Barcelona's Sonar is an incredibly impressive festival, a festival that everybody should experience

Sonar 2013 review

By Sean Tizzard | Published: Fri 21st Jun 2013

around the festival site

Thursday 13th to Saturday 15th June 2013
various venues in Barcelona, Spain, Spain
combine ticket 175 euros
Daily capacity: 80,000
Last updated: Wed 22nd May 2013

Refreshed from a sleep so restful (I work out that the previous day I'd been awake for 26 hours), I'm reminded that today is my birthday. Last night amidst the bumper cars and some impressive music, I shout aloud to anybody who'll listen that I feel so, so lucky to be celebrating my birthday thus. Today, shouting doesn't really feel like an option with my head banging more intensely than a Skrillex shock but I rise slowly and gingerly head to the Fira Montjuic for more of the same. 

Kidsuke are my first choice of the day. Kidkanevil from the UK and Daisuke Tanabe from Japan find a space that seems to merge Eastern and Western culture and influences. It's a perfectly gentle start to this day for me. There's a sense of calm in the noise spanning from this duo though it has enough peaks and troughs to keep those watching intrigued. The hypnotic images and the graphics projected onto the screen behind draw you into their worlds. It's a fine start to the day (even though it's half past three in the afternoon). I'm feeling ready to embrace the outside world. 

Cata Pirata bounces onto the stage dressed in a technicolor dreamcoat and so begins a set of the highest quality from Skip & Die. We watch in wonder as Cata doesn't stop dancing and prancing during this hour long set. It's hard enough to stand in this sun without feeling like you're going to succumb to sunstroke which makes this feat of energy all the more impressive. This is music to make an unhappy man smile, to make a happy man exuberant. It seems to bring together a cacaphony of African and European influences and spill them out into something fresh and exciting. I'm reminded a little of the first time I heard M.I.A. File under must see again. Later in the afternoon on this stage, we see AlunaGeorge and I'm willing them to stamp their mark in the way that Skip&Die have just done. But in comparison, their show seems weak and uninspiring. Aluna's dancing seems half-hearted when contrasted with Cata's vibrant energy. Aluna seems to wilt in the heat whilst Cata grows like a sunflower.  

It's time for a sit down and time to try out a venue that we didn't see yesterday – the SonarComplex. The programme tells us that Beardyman is 'performing with the new Beardytron 5000 MK II' and intrigued by what this might involve we take our space in a queue. The SonarComplex is an 1,000 seater lecture theatre, an auditorium similar to those you might expect on a University campus and not a space you'd typically see Darren Foreman perform in. We're lucky to get a space in the front row and can see close up the technical ability that Beardyman possesses. People around us are watching open-mouthed as this beatboxer makes magic with his voice, conjures up a spell of sounds and throws them into a mixing cauldron. It's the musical equivalent of a Derren Brown show and nobody can quite believe what they are seeing. Beardyman makes sure those sitting further back know that he's not simply a DJ and that this is all being recorded live with his own voice. By the end of the set, Darren has the whole room standing, dancing and realising they've just watched something very special. Triumphant. 

Having fully consulted our travel maps, we decide to head to Sonar By Night earlier today. We're going to catch the Metro to avoid the rip-off taxis and so that we can find a good spot for the show by the Pet Shop Boys. I delight in telling my travel companion that she's going to love it if it's anything like the headline show they put on at Glastonbury a few years back. She's dubious but is happy to take a prime position quite close to the front. We've arrived earlier today and there are no Kraftwerk queues to deal with. As we're standing, waiting for the Pet Shop Boys to take to the stage, I realise that I've hardly been pushed or jostled all weekend. There's a different way to watch live music here. Even amongst the frantic atmosphere created by Skrillex, people remained polite and apologetic if they accidentally bumped into you. Punters are happy to remain further back. It seems less than cool here to hold hands in a convoy of friends and push towards the barrier. It makes for an all-round more pleasant festival experience. 

The Pet Shop Boys show is not on the epic scale of their Glastonbury Other stage success. Some might prefer this scaled down version. It still has dance performed throughout not by a whole troupe but by two dancers. It still has costume changes and it still mixes high art with pop culture. It merges old and new but it's certainly not a greatest hits show. Neil Tennant shows that he's still one of the most visually entertaining front men to watch and to still do what he does at 58 years of age is pretty spectacular. There's undoubtedly been many musical highs across this Sonar weekend but as yet not many singalong, lose your voice, opportunities. It's probably not a sin to sing as loudly as I do to 'It's a Sin' but I'm past caring by this point of the weekend. 

George Fitzgerald deserves a special mention. He DJs in the SonarLab just before the hotly tipped, Hot Natured, take to the stage for their live set. George plays a strong set of deepish house and he's on my card to catch again at Glastonbury. Hot Natured however are probably not. They did nothing wrong but also did nothing incredible. It was certainly not enough to justify the hype they're currently getting in dance magazines across the country. 

We spend the rest of the night stumbling from venue to venue. We chat to beautiful people. We smile as we crash into the same people on bumper cars. Sonar is an incredibly impressive festival, a festival that everybody should experience. I've been going to Glastonbury for years but next year if I'm unable to get a ticket I think I've found the perfect antidote for the disappointment that will surely bring; ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Sonar – the international festival of advanced music and new media art.

review by: Sean Tizzard

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