Feature: Sonar 2016 review

On June 15 2016, I flew into Barcelona for the 23rd edition of the Sónar Festival. Described by organisers as a pioneering cultural event, the 2016 edition was nothing short of exceptional.

Sónar Festival comprises of several exceptionally programmed elements delivered at two locations; Sónar by Day and Sonar by Night. Sónar by Day is located in the heart of Barcelona. Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) hosted an exceptionally well programmed stage. I saw a live show from Mike Banks’ Underground Resistance (UR – Detroit). When I say live show, I’m not talking about a few guys on laptops. This is a fully fledged live Techno/Electro Jazz Fusion band featuring keys and sax. Sound out there? It is. An unmissable experience.

Another of my favorite live projects Magic Mountain High (MMH) closed the RBMA stage on the Saturday. MMH is a three piece analogue House/Techno outfit who use a vast collection of vintage analogue equipment. Again there are no laptops, it’s 100% live with very little pre meditated programming. It is the definition of a live jam, at times sounding more like a Jazz Trio than a straight down the line electronic act.

Technology at times opens unlimited possibilities but can also create a sense of predictability. Sub genrefication and general lack of performance creativity can make one party sound the same as the last and the next. Acts like UR and MMH break the mold and remind us that there are no limits.

To mark the 20th anniversary of Raster-Noton (record label and artistic laboratory) Alva Noto, Byetone and Cyclo delivered a mind bending audiovisual performances in a beautiful theatre. There was an hour queue just to get in. Well worth the wait.

The conference, technology and educational element of Sónar was delivered via Sónar+D. For me technology is a core part of our business. If you are not up to date, you get left behind. That doesn’t mean you need to buy every synth or DJ mixer that hits the market but you need to know what exists in case it’s something you need to take your game to the next level.

KiNK; another of the world’s most exciting live acts; delivered a performance master class on the newly released Pioneer CDJ-2000NXS2 and the DJM-900NXS2 mixer. Point Blank Music School hosted a live performance masterclass with Richie Hawtin titled “PLAYDifferently”. Hawtin has been a pioneering figure in electronic music technology through his involvement in Final Scratch and the development of Beatport.

He released his much anticipated Model1 mixer this year. The Model1 is a 6 channel (8 input) 100% analogue mixer. It almost blurs the lines between studio and live performance. It was designed with engineer Andy Rigby-Jones who designed some of Allen & Heath’s most celebrated DJ mixers.

The Sónar+D MarketLab was a space where creators of the year’s most innovative technology initiatives present their latest projects and products. This offered an amazing opportunity for participants to try out cutting edge technology first hand; including Hawtin’s Model1. For me Sónar+D was an amazing feature and very exciting. I enjoyed immersing myself in cutting edge and far out technologies and inventions; straight from the world’s leading universities and research labs. For me that’s really where it’s at. I really enjoyed it.

Sónar took place in a complex of aircraft hangars. I have fond memories of Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos performing back to back in 2006. Richie Hawtin delivered something special on the Friday night. Laurent Garnier performed for no less than 7 hours. Mano Le Tough, Kerri Chandler, Martinez Brothers, Jean-Michel Jarre, Roots Manuva made up an all encompassing line up that provided something for everyone.

The numbers were impressive all round. Sonar by night gathered 69,000 people. Sonar by Day brought together 46,500 attendees and Sonar+D hosted 4,700 delegates from more than 60 countries. As a press delegate I have to say it was extremely well organised and delivered with the utmost professionalism. I will be returning next year.

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