Sonar has vibrant, creative energy at play and lovely people in abundance

Sonar 2014 review

By Sean Tizzard | Published: Tue 1st Jul 2014

around the festival site

Thursday 12th to Saturday 14th June 2014
various venues, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain MAP
Daily capacity: 80,000
Last updated: Thu 5th Jun 2014

eFestivals was starting to wonder what had become of our reviewer, when we received this letter:

Dear Joanne,

It's been a couple of weeks now since I've returned from Barcelona. My head has been mush and I've cried every day. I didn't expect to bump into you at Sonar. I didn't realise that blistering sun stroking electronica was your sort of thing. You've changed since we used to party in an English muddy field. But Simon and yourself appeared to be having lots of fun. I hope I didn't bother you too much.

Did you prefer Sonar by day or Sonar by night? They're very different beasts aren't they? When I've been to Sonar before, it's always been about the night-time partying for me. Nothing prepares you for the expanse you experience when you enter that dark exuberant warehouse on the edge of Barcelona. And then you realise that this is just one room of the four giant warehouses that makes up Sonar by night.

I went up there on the Thursday night you know? Perhaps I should have stayed at the day site and watched Richie Hawtin do his Plastikman Objekt show (I heard that was epic) but I had the chance to see a surprise Massive Attack show at the night site twenty four hours before it opened for ticket holders. This was a show laid on for Barcelona residents, non-Sonar ticket holders, competition winners who had collected enough Estrella bottle tops to get a free or reduced ticket. I stood amongst beautiful people (if only I could grow a beard as impressive as some I saw) and watched this new Massive Attack show. The lights and graphics blew me away. I loved their statements about brand and mass consumerism. They did the same show when they headlined Sonar by night two nights later. That's a show that'll no doubt get plaudits when they headline the other stage at Glastonbury.

It was quite a literal ‘bumping’ in to you wasn’t it Joanne? Whizzing around in that bumper car at the Sonar Car stage, you were the last person that I expected to see. There’s something exhilarating about driving that bumper car as frantic dance beats accompany you from the nearby DJ booth. I was yelling, cheering, driving with one hand on the wheel and one hand in the air, free from the pressures of the world, when I collided head-on with that car being driven by Simon. It was a shock. I didn’t know that dance was your thing.

I have to say though that, this year, Sonar by day was mostly where it was at for me. I loved the fact that you could sit under those shaded areas on either side of the main stage and get drunk on those icy mojitos. I think I spotted you drinking one or two? Paying seven and a half euros for a drink of green slush seemed excessive but the Catalans don't scrimp on their measures do they? I realised by the Saturday that, in that heat, you need to keep yourself topped up on the two euro bottles of icy water and noodles from the food places.

Some of the music on the Sonar by day main stage was blissful this year wasn't it? I wasn't that familiar with many of the international acts that played as the sun shone brightly but, my goodness, they could put on a show. FM Belfast from Iceland were my favourite of the weekend. Undeniably camp and cool, almost Eurovision in intent, they really went for it in that heat didn't they? Their dancer must have lost pints in sweat as he flung and contorted himself into hip-hop shapes. It was the response they extracted from the crowd that really made that a highlight for me. Surrounded by beautiful, smiling people from dozens of countries, I'm not sure that I've ever been happier at a gig. We all speak different languages but whilst FM Belfast were on we surely realised that with sound and music there can be no barriers. I felt the same the next day when WhoMadeWho played as well. Quite how Kid Koala survived in that giant koala onesie he was wearing when him and his entourage put on that theatrical vaudeville set I’ll never know. M0 was similarly vibrant and bolshy, stompingly energetic I’d say.

Wasn't it refreshing that there are so few arseholes at Sonar Joanne? Or if there were, I didn't meet them. Yes, it probably gets a bit more frantic at night but you don't get people pushing past you desperate to get to the front of a show. It's an altogether more chilled festival going experience isn't it? I found the people at Sonar so warm and welcoming. They reckon that they had people there from 99 different countries. I didn't see any sign of trouble or war.

I'm sure I saw you up in the Despacio club space? After the first couple of hours, the queues to get in were lengthy. What a well executed idea. James Murphy and 2 Many DJ's coming together for six hours of clubbing every day over three days. I loved their rejection of the super club with superstar DJ's in favour of this experience. You can just about see them peering out from behind their mound of vinyl but they're not posturing, posing or throwing shapes. The music is allowed to do the talking and rather than praise them as our idols, we’re now just interested in the dancefloor. How incredible were those speaker constructions surrounding us as we danced, the sporadic light emanating from the heart of glass? If it wasn’t so sweaty in there I could have stayed longer. Some people were observing my dance moves with particular interest.

No offence to your man Simon but I bet he loved the Sonar+D exhibition. He does seem a bit geeky to me. I'm not sure I understood all of it but this bringing together of new technologies in an interactive fashion was a good escape from the sun. Did you see that bizarre exhibition that was making circuits of sound by placing fruit on the floor and connecting it together in different shapes? I loved that harp of light beams that you could run your fingers through to make sounds as if you were playing the real thing. I bet Simon and yourself did that thing where you could get your photo taken together that then moulded your two faces into an abstract piece of art? No doubt you've got a print of it on your dining room wall now.

Did you tell Simon that we once watched Neneh Cherry together? She doesn't age does she? Working with the brothers of RocketNumberNine gives her a new lease of life and her set was one of the best that I saw in the Sonar Dome. I’ve since gone out to buy her new album and I’m listening to it quite a bit. The crowd went wild when she played Buffalo Stance and it took me back to the times we spent together.

At times it all got a bit much for me. I love my electronic dance music and there’s no doubt that this is a festival that’s curated with the utmost of pride but it was so lovely to be able to chill within that creative exhibition, Sonar Planta. Carsten Nicolai’s ‘unidisplay’ piece was monumental. The way that mirrors were positioned to create a seemingly everlasting pattern of white shapes was incredible. The way that minimal sound bounced around the walls to hypnotic effect was soporific. I laid my head down in there from time to time and calmly dozed off to sleep, a very hi-tech and modern healing field. This was a touch-free massage of light and sound.

Walking away from there, you couldn’t help but notice Messier and Bernier’s Machine Variation construction. There was something industrial and primitive about their wood and metal machine full of levers, pulleys and planks. Yet every day, a crowd formed around them as solitary white lights shone on them. The creators laboured around their machine to create a very industrial form of dance music.

There was more funk this year don’t you think? Ever a festival to pick up on trends in dance music, it was no accident that Chic and Nile Rodgers played that headline set in the Sonar Pub at the night venue. They played so many British festivals last year that this was a set I was familiar with but it still left me and all of those delightful people around me with a giant smile. It’s great to see that they now play a live version of ‘Get Lucky’ within their set. Dam-Funk, hidden behind his hat, thoroughly impressed me in the new Red Bull area. Amidst swathes of swishing curtain, he got us all funking, especially when he came to the front of the stage to give us the solo key-tar swagger.

Joanne, I think I’ve put my finger on why I loved Sonar so much – and why I’m crying now wishing that I was back there. It was the complete range of dance music that I was able to experience. From the dance pop of Yelle, Lykke Li, Robyn and Royksopp through to the more experimental, orchestral keyboard led chill of Nils Frahm. There was trap, grime, disco, new house, old house and house that hadn’t even been built yet. But most of all, whatever form the electronic music took, there was vibrant, creative energy at play here, lovely people and smiles that were hard to erase.

I wish you were here now,


review by: Sean Tizzard

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