For nearly one week the entire city is paralysed by parties as the biggest names of electronic music like Aphex Twin, Magnetic Man and even rumours of Daft Punk, invade for both the official Sonar show case and the unofficial “Off-Sonar” events taking place on boats, beaches, warehouses, museums....
My challenge is to find the perfect combination of the two to find the hottest acts, the maddest underground raves, the best festival-anecdotes, and hopefully still be alive on Monday morning. 5 days, potentially 10 parties. Gulp.
Wednesday – People Like Us – Mac Arena Beach
I couldn't sleep last night. Partly because of excitement and anticipation, and partly because a friend had emailed me a colour coded spreadsheet timetable of everything he is attending, meticulously planned up to transport between venues. Perhaps I have not been taking Sonar as seriously as I should.
But my first Sonar experience felt like a gentle introduction- a calm before the storm. Down at the Mac Arena Beach club the team from Ibiza based People Like Us did what they do best and treated us to a super chilled welcome party, complete with beach beds and Mojitos to a House and Techno soundtrack. As the sun got lower in the sky and everything turned to gold the beach filled out with barefoot dancers, anticipating bigger things to come.
A nice way to kick off Sonar week and DEFINITELY have the energy to get going properly and hear some great music tomorrow.
I woke up, fresh and bouncy and ready to take on Sonar. My gentle partying the day before had prepared me well as I strode through the entrance with a renewed sense of purpose.
First up was Californian Indie band Toro y Moi, not exactly the hard headed electronica I was expecting but perfect for sitting around on the fake grass and taking in the surroundings. The set up for Sonar by day is the area surrounding the MACBA museum with 2 outdoor stages and a maze of underground rooms for more music and technology displays. I bumped into the Radio 1 team and tried to interview them about their awesome lineup for the Radio 1 Presents stage on Friday which includes Toddla T, Katy B and Ramadam Man, but annoyingly they got in their first, so apparently I will be appearing on the Annie Mac show shouting “BARCELONA WE LOVE YOU”, or something cool like that. At 5pm I headed underground to a huge warehouse type room to hear my current obsession Chilean techno DJ Nicolas Jaar. The room was packed and even though it was a pretty down beat set the crowd throbbed in the ridiculous bass. Next up outdoors was Little Dragon, the Japanese jazz singer with a huge voice with drum and bass beats which somehow got me dancing like a baby lion playing a massive piano. That's definitely a good thing.
For sunset I headed to the nearby Axel Hotel for the Hotflush roof terrace party with sets by Will Saul, Deadbeat, Appleblim, Sigha and Midland. The view over pink-skyed Barcelona was insane, but the party felt muted by having to turn the volume of the music right down as complaining elderly neighbours peered at us through binoculars. We smiled and waved accordingly. Things nearly got messy when an overenthusiastic Italian elbowed me in the head sending me spinning and teetering on the edge of the jacuzzi but some dripping wet semi naked men heaved me up and disaster was narrowly averted.
Night time and back the Mac Arena beach club for Seth Troxler. This club has such great vibes: who doesn't like dancing on a beach??? Sadly this is where things become a little hazy, so no more to report from Thursday. 2 days down, 4 parties in, who knows how many more to come...
Friday hit me pretty hard. Having slept soundly until 2pm in my own bed and showering, teeth cleaning etc. I managed to avoid the normal festival uber-hangover and by 4 was ready to get back on the party horse.
The first port of call was the free Hot Natured party at Ghoa Beach Club, and walking in, seeing more than a thousand swim-suit clad ravers bouncing around the pool in the sunshine to Space Dimension Controller playing Midas Touch, I knew that I'd hit gold. Spirits couldn't have been any higher as Richy Ahmed and Jamie Jones threw pool toys and panama hats out into the crowd while the real star of the show was a bearded man wearing nothing but pink Y-fronts and nail varnish who strutted around and then threw himself into the pool to whoops of delight. Lee Foss even came down into the grinning masses for a boogie and complete strangers chatted like old mates. When the sun began to set the dancers moved from poolside to the nearby dance floor and half-way through Jamie Jones' set, I reluctantly prised my self away to hit the official Sonar by night. The Hot Natured party was by far the best so far from a combination of location built for the best summer party experience and music that surpassed all expectation.
Up next was the serious part of the night, the official Sonar show case , set in huge aircraft hangars. Although there are only 3 real stages, the area is intimidatingly big and besides the dodgems and a couple of bars there's not a lot else to do but dance: this is not a festival for the faint hearted. I arrived as M.I.A began on the main stage and had a great time on a friend's shoulders pointing my fingers like little guns to 'Paper Planes' and was enraged when people up to about 3 rows in front of me were allowed to get up on stage for 'Born Free'. Not the best show I've seen, and it sounded nothing like any of her records, but I'd always thought that M.I.A was pretty cool and she worked the crowd, so I was pleased enough. I passed most of the rest of the night at the Radio 1 stage that I'd been so psyched about and got to see Katy B (better than expected), Redlight with Ms Dynamite, Annie Mac and Toddla T. The highlight of this stage was Annie Mac commanding the crowd to get down on to the floor and stay down, and on her yell thousands of ravers jumping up and thrashing like deranged jack-in-the-boxes, which set up Toddla T perfectly for his Dancehall vibes. Somewhere in between, or after, (these nights have a way of blending the concepts of space and time) was Scuba and then Boyz Noize, which was just too intense for 6.30 am and I found myself at the Sonar Pub stage in that eerie thin first light of the day getting down to a pretty wasted ex- LCD Sound System James Murphy. The set started with some pretty shaky mixing but Murphy seemed to get into more as his crowd grew, and by 7am the crowd was full of exhausted but happy dancers moving to the disco and funky tunes. I would try try and sit down for a little rest but then get up immediately: you just can't help it but move to music like that. Just before leaving, I managed to look at myself in the mirror and was appalled to find that I looked like an abused drag queen with glitter, dirt and black stripes caking my face. It was time to get out of there but I found I had to walk an hour before finding a taxi who agreed to let me in his car. Friday was a great, great day.
On Saturday I woke up mid afternoon feeling like I had been hit by a bus. Everything in my body cried for me to stay in bed, but, in the name of journalistic integrity and the efforts some incredibly persuasive friends I crawled out, blinking in the sunlight. Before I knew it I was eating pesto lasagne and drinking cava sangria which cheered me up considerably, certainly enough to take on the first party of the day.
Part of the joy of Sonar is stumbling across either an undiscovered gem, or a big gem in a small box and I happened across the latter when strolling past the Sonar day site I passed the record shop Discos Paradiso. The tiny store was completely packed as a scrap piece of paper announced the set times of the likes of Soul Clap and Space Dimension Controller, who you could more or less touch from wherever you were in the room.
The Resident Advisor Party at Sala BeCool on Saturday night featuring a secret guest DJ was the party I had been looking forward to the most because of it was rumoured that the secret guest would be the amazing Nico Jaar. However, I arrived too late, missed what did turn out to be Nico's half hour set, as well as Soul Clap's, got very confused by the (slowly) revolving dance floor and decided to leave to search for bigger and better things.
At about 4 30 am I arrived at the Mac Arena Beach Club to find it closed, but the nearby mini-festival Eastender still going strong. At 35 Euros for entry it began to seem unlikely, until extravagant Great-Escape style break in plans were hatched. Although the arena was heavily guarded and we were clearly looking suspicious, the guard of one particular part of the fence was distracted for about 5 seconds, in which time about 20 youths made a dash for the fence, most of us managing to squeeze our way under, leopard crawl up a steep incline through some kind of scrub-land and leg it as from there to the crowds to get lost in the masses. Some brave men fell at the first of second hurdles and were thrown back outside but the majority of those who had tried had made it. My knees and elbows were bloody, my dress was ripped but I was in. The music that I heard that night didn't really compare to the elation that was the product of flouting the law, although the last song of the night was the spectacularly timed Young Hearts Run Free. Looking around at fellow rule breakers and legitimate Eastender revellers alike grinning and nodding at each other to that absurdly euphoric disco tune, I think we experienced what you would call a “moment”: one of those times that you hope you remember when you're a bit older, or at least until tomorrow to tell the unlucky ones that didn't make it over the fence.