Category Archives: Sόnar

Sónar Festival 19, 20, 21 June 2008

Dan Davies goes for a festival but stays for a fiesta.

I don’t care what people say about trench spirit, when it boils down to it, festivals are supposed to be in sunny weather, anything else becomes the worst camping holiday crossed cum-car-boot sale with weirdo’s; while music is made from a mud-filled bin.

Judging by the poor Glasto ticket sales (which I believe has naff all to do with Jay-Z) many people felt the same way; so we’d already decided on our summer festival action plan well in advance and booked a budget flight to Barcelona. Unfortunately, lots of other people had the same idea to go to Sónar too. Two weeks before we set off, I receive confirmation of a three day photo pass for Sónar By Day and none for the night event. Oddly, my actual photographer only gets a one-day pass of her choosing.
Crowd capacity is up at Sónar, which is good news for the curators but for me, some of the festival’s unique character is lost. This year the crowd split into two distinct groups: friendly geeks from all nations; and vacuous hair-cut-knob-heads who took up too much space posing, not dancing. The hair-cuts mostly sunned themselves at Sónar By Day by the main stage – occasionally catching the ‘rave lift’ up to the energy drink sponsored bar for the odd four-four shrug off.

For the rest of us, the many other rooms inside the Contemporary Art Museum (CCCB) in the daytime were fantastic; even the ones that were, in fact, rubbish. The real delight of Sónar By Day is that you can see something genuinely mind blowing, or something that is utterly baffling; my first bafflement left me lost for words. Deciding to take in some art in the main building we were made to leave our bags at reception and traipse up the grand (and long) disabled access ramps of the main museum because the lift doesn’t work.

We reach the top and walk into a dark room. On the left there’s a video installation on the wall of a CCTV standard, seemingly showing people walking in an actual gallery (you know with paintings, people and daylight and other ‘bourgeois’ concepts). On the right there’s set of fence posts with photographs of the artist stuck to the top of each. He’s dressed as Che Guevara with his back to the camera, pissing on a motorbike. In the corner is that very bike, painted red just in case you missed the Cold War references.

In the auditorium there is a selection of excellent short films being screened including Soulwax’s excellent Part Of The Weekend Never Dies and a documentary on the Osaka movement; the main theme for Sónar this year is the link between cinema and art forms.

The other exhibition is a collection of photography and video installations using various films for inspiration. Some of the art genuinely connects with the films, including a particularly impressive one which adopted the style and atmosphere of New York Gangster films and applied them to a pastiche of NY residents. Others are more loosely based – often along the lines of ‘I was taking some photos anyway, and then I watched a film and thought they might be connected in some way.’

A band who merges audio and visual art expertly is Pram, who is part of the Capsule showcase on the Friday. Pram delightfully delve into music constructing a lost soundtrack from Ennio Morricone or 60s English TV shows or spookier 70s arts films. The atmospheric music blends perfectly with their home-made movies which are projected like a cross between The Prisoner and Polanski.

Alongside the Capsule-curated showcase is ZX Spectrum Orchestra, an offshoot of the playful Modified Toy Orchestra. This band use just Spectrum computers and the Beep music programme to make their music. Clive One and Clive Two play tracks whilst pixel art monochrome visuals load up. Clive One glorifies ‘Geek Pride’ and delivers such lines as “We’d like to play our favourite algorithm. I’m sure it’s an algorithm you all know and love…” Particularly impressive is the Red Square film that “Took over a year of programming by Clive Two and takes up as much memory space as an e-mail.” Again, the only disadvantage of this space is that it filled up and was impossible to get in to see Matmos as the venue was at full capacity.

There are mixed reasons why we miss the Ninja showcase on Friday afternoon. Firstly, in a sun frazzled state I assume that the main stage is called ‘the village.’ We watch an amazing band who we think are The Heavy when in fact they are a Spanish band called Konono No.1.
‘These are brilliant!’
‘Yeah, it’s like a two-man Latin carnival.’
‘Where are they from?’
‘Brighton I think…’
Idiot.

We only really take notice when a rubbish Spanish hip-hop band is playing instead of Daedelus. We rush over to the tent at the back of the complex but once again can’t get anywhere near for the coiffure’s throngs.

On the final Sónar By Day we’re a little late arriving and spend a lot of time working on a stall in order to earn a three-day pass for my photographer. We hear rumours that DJ Yoda turned up and Kid Acne wasn’t very good from behind our trestle table. We do get a chance to pootle down to see Pilooski but the set is so minimal that our attention begins to wander.

We were also nursing hangovers from Sónar By Night which started off well with Madness teaching even the heaviest tech-head to pogo. Diplo’s set brought on the party hits expertly splicing soca into Brazilian into MIA in with Nirvana, and Justice upped the rock-stakes to ridiculous levels with their stage full of Marshall amps. There’s a dip in the evening as we listen to the subtle beats of dubstep by the Vodafone dodgems and a touch more minimal techno from Richie Hawtin. A lot of time is spent circling the spacious set of aircraft hanger sized buildings. At about three in the morning we consider cutting our losses, but as we’re heading on out we pass by Frankie Knuckles playing ‘You’re Free’ by Ultra Nate and we have to stay.

Suddenly everything falls into place and over the next few hours we dance between, Frankie Knuckles, 2ManyDJs and a sensational carnival set from Hercules And The Love Affair.

Sónar is not limited by the day and night events. Before and throughout the festival there are club nights and parties in which both line-up and atmosphere rival the event. After Sónar finishes on Saturday night the fringe festival continues. Excited to hear our friends have discovered an ‘amazing’ beach party in the next town, we jump on a tram and glide across the city. We arrive and soon realise we’ve been on this beach four years ago and back then the entire stretch was full of sound-systems, and the largest glitter-ball we’d ever seen. This time the party has been condensed within one bar and pool and admission is 15 euros. We decide not to go in and get the last tram home.

We’ve heard that free parties have been cracked down on in recent years as they’re anti-social. These new parties are more contained and safer but like many other elements of the festival, you feel someone else is cashing in.

On the Monday however, we witness a true fiesta flaunting any UK ideas of health and safety and potential anti-social behavior; had the entirety of Barcelona not turned out for Spain’s summer solstice. As we head down to Barcelonetta and stop off at a bar for tapas, the masses continue to stream towards the beach. We hear fireworks in the square behind us and check them out. We have to squeeze into the square as there’s a steel-pan band at the entrance; people are standing all round the edges. In a tokenistic attempt to keep the crowd back there’s a single barrier with a wax flare on each corner. In the centre of the square people are dressed in overalls with devil horns and Catherine wheels on their heads and trident forks with Roman candles stuck to the end; all causing mischief with fire.

We head down to the beach and it’s packed full of all sorts of people sitting around. Every few seconds someone is firing a rocket out of the sand or throwing a banger at our feet. On the main promenade we walk past a band. One chap is on a kick drum symbol and snare whilst the other is playing didgeridoo. As the beats are brought up to drum’n’bass speed the digde player MC’s down his pipe; they’re called Wild Marmalade.

“That’s the best thing I’ve seen in Barcelona this year!” says my photographer. Though ironically she’s left the camera at home tonight.


Tapas of Sόnar (July 06)

I’m going to give the Blowback postings a rest for a while. Needless to say there’s a whole year of other articles to reconstruct and re-edit.
My work post-Blowback needs less editing as payment and pressure to prove myself on my own terms takes over. I also had a lot more freedom in terms of space as this review highlights.

The sprawl of Sόnar can be mapped out in three ways. Sόnar de Día is the day event, based just off the chaotic La Rambla, in a combination of university buildings and contemporary art museums. Sόnar de Noche is the night time event which takes place in a massive aircraft hanger outside the city. The third I like to call ‘Sόnar de Mash-up’ and it happens in the whole of Barcelona whilst the festival is on – all the beach parties, clubs, after-clubs and bar side tapas chill-outs. It’s ‘Sόnar de Mash-up,’ away from the festival but at the heart of it, which makes the event unique. The music, food and bottles of sweet lager act as a prism to fully capture and appreciate the city that spawned it. Here’s my prime cuts…

A tapas of Sόnar de Día

The lift door softly opens in the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, middle floor and we’re smashed by a CD skipping mash-up of intense electro and Phil Collins. Several angular haircuts stare into their San Miguel bottles whilst leisure suited aviator shaded loafers, hang out in ground level sofas, which resemble man sized i-Pods.

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We punch for the top floor where we i-shuffle into a cheery Chernobyl exhibition and then into the next room – Blast’s Day Of The Figurines. The room is decidedly hushed and all attention is focused on two spot-lit tables with tiny characters on them.

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One group of plastic figures wait on a grid to be chosen. The next grid is a town where ‘the chosen’ have been placed. I chose a be-quiffed chap with a tan and a rucksack whom I christen Stevey Fitzpatrick Morris. I fill in the form and Stevey enters the game. For the next few days, via text message I’m informed of his progress; Stevey gets dropped in town and heads straight to the Queen Vic: “a real ale and horse brasses pub.” He makes a friend called ‘Jazzman’, manages to avoid a riot, and a killer virus through just sitting there and consuming a pint of cider called ‘Crossbow’ – which when I picked it up for Stevey, I hoped was a weapon. For two and a half days I ignore Jazzman – who was definitely the ‘wanker’ side of Jazz

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Back in my reality we amble into the promotional area. Here I pick up an origami stork and some ‘urban-post-hippies’ explain how it will help me in business before giving me a promo CD. We exchange myspace’s and hotmails and I move on with my paper bird.

After stuffing my Adidas endorsed Sόnar bag with CDs, DVDs, art-packs and a load of magazines, it’s time to check out some more music. We walk into a darkened room on the Sόnar Complex and there’s a guy on stage with a day-glo road maintenance jacket holding a neon tube like an electric guitar. He’s running his hands up and down on the fluorescent fret and tramping on a series of distortion pedals. Behind the cordon the crowd are assaulted by yawling feedback. “Hmmm… Jazz or wank?”

These were my first impressions of the musical noodlings and artistic chin strokery over the weekend. Sόnar de Dia gives you a real feeling that something is being pushed even though it’s often deliberately acerbic, some of it is mind-blowingly brilliant. Senor Coconut and his orchestra have a smart-arse concept (a German who surrounds himself with Latin American’s to do Salsa’d up Kraftwerk covers) but made the entire crowd move their feet rather than reach for their chins. Modified Toy Orchestra follows a similar ‘name on tin’ formula (this time a bloke surrounds himself with modified kids toys and fiddles with their sound circuitry for the pleasure of adults), but again is too enjoyable to furrow the brow.

Fat Freddy’s Drop are easily my highlight. DJ Fitchie AKA Mu (a large Mauri who everyone assumes is called Freddy) adds more electronic rhythms and sonic Dub sirens for the Sόnar crowd but it’s essentially the organic translation of well crafted songs which wins them over. One vocally flexible and enigmatic lead singer, backed by two sweet soul sisters, a funky rhythm section and a three piece brass section (two who look like they were in The Specials and one who looks like a ‘special’ member of Goldie Lookin’ Chain on a music therapy course), complete the performance setup. It’s sunshine and smiles all the way. 

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A tapas of Sόnar De Noche

We wander aimlessly, following or walking against thousands of others – walking aimlessly. We drift in and out of massive air hangers chocked full with others. One Self are the first solid beacon on the horizon. Their conscious lyrics being spat with precision by Blu Rum 13 whilst DJ Vadim supplies the sharp samples, then Yarah Bravo steals the show. We catch a bit of Laurent Garnier’s crazy set which seems to be leather clad lingerie models whipping each other on stage. We wait for hours by the dodgems, and then the insanity of the night kicks in and we’re thrown into the musical frenzy. DJ Shadow introduces a new form of hip-hop that he and his new York buds call the Hyphy movement, it’s rubbish. Two MC’s shout incoherently, occasionally asking the crowd a. they’re on drugs; b. whether they’ve ever smoked weed or c. if they’re a bunch of alcoholics. I ask my mate Dara whether he’d like to go and see Jeff Mills but above the shouty movement one Chinese whisper leads to another and we fall about laughing. Jeff Mills is playing his 10th year here and suddenly, somewhere, in the middle distance, in front of millions, he slices up Techno tracks with seasoned expert not-a-finger-on-the-vinyl mixing. Somewhere else minutes or hours later, Tiga is singing a dirged up version of “When Doves Cry.” 
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I’m poised on a broken down dodgem trying to get arty shots in slow exposure. Suddenly a car hits mine and I’m propelled over the heads of the monged out loons who have come to rest here. That’s kind of it for me.


A tapas variadas of Sόnar De Mashup

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It’s about 5 in the morning, we’ve been sat on this beach for hours. A party finished in a bar earlier on, now we’re the only ones left. We’re being propped up by a portly local who comes by with a freezer bag every 20 minutes and sells us ‘Cervesa.’ We’ve just met a Danish record promoter who brought with him DJ Shitmat (from the UK.) Shitmat came over and promptly collapsed and started foaming at the mouth and has been unconscious for about an hour whilst my mate Dave argues the finer points of what makes a true artist with his Dutch representative. Is Shitmat ‘representing’ for the
UK by eating sand and unconsciously cradling his bollocks? Is this Jazzman? 

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As the sun begins to rise we meet a French guy who works locally and starts bemoaning everything. As the sun really comes up, two plastic American teenagers, one blonde and one brunette, with matching rectangular smiles join us. One of their Uncles owns the bar behind and the sand we’re sitting on.

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She talks about how Uncle hates people doing unofficial business here but buys a ‘Cervesa’ from our friend (who by now trusts us implicitly to look after his bag whilst he continues to ply his trade) and we convince her a Thai massage is the best five euros you can spend on this beach.

As even the hard drunks get replaced by older and really old people – we start to fry. We leave our spot with the French guy sleazily moving in on the blonde with the big breasts. Our ‘Cervesa’ man leaves at the same time content that he’s done a days trade mostly through us. We head along the promenade and pop into a beach side convention for old people. Here we watch a demonstration of a new Stannah stair-lift and catch performances from stroke victims miming to old war songs and line dancing pensioners. Other pensioners look on eating entire roasted animals.

It’s time to escape. We get a taxi back into the city and walk through Park Guell, mosaic dragons and Hansel and Gretal bubble-gum styled houses and columns at jaunty angles. Half way up we find a table, buy a coke and sit in the shade in silence. Sόnared.

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