It’s 6.30 am at Fira Gran Via and we’re into the last leg of Friday’s Sonar By Night. The morning sun’s just broken and the once intense stage lights fade into the sunshine. We’re standing in the middle of a warzone, motionless bodies strewn along the walls, eye-whites non-existent, glitter bleeding from every orifice… There’s still a strong crowd going for it, though, defying the sleep barrier as Monki pounds a much-needed energised closing set dropping everything from Benga & Coki to recent Special Request edits and Ibiza classics. We’re broken, but it was totally worth it.
One of Europe’s most-respected electronic music events, Sonar is truly a festival of two halves with 21 years experience behind it. Absorbing 109,000 people across the weekend, the exquisitely executed four-day event takes the multi-media arts festival to new levels. Set across two separate locations, each side of the divide offers something different, though it was Sonar By Night’s sundown chapter (battlefield included) that trumped the chin-stroking vibe of the daytime affair.
I’ve never seen anything like the Sonar +N scenes with its expansive airport-like hangers and neon strip lights set up to give off a surreal Tron-like picture. Overwhelming is the only way to truly describe it; constantly on a knife’s edge between being in awe or shit-scared of losing your friends, mind, body or soul – and there’s little chance of finding them in amongst the tens of thousands of people darting between the line of inside and outdoor stages. People often talk about how big-room sets lack vibe but it doesn’t ring true in this sense. Stepping away from an intimate dancefloor is worth it just to engulf Sonar +N’s imposing and extraordinary approach to dance music.
Richie Hawtin may well have delivered his new record the night before, but it’s his Friday night performance that wears the crown for weekend proceedings. From the Plastikman gobos to the blizzard of confetti and his genuine live talent; Hawtin and Sonar have an unbelievable eye for detail.
Second to Richie, Caribou becomes a clear highlight. A tunnel of people covers ground from the stage to the back wall for Dan Snaith’s live performance. Taking a break from his Daphni alias, Caribou gave us a reminder about just how perfect he is with recently released single ‘Can’t Do Without You’ selling us back into his organic approach. Nailed it.
Todd Terje follows. Although a safe set from the Norwegian, everyone still loves it, losing limb control when ‘Inspector Norse’ drops. I enjoyed over hearing this one: “Todd Terje is the Gary Barlow of EDM, he’s never going to escape those Take That songs” – pretty much perfect.
The biggest surprise of the whole festival is Happa. Taking some time out to link up with friends near the dodgems, his rollercoaster of techno on the SonarCar stage made it hard to walk away. Samir Alikhanizadeh doesn’t always have the breadth of playing the ‘right’ set (too hard too early) but this was seamlessly timed.
Feet as flat as the ground and already hot from the morning sun we fought for a taxi home. Sonar By Night offers a performance on a scale I’ve never seen; The Warehouse Project probably could be a UK comparable – but it’s got nothing on it.
Across to Sonar +D and the atmosphere couldn’t be any different. While a chance to regenerate those brain cells destroyed by the buckets of sangria the night before, the Sonar +D relaxed approach almost felt too laid-back to have a ‘proper’ party in – the exception perhaps being Elijah & Skilliam holding up Red Bull’s SonarDome with Butterz staple Flava D on the Thursday.
Although the main stage allows you to bask in the golden weather, the majority of artists and acts are holed up in sprawling dark rooms. It’s impressively big but watching Simian Mobile Disco’s new project Whorl (the visuals alone are worth checking out) in a womb-like hall dressed in red velvet doesn’t quite have that Spanish edge we all came for. James Murphy and 2ManyDJ’s Despachio’s repeated six hour all-day set in a 200-capacity room get us excited but the long-queue and the sauna-like space puts a slight downer on their relentlessly good disco selections.
Barcelona’s own dance scene takes a backseat across the four days as Sonar’s internationally famous billing of headliners stole the limelight (well, minus John Talabot, as he hails from the Catalonian community). Street posters of nights gone hint at a landscape that revolves around local electronic talent; its definitely there, alive and well. Standout Barcelona producers like Alizzz, BSN Posse and Mario Nierto all appear across the Sonar line-ups but they seem to slip by with little backing or coverage – it’s a shame we didn’t get to touch it.
Though inevitably Barcelona’s DJs will always be shadowed by Sonar names like Massive Attack, Moderat and Theo Parish, it’s the city’s warm, beautiful location and laid-back temperament that’s showcased here. With the growing-addition of Off-Sonar parties, Barcelona clubs can open their doors to the global crowds.
This year saw an incredible scope of Off-Sonar parties. From Wednesday night at Razzmataz with Bicep and Electric Minds (plus an army of Irish Bicep supporters) to Ben Klock’s game-changing Klockworks session...
Alongside this, we had a chance to visit the much-hyped El Monasterio of El Poble for RA’s offering of a b2b set with Axel Boman and John Talabot as well as Eats Everything, Midland, Roman Flugel and the soon-to-break Max Graeff. Though on leaving we were all pretty devastated to find out this wasn’t a 17th Century slice of history, a party on holy ground - El Monasterio was built in 1992 to coincide with Barcelona hosting the Olympics.
Coming back for Ben Klock later that night (the circular The One club was hidden in the surrounding village and gift shops) the place didn’t feel real, like Disneyland windows were painted on with no glass pane, bricks were walls of plaster with the odd novelty stone…
Real or not it’s still incredible place to party, much like everywhere that Barcelona holds dear. Where else could you be ripping veal steak apart with your hands looking onto the marina piled with yachts and not look like a total dick? You could never re-direct a taxi from Shoreditch for post-club snooze on the beach. It totally beats London’s offerings of closed-curtains and ashed-in Red Stripe. It’s what makes Barcelona a clubber’s paradise.
Words: Bridie Brinson
Photo Credit: Nick Bennett