"The new and the wonderful" Sónar 2016 Review
In our quest for the new and the wonderful, we flew to Barcelona over the weekend to check out Sónar, a festival that has been at the forefront of dance and electronic music since 1994. Headliners included legendary artists such as New Order, Fatboy Slim and Jean-Michel Jarre – but what drew us in were fresh names like Lafawndah, Danny L Harle and Kaytranada. The three days and nights that ensued didn’t disappoint, and Sónar fulfilled its promise to showcase exciting new sounds.
Highlights of Day 1 included one of favourite MCs around, Lady Leshurr, and Dutch producer/singer Sevdaliza, whose music and visual identity is so rich it will not leave you indifferent (just watch her video “That Other Girl”).
Ideally we wouldn't have to mention the gender of artists playing at a festival, but we are still so far behind on the path towards equal representation of women in music that it is worth mentioning that the most exciting names on the first day of Sónar were women. Of course Masters At Work legend Kenny Dope was a must, but the real refreshing talent came from Kelela, The Black Madonna and Gazelle Twin, on top of the aforementioned Lady Leshurr and Sevdaliza.
On the second day, PC Music offspring Danny L Harle cranked the energy levels all the way up with his trance and happy hardcore infused pop songs. His set brought about a dance-off between frantic rainbow-haired girls and equally enthusiastic but comparably average-looking blokes. It may seem cheesy, but it was a real “music unites us all” moment.
In the same vein, Santigold invited a chunk of the crowd - including a ten-year-old - to join her on stage for a song, and the happy mob danced together for a blissful four minutes. The American artist’s performance struck the right balance between rehearsed and spontaneous. The outfit changes and choreography with backing dancers only added to the quality of the music, and Santigold filled the stage with her contagious energy and powerful voice.
In the evenings, the party moved from Barcelona city centre – aka Sónar By Day – to Sónar By Night, a group of warehouses on the outskirts where the set up was split between outdoor and indoor stages. On the Friday night, Anohni, the artist formerly know as Anthony Hegarty, played her new show HOPELESSNESS for the first time in Europe. Covered in a full-body cloak and mesh veil so that not a single square centimeter of her skin was visible, her awe-inspiring figure dominated the centre of the stage, while collaborators Hudson Mohawke and Oneothrix Point Never stood either side of her. An enormous screen behind her showed a cast of characters tearfully mouthing the lyrics to her songs and the result was immensely powerful: sound and vision colliding into an emotional, time-stand-still moment.
Later on the same night, James Blake, also a “master of emotions”, surprised everyone by playing a show that was much clubbier than expected. Speaking to a few people after his set, the consensus was that it was a great concert but we all wished he had played more songs from his hugely popular debut album… It’s a typical conundrum, audiences want to hear what they know best and artists want to play nothing but their newest output.
Paris-based singer/producer Lafawndah played on the third day of Sónar, at the exact moment a huge storm broke out. As torrents of rain poured from the sky and the sound of thunder blended with the bass, she transfixed her audience with her magnetic stage presence, and her sensual dance moves were equally if not more striking than the music itself.
On the same day, we were also treated to an intense show by Oneothrix Point Never, the sounds of which reached our deepest organs. Equally impressive was the show from Haitian-Canadian producer Kaytranada, which sounded even better than the album. But maybe everything sounds better in the sweet Spanish air and the company of thousands of loved-up festivalgoers… in which case, thank you Sónar.
Words: Luna Cohen-Solal
Above photography: Lady Leshurr by Bianca De Vilar