The finale of a recent trip to Barcelona was a whole day at Sónar, the Catalan city’s primarily electronic music festival that takes place mid June every year. Having absorbed every historical area of the city, I was ready to dive in to what Sónar had to offer. The event is divided into two sections, Sónar by Day and Sónar by Night, each taking place at sites across the city. In the best of company, I attended the second round of Sónar by Day on a sunny Friday at the Fira Montjuïc.
Always boasting incredibly versatile line-ups, Sónar had been on my wish list for a very long time. Despite only dipping into the entire experience (the festival runs for three days and three nights) – these are some of the highlights of Friday June 16th…
The Swedish producer and DJ Kasja Blom, who goes by the name KABLAM, brought an amalgamation of brutal textures to the new SónarXS stage. With a name like KABLAM, I was expecting something as huge it sounds. Stood beneath a giant horse head that jutted out from a curtain backdrop, KABLAM began her set with a piece by contemporary classical composer Max Richter from his Vivaldi Recomposed album. A relatively soft start to an artist described as “Nordic Thunder” on the Sónar website. This soon began to turn and the genius of the DJ’s mixing ability became prevalent. Ever heard Vivaldi (yes the Baroque composer) mixed with hardstyle and gabba? Probably not, and neither had I.
Currently residing in Berlin and playing regularly at parties held by Janus at Berghain alongside label mates Lotic and M.E.S.H, Blom turned SónarXS into a Janus takeover as she took elements of hip-hop and r’n’b and combined them with the likes of hardcore, trance and gabba to create something entirely unique. Before long, the crowd began to grow and were chanting Skepta’s ‘Man’ in the context of deconstructed gabba at 160bpm. It was a spectacle to see what KABLAM can do with 3 CDJ’s, there were moments of head banging, moments of euphoria and moments of outright amazement at the versatility of her mixing, A highlight being a gabba and hardstyle extravaganza of Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck With You”?!?!
KABLAM simply reinforced why Janus are one of the most forward thinking labels in electronic music right now.
Evian Christ (Warp)
Imagine the euphoria of a 90’s trance classic and combine it with the 808 bass and percussion of Metro Boomin that’s been through a distortion pedal. That’s still not quite Evian Christ. Now, throw in the eyes down ambience of Grouper or The Orb and you might be a little bit closer to the Ellesmere Port local trainee teacher cum trance overlord’s sound. Equipped with 25 strobe lights and a smoke machine with enough ammo to cloud the entire city of Barcelona, Evian Christ (real name Josh Leary) brought an astounding live show to the SónarHall.
Excitement was in the air as audience members were unable to predict what the young producer would play. This seems plausible given the artist has only a few releases under his belt (e.g the Waterfall EP and Kings and Them mixtape both released on Tri-Angle Records). Only one track from each release was heard. A monumental build up which kicked things off incorporated the key motif of “Propeller” and a virtuosic vocal sample before the familiar warped hip-hop beat of “Fuck It None of Ya’ll Don’t Rap” began and everyone was soon chanting the Tyga vocal chop. The rest of the music perhaps will be included on the producer’s debut album which is due later this year on Warp records.
Either way, Evian manipulated trance euphoria into brutal electronics and “progressive” melodies. It felt like the magnum opus of his infamous trance parties that have swept various venues across the UK. On a surface level they appear to poke fun at club culture with a vast amount of confetti cannons, strobe lights and brilliant names such as Trance Party IV: “The Great British Trance Off” or Trance Party V: “Progressive Welbeck V Trance Welbeck”. However, beneath the surface they have some of the most versatile lineups including artists from all around the globe. One even included Travis Scott and Millie and Andrea (Modern Love stalwarts Andy Stott and Miles Whittaker) on the same night.
As Evian Christ combined the likes of t.A.T.u’s “All The Things She Said” and Robert Miles’ “Children” with abrasive percussion, the entire SonarHall became one big trance party in which the likes of Jacques Greene and others let off confetti cannons on cue over audience members in the front row. Grinning behind the largest pair of sunglasses I’ve ever seen, Josh Leary seemed to be having the time of his life. Who wouldn’t be in front of 25 strobe lights commanding an entire hall of people coated in confetti and doused in smoke whilst the instantly recognisable piano hook of Robert Miles’ “Children” rings out like a church hymn.
The trance revival is here, and Evian Christ is at the helm.
The final highlight of the day was none other than Warp records veteran Clark, who unveiled his new “Death Peak” live show in the SónarHall. Having released his latest album under the same name a few months before, Chris Clark pulled off an immaculate set including two dancers and a mesmerising light show. Playing the majority of his thunderous new album Death Peak and other recent material from his self titled album and the “Silver Sun” EP.
Entering the room upon hearing the haunting vocals from “Catastrophe Anthem”, Clark had the SonarHall under his spell before unleashing the mightier tracks such as “Hoova” and “Peak Magnetic” complete with dancers that contorted in perfect sync to the Clark’s experimental techno. It was a spectacle that ran seamlessly from start to finish, almost too good to be true. But then again, this is Clark, who has been consistently releasing music on Warp records since 2001 and is no stranger to live shows.
The sound of Clark seems to be getting bigger and bolder with each release and this was evident in his live performance. It is dance music with a clear focus on melody and texture and had every single person moving in the venue for the entire duration of his time on stage. A perfect headliner to close the SónarHall.
Sónar seems to be a music festival focused on supplying a variety in the very best of electronic music whether it’s live or simply a DJ set. I just wish I had been able to see it’s full extent.
Bring on next year!