There's a moment during Kate Tempest's Friday afternoon Sonar set when she takes pause from spouting her frantic hip-hop poetry and tells all how delighted she is to be in Barcelona. Her band has told her how fantastic this festival is and her eyes have now been truly opened to that fact. "This is the best festival in the world", says Kate. Many of us here find such sentiment difficult to disagree with.
Minutes later, Kate and band experience technical difficulty. Complete mid-rap meltdown of sound. Somebody hasn't paid the meter and we're left wondering if Kate's set will be forced into a premature ending. Kate tries her best to bellow with no amplification but this venue, the Sonar Hall, is a massive one and her laudable ambition is fruitless. Just as people begin to drift away the technical problem is sorted with a pop and a bang. Kate continues; we feel the goosebumps and feel proud that another Brit is going down so well at this most international of festivals.
These technical issues aren't limited to Tempest. We see other acts over the weekend who appear to have temporarily blown the speakers as well. Legendary NY producer and DJ, Arthur Baker, picks up his deck in good-spirited jest when he loses sound outside in the hot, hot heat. The best response to a lack of sound comes from Ralf Rundell, one of The 2 Bears. He grabs hold of an acoustic guitar and treats us all to an emotion-laden country classic of a late night tale. It was almost as if he was expecting this to happen.
But let's not over-emphasise those technical challenges - because, by and large, this is a festival characterised by effective efficiency. It's unlike anything that we have in the UK and for that it should be cherished. There's guaranteed sunshine; astro-turf that leaves you with an imprint on your skin rather than a muddy arse if you're sedentary for too long; punters from around the world partying, playing, posing and pouting.
One technical innovation that Sonar gets spot on this year is the cashless system it's adopted. I've heard horror stories from other festivals where you now pay for all produce via your wristband but here it works without hitch (except for one unlucky friend who seems to have a dud). It's better than the paper token system used in previous years because wristbands won't shred in your sweaty jeans. We joke, as we top up our wrists with additional Euro, that they are in danger of being chopped off by ruthless gangsters. Such disaster never materialises.
Many of us choose to get accreditation this year, even though that means making up the names of companies that we represent. Time the purchase of your ticket right and this decision makes financial sense. I'm slightly uneasy about two-tiered festivals and places where VIPs get preferential treatment but, when I see the perks on offer, I soon get over myself. A free quality bag from Adidas with lots of goodies inside; access to areas with comfortable beanbags and rows of boxed plants spraying out refreshing cold water; toilets with no queues and walkways enabling you to get from A to B with minimal fuss. It's the way to go.
The tried and tested set up remains the same as in previous years. Sonar By Day takes place in the conference centre just down the road from the Plaza D'Espanya bullring (now converted into a shopping centre). Across Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the Outdoor Sonar Village stage basks in glorious sunshine. The mad dogs dance but the rest of us find shelter and shade under the considerable canopies. Sometimes, we stand to move from side to side. As the music builds towards an inevitable drop, we hug relative strangers. The smiles on all of our faces are sign language enough to overcome any language barriers that might exist.
Should the sunshine become too much there's always the indoor venues at Sonar By Day. In the Red Bull sponsored Sonar Dome, we struggle to pull ourselves away from the happy funked up electronic house of Floating Points. Apparently, a neuroscientist by day, this doctor is clinical in his treatment and we lap up his medicine. When we're really feeling jaded from the heat we head into the Sonar Planta, a chilled out exhibition zone where music and art collide. We sit as balls attached to the ceiling swing and dance. They create light patterns, shadows and sound. It’s hypnotic and relaxing.
In previous years, one of the best parts of Sonar By Day has been the Sonar + D exhibition. Perhaps it's the company I keep this year or perhaps the general layout of this space is more confusing but I find it harder to get involved in the technological, interactive developments that make up this area. It's always been a gathering for geeks but their prevalence this year gives the place an inaccessible feel. I still put headphones on and try hard to make beats from a marble-based, circular motion prototype. I lightly exercise as I wave some barbells in an attempt to make music. Virtual reality appears to be where it's at this year. People put on masks and head into other universes. I have another Estrella.
Sonar by Night is an altogether different proposition. Four massive warehouses attached together, a slight distance out of town at the Fira Gran Via L’Hospitalet, yet easily accessible via the Metro or Sonar bus. I recall fondly my first venture into this space two years ago in the same way that you recall your first alcoholic drink. You can never quite get used to this venue but give it the chance and it's addictive; it never fails to give you a lift, a right buzz, but you're also aware that over-indulgence within will inevitably be dangerous to your health. On Friday night through to Saturday morning, we're still dancing here when the sun begins to herald a new day. Seth Troxler, is the DJ who pleasures us.
I've never seen Duran Duran play live before. They clash with FKA Twigs and I'm truly torn. It's easy to write them off as a novelty amidst the up and coming nouveau super-cool DJs. Within minutes of taking to the stage, you realise that these elder statesmen of electronic pop are here with a purpose. Le Bon bounces around the stage with boundless energy. Resplendent, arrogant and glamorous in tight fitting white jeans and jacket, it's hard to believe that this is a man in his fifties. For the most part, this is a greatest hits set and it's lapped up by an audience keen for an ounce of nostalgia after a kilo of now. Their set lulls a bit when they veer into new song territory but Taylor and Rhodes are too astute to allow things to stay here for long. Before we know it, we're singing that her name was Rio. The band leave the stage as triumphant conquerors.
There's plenty more that leave the stage to glowing endorsements as well. Roisin Murphy's Friday evening set at Sonar By Night is an absolute joy. She changes costume between song to give us all a glamorous and theatrical piece of electronic pop. Later on the same evening, we marvel as Jamie XX shows his complete class and control of set and situation. Tiga is an act to have largely passed me but trying to get his tunes out of your head the day after he plays a rare, live set is a challenge. "Every time I look into your eyes I see the future", he sings. This becomes the festival refrain.
It's not all sweet. There's a heightened sense of menace in the air when A$AP Rocky takes to the stage. The kids are going wild for this but to me it feels a little too dark, oppressive and claustrophobic. I'm wanting something with a bit more air. There's no doubt that The Chemical Brothers (live) are putting on a stunner of a Sunday morning set. But, I'm stuck behind the armpit of a coked-up Spaniard and so my view is seriously hampered. There's so many here to see this show that, uniquely for Sonar, it becomes an unpleasant squash. I'm so glad that I managed to see how great this set is from the comfort of my sofa a week later when watching the Glastonbury coverage. I have little to say about Die Antwoord apart from the fact that I seem to misunderstand why they exist as a band.
The sun is going down on the Sonar By Day site. It’s Thursday evening and Hot Chip are about to play their first set of two this weekend. There’s a palpable sense of fun in the air. Felix Dickinson is contributing to this moment, getting us ready on the dancefloor, by playing some beautiful Balearic beats. We’re close to the stage but nobody’s getting pushed. We chat to strangers and dance like devils. This is the Sonar that I love; that unbridled sense of joy and opportunity that accompanies the warmth in the air and in our bellies. The moment is set for Hot Chip and they don’t disappoint as they sometimes do; indeed, I’d say that this is the best I’ve ever seen them live. It’s festival moments such as this that will stay with me forever.
Sonar – possibly the best festival in the world.
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