2011 marks Sonar’s 19th year and once again they’ve managed to delight and impress patrons from every corner of the globe. Set in the city centre of Spain’s music capital, this three day bonanza is probably one of the most organised, pioneering, and well respected festivals around. Split into day – and nighttime – festivals, Sonar is spread across the beautiful city of Barcelona. It’s only for Friday and Saturday that the festival lasts into night, though. On Thursday it’s daylight hours only, but with the plethora of fine artists to choose from it’s hardly a problem at all.
The first notable artist of the day is Floating Points on the main stage, Sonar Village. While a live set would have been very much appreciated, Floating Points’ DJ skills are enough to hold interest, for a while at least. His set peaked around half way through, fizzling slowly downwards after he drops ‘Shark Chase’. It’s pretty clear from the start that h’s playing for the crowd. There is a much sunnier element to his tunes than usual, which compliments the Barcelona backdrop nicely. Overall, his DJ set, while enjoyable and packed full of cosmic house, lacks the innovation found on his EPs.
Moving from the blistering heat of the Sonar Village stage to the cool marble innards of the Sonar Complex, State arrives just in time to catch Open Reel Ensemble. Their ability to manipulate reels of magnetic tape is a spectacle to behold. The only problem is that it’s merely a spectacle and fails to hold any musical interest. The concept itself is genuinely impressive and well worth a gander, but after fifteen minutes of Japanese electro-pop you’re ready to leave in search of more fruitful acts.
Fortunately there are plenty of those around and the Sonar Dome is next on the destination list. The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble stand alone as one of the most unique experiences of Sonar 2011. Their evening show is probably the only place you’re likely to see classical music enthusiasts rubbing elbows with techno-loving youths. Almost all their songs are greeted with a respectful hush from the crowd as they slowly rise to a zenith of precision timing and wholesome beats. It’s quite fascinating to see such unassuming instruments like the cello and the violin used to create deep minimal techno. The simplicity of each individual instrument becomes irrelevant when added to the synergy of the entire group, yet you could still focus on any one musician at a given time and marvel at their sole contribution. I’s the ultimate crossover of simple and complex; minimal at its finest.
The best act of Thursday, without a doubt, is Eskmo. Using a melange of found sound, light vocals, synths and samplers, he dazzles the crowd with his own brand of live dubstep. Yet this isn’t dubstep in the traditional sense of the word. It’s more akin to an incredibly bassy version of a David Attenborough documentary. Whether it’s the bird-like whistling of Eskmo himself or his use of rain sticks and wind chimes is unclear, but there’s a definite wildlife feel to his set. Many of his tracks dance between this playful dubstep and house, dipping in and out of the two genres with incredible ease. This fluent movement, coupled with the sheer range of sounds used in his set make him an absolute joy to watch. He rips paper, rustles tinfoil, breaks coat-hangers, beats on plastic boxes and even opens cans of beer as a means of making new music. Witnessing his live act is probably the only time you’ll see a nervous coathanger, as it waits for it’s musical debut. He finishes the night with the beautiful ‘Cloud Light’, from his self-titled 2010 album. It’s the perfect end to Sonar’s opening day.