Sonar 2011 Festival


Image courtesy of, Licensed under Creative Commons.

Multiple Venues – Barcelona, SPAIN
Live Review: 6/16 thru 6/18/11
Recap of Sonar 2011 by EM’s International Correspondent, Rick Heffernan.

Touching down from an Australian Winter to the Barcelona summer of my long-time surrogate home was well worth the 23 hours of horrible air and bad food. The town’s much beloved Sonar Festival was going through its annual madness; for it was only few days from kicking off (giving me just enough time to ditch the jet-lag and piece together a schedule of catch-ups, check-outs, and meetings.)

The sprawling 18-year old festival officially takes place over the course of three days and two nights.However since my arrival the streets were already teeming with non-official “Sonar off” parties and smaller ad hoc fests, turning the Catalan capital into a nearly week-long mecca for the electronic dance masses of Europe and beyond! Every electronic record label worth its salt, sets up shop in Barcelona’s many hotel terraces, lobbies, beaches, clubs and basically anywhere that permits a sound-system.

Sonar greatly contributed to Barcelona’s cultural reinvention, effectively transforming it from a pre-Olympic backwater city, to now an enlivened metropolis attracting over 80,000 people and raking in revenues of over 50 million Euros. The effects of the festival are even more apparent in the regenerated Ravel district which used to be a rundown block of the neighborhood (and where now the daytime portion of the festival is staged.) Even the neighborhood’s famed boqueria food market transformed into an impromptu show hosted by big name DJ/producer Richie Hawtin, who performed amongst the fruit and vegetable stalls!

Aside from music performances, the festival hosted technology, film, art installations and conferences which are sometimes overlooked, but just as important and exciting as the main happenings.

Barcelona, being a city that traditionally loves to party; it veritably burnt the candle at both ends and come the following Monday morning, I would imagine a lot of spaced out, sore heads hitting the airways and offices.

Below are highlights of the new talents that graced this year’s festival: Janelle Monae

The petite artist performed a highly anticipated act which proved to be a nice break from all the nighttime electronica. Janelle Monae is on a stratospheric rise to the top, which is heavily felt in the music industry right now. Bad Boy records mogul, Sean Combs touted her as: “One of the most important signings of my career.”  He brought her under his label in 2006 and rarely does an artist rise up to the commercial and critical caliber in a relatively short amount of time! Saturday night at the massive Sonar de Noche stages was no exception with Miss Monae rocking a huge audience underneath the mediterranean skies. Her concept of an android-run future à la Fritz Lang’s Metropolis meets 30’s working-class African American entertainers is heavily laced with the influences of James Brown, Michael Jackson, George Clinton, Jimi Hendrix et al. Each of her songs took on a performance concept of its own while her airtight backing band could’ve all played lead. A brief aside: included in her lineup is Kellindo Parker, cousin to the late James Brown’s main sax man, Maceo Parker. Monae powered through tracks from her concept album, Archandroid (2010) as well as a few startling surprises, which included a pitch-perfect version of the Jackson 5’s “I want you back”. Tracks like “Faster”, “Locked inside” and mega hit “Tightrope” drove the crowd wild, but numbers like “Mushrooms and Roses” proved the artist could turn out the epicness when needed! Already making serious waves stateside and a personal favorite of legend producer Nile Rodgers (Chic), Miss Monae has been busy touring across Europe this summer. She was certainly one of Sonar’s shining moments, and dare I say, the best stage show touring right now. The next level has arrived!


Packing out the Friday Sonar by Day courtyard, Kieran Hebden (a.k.a Fourtet) was one of the most anticipated live DJ sets of the weekend. Currently running his events with the likes of Thom Yorke providing ultra rare dj sets, in London’s Plastic People venue, Hebden cascaded through a sundry set taking in influences from techno, jazz, hip-hop and folk and ramming it through a DJM800, Ableton, Cool Edit, Monome, Soundbite XL, SP303 (for the tech heads out there.) The results: a sweet release of the purest electronica one could ever hope for.

Haunting bass-lines, dubbed out sound clashes and experimental loops were lapped up by the full-capacity crowd, whilst Hebden showed off mad skills that gave him the opportunities to travel the globe, remixing the likes of The XX, Radiohead, Super Furry Animals and Aphex Twin to name a few.

Red Bull Music Academy Radio at Sonar Dome
The Academy consistently booked the best line-up of Sonar by the day, populating the Dome with their musical acts and live radio broadcasts, rocking fluidly from one end of the day to the next. The Red Bull radio station attracts over 800,000 unique users every month to its website and is by far, the creme de la creme of recent underground, cult and iconic music, musicians, producers and DJ’s. Born out of the now famous Red Bull Music Academy, which twice yearly takes participants from all over the world and places them all together in a happening city for a week-long recording sessions and academic forums from the legendary names that matter in music land. This year saw no exception to the quality of the line-up with a mix of past Academy participants, hot names and up n’coming talents. Below are just a few of some of acts that caught our eyes and ears:


Hailing from San Franciso, B.Bravo flew the flag proud for the current wave of West coast boogie/funk beatmakers, also known as the Modern Funk Movement, pioneered mainly by fellow West Coaster, Dam Funk.(L.A’s Stones Throw) Making waves in 2009 with the track “Computa love,” which was picked up by Gilles Peterson for his famed Brownswood label, B.Bravo subsequently became part of the Red Bull Music Academy during the London 2010 edition. Since then, he has re-worked the likes of Toto’s “Georgy Porgy” and chop-ups of mid 90′s R’nB vocals over essential West Coast synthtastic sounds and dubbed out space echoes. Bravo eased the Thursday Sonar by Day crowd into the beautiful sunset skies and was a soothing introduction to a weekend of stellar line-ups across the city’s beaches, mountains, villas and clubs. He is one DJ to watch for the future!

Illum Sphere

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to a dj that really caught my ear. To be honest the whole concept of DJ’ing is largely dead to me (i.e. outside the purest record collectors and pioneers of the old school.) Apart from that, the term simply doesn’t hold its weight as something with any creative merit, unless your shit-hot in the studio as a producer, coming from “the lab” to show off your hard-earned wares. Saturday afternoon at the Sonar Dome put a lot of faith back in the purist DJ set with Manchester’s Illum Sphere, turning out a sublime mix of all sorts of grooves, oddities, hip hop, Detroit house, disco, et al.

Latest tracks by Illum Sphere

Tiger and Woods

Closing the Sonar Dome on Saturday night and riding the fame/shame of a certain sex addict golfer, Tiger and Woods poured out the disco edits, easy funk and slow house sounds to a packed crowd looking for their last taste of Sonar del Dia till 2012.

Plenty of bass line action, loops and discoesque boogie behavior from the duo whose releases on Editainment have resulted in a fast climb on the current slo-mo disco house scene along with the likes Soul-clap and Wolf + lamb. Keeping their identity to a minimum, the duo extracted familiar grooves and flexed what makes there Editainment imprint desirable. A standout moment: when they performed “Gin Nation” live. While Shalamar, Evelyn Champagne King and Larry Levan favorites handily received the stretch, chop and loop treatment.

Nicolas Jarr

Barely 21 years old, the impressive New York born, but Santiago Chile raised DJ starting making music seven years ago with his first release coming via Wolf + Lamb records.
Nicolas Jarr’s mix on XLR8R: [audio:NicolasJarr-xlr8r.mp3]

Currently touring with his first LP release, “Space is only noise” via his own Clown & Sunset imprint, Jarr played to a packed and baking hot room at Thursday’s Sonar by Day. Complete with a full band, Jarr and his group turned out a unique sound of Ian Curtis-esque vocals, sly guitar solos, heavy grooves, slow saxes and mid-track tempo changes. With Jarr’s unique setup: electronic equipment holding center stage and a live backing band; he has been called one of the most important electronic producers of our time by Seth Troxler.

Global Communication

Maverick producer Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton’s “Global Communication” project was a feast for the senses in the baking hot basement of the Macba Museum on Saturdays Sonar Del Dia.

Performing behind large projector screens, the duo who are normally famous for producing music for the big room dance floors, washed the audience with a soundscape of lush melodies and pulsing electronica topped off with background cinematic production.

Each part of their hypnotic show were performed in distinct movements; their delivery was impeccable with visuals delving into various themes of light and structure. As an audiovisual show it was quite the spectacle, however it was taxing competing with the sweltering heat of Barcelona and inefficient seating capacity.

The Trieste of Magris Exhibition
In conjunction to that show, The Trieste of Magris (designed by Paola Navone of Otto Studio in Milan) was open to all the partygoers. The exhibition was really amazing to behold the atmosphere, architecture, shops, art, music, air and sea of the Trieste sliced up and recreated on the top floor of the Barcelona Contemporary Culture Centre. It hovered between the essence of nostalgic elements and current realities of the cityscape . Seen by many as a boarder town, a Trieste is known as a place of transient hello and goodbyes, but it’s also famous for being the birthplace of famous minds like James Joyce, Scipio Slataper and Rainer Maria Rilke to name a few. Thew town was a cultural melding of Italian, Slavic and Germanic immigrants.

In the first room, visitors are greeted by wind machines to recreate the famous “Bora” wind of the city; stones from the Karest Plateau were carefully placed, creating a walkway simulating the Danube; the streets were lined with life size replicas of old book stores (and my personal favorite, a detailed replica of the Caffe San Marco.)

The exhibition contained all manners of art medium: from paintings, sculptures, architecture, light installations, audio/visual, and original artefacts from the city and its residents.  An amazing exhibition by all standards; especially for those partygoers who trudged through the densely packed festival and heatwave.  For those who sought solace from the seething crowds and cultural stimulation, could be found wandering for hours around a little, charming slice of Trieste. A perfect ending to an amazing festival.

For more on Sonar Festivals and to keep posted on details for Sonar 2012, visit:


via Rick Heffernan, 24 October 2011 1:51pm |