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Sonar 2002

A far-far-far-too-long account of this year's Sonar festival in Barcelona...

29 Jun 2002

Another year, another Sonar festival. Last year's maiden voyage was so mindblowing in its brilliance that we assumed it couldn't be beat. But it was, so here's my diary of the event - there's loads more I coulda written but it's already 1200 words long and counting...

In June each year, 80,000 people head to Barcelona for three days and nights of the world's best electronic music from more than 200 artists from every genre. It's a gearhead's wet dream, with presentations of the latest in multimedia technology and music soft/hardware, and a paradise for culture vultures, with cinematic displays, audiovisual exhibitions, a design showcase (provided this year by Designers' Republic) and a record fair. All of this is worth going for alone, sod the music part.

Last year we arrived on the night before the festival, went out and got pissed, and set the trend for the days to follow, the upshot of which was that we didn't see any of Barcelona. This year we thought ahead, got there two days early... and did the same thing. But at least we had some time to hungoveredly check out the architecture of Gaudi, the Catalan cuisine and the (topless) beaches. Barcelona is absolutely fantastic - I'd go on but that's Lonely Planet's job...

Back to the festival. Sonar Day is held in five areas in the Centre of Contemporary Culture and Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring acts on a more experimental. non-clubby tip. The first day, Thursday, featured, among others, showcases from Twisted Nerve and Ninja Tune, and loads more individual artists. You'll never see it all and we missed nearly all of it this afternoon due to checking out the exhibitions and an extended stay at the record fair - more than 370 international organisations (mags, clubs, labels, distributors) are on display. We managed to leave with no less than 10 mags, six promo CDs, 20 more CDs at just 6 euros each, two plastic fans, one badge, 100 stickers and an edible pink wafer business card. Score.

Thursday night was up to Sonar Night at Montjuic 2, constructed for the 1992 Olympics, with three huge rooms to rock out with your cock out in. Increased competition from local clubs saw a reduced turnout, but we didn't care - the Pet Shop Boys were there. Non-PSB fans said the Boys didn't match the hype but it's hard to be objective about a band you've worshipped since you were a nipper... Other highlights of the night were Berlin DJ Ellen Allien, who wiped the floor with a somewhat subdued Slam, electro-clash types Crossover and Vitalic (if you like that sorta shit, you trendy bastards), and Feadz, a French b-boy now playing turntablist-style techno, who absolutely rocked my 5am world.

Friday day was a veritable feast of goodies. The Escenario Hall (hot and dank basement venue) was packed with sweating people hoping to catch Roger Sanchez, DJ/Rupture, Cex and the sensational Kid 606 (whose shirts were the best of the fest: 'I went to Kid 606 and all I got was this t-shirt'). Thomas Morr and Lali Puna played the main stage, Dan Snaith as Manitoba got on the laptop over in Sonardome, the legendary Francois K did his Wave/Clicktracks stuff in the Lab (although crowds and heat saw us ditch this rather prematurely), and Peaches & Pansonic blasted the crowd in the Complex. Although after queueing for half an hour to see the much heralded Peaches, waving our media passes wildly in a vain attempt to blag priority entry, the most controversial part of the performance was watching a man with a four-year-old on his shoulders, standing right next to the massive speakers blasting out a ear-splittingly loud selection of obscenities from the afore-mentioned young lady. Hmmm.

On Friday night we checked out the Intec Records party at the fab Row Club in downtown B'lona, with Trevor Rockcliffe and label head C1 on the bill, slamming their incredible blend of funk-charged techno. (C1's mix-CD, Shifting Gears, is out soon - buy it!) Around every corner, seemingly, is another record label party, so the opps for brown-nosing are endless. I was knocking back the gratis vodka freepours with some crazy American guys, who told me they ran a really small record label I probably wouldn't have heard of. Later they revealed it was Guidance...

The local clubs go all-out in Sonar week to attract the Sonar peeps - Sven Vath, Adam Beyer and Supercollider were among the names playing around town this year. And it's definitely worth checking out the Barcelona clubs, they are world-class - top tips: La Terrazza, (an open-air club held in the courtyard of a castle), Nitsa, Row and Dot Light Bar.

Anyway. Sat day - jeez, this piece is getting stupidly long, I'll make it quick - meant recovering quietly at Sonar Day. Those more on to it than us checked their programmes and caught 386 DX, aka Alexei Shulgin, who belted out a string of covers, including Stardust and Nirvana classics, using his 386 DX software on what appeared to be a 20-year-old computer and the most gyppo Vocoder known to man... We, on the other hand, just chilled Kiwi-style to Roots Seeker and Friends' Reggae Bus Stop. Nice.

We skedaddled for a siesta then headed up to Sonar Night for the big one. Feeling somewhat jaded after too little sleep and too much caning it, our spirits were much restored by Keep Diggin's presentation at the start of the night. We caught the last five minutes of Kirk DeGiorgio's set - wicked - and were then absolutely blown away by Ian O'Brien's Detroit-styled tech funk. How I'd never caught this man in London I'll never know, but I won't make that mistake twice. Stunning. Then it was over to SonarPark for hip hop action, courtesy of former Company Flow man Mr Len and Anti Pop Consortium. APC are the hottest thing on Warp right now and are unlike anything I've ever seen - forget three turntables and a microphone, these guys create it all live on stage - programming, rapping, jumping about... Mad impressive - and would have been more so if I hadn't had to wait for half an hour in the toilet queue and miss the rest of their set...

The night descends into a shady mess after this... SI Futures started well but was flagged in favour of Mr Scruff, the surprising highlight of the festival for the quality of his selection and mixing, not to mention the sheer madness that ensued when he dropped 'Get A Move On' and his remix of Inner City's 'Good Life'. Big boys Hawtin and Cox were eschewed in favour of monging in the professional area to the odd, odd sounds of Catering Deneuve - did we really hear Bros' 'When WIll I Be Famous?' at 8am? Only our memories could tell us, and they ain't giving anything up... Here we also managed to get a snap of a worse-for-wear Herbert in our novelty specs - although the scary thing was he didn't look any different.

Is Sonar the European Miami? Nah - Sonar cuts all that industry crap and just puts a superb festival without the big boys and the hype. Check http://www.sonar.es, pencil it in for the second week of June 2003 and see you there...


Update: From Kirk Degiorgio


just read your review of Sonar 2002. Glad you liked Ian O'Brien's set - but must inform you that I personally DID NOT appear at Sonar due to financial problems with the Keep Diggin' organisation (who were hosting that particular stage).


Kirk Degiorgio
Glad my imposter played a good set!

Update: From Jen

Gulp - that'll learn me for a) going by what the programme says, b) not catching more than the last five minutes of a set and c) not wearing my
glasses to a gig. Kirk, if you're reading this - who was your mystery replacement? And where can we see the real you?