Sonar 2010: Like Night & Day

Blog by Ray Philp | 01 Jul 2010

Barcelona’s 17th electronic music and multimedia shindig bore all the hallmarks of a typical Sonar experience. Of course, a ‘typical Sonar experience’ is an oxymoron of sorts, because there’s no such thing in an episodic sense (my colleague Chris Duncan, as you’ll see from our review and his roundup of the opening day, enjoyed a distinctly M_nus tinted sojourn this year), but the festival’s capacity to provoke a vast range of opinions and emotions, be they good or bad (delight, disgust and bemusement are easy bedfellows at Sonar), remains its most enduring trait.

And when it was good, it was very, very good. Sonar By Day, traditionally the more experimental face of the festival, has over time become less of a cupboard for curios and more of a treasure trove for all things avante garde; Nedry, as it happens, provided a bit of both at their appearance on the green expanses of the SonarVillage stage, where glitch laden bird calls were one of the less extraordinary noises they employed on a very solid showing. Less orthodox still was Lunice’s dynamic slot at SonarDome. Newly acquired by the ever expanding LuckyMe collective (more on them later), Lunice’s fluid integration of x-rated Bmore beats and European house signatures had us all nodding like broken Churchill dugs, and that’s before I even mention the dancing, or that he was dressed like a b-boy George Jetson.

Elsewhere, two shows that put forth decent cases for being amongst the best of the entire festival: Nosaj Thing accompanied his maelstrom of sonorous blips and squelches with an elegant geometric light show, a combination that made for a mesmeric experience, while mercurial Numbers affiliate Jackmaster brought the house down on Saturday with – for want of a better word – one of the ballsiest setlists (Show Me Love – seriously!) in recent memory.

Venerable acts like Air, Roxy Music, Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem adorned swathes of Sonar’s promotional material, but LuckyMe proved to be a significant and equally influential presence at Sonar By Night, consolidating what has already been a terrific 12 months or so for the Glasgow arts collective. Hudson Mohawke’s slot on Friday served as another welcome reminder of why LuckyMe and HudMo himself are, in a stylistic sense, so gloriously difficult to pin down. Long may that continue.

As you might have expected, dubstep also left its mark on Sonar 2010, with Roska, Caspa and Joy Orbison representing a prominent dubstep contingent. However, one of this year’s unequivocal highlights came from an artist who, while frequently associated with the genre, has made a conscious effort to eschew dubstep tropes altogether on his latest longplayer, Cosmogramma. Flying Lotus was both beautiful and brutal; jazz melodies and thunderous bass drops have never sounded so good together.

Elsewhere, DJ Hell was given the double privilege of opening with a specially tailored set for Roxy Music, and of providing the valedictory send-off to this year’s electronic music jamboree. Playing well beyond the 7am mark, Hell’s mellifluous mash of libidinous techno and glam pop was well worth staying up past our bedtimes for.

Given that Sonar also ran a concurrent festival programme in Galicia, it would be disingenuous to attempt a worthy summation of Sonar 2010 in its sprawling entirety, so perhaps it’s best to offer a more personal perspective. Even though we were several hundred miles away from the dreech, fish suppers and any trace of a glottal stop, Sonar 2010 didn't turn out to be as alien an encounter as we may have expected. With a lineup that boasted a significant UK presence, and from Glasgow in particular, it was reassuring to find that Scotland’s spot in the electronic music landscape continues to grow exponentially alongside our European counterparts. Oh, and it even rained a bit. For three days, Barcelona felt like a home away from home.