Sonar or Later

Like some biblical horde the sportswear clad lobsters descended from the surrounding hills to Barcelona Girona airport, the teeth-grinding seven day Hardcore Till I Die festival behind them and a delayed return flight to Stanstead in front of them. Perhaps under the Catalunian sun the music takes on a new form, though if I don’t get it in a disused go-kart track on the outskirts of Milton Keynes – stripped of any ambient distraction – my relationship with hardcore was never destined for greatness. So, combined with a sentimental attachment to my serotonin levels, Sonar 2007 was definitely a better choice.

For the uninitiated: Sonar runs over three days – Thursday to Saturday – each day split into Sonar by Day, taking place in various venues around Barcelona centre, and Sonar by Night, in four massive arenas a short ride out of the city.

We arrived on Friday afternoon. First up was DJ Rupture, playing in Sonar Dome. Accompanied by his band Nettle – a bevy of international looking types – pulses of hypnotic, arabic flavours washed over the crowd. With our energy levels sapped from the flight, we needed something more involving.

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Hot-footing to the Escenario Hall, we caught the last few seconds of Mira Calix’s set, next on was fellow Warp stalwart Clark. Like Rupture, another highly talented knob-twiddler with a penchant for organic sound, Clark was accompanied onstage by a live drummer. Any welcome thoughts of a bolt of junglism to my jetlagged bones suddenly diminished.

Having seen the artist formely known as Chris several times, I much prefer his sets minus live percussion – more danceable, less head-nodding – like he played at Bloc weekender. A recent Clark gig at Cargo in London was also spoiled by some man-child on the skins. It’s perplexing that a producer like Clark, obsessed with the idiosyncrasies of sound, would employ a drummer that (a) looks like he shouldn’t be out past 9pm, and (b) can’t keep time.

Having heard murmurings about Haswell and Hecker, I was intrigued. In the fittingly high brow surroundings of Barcelona Modern Art Museum the crowd were subjected to a white noise onslaught – like a ghost in the machine trying to get out – and schizoid lasers. Impressive stuff, but not conducive to getting my dance on. If that appeals and you don’t mind involuntary nose-bleeds, Hecker’s forthcoming ‘Recordings for Rephlex’ drops on that label later this year.

The Beastie Boys were the headline act at this year’s festival, playing on Thursday and Friday night. Unfortunately, I missed their Thursday night instrumental performance where they dispensed with microphones (cue collective sigh of relief) and got all funked up (the instrumental ‘jams’ of Ill Communication are some of the best stuff they’ve ever done) Alas, we arrived for the evening to the sight of the Brooklyn three bounding about the Sonar Club stage like embarrassing dads in School Disco fatigues. Amazed at how popular they still are, the huge air craft hanger-sized building was humming with revelers. The obligatory Ad Rock b-boy stance was the final straw, we got our bodies moving, towards the bar. Modeselecktor followed the Beastie Boys. A welcome antidote, flashes of rave-era sonics and straight-up dancefloor bounciness, all under-pinned by buoyant bass. Nice bowler hat as well.

On the way to catch Ed Banger, stopped by the British dubstep contingent, holding fort on Sonar Lab’s outdoor stage. I wasn’t majorly bothered when I learnt Skream, Oris Jay and Kode 9 were playing Sonar, spoilt by the abundance of dubstep nights in London and Bristol. Though credit where it’s due, Kode 9 and Spaceape’s set was phenomenal; drenched in dread, with deep, intertwined, techy undercurrents. Arrived as Mary Anne Hobbs played her last tune of the opening set, it’s name escapes me, but it’s a Mala one with a childlike “I love dub music” repeated coda. It set the tone for the rest of the showcase. By the time Skream came on at 2.15am, there were about 7,000 people skanking away, including Jamie Cullum! A great night for a scene still finding its feet on the international stage. I’m sure many left converted.

Ed Banger head honcho Busy P presided over the Sonar Pub stage with supreme confidence. His roster were given a huge 5 hour slot, fitting for a clique very much flavour of the month. DJ Mehdi was pretty good, didn’t catch Uffie, went to see Dizzee Rascal and then Richie Hawtin. Justice stormed the 3.30 to 5.00am slot, garnering a huge response from the crowd. It was good, no doubt, unashamedly fun, though I wanted them to play more of their own stuff.

Dizzee made the best out of a difficult slot, 4.00 to 4.45am. Coming on to ‘Jus A Rascal’, flow electric and effortless as ever, backed by DJ Semtex and MC Scope. ‘I Love U’ was a personal favourite, those unrelenting gabba stabs sounding heavy on the always impressive Sonar rig. Dizzee’s schooling in grime raves served him well, hyping up the crowd during those crucial less upbeat moments – like ‘Paranoid’ from the new album – when the crowds attention starts to flag. Unlike the dire Ugly Duckling who performed at a similar time slot at last years Sonar and justifiably went down like shit sandwich.

Finished the first night with Sonar’s favourite son Richie Hawtin. He commands an unparalleled level of reverence at this event. Even more impressive that not since Simon Le Bon has a man pulled off a New Romantic fringe with such aplomb. Techno was pretty good to, not as minimal as I’ve seen him before, banging but still polite.

Saturday’s Sonar by Day saw Claro Intelecto and Andy Stott. Enjoyed both sets, Stotts in particular, especially the last 20 min where he upped the bpm’s. Nice bit of warm-up business in the sun. Junior Boys were also perfect, sun was out, sangria…blah…blah…blah.

From here on it got a bit blurry, one must suffer for their art. All I know is at Sonar by Night Dave Clarke smashed it. To bits. The final set of the festival, 5.00 am to lights up. No laptop, no frills, just a big British bastard playing uncompromising, upfront hard techno. Though my judgment may have been somewhat impaired by this juncture.

Remember a bit of Miss Kitten, not as good as last year. Had grand plans to see Jeff Mills and Cursor Miner, but to no avail. When all the fun was over, went to Anti-Sonar (a car-park commune with anti-corporate pretensions and enough communist chic to put a gap year student to shame) The usual suspects were all present and correct; gabba techno, three-legged dogs and po-faced weekend hippies. This was all well and good, though If I wanted to go to a free party I can go to Thetford Forest, I’ll stick with Babylon for now, see you next year.

by Alex Forster
Illustration by David Brewster.

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