What Went Down: Sónar 2014 @ Barcelona, Spain
Text + Images Leafhopper Project
To the uninitiated, Sónar has been operating for more than 20 years now (this year being its 21st edition), and it has since become one of the largest festivals that mixes new media art, technology, and advanced music together. Essentially a festival in which having fun, learning, and being “on” on the latest trends are conflated into a single event over three consecutive days. As per tradition, the festival split their whole programme into two; Sónar By Day (developed at Fira Montjuic in the heart of Barcelona) and Sónar By Night (happening a little bit on the outskirts of Fira Gran Via L’Hospitalet). Taking part just before summertime arrived in Spain, 12 to 14 June, it reached around 109,000 visitors coming from all over Europe and other parts of the globe this year.
The good thing about Sónar’s idea of splitting the festival into Day and Night was the differentiation in their respective atmospheres. Sónar by Day was more an open air + fake green grass space for enjoying shows at Sónar Village while drinking beer under the daytime sun; or discovering net art, playing with Reactable tables, and other nifty audio gadgets; or even attending some hackers’ lectures at the fair of SONAR +D. Sónar by Day consisted of four different stages this year: Sónar Village, the main open-air stage; Sónar Dome, programmed by Red Bull Music Academy; and lastly, Sonar Complex and Sonar Hall. The ‘day’ scene was complemented with other spaces that we had the joy of discovering little by little on Saturday. DESPACIO (meaning slow in Spanish) was a completely unique sound experience in a dark room decorated as a planetarium full of eleven-foot huge speakers surrounding the 1,200 people allowed there in a perfect circle. It was powered by McIntosh and came alive musically thanks to James Murphy and 2manydjs. We discovered it on Saturday, almost afternoon time, and even at that hour we can tell there was a big amount of people who will be spending their whole day there.
As much as the installations awed fest-goers, we aren’t going to completely ignore the incredible selection of artistes and music there. The first highlight had to be Richie Hawtin’s performance as a reborn Plastikman on Thursday, whom delighted the audience with his live audiovisual ‘Objekt’ concept. Then there was FM Belfast on Friday, the Icelandic chapter of Morr Music label presented their third album as they always do, with a whole show full of glitter, streamers, and crazy performances that encouraged everyone to strip down to ‘Underwear’. Also remarkable on Friday were the shows by British electronic act Forest Swords, duo Matmos, and Simon Green, aka Bonobo, who opened with the widely known theme ‘Cirrus’. On Saturday, everybody expectedly waited in an overcrowded SonarHall for Neneh Cherry’s comeback, presenting her album Blank Project together with the duo RocketNumberNine. One of the big shows on Saturday was also the full performance by Canadian artiste Kid Koala, whom while dressed as a, well, koala as surrounded by burlesque-like dancers and robots presented his cabaret show Vinyl Vaudeville 2.0. Being a Spain-based festival, Sónar by Day had space for interesting bands from the local scene – we could feel that they were on the level of the international acts with the live shows by the likes of Desert, Henry Saiz, and Sau Poler.
Sónar by Night was such a bigger experience. All happening at night time, everything got darker and more confusing (unless you ended up partying till early in the morning when the sun arrived). The stages were divided in four as well, but the sensation of space was much wider than its day equivalent. All the performances were held in creatively named stages that included SonarClub, SonarLab, SonarPub, and SonarCar (called such due to the Sónar by Night tradition of having a bumper car area).
Friday night started intense with Röyksopp & Robyn inaugurating their tour together here. Röyksopp performed first, after which Robyn took over before they finished it off by playing songs together off their joint EP and closing with the more than expected ‘Do It Again’. Then the French Yoann Lemoine’s alias, Woodkid, had his turn on stage before another collaborative project with acclaimed acknowledgement wowed the audience – Moderat, that’s Modeselektor and Apparat to those ignorant of Berlin’s scene. Then Canadian musician Caribou topped it all off with his impossible rhythms. The night kept on going with producer, DJ, and musician Four Tet (who also DJed on Saturday night) and ended with Richie Hawtin again, this time with a DJ set.
On Saturday night, it was Four Tet again as he was in charge of warming up for the audience at the SonarClub stage for Massive Attack, whose own performance captivated us with their involving sound , playing perennial crowd favs like ‘Angel’ and ‘Teardrop’. Then came the haunting and mysterious Lykke Li who engaged the audience with her wounded rhymes, opening with ‘Sadness is a Blessing’ from her latest LP. Other notable setlists were by French artiste Yelle, Matthew Dear, and Future Brown. With that, Sónar by Night said goodbye under a late spring rain – it wasn’t all bittersweet though, happening once a year, the rain did not stop the audience from keeping on dancing until 8am.
Based in the city of Barcelona, Spain, Sónar has since begun travelling overseas, finding new festival grounds in South Africa, Japan, Brazil, and Iceland, to mention a few. Sónar 2014 went down from Thursday 12 June ’14 to Saturday 14 June ’14.
More photos here.