After warm-up parties on a Barcelona roof with the NTS Radio and RBMA crew, the first day of Sonar, the world’s most exciting electronic music festival, has begun and we are ready to join the cosmopolitan fray.
This year, more than ever, there is a greater sense of unbridled hedonism, aural diversity and, above all, sonic discovery. Its ‘By Day’ programme in museum grounds has everything from Brooklyn witch-house bands to South African Shangaan electro tribes, while the gargantuan former aircraft hangar on the fringes of the city, where the after-dark festival rages on, has a decidedly ravier focus.
'Festivalgoers pick their party time carefully: you either large it in the daytime or you go full-throttle after dark.'
Hence there’s so much choice that, for the most part, festivalgoers pick their party time carefully: you either large it in the daytime, sunglasses strapped on, dancing on the steps overlooking the Red Bull Music Academy tent, or you go full-throttle after dark, where the DJ names get bigger and the hangovers last longer. Blog on the Dancefloor is, of course, attempting to do both.
Today we aim straight for the RBMA stage (the SonarDome) as AEIOU cram on stage, as if the missing cast members from ‘Kick Ass’ started a band. A recent New York-based collaboration between Mexican indie pin-up Juan Son and Blonde Redhead drummer Simon Pace, their performance is among the most theatrical at Sónar this year. Son’s vulnerable falsetto and breathy tones would border on unsettling if it weren’t for the gold, sequinned gimp suit that envelopes his slight frame.
Pace, meanwhile, adds the electronic undercurrent that is micro-sampled, cowbell-splattered industro-techno one minute - as on ‘Hippocampus’ - and warm, expansive synths with laidback, whistling hooks the next - their hallmark track ‘Vivimos in LA’ - offset by his more subtle green turtle ensemble. A wonderfully oddball introduction to the day, and to their just-released debut album, Space Hymns.
Back at the RBMA stage, Ninja Tune signing Poirier and his longtime collaborator and MC, Boogcat, are gearing up the party people with plenty of globetrotting bass. Galloping rhythms, cumbia, South American rap, soca, dancehall and even Franco-folk: it’s all part of the Canadian producer’s quest to connect the dots between these ribcage-rattling world genres. And when he drops Gabriel Heatwave’s dancehall refix of Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’, originally remixed by Jamie XX, those ribcages practically explode.
You can see a gallery of acts on the Red Bull Music Academy stage at Sonar
We’ve no luck squeezing in to see Nicolas Jaar, the New York house and techno scene’s answer to James Blake, next, but Scandinavian four-piece Little Dragon are piercing the sunshine on the main stage with their percussive, electronic quirk-pop instead. Their genre-defying, fluttery, funk-fuelled tunes fizz over the stage - typically, their stand-out ‘Runabout’ gets people hopping from foot to foot - yet we do long to hear their startling mournful hymnal ‘Twice’ thrown into the mix too.
As if that wasn’t enough of a sonic whirlwind, we end the first day on an orchestral note. The RBMA stage challenges clubbers further as K7’s Dutch 10-piece The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble cram in, filling the gap left by composer Steve Reich’s absence, due to illness. They follow his classically-informed lead with their live “acoustic” techno using a menagerie of traditional instruments. Party music, this is not, but the crowd that has assembled is bigger than for any artist that day, turning the long tent into a temporary concert hall. Whoops and hollers increase in volume as the musicians build and build, excavating all the layers that you’d usually hear compressed into one techno track so that each bubbling line is crystal clear. Plenty of techno innovators have experimented with classical productions of their music, but composer Frick and his band strip its image of any grandiose pretension and harness the same organic, surprising and primal energy of dance music that has everyone instinctively pulsing with delight.
As Glastonbury prepares to rear its muddy head this weekend, Sónar deserves due credit: there’s no other place in the world that you can see acts as varied as this playing on the same bill within spitting distance of each other and, better still, while the sun raises everyone’s spirits. Roll on day two!