisted of a large court yard with capacity for several thousand people. After a quick wander around we decided first port of call would be Sonar Dome, SR Click was half way through his minimal set and it seemed like the perfect warm up to the day.

After an hour or so when it had started to fill up, it became apparent that the place to be was Sonar Village.

This astro turf covered courtyard was playing host to DJ Code's first set with Fatkut and I wanted to get a prime seat for their soul enthused hip hop.

With mojito in one hand and a cigarette in the other, we found a prime spot in some shade under a tree. DJ Code failed to disappoint as his blend of hip hop, soul and scratching brought about sporadic fits of dancing and arm flailing.

By four o'clock the place was filling up nicely and the six euro mojito's were flowing like the Yangtze. Perfect timing for the US group Emanon.

This lot really are a mixed bag blending live trumpet playing, human beat boxing, rapping and some extremely high pitched vocals they produce happy dancey hip hop perfect for any summer outing. Like Jurassic 5 before them, good US hip hop without the attitude.

After another serving of DJ Code, it transpired that the rest of the afternoon's music was going to be supplied by the Finns!

First up was Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators.

Admittedly my immediate, slightly xenophobic, impression of Finnish soul was a group of pale faced blond people harmonising after devouring a platter of partially cooked fish, but boy was I wrong!

This lot were as soulful and funky as The Brand New Heavies and their lead singer belted out some awesome soul vibes. I defy anyone to determine there Finnish origins on a first listen and it will certainly be one new addition to my music collection.

Day was turning to evening and before we left for a quick food and beer break we decided to take in another Finnish group, ACCU.

This Finnish Euro pop band prance around the stage like a mixture of Bucks fizz and the Scissor Sisters. If you can see past the 80's style Pat Sharpe hair do's and keyboard guitars you are actually in for a pleasant surprise, I especially liked their tune Nightfreak which blends pumping keyboards and Bee Gees style high pitched vocals.

Well Sonar Day was now complete for me, and after a quick spruce up and a pizza I was heading to Sonar by night to stake claim to my prime spot for the Beastie Boys. The day had certainly been one to remember and my initial apprehension had now completely disappeared in place of excitement at the prospect of the evenings festivities.

Darkness had now fallen and as we approached the Gran Via exhibition centre in Barcelona's western suburbs the enormity of the night's event was starting to hit home. Like a mini city sat within Barcelona's industrial west, the Gran Vin is a huge exhibition centre consisting of a group of huge rooms with a capacity of tens of thousands. Resembling a 1960's vision of a space station, the centre was packed full of impressive neon lighting and huge cinema screens showcasing some of Europe's excellent VJing talent.

After an initial awe inspiring exploration, we set up base right at the front of the stage for the Beastie Boys. The fact we got there early was a huge blessing as within half an hour the place was packed full of terns of thousands of European clubbers, music lovers and general party animals.
After listening to the end of the excellent DJ2D2 set the Beastie Boys entered the limelight in blazing glory with a few of their early heavy metal style hits.

With excellent lighting and the groups effervescent energy this set was a blinder,

Playing all the hits such as Ch-Check it out and Oh Word! It proved middle age hasn't done anything to dumb these fellows down. Seeing legends like this, so close up, is an experience that can make any festival, but with all the amazing new music I had experienced so far the Beastie Boys merely added another reason to brag to my friends back home.

We left the Beastie Boys early to get a good spot for one of the bands I had eagerly awaited, The New Young Pony Club. Unfortunately, and I'm not sure why, they didn't show so we instead headed to the Sonar Lab to see Cornelius. Cornelius are a Japanese electro rock group signed to the British Ninja Tune label.

These guys were recommended to me by a friend and their subtle electo beats and Japanese vocals really make for some interesting listening. At this point my dance had given way to more of a sway due to several (with a capital S) mojito's and the more rocky vibes of Cornelius.

After sampling the best Japanese rock has to offer I felt it time to get a bit filthy and listen to some seriously dirty beats. This left only one serious option, Dub Step.

This new brand of slowed down drum and bass has been taking London by storm and I had been anxious to listen to DJ Skream since I read about him in the national press. Oh boy was it good! With beats comparable to drum and base meets speed garage, Skream well and truly did Sonar!! Expect to see Dub Step infusing the underground club scene soon!

Dizzie Rascal next. This boy needs no introduction and is to UK hip hop what Tupac and Jay-Z are to the US. His new album Maths and English, has been hailed as the best UK hip hop album ever and although I am not sure if it pips Roots Manuva's Awfully Deep to that post it certainly went down pretty well at Sonar.

At this point weariness was starting to take hold and I was holding on to listen to the 5am set by Timo Mass.

Timo Mass never fails to disappoint and this would be a fantastic farewell to an amazing day. Timo Mass seemed right at home in the space age surroundings and the plethora or teeth grinding clubbers surrounding me seemed to agree.

Well 7am had arrived and the sun had well and truly risen and after a 18 hour session my body was insisting on sleep.

Sonar was well and truly a fantastic experience and my only regret was that I could only be there for one day.

Many people might say that with all the festivals held in the UK this year, what is the point of travelling all the way to Spain to do it?

Well, for a change from the usual globalised commercial music UK dance festivals have become renowned for, coupled with guaranteed weather and some amazing surroundings Sonar really offers something completely different, new and fresh and I am sure even those with truly commercial tastes couldn't help but get absorbed into the startling atmosphere, and the six euro mojito's help too!

Alex Bunt
Ian Russell