The daytime line-up on Saturday fails to offer much by way of stunning material. There seems to be an organised lull, perhaps to allow the jaded Sonar patrons to catch some much needed rest. Gilles Peterson, however, still manages to woo the audience with his eclectic mix of global music. Few people have as broad a taste in music as Peterson. His set consists of a worldwide musical trip with stops at Caribbean dancehall, Spanish samba, and North American soul. Playing at four o’clock in the afternoon, he brings some much needed zeal to crowd and plays a part in preparing everyone for the night’s activities.
Hours after the sinless stylings of Peterson, Chris Cunningham delivers a petrifying audio-visual show at the Sonar Club stage. After directing such infamous music videos as Squarepusher’s ‘Come On My Selector’ and Aphex Twin’s ‘Windowlicker’, he left visual arts in order to study music production. He then returned to host a series of live displays, such as this one at Sonar. The setup is composed of one main screen and two smaller identical displays at either side. These are our windows into Cunningham’s twisted mind. While the music that accompanies the visuals is not his own, he has distorted it to such a degree that it may as well be. Everything from a reversed rape scene to a disfigured paraplegic getting his kicks is featured in this live show, and all of it is displayed in some of the sharpest high definition video known to man. Cunningham’s act is something that just has to be seen to be believed; a true triumph of modern media.
Playing on the outdoor Sonar Lab stage is the UK’s Shackleton. As co-founder of the now defunct Skull Disco label, Shackleton is a pioneer of dubstep. Abandoning the aggressive take on the genre, he played a huge part in dubstep’s evolution into a more progressive style of music. Releases like ‘Blood On My Hands’ and ‘Death Is Not Final’ led the march of a new minimalist style and began to fuse dubstep and techno into a unified force. His Sonar show is all-live and a genuine treat to witness. Shackleton’s approach is so subtle that it requires your full concentration to notice every little nuance he employs. In similar style to his Fabric 55 mix album, Shackleton’s Sonar performance is filled with deliciously slick dub-techno. It’s a shame that there is such a meager turn-out for this gig, but that much is to be expected when you’re clashing with the likes of Underworld.
In contrast to the reserved demeanor of Shackleton lies the eccentric antics of The Gaslamp Killer. In terms of stage presence, this Los Angeles-based DJ is surely supreme overlord. His attitude toward mixing draws everybody’s attention as he gyrates and jitters around the decks. It’s such a pleasure to see someone playing vinyl on speakers as epic as the ones at Sonar. He really brings the crowd on an ambitious musical journey, mixing everything from psychedelic rock to hip-hop and indie. How often do you get to hear Led Zeppelin and The Beatles at a modern electronic music festival? He even slips in a couple of Radiohead tracks before launching into a fury of scratching. Luckily he has the good conscience to not alter ‘Sit Down Stand Up’; some things are better left untouched.
TGLK is followed by producer/DJ, Surgeon. Working a limited combination of laptop and mixer, he dishes out a bombardment of precision techno. His mixing is actually so fluid that it eventually became monotonous. After a while it seems as if the same tune has been playing all night. He then switches to dubstep, but this only makes things worse. There’s no doubt that Surgeon is immensely talented but his Sonar set is just too mechanical to hold interest.
Finishing off the festival is Border Community founder and well respected producer, James Holden. Holden’s flare for producing music was quickly noticed with his first release Horizons in 2000 but he’s been relatively quiet since then. As he gradually ushers Sonar to its close, Holden’s set proves to be the perfect finisher. He keeps up an acceptable pace, keeping the tempo around 125 BPM for the duration of his set. ‘Idiot’ is teased in for a brief period and ‘Bowls’ by Caribou breathes new life into the weary all-nighter audience. Everyone knew that this was never going to be a hectic gig – Sonar is organised in such a way that the last act is never the most intense. You are brought down gently and eloquently before being politely asked to leave.
Photo: Mike Reger