all photos courtesy of Sonar Press
This weekend we were at the legendary Sonar Festival in one of our favorite European cities, Barcelona. Founded 18 years ago, Sonar was the first ever daytime contemporary music festival in a European city and despite its renowned status, it’s avoided slipping into mainstream territory by continuing to showcase fresh talent.
Taking place across three days and two nights, the first thing that struck us was Sonar’s ability to coordinate such a multitude of electronic acts, hosted at two very different settings without overstepping the vibe at each spot. The 12 til 9 daytime event is a super chilled affair taking place at Barcelona’s beautiful cultural centre, just a stones throw from the Ramblas. By contrast, the 10pm til 7am night event was a rager at Fira Gran Via, a convention centre on the outskirts west of the city. While we’d love to cover every highlight from the weekend, there were just too many great moments, so instead we’ll bring you a varied shortlist of what made us tick:
Sonar by Day
On Thursday, Nicolas Jaar played a phenomenal live set in the underground SonarHall. Signed to Brooklyn’s Wolf+Lamb label, he’s been kicking up a huge amount of heat following the recent release of his debut album: Space Is Only Noise. Playing in a band with three others, Nicolas Jaar’s quartet treated Sonar to an intimate live show, musically one of the best sets we heard all weekend – truly mesmerizing, and very chilled out indeed.
By contrast, Friday saw incredible sets from LA beats guru Teebs, Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet, and French techno pioneer Agoria, who delivered some super-melodic techno in the Barcelona sunshine – it was great to see him outside of a darker club environment.
Sonar by Night:
While we can’t find fault with such a breathtaking lineup, there was one thing that raised our eyebrows a little: the set times seemed confusing at points. Having Boys Noize and Djedjotronic close out a main stage rave at 4.30 – 7am, following on from ambient breakbeat and the sounds of Aphex Twin – who’s a legend and played a mindblowing show – just did not make any sense whatsoever. If you’re a promotor, or festival thrower and could do with the 101, then please take note of this: don’t go deep and ambient too early ‘cos you’ll kill the vibe and unless your crowd is on fiendish amounts of drugs at a very early point in the evening, they just won’t stick it. All things aside, we waited it out and were richly rewarded with an incredible set from Boys Noize, and favorite of all on the first night: Djedjotronic, who’s bringing a fresh outlook to techno at the moment – His track selection was on point and the crowd went berserk for Kolsch’s ‘Loreley’. Other highlights from the first night included Pearson Sound’s set as part of the BBC Radio 1 showcase, and Trentemøller’s set on the second stage. While Trentemøller and dirty dancing don’t exactly go hand in hand, you can’t discount his musical genius. Playing an early set, Trentemøller blew everyone away with his unique blend of spaghetti-western inspired electronica.
On the second night, Underworld blew up the main room in a big way, dipping into their extensive back-catalogue as well as playing crowd favorites from last year’s Barking record, including ‘Always Loved Film’ and ‘Scribble’. Visual artist-extraordinaire Chris Cunningham gave one of the most inspiring – not to mention darkest – visual experiences we’ve ever witnessed, while a showcase from Glasgow’s Numbers label also saw excellent sets from Jackmaster, Deadboy and Spencer. The Numbers label are a huge look, and ones to watch very closely over the coming year. Here’s their latest release from Jamie XX – big tune:
Jamie xx – Far Nearer (limited vinyl & download out now – http://farnearer.com) by Numbers
The most impressive set on the second night came from Buraka Som Sistema, whose musical delivery was exceptionally tight, and energy unmatched. Kicking off with ‘IC19′, the band sped through a 70 minute live set that didn’t dip in vibe, featuring some great live percussion and showcasing a grip of new material, together with most of their Black Diamond album. Read on for our exclusive interview with J-Wow and Kalaf Angelo from BSS, and stream their new single here:
We can’t truly complete our Sonar review without giving the nod to some fantastic events we caught over the course of the weekend. Josh Wink and Riva Starr‘s Ovum vs Snatch! showcase at Boulevard was a brilliant night of music, but our favorite Off Sonar moment was Oliver Dollar’s set at the Jackmode showcase. The setting was unbeatable: poolside at a tennis club on top of Montjuic overlooking the whole of Barcelona at night. It was a really intimate and informal show with a great lineup that included Martin Dawson, J.Phlip, Round Table Knights and Zombie Disco Squad, all playing to about 200 people! If you haven’t got a hold of Oliver $’s recent jam ‘Doin Ya Thang’, check it out: Oliver $ -Doin’ Ya Thang by oliverdollar
Buraka Som Sistema interview
As previously mentioned, Saturday we caught up with J-Wow and Kalaf Angelo from Buraka Som Sistema ahead of their gig at Sonar by Night, here’s how it went –
GDD™: How’re you doing guys?
J-Wow & Kalaf: We’re good.
GDD™: You looking forward to catching anyone today?
JW: Yeh, yeh, definitely. There’s loads of interesting stuff.
KA: I don’t think we have the time for it. Maybe afterwards.
JW: Yeh, afterwards. There’s a label called Numbers, who are going to be putting on a showcase. So there are a couple of artists there that I’m going to go and see.
GDD™: So you’re a fan of Jackmaster and Spencer’s stuff then?
JW: Yeh, he’s a good friend of mine.
GDD™: So this isn’t your first time at Sonar. What from an artist’s perspective makes the festival so special?
JW: I think it’s a really well structured festival. The whole division between the day and the night means that you can have really low profile artists coming down and performing cool shows in the afternoon, giving more of a cultural side to the festival. You then have the whole club-side; the gigantic dance music parties at night. I think if you come here as a consumer, you spend the day out in the sun and then go out at night – you end up doing so many different things and I think for me, that’s cooler than just going to a festival with two stages and spending the night alternating between the two. Sonar has a lot going on, it’s more interesting and informative that way, enabling you to maybe meet a couple of artists you didn’t otherwise know about. Stuff like that.
GDD™: So moving away from the festival, and on to yourselves – How did Buraka Som Sistema as a project and as a live entity come about?
KA: We started with a residency as a sound-system at a small club in Lisbon. After four or five parties there, we saw that this project had potential to grow and become a live entity, and make our own music and play concerts as a sound-system, but also with the dynamic of a live show with original tracks. In a sense, wherever we play, we try to transform that stage into a big club environment to vibe with the people.
GDD™: So do you ever go back to the original club that you started at?
JW: It’s now closed because I don’t think it had all the rules necessary for a club to remain open. It was a monthly residency we had over four months and it closed, so we had to move the whole thing.
GDD™: Has the Buraka Som Sistema lineup changed since then?
JW: The four of us, we’ve always been the same. But basically, we then get singers and extra percussionists to come and play with us. For a live show like this, we have a drummer and then a guest MC, a girl that does all of the girl songs, and it’s then this big live show.
GDD™: Kuduro, Angolan dance culture, has played a huge part in your sound which is something really unique in electronic music today. How did that come about, and what other influences do you see in your music now?
KA: I think the main influence for us and our music is living in Lisbon. Our city has that melting-pot of different cultures from the Portuguese ex-colonies. So we have Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, so all those rhythms were coming from those cultures and it was all presented in the city. It was a question of either really digging, or just being in the street and being exposed to them. We grew up with that, we trauled the neighborhoods, the same scenes, some of us ended up in schools together and that dynamic made the same source. Aside from that, we also like the London dance music scene and we try to bridge the two things: Our Lisbon sound from our city, everything that we loved there, but also crossed with what we love worldwide.
GDD™: So you’re still predominantly based in Lisbon then?
GDD™: You’ve recently released a single: ‘Hangover (BaBaBa)’ – awesome video by the way, been digging it a lot – are you working on another full length, a follow up to 2008’s Black Diamond?
JW: Yeh, yeh, yeh! We’re making an album, the idea is that it comes out after the summer. So basically now, we have about three weeks of mixing down, and it’s very exciting.
GDD™: Is that gonna be released on Sony and Fabric again, or Enchufada?
JW: It will definitely get a release on Enchufada, as that’s sort of our label, but it’s probably going to get licensed to different labels worldwide. We’re still looking at whatever’s out there.
GDD™: With that said, are you doing a lot of collaborations again for the record?
JW: Not as many. It’s funny, while growing as a band we’ve played so many live shows that suddenly, what started as a DJing thing then became a band. So I think on this record, it’s gonna be more about us and our own skills, our own stuff – what we do. There’s obviously guests and people around us, but it’s not going to be like trying to get star-guests to open up to a new market and stuff like that. It’s now a case that if we have a guest, it’s going to be for the track – that we felt neccessary for the song to be good. It doesn’t even matter if their name’s going to be on the song, it’s all about trying to build good songs then grab them and play around the world – and play a super cool show!
GDD™: Are you guys pursuing the same course, or are you heading in a different direction to that of Black Diamond? That album brought together so many different components, on top of the hip-hop influences, you then had tracks like ‘IC19′ which had sped up Baltimore house beats…
JW: Yeh, we listen to all that stuff so –
KA: We’re gonna keep the same course.
JW: Yeh, maybe different ingredients but the same mental organization of the record, that’s for sure.
KA: We might expose a bit more of the aspects hinted at in Black Diamond.
JW: Definitely a bigger influence of South-American though. For example: cumbia, bands like Bomba Estereo and stuff like that.
GDD™: Because of course you’re touring extensively now compared to how it started off, so the influence is naturally going to be more worldly…
JW: Definitely. When you’re touring you meet a lot of new people, and everyone shows you new music, and that’s one of the beautiful things about music: the whole exchange.
GDD™: Good stuff. So what else does 2011 have in store for BSS?
KA: Finishing the album, and playing all of our songs – we’re really excited for the stuff that we now have. We want to show that excitement to the public through our shows.
GDD™: Is tonight going to be a bit of a showcase of old and new then?
JW: Yeh, a couple of new things. Because we’ve been playing Black Diamond for such a long time, we got to a point last year where we started to introduce a lot of remixes in our sets – for example instead of ‘IC19′, we’d play A1 Bassline’s remix and stuff like that, to get a new groove to the show. So there’s gonna be a lot of that, a couple of new songs, a lot of good stuff from the mixtape we released called Blood Diamond Mixtape. So it’s sort of going to represent the closing of a cycle: the Black Diamond cycle, and then introduce some new bits.
GDD™: Lastly, do you have anything you’d like to say to our readers?
JW: Yeh, we’re gonna be playing Holy Ship, so come and see us play that. But if people really like us, we’ve scheduled two shows for Portugal, one in Lisbon and one in Porto, which are in the main venues of both cities, it’s going to be like the album launch/release shows. I think that if someone really likes us, it’s worth the trip. Maybe from LA it’s a bit too far, but from places in Europe, it’s gonna be worth the trip because we’re going to be doing a really personal, but really big show. That’s gonna be in November, so if you wanna get together and join visiting Lisbon with one of our shows in the natural habitat, then that’s the one to come see us at.
GDD™: Thanks for taking the time guys, looking forward to catching the show and best of luck with the new album.
KA: Thank you.
JW: Yeh, thanks!