Sadness has taken over now that the 25th edition of Sónar Barcelona has ended. The much-awaited festival came and went as fast as the bpms of most DJ sets we danced to. From June 14 to 16, the Mediterranean city celebrated one of the most important landmarks in its musical history: it was the festival’s anniversary and the most attended edition as well, with more than 126.000 people. With performances by Gorillaz, Richie Hawtin, Yaeji, 2manydjs, Laurent Garnier, Rosalía, or Ben Klock, this is another one for the history books.
Planning to start the day with a concert instead of a DJ set, we first attended Putochinomaricón’s performance at the young stage SonarXS, where the most alternative and niche proposals take place. The emerging and politically-driven singer (his artistic name means, literally, ‘fucking-Chinese-faggot’) offered a very charismatic as well as punk performance. With incredible, full-face makeup resembling that of the Chinese opera, Chenta Tai (his real name) proved he’s a one to watch in the years to come.
After him, it was time for Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. The American producer is known for his mysterious ambient tunes, which he samples mostly from nature. Especially for Sónar, he teamed up with Silent Servant and Low Jack, and the trio exceeded far above our expectations as ambient electronics where quickly replaced by dark and industrial beats that never lost their air of mystery, nor the nature sounds you would normally only hear in a rainforest.
Already tired from all that dancing, we went outside for a little break. Our spirits were soon lifted by the upbeat house tracks of a much-anticipated newcomer. Yaeji managed to get the entire SonarVillage bouncing up and down to her unique blend of hip-hop, trap and house, singing live to all of her tracks and providing a surprisingly strong and sparkling presence on stage. The American-Korean DJ was followed by George Fitzgerald, who was presenting his newest album, All That Must Be, which was a bit too relaxed after Yaeji’s set. That’s why we preferred to close the first day of the festival at Agoria’s set at SonarHall. For the first time at Sónar, Sébastien Devaud performed live, a challenge that proved his mastery when it comes to transcending his usual role as a DJ.
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On Friday, we started in the sunny, open-air stage that is SonarVillage. The London DJ Jamz Supernova, an emerging creative in the always boiling British scene, took off the set with Blink, a song by the local-artist-turned-international-star Bad Gyal. From here, it only got better: hip-hop, dancehall, and other bouncing rhythms made us forget the first day’s hangover. We stayed at SonarVillage to listen to Kampire, a queer feminist DJ from Uganda whose set shone because of its magnificent music choice, all coming from the African continent, showcasing its endlessly rich variety of genres, styles and rhythms.
We split between her and the b2b taking place at SonarDome. Clip and Cora Novoa, two Spanish DJs, were on the musical antipodes of Kampire: if the latter’s set was tropical and happy, the formers’ was destructive and dark. Even though it was a bit too early for us to take that upbeat techno in, we stayed long enough to enjoy it and wish for the night to come. But we had to attend other performances first, like the one by Rosalía.
The emerging Spanish singer presented exclusively the first glimpse of her upcoming album, Malamente, which is expected to be an instant success. Taking into account the long queue and frenzy that preceded the concert, it certainly will be. Originally from a town near Barcelona, she showcased her undeniable talent mixing strikingly beautiful and sensitive vocals, never-before-heard songs, and a group of dancers and performers surrounding her that turned the show into what you would expect from an international star. Now, we’ll just have to wait until the album is released by the end of the year.
After her, it was Sophie’s turn. Back at SonarDome, the British producer, singer and DJ offered a performance difficult to label. With an all-female cast dressed in fetishist ensembles, Sophie sang, danced and defied the status quo with an irreverent, strong, and unique show. The visuals of some of her music videos, like Faceshopping, were the perfect complement to her distorted, almost robotic voice.
At SonarXS, the Colombian Rosa Pistola turned up the heat even more – if that’s possible. Playing an amazing set of hard, sweaty reggaetón, the audience went nuts dancing ‘perreo’ non-stop. It was amazing to see how almost everyone sang to the lyrics and danced with each other as if it were an intimate club. The best way to close the day, though, was with a bit of fresh air at SonarVillage with the eclectic set of South-African DJ Black Coffee. Pure class and mastery.
We couldn’t start Friday’s night without seeing Gorillaz. After seven years of silence, in 2017, the music group finally made a comeback with Humanz, an entirely new album. But in their concert at Sónar, of course, they played several of their hits, like On Melancholy Hill or Clint Eastwood, combined with newer songs like Saturnz Barz and Ascension. You could feel how much their performance was awaited: the audience sang along (or screamed) each and every track, the excitement was palpable, and the energy after it was over was still pumping. Gorillaz were definitely one of the highlights of the entire festival.
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SonarClub started filling up as the first melodic tones of Bonobo’s performance rippled through the sound system. Although his set was a bit more downtempo than the high bpm we had gotten used to at Sónar, it was not any less captivating. Playing a live set, Simon Green took us on an electronic expedition filled with an abundance of powerful hits from his latest album, titled Migration, and creating a slightly melancholic yet beautiful and dreamy setting.
Right before Bonobo played his last notes, we made our way to Bicep, another member of the legendary label Ninja Tune. The Irish duo played a strong live set filled with their iconic blend of house, techno and a hint of acid. What really made them stand out, however, was the way they played in on the audience. Something that could have not been easy, considering the immense size of the crowd. As Bicep shifted their songs from garage and techno to a more euphoric acid and Italodisco, the crowd’s mood shifted along with it, finally going into a frenzy when they dropped their famous classic Just.
After this amazing set we barely had the energy left to stand, but we were motivated by the prospect of techno veteran Helena Hauff. She didn’t disappoint as she brought us two hours of industrial techno, darkwave and garage sounds that belonged somewhere in the basement of an underground club in Hamburg, but still managed to work during a sunrise at Sónar. As the sky became lighter, her music only became darker and her heavy techno provided the perfect ending to our night.
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On Saturday, urban music and the newest musical trends took over. We could listen to rapper, hip-hop and trap singers like Rels B and Steve Lean, two Spanish emerging stars. Their new takes on the music genres have turned them into some of the most interesting talents to watch, especially for the youngest audience, who seems obsessed with them. Breaking from the usual sexist lyrics and roles of women in urban music, the Argentinian Nathy Peluso showed how liberated women do it on stage. With massive hits like Corashe and La Sandunguera, she drove everyone’s crazy with sensual moves and the most irreverent attitude.
After the urban concerts, we moved to more electronic-oriented performances. SonarComplex was the perfect place to do it, as DJ Stingray was doing a b2b with Mumdance. The Detroit legendary DJ teamed up with the British producer to offer an unforgettable set of industrial, hard techno that set the tone for the next one: 2manydjs. The Belgian brothers were some of the most expected performances of the 25th-anniversary-edition of the festival, and they were up to the expectations: extremely charismatic, their danceable, eclectic DJ set was the perfect way to finish the last Sónar by Day.
We started out our Saturday night with American-English punk-funk gods LCD Soundsystem, whose return to Sónar was very much anticipated. The indoor space of SonarClub had filled up to the edges with an attentive audience. Drinks in hand, they were focused on the stage or large screens that showcased the band, and listening to their unique blend of rock, funk and punk. The dedication of the audience in combination with the lyrical rock of LCD Soundsystem made the performance feel like a concert rather than an act at a festival.
The mood changed when we attended Tokimonsta at SonarPub. The American DJ and producer was presenting her audio-visual show for the first time outside of the United States, and it caused a stir. The audience seemed to fall in love right after an instrumental introduction by violins and a piano that quickly turned into her song We Love, feat. MNDR. Later on, her repertoire continued with many hip-hop and rap iconic songs like Get Ur Freak On, by Missy Elliott, or more tribal tracks like Work!, by Gigamesh feat. Kaleena Zanders. And the visuals, one of the most important parts of the show, left everyone mesmerized.
London-born DJ Call Super may have not been one of the most well-known names gracing Sónar’s line-up, but as his set progressed more and more people became captivated by his blend of techno and ambient and the SonarClub space filled up in no time. Call Super’s deep knowledge of technological music became evident throughout its incredibly precise and well-calculated mix that eased in the audience with soft and ambient tunes that slowly progressed into a dark technological set managed to get everyone dancing.
Octo Octa was also very knowledgeable. The American DJ played analogue, showing how her ten-year-career has taught them more than the basics behind the decks. Despite her style is usually characterized by house music, her set at Sónar also included harder, more industrial sounds. After she had finished, there was very little of the usual movement from stage to stage. This wasn’t at all odd, considering next up was a b2b set featuring two of the industry’s most respected DJs.
Berghain resident Ben Klock and Japanese underground mastermind DJ Nobu started off with a calm song that quickly increased in speed and volume. What followed was almost two hours of uninterrupted, dark and underground techno that combined Ben Klock’s love for deep grooves with DJ Nobu’s more abstract sounds, and came together in a qualitative collision of German precision and Japanese craftsmanship.
We still remained at the SonarLab stage for a duo that couldn’t be more opposite from the one that came before. Motor City Drum Ensemble and Jeremy Underground had played many great b2b sets in the past, and this one was no exception. The duo dropped a continuous stream of house and disco classics as the sun came up, and the joyfully dancing crowd was the best we’ve encountered the entire festival. A little bit before them, though, we went to see Richie Hawtin’s new show, titled Close. With lots of gear and hardware on stage, the veteran DJ showed his most skilful, technical side as an electronic creative, moving between his usual tracks and more robotic-like sounds.
The great master was followed by none other than Charlotte de Witte. Some people were doubting that after Hawtin’s performance anyone could meet the expectations. But she certainly did. SonarClub was packed and remained like that: almost everyone wanted to finish such an amazing edition with one of the hardest sets of the festival. Charlotte proved that, despite being very young, she’s got the temper, skills, and attitude to offer the audience what it wants: a larger-than-life closing that makes us forget our environment and just dance, dance, and dance. A perfect ending to an edition full of masterly performances. With Charlotte, we said goodbye to Sónar Barcelona and its twenty-five-year celebration. We’ll wait anxiously until the confirmations for 2019.
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