Oh, boy, what a spectacular edition. It was difficult to improve last year’s celebration of the festival’s 25th anniversary, but they did. At least, for those who enjoy Sónar Barcelona and understand it as an opportunity to discover emerging talent, matches made in heaven – how genius was the closing b2b of Louie Vega and Honey Dijon? – and, of course, big names. From July 18 to 21, Barcelona became the place to be for electronic and urban music lovers. It was hot, it was lit and it was so much fun. Here’s what went down the 26th edition of the festival.
To kick off this year’s edition, on Thursday we first went to see Lotic. The Berlin-based singer was visually bewitching in the middle of a reactive crown of sliced light (it had many laser beams going all over the place) designed by Emmanuel Biard and their super long green wig. Experimental and underground, she combined her own vocals with pre-recorded voices in a very convincing show. After them, Irish rapper Rejjie Snow was the one to kick off this year’s running hip hop theme with a dynamic show that had just the right amount of energy to keep us going in the afternoon right before the storm was about to begin.
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Rejjie Snow
In a beautiful show created and directed by Sevdaliza herself, the Dutch-Iranian artist managed to give the crowd a contemplative yet electrifying performance with her set that united theatre, choreography and her own version of electronic pop. Shifting between vulnerable moments where her voice took centre stage and then pounding beats that had the crowd entranced with the singer, Sevdaliza delivered an impressive encore performance to her debut on the SonarDôme stage in 2017. After that, we headed to SónarXS, where some of the most unclassifiable, niche and interesting proposals take place. We danced to the South African duo Faka. At the beginning though, they began more low key, making the crowd wonder what was going on. But after a little while, Fela Gucci and Desire Marea turned the stage upside down with frenetic dancing and upbeat music.
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The enormous line that preceded the concert was enough to understand how high the expectations were for Arca’s Sal de Mi Cuerpo show, which was exclusively conceived for this year’s Sónar edition. And she delivered. Although being graced by her presence would have been enough for us to rave about her, her impish attitude in a cabaret-like setting (including on-stage wardrobe changes), as well as her hedonism and constant brazen sexual provocations just hit the spot for us. The show started more lyrically, with her early works (which we could witness three years ago at Sónar as well). From there, she moved to more experimental sounds, combining upbeat music with her eerie vocals. The icing on the cake came on several moments, which ranged from self ass fingering, a sweet kiss with her boyfriend – artist Carlos Sáez – or a BDSM-looking minotaur chasing the Venezuelan, Barcelona-based singer. To finish the first day of the festival, the closing was by Daphni, a phenomenal way to end. By playing his mixes of instrumental music with more electronic beats, Thursday ended up in a very funk and danceable way.
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On Friday, Holly Herndon was our first stop. The singer keeps exploring what does it mean to be a singer, a performer and a programmer, thus exploring the liminal spaces between music and technology. Proto, the name of the show she was presenting, featured seven accompanying singers, as well as a programmer on the visuals, which ranged from a 3D recreation of a bedroom – with a Pikachu figurine included – to a dreamlike forest and a massive close-up of a face with shiny blue eyes. By modifying her voice through the microphone, Holly explored the wide range of her vocals, sometimes resembling a machine and others, an alien-like angel. Also, shoutout to the moment when one of his accompanying singers made the entire audience sing to later create a soundscape. A magical performance overall.
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Holly Herndon
After Herndon’s cathartic show, the opposite was awaiting at the SonarDôme by RedBull: Fakethias. The up-and-coming Norwegian DJ played a short very intense set of hardcore techno and industrial beats – it was only 5.30 pm. With heterogeneous visuals that mixed black and white graphic design, distorted videos of operations or body explorations, and even funny air dancers, he proved that his seemingly impossible combinations (both visual and musical) are more than fine under his control. On another note, Somalian-born, Uganda-based DJ and rapper Hibotep, as well as a fashion designer and installation artist – a true Renaissance woman – made the walls of the SónarXS stage boom with a mix of house and electronic beats that made you lose your mind, continuing with the upbeat attitude of Fakethias.
Still at SonarXS, one of the most awaited performances was by Virgen María. The Spanish singer and DJ came with a mantra: “I’m Virgen María and I’m here to blex” – an invented word combining ‘bless’ and ‘sex’. After publishing her first EP, G.O.D., which has spiritual connotations – she affirms that clubs are like temples, techno is their religion, and she wants to be her priest – Virgen María delivered performance where she remixed iconic reggaeton songs like La Gasolina by Daddy Yankee and El Perdón by Nicky Jam with massive hardcore baselines and beats. She even ‘crucified’ herself on the pole dance where she danced on her LED-illuminated perspex stripper heels. With her, we ended Friday’s Sónar by Day.
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Virgen María
To start Friday night, we had to be at Stormzy’s concert. Replacing A$AP Rocky as a last-minute addition to the Sónar lineup, one of Britain’s biggest grime artists made his return to the music festival with an energetic and truly British performance at the SonarClub stage. First starting his set with a love song devoted to lovers, weed, and lovers of weed (Cigarettes and Cush, for those interested), Stormzy quickly transitioned into a more fast-moving tempo, featuring songs from his 2017 Gang Signs & Prayer album, R&B bops such as Vossi Bop, and a remix to the Ed Sheeran smash hit Shape of You.
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Hailing from Amsterdam, a shirtless DJ Jarreau Vandal set the tone for the rest of the night with hip hop and R&B hits from major rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott, adding samples from other unexpected artists like the Japanese group Teriyaki Boyz. A magical set that kept playing banger after banger, we were in for a ride. After him, one of the biggest rising stars of the moment in urban music: Octavian. It’s hard to describe his Sónar performance because just like his music, it simply couldn’t be put into only one category. That’s not to say we didn’t like it. In fact, the exact opposite; we loved it! With mature and reflective lyrics and sounds that gave us samples of British grime, trap beats and techno breakdowns, everything about the British-French rapper’s set was a mood for the night. And let’s not forget the trippy animated graphics of the cosmos and half-naked butts with G-strings that accompanied his performance onstage behind him.
But electronic music is still at the core of the festival. And what better duo to prove it than Underworld? Rick Smith and Karl Hyde made the audience fall head over heels with their extremely powerful set, which included a strong light game, live vocals, and hits like Born Slippy. Their mastery behind the decks and on the microphone, their presence on stage, and the intensity of their set got us lit to continue the rest of the night. On another note, and appearing for the first time at Sónar, Vince Staples delivered a set that was no frills, ruffles or anything else but him and the straight-up realness of his music. However, the California rapper wasn’t all work and no play. Featured behind Vince was a screen composed entirely of the rapper in different American pop culture moments, such as a contestant on popular game show Jeopardy and a character on the iconic television show Seinfeld. Simply put, Vince brought West Coast swag and American appeal to the international crowd of Sónar.
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Vince Staples
Back to electronic music, Jordon Alexander, aka Mall Grab, played a frenetic, mind-bending set that made use of the loudest, most powerful, biting bass that obliged you to move your head to the beat, for the very least. The Australian DJ’s techno prowess showed in a major way. Back to SonarClub, no one does contemporary house music like these two brothers, Howard and Guy Lawrence, otherwise known as the famous production duo Disclosure. Inviting us into their family for an almost two-hour-long set, the brothers hyped the crowd in anticipation for their arrival with a light show of blue and purple colours and subtle electronic beats that eventually marked their entrance on the SonarClub stage. And when the beat finally dropped, the crowd erupted into dance that quite possibly had the whole venue shaking with frenzied excitement, especially to iconic songs like Holding On or You & Me.
We’ve had the pleasure to welcome her to the city of Barcelona on a few occasions, but this time, she didn’t come alone. South Korean DJ royalty, as well as fashion socialite and entrepreneur, Peggy Gou teamed up in a b2b with Berlin-based producer Palms Trax for a glorious set that went on until the early hours of the morning, playing tropical house and funky beats that kept you awake, alive and ready to party, making you forget that you’d been dancing for maybe twelve hours straight. The perfect way to end Friday night – which was in fact, Saturday morning.
Slightly hangover, we started the last day of the festival with Nicola Cruz. His first performance in 2016 was already very packed for a newcomer. This year, after launching the album Siku, you couldn’t even get inside the SonarHall. The Ecuadorian DJ, known for his Andean sounds and mix of the panflute with electronic beats, delivered a great set that included both old and new songs and left the audience in awe. Getting outside of the stage, on the outside, we just heard some of the best sets in the entire festival. Unclassifiable, mysteriously cool London-based singer and DJ Lyzza paid homage to her Brazilian roots with samba-infused melodies as well as some electronic beats that were mixed in with the best nostalgia-inducing pop songs from the 2000s – from Britney Spears’ Toxic to Bellini’s Samba do Janeiro. She was close to creating the perfect set for a busy and eager Saturday-afternoon crowd, definitely making her one of our highlights and best discoveries so far.
And after one fun, danceable set to another. This time, with Catalan dancehall queen Bad Gyal. The singer got on stage in pink lingerie accompanied by four dancers dressed head-to-toe in neon colours (lime, pink, orange, and green) to present her new show, Bad Gyal Soundsystem, a technicolour fantasy where she got to prove how much she’s improved her dancing skills. From her newest release, Hookah, to older hits like Fiebre or Tu Moto, her vocals were accompanied by visuals by Andrei Warren in a pretty convincing performance. With a sound that could only be described as experimentation in progress, Actress and his AI program, Young Paint, proved to be a more reflective and calming set compared to the Bad Gyal performance that was taking place in overlapping time slots. However, his was still one of the most unique sets at Sónar that combined synths and software, metallic sounds and innovative technology to create a visual experience that took the crowd on a sensory journey.
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Bad Gyal
Once again on the outside, one of the biggest entrances to a concert within the festival history took place: rapper Cecilio G rode a dark horse across the entire venue until getting to the SonarXS stage, after which we couldn’t enter due to the overcrowding. So staying in the outside to enjoy the sunset, we enjoyed the set by Red Axes. The Israeli duo performed as a three-piece this time – drums, DJ, and one half-DJ and half-bassist –, with even a fourth person on stage – a female singer – at the end. Despite their good performance, we had to rush out for the first performance at Sónar by Night.
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Cecilio G
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Cecilio G
Once there, a guy in a large bucket hat, donning sunglasses and a layer of clothing that covered his face stood in front us, making us question who he was. It wasn’t after he started to sing the chorus to Estamos Bien when we were assured that Bad Bunny was actually performing. Especially when he let us know that two days prior he had been to his native Puerto Rico denouncing the leadership of their governor Rosselló. We applaud Bad Bunny for talking about politics and setting the crowd and the stage ablaze with his chants at the same time we partied to the lyrics of La Romana by shouting ‘fuego, fuego, fire, fire’. The concert was packed despite opening Sónar by Night and the audience sang along non-stop. And his visuals, despite sometimes featuring too obvious and sexist silhouettes and images of bombshells, were also cool, like one that replicated the Mario Bros game. A true proof that, despite previous critiques, he was the right choice for the festival.
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Bad Bunny
British grime had its time this year with the King of Grime making his third appearance at Sónar. Immediately, Skepta had the crowd flexing with his A$AP Rocky collaboration Praise the Lord and brought the streets of North London and the bucket hat-wearing, shirtless British tourists that filled the crowd who came to see his performance to the shores of Barcelona. About halfway through his set, Skepta also brought out his brother, fellow grime rapper Jme, and gave the audience some brotherly love with performances of songs from their time together in the grime group Meridian Crew.
You know it’s always going to be a groovy time with Kaytranada. The Canadian-Haitian producer had the crowd enthralled with his hour-long set that blended old-school soul with wavy electronic sounds. It was hard not to feel his vibe and the vibe of his music, which for some may have even been a spiritual experience. To top it all off, Kaytranada finished his set with his edition of Teedra Moses’ Be Your Girl with the groovy electronic hit having the crowd shuffling their feet as energetically as they did at the beginning of the night. From there, we moved to the very hardcore set of Blawan and Dax J. Although generally good, the start was a bit too harsh, not giving the audience the time to adapt to the change the mood; it was dark, industrial sounds from minute zero. However, it was 3 am on the last night, so nobody seemed much worried.
And finally, we had the b2b to end all b2bs. Two of the greatest DJs were playing the last set on the last day on the biggest (or at least longest) outdoor stage of the whole festival, and they were master Louie Vega and absolute queen Honey Dijon. If we put together their immaculate tastes, we get the most eclectic, funky, extremely danceable and captivating set possible. The songs went from more modern hits like Rosalía’s Aute Cuture, to house beats and iconic songs like Madonna’s Vogue, all while we danced the night away and we watched the sunrise. There was no better way to wrap up Sónar 2019.
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