The Road to Sonar

The line up at this year's Sonar festival is the usual mixture of well-known acts and emerging talent that bridge the gap between electronic music and art. Here are The Skinny's recommendations for ten performances to see this year

Feature by Ray Philp | 02 Jun 2010

King Midas Sound (18 Jun, SonarHall, 7pm)

London Zoo, The Bug’s oppressive dancehall opus of 2008, was the dank basement from which the trio of King Midas Sound emerged. Actually, emerge isn’t the right word; several shades darker and more considered than Kevin Martin’s seminal album, King Midas Sound’s full-length debut, Waiting For You, seemed to have been crafted from within the stony confines of a Brixton dungeon. And yet, notwithstanding the Catalan sunshine that will suffuse their Sonar By Day slot, Waiting For You is an intensely edifying record with elements of real warmth within, most of which is provided by Roger Robinson’s rich, tobacco flecked growl. Expect the dungeon keepers to dazzle at the MACBA.

Joy Orbison (18 Jun, SonarLab, 12.45am)

Sunny dispositions know better than to seek gratification from a typical dubstep 12", which, to a man, seems a milieu of elegiac rhythms and haunted whispers, albeit with soul puncturing kickdrums attached. Coarse though the perception is, it may go some way to explaining why the music press went totally apeshit for Hyph Mngo, Joy Orbison’s debut 12"; possibly one of the most life-affirming, cravenly happy 5-and-change minutes ever committed in the name of dubstep. Pete O’Grady has since released two additional, and equally substantive, records of note, both of which are woven with slivers of funky, garage and house; a unique blend that is fast becoming his trademark.

Robot Koch (17 Jun, SonarDome, 9pm)

Hitherto best known as one third of BPitch triumvirate Jahcoozi, Berlin producer Robot Koch released his first full-length longplayer, Death Star Droid, last November – a dense and murky black hole of an album that draws in a maelstrom of influences from, frankly, God knows where. By turns tumultuous and tender, Robot Koch’s catalogue finds its inspiration in a headrush of hip-hop, grime, techno and dubstep, although Koch himself knows the obsolescence of such tags, having described his own label’s output as being "like Motown with lazers". Once we see a Four Tops two-step remix, we’ll believe it.

Plastikman (18 Jun, SonarPub, 2am)

As revered discographies go, Richie Hawtin’s catalogue is a rather amorphous pantheon – beyond his venerable DE9 records and the plethora of M_nus and Plus 8 material, much of Hawtin’s sprawling collection remains largely obscured, ironically, by its own plurality. While his Plastikman recordings are similarly prolific, they are easily his most identifiable and enjoyable works. Hawtin’s boilerplate minimal rhythms are transformed by the corrosive drips of acid house infused into tracks like Sheet One and Panikattack, both of which offer ample evidence of Hawtin’s mastery of momentum and nuance. We could go on, but there’s no point preaching to the converted, is there?

Flying Lotus (18 Jun, SonarLab, 1.30am)

Being nephew to jazz legends John and Alice Coltrane brings with it a strenuous weight of expectation, but Flying Lotus’ music career isn’t so much in the blood as it is written in the stars. Cosmogramma, FlyLo’s third longplayer, takes a quantum leap forward in quality as it clusters together FlyLo’s melodious loops and cinder block basslines with fragmented samples sourced from every cobweb-ridden crook of his redoubtable record collection. A record with star quality written all over it, literally – with song titles like Do The Astral Plane and Zodiac Shit, FlyLo is unequivocal about the scope of his ambition.

LCD Soundsystem (18 Jun, SonarClub, 1.30am)

The arrival of This Is Happening was bittersweet, hurrah for fresh material, woe due to the promise that this will be the band's last record. So before James Murphy et al hang up their cowbells for good, it's probably best to seize one of the last remaining chances to see their live show before the entire thing collapses in on itself sometime in the not too distant future. Regardless of what strange new sounds you encounter this weekend, there is no denying that the cries of Drunk Girls is already threatening to be the song to soundtrack the nocturnal element of Sonar this year.

Zomby (19 Jun, SonarLab, 5am)

It's hard to believe that in such a short timescale dupstep has managed to make its mark firmly on the world stage, emerging from the outskirts of specialist music to become a sound distinctly associated with the late noughties. Zomby's 2008 debut record Where Were You In '92? propelled him into the spotlight that was being cast upon his genre as he payed homage to his early 90s influences. Sonar has a history of reflecting trends within electronic music well and Zomby's headline set is evidence, if it was at all needed, that dubstep has finally reached a fuller audience.

John Talabot (18 Jun, SonarClub, 2.30am)

Last year was something of a hectic time for John Talabot as he moved from near anonymity into the hearts of the likes of Ewan Pearson and the influential Pitchfork publication. This can be attributed to his sound which combines influences from Moodymann, J Dilla, Chicago house, disco music and northern soul. Post Sonar he promises to release his long awaited debut record to an eager public.

Nosaj Thing Visual Show (18 Jun, SonarHall, 8.30pm)

Whilst the courtyard of MACBA at Sonar By Day is dominated by live musical performances, the dark basement of the building houses attractions that often draw bigger crowds than the sizeable talent outside. It is here that groundbreaking musical installations are debuted, such as the Reactable and artists that truly blur the line between music and visual art take to the stage. Nosaj Thing Visual Show is one such performance, combining synchronised bright visuals with his echoing electronica sound. This time last year he released his Drift album to huge success on the specialist music circuit so expect this show to be one of the highlights of the daytime line-up.

Hudson Mohawke

There has always been a strong UK presence at Sonar for two reasons. One, the fact that the finest talent from the various musical scenes on these fair isles is selected year upon year, and two, British early adopters of new artists often make the trip to the festival to discover something new alongside various international acts they already know and love. Glaswegian ex-pat Hudson Mohawke was always a safe bet to appear this year after the whirlwind of hype that has surrounded his unique and imaginative sound for some time now was backed up by the release of Butter last year on Warp Records. Now, in the year that his hometown collective LuckyMe have received their own showcase line-up on the SonarLab stage on 19 June, HudMo is scheduled for the penultimate performance on the same stage the previous evening. Between the Mary Anne Hobbs showcase slot and the LuckyMe family presention you can expect to see young HudMo for a fair amount of the weekend. No complaints here.


Sonar takes place in Barcelona on 17-19 Jun, tickets range from €39 to €155. Visit for ongoing coverage before and after the festival