Joy Orbison, Plastikman, Braiden, Roxy Music, and More Rule Sónar 2010
When you’re stuck at a shitty techno club at 4:00 a.m., 20 minutes outside of Barcelona, with no ride in sight and no money to pay for one either, one thing becomes abundantly clear: half the fun of Sónar is giving in to serendipity. Plans constantly change, time slots are loose, Zomby and Mike Slott don’t show, and really, how pissed can you be when it’s like 74 degrees and perfect outside? You have to stash the iPhone-planner shit and just roll with it—Sónar’s accidental logic is part of Barcelona’s “it is what it is” attitude. Besides, even the lamest off-Sónar parties often had line-ups that rivaled the festival.
Speaking of the lamest off-Sónar parties, it was pretty lame ending up at Row 14 on Thursday night to see Surgeon. Not because the music sucked, but rather, because the power kept going out. I lost count at eight times, but Surgeon lost count somewhere between Addison Groove’s frantic “Footcrab” and the sucking sound of amplifiers without electricity. Gotta hand it to the locals for sticking through all the way, though—by the time Surgeon gave up in frustration, UK techno guy Ben Sims dropped A Guy Called Gerald’s “Blow Your House Down,” and people were suddenly frothing at the mouth for super-fast chugga-chugga techno. I opted to hitchhike, instead.
A Barcelona favorite that has played every Sónar festival, bRUNA’s set on Friday afternoon was an epic, Chariots of Fire-style stampede of sustained synth gloss and minimal, driving drums. “Don’t Give Up” is bRUNA’s jam, and it sounded fantastic live, although I was bummed to find his recorded material wasn’t quite as well-formed.
I don’t think I saw people go crazier for a DJ set than for Braiden’s at the SónarDomeon Friday. The man got away with playing old grime, garage, and Chromeo-sounding stuff in the same hour, and it was just wonderfully chill and off-the-cuff. Totally perfect summer music.
Helping kick off Mary Anne Hobbs’ expertly curated showcase on Friday night, Joy Orbison rode the fine line between bass music anthems and percussive experiments. His own productions, like “BRKLN CLLN” and “Hyph Mngo” were especially imposing on the open-air soundsystem, the odd open spaces in the rhythms made more sense when buoyed by way too much sub-bass.
Following a brittle-sounding set from Flying Lotus, Roska kept it simple and played an easy mix of UK funky primers and other, slightly weirder stuff. Kyla’s radio-friendly “Do You Mind,” and Hard House Banton’s silly-but-effective “Sirens” made their expected appearances, while tracks like the intellectual grime of Girl Unit’s “I.R.L.” sounded great wedged between the housier picks. Roska later twittered that Sónar “got it hard”—a cocky boast to be fair, but totally true.
Compared to Richie Hawtin’s modest Plastikman set at Coachella earlier this year, Plastikman at Sónar was like the techno equivalent of Iron Maiden in South America. Shoulder-to-shoulder in a massive, open-air room, with nary a haircut joke to be heard, Hawtin started with a slow, meandering acid and 808 workout that kept building and building until it peaked with a 20-minute version of “Spastik” that still seemed an hour too short. No idea if the iPhone app worked this time—the hard crack of 808 snares on that soundsystem was the center of all attention.
All too often, electronic musicians try to get dark and scary and end up sounding like Gilbert Gottfried instead of Alistair Crowley. Thankfully, such was not the case with Necro Deathmort, a band that managed to be both morbid and menacing without buzzkilling a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Droning, heavy, but not as boring as Sunn O))), Deathmort was a surprising contrast to all the chemically happy vibes of Sónar, their spirit totally crushing yet nihilistically inspiring.
I grew up listening to Roxy Music and I love Avalon like a family member, but seeing them play the same room as corny rave-fodder like Caspa was cruel. Sure, it’s a wacky festival and anything goes, but I couldn’t stop imagining Bryan Ferry and Caspa’s MC sharing the same little meat tray backstage. It also didn’t help that Roxy’s show was generally out-of-place with both the fans and the druggy vibe of Sónar Night—for a crowd that maybe knew “More Than This,” five-minute-long guitar solos seemed needlessly indulgent.
“A bit noisy, that,” was one guy’s brilliant assessment of Fuck Buttons after their squelchy, tribal freakout on Saturday night. The Brighton duo’s haphazard spread of electronics looked like a delicious bowl of Lucky Charms, but I can see why boring people might whine about their lack of dramatic rock ’n’ roll stage posing. Heavy on material from Surf Solar, the set—and its sound—was completely enveloping, easily one of the loudest at Sónar, and when the ginger-haired Benjamin Power started pounding on a floor tom during “Olympians,” it felt like everything I’ve ever hoped Burning Man could be.
One of the last acts to close out Sónar’s final night, Chemical Brothers pulled off some rock 'n' roll, zillion-dollar-light-show bullshit and it was, frankly, pretty awesome. Backed by racks of gear and an enormous video screen, the Broz played the hits without ever sounding too nostalgic; “Another World” from the new album was especially great, the matching fluid green visuals looked exactly like how you’d hope a rave would in 2010.
Spencer and Jackmaster @ Razzmatazzz
Dropping Inner City's “Good Life” is a privilege, not a right, but it was definitely earned late Sunday night after a mindreading set from Numbers’ Spencer and Jackmaster. Having the ugly task of following up Rustie and Untold at Barcelona’s infamous shithole club, Razzmatazz, Spencer and Jackmaster covered everything from ghetto house to breakbeat ‘ardcore, grime and Fleetwood Mac, the latter inspiring so much drinking and spliff-smoking that the bouncers had to literally push people out of the venue at closing. As Sonic Router’s Oli Marlow put it, “I could’ve gone for at least another couple hours there…” But, unfortunately, it was 6:00 a.m. Monday morning—Sónar had already been over for 24 hours, and these spoiled euro brats would just have to wait another whole week for Glastonbury.
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