Sonar showcases an intelligent meshing of new technologies and old thrills

Sonar 2016 review

By Sean Tizzard | Published: Wed 29th Jun 2016

Thursday 18th to Saturday 20th June 2015
various venues, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain MAP
Daily capacity: 80,000
Last updated: Fri 12th Jun 2015

Sonar, you are a beauty. It's now a few days since I was with you. Sunday morning and drunken-driving that bumper car around to the closing beats of a DJ that I half recognised as daylight started to appear. I've now had time to partially piece together the jigsaw that you've etched into my head. We had a lovely time, didn't we?

Of course we did. We always do in Barcelona. This Catalonian festival of exciting electronic dance. This intelligent meshing of new technologies and old thrills. It's like nothing else I know. It leaves you raw, dehydrated and able to speak only in short bursts of sense. You know what I mean?

Here we are in the Sonar Pub as the sun rises on Saturday morning. 'It's John Talabot', whispers somebody dancing behind me. But, I do actually recognise his beautiful Balearic beats. I've been through the ringer of the night and now I'm out the other side. I feel exuberant and entirely ready to party again. Somebody give me a brandy. 'Let's dance', I beam.

You do what you do so well that you don't need to change. The format remains the same. By day, we sizzle in the sun or sit in the shade at the conference centre as the more left-field, artistic stuff shuffles along; by night, we stumble into the massive warehouses. We gasp at the sheer scale and lose our friends at the same time as we lose our minds. It doesn't matter. There are new friends to find here.

But, let's be specific for a sec.

Oh, frazzled, sleep deprived mind, I had so many highlights. It's hard to forget the Ghanaian joy of Ata Kak. He was the surprise in the Friday daytime sun. African beats played with such contagious effervescence that we all felt compelled to hug and kiss. So many nations from around this planet stood on the green baize of the false grass loving it together. How we wish that every day could be thus. And then there was Sapphire Slows from Japan. In the Red Bull music Sonar Dome tent, she mixed her floaty live vocals over the top of some impressive disc. The technical issues just add to her charm. That's Lady Leshurr bouncing around the stage with her Brum bang. Full of life, she gives new gimme to the grimey hip-hop game. Go her. She's a star on the rise.

Up at the night venue, there's a more established order at play. We come up for air as Jean Michel Jarre, the synth grandparent, releases the immediately recognisable  'der der der der der' of Oxygene into the air. New Order, fresh and full of joy, stagger me as I swagger. Have the likes of True Faith and Blue Monday ever sounded so great live? Accompanied by incredible lights, we cheer our good luck at witnessing this show. Much later into that night, Fatboy Slim shows that he's still got it. We'd already seen Norman lapping it all up, mixing with punters down at the front of the Day main stage. This is his space.

And that's only scratching the surface of the great music we see. Eats Everything is on before Fatboy Slim and paves the way with compelling compulsion. John Grant, an unlikely booking for some at this EDM festival, disappoints nobody when he shows that his music is laced with fine, uplifting synth signs. Mad Professor with the Spanish Dub Invasion gives the Sonar crowd its first ever taste of reggae. We’re all a bit surprised by that fact given the open doors music policy that you tend to find here. Santigold, James Blake, The Black Madonna, and Kenny Dope all take turns to turn our heads.

But Barcelona - I didn't expect the rain to be quite like that. Arriving at the 'Sonar By Day' venue just after the Republic Of Ireland were on the end of a torrential beating by Belgium, it's coming down with a force outside. The suncream gets into my eyes. I'm not crying because I'm overwhelmed, honest. In truth, it hardly matters because there's so much to see undercover that I don't need that kagoule. It might be for geeks, those pushing on the outer edges of aloof computer technology, yet I still like to explore the Sonar +D conference. We patch our phones to join a mass smartphone orchestra; we explore worlds of virtual reality; we don headphones and mix beats in demonstrations of effortless cool (or so we think).

I’m on the plane flying out to Barcelona. It’s my birthday and I foolishly allow the revellers around me to know this. For this is a party plane. Everybody on board seems to be travelling either to Sonar or just down the coast to Sitges for Pride week. Those going to Sonar talk of the Off parties. They’re not even considering any of the official shenanigans. They talk of DJs on the edge of my radar, promoters on the periphery. They’ve got apartments with hot-tubs and they’re headed to roof top pool parties. It’s important to note that for many this is what Sonar is about. They dance at Sonar without heading to the festival itself.

Did somebody mention sleep? Your body can take a pounding here should you choose to party through the night. Thank goodness for the comfy areas, those places to relax and to doze. Here’s an armchair and there’s a bench. Over there is a sofa and if in doubt, there’s always the floor. I might just rest my eyes for a moment. Whoops, I’ve just missed a few hours of fun.

Maybe, it’s sustenance I need. There’s no shortage of it here. In the professional area, reserved for delegates and for VIPs, they’ve invited some up and coming celebrity chefs from the local scene to show off their talents. But, it looks expensive so I stick to the tapas, the street food, the falafels, wraps and burgers that all can access.

You want a beer? Yeah, I’ll have one too. Estrella remains the order of the day but it now comes in two sizes, perhaps to appease those wanting a pint sized drink. You can still get the wonderful icy mojitos as well. I seem to recall that a large Estrella cost me five euros. I should have paid more attention.

But when there’s no cash transaction involved, you don’t always. With a flick of the wrist, you pass your tag under a beam of light and the purchase is yours. There’s no scrambling for a scruffy note within the sweat-laden pocket of your shorts here. And the technology works without a hitch. You load the tag up with cash and then worry not about your wallet for the rest of your adventure.

And what an adventure it was. People from 101 Countries getting on, smiling and embracing today and tomorrow. Here at Sonar, we are global citizens. The various and varied strains of electronic music joining us together as one. Dub, pop, house and techno; breakbeat, grime, jungle and classical. We all have our favourites, the ones we don’t want to miss. But, we’re all happy to be surprised by the new and thrilled by the out-there. As the Sonar brand now heads around the world, to Hong Kong and Istanbul for the first time, back to Iceland and across to Latin America, it’s worth considering just how important this festival is.

I definitely had a blast.

review by: Sean Tizzard

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