Amongst the best of these shows had to be the live set from Dan Berkson and James What on behalf of Steve Bug's Poker Flat label. Berkson (a experienced US tech house producer) and What (a fresh faced UK producer) captured the attention of the full capacity Red Bull Music Lounge and the overlooking balcony in the upper levels of the CCCB. This was a real treat for fans of groovy tech house and built of the success of the recent 'The Dig EP' on Poker Flat. Playing on two laptops and several MIDI controllers both performers created a party atmosphere via top quality tech rhythms. The small lounge area was packed with everyone was up and dancing. Again, this was another successful result of Sonar and the variety it offers.
The Beat Factor team were fortunate enough to also experience Pioneer's 2006 demonstration in the basement venue Escenario Hall. This year's demo was rather special as the supremely talented James Zabiela put the new DJM-800 mixer, EFX-1000 effect unit and the MK3 CDJ-1000's under severe inspection. In an hour long technical display that dazzled the most technically advanced in the crowd, James Zabiela managed to transform the dark basement setting into a jumping party space. He modified tough breaks and funky tech house with complete skill. It ended in a suitably dark and messy manner, a completely different environment than the sunshine and sweet grooves outside, but just as good.
Next up in the SonarVillage was New Zealand's acclaimed Fat Freddy's Drop. Glowing reports preceded this seven piece collective from Wellington and they didn't disappoint. What followed was a sublime blend of jazz and soul fused with electronic touches, complete with an impressive stage set-up that contained trumpets, guitars, drums and decks. Fat Freddy's Drop proved to be the perfect end to Beat Factor's Sonar By Day 2006 -brilliant music ideally suited to the lovely sun that poured into the village.
Sonar By Night - Saturday 17 June 2006
Coming back to the night venue was always going to be hard. The cumulative effect of several days of non stop music and parties, combined with the thought of having to queue (again) for what seems an age for a non-existent Sonar bus to take you back to civilisation is nearly enough to put you off. However an early live show from the mighty Hot Chip proved too big an attraction to ignore. Hot Chip returned for 2006 by popular demand after their gig at Sonar By Day 2005 became a festival highlight. Again they were better than excellent, providing a original, funk based and melody driven performance in the SonarPark. They were more polished than last year, and combined new tracks like 'No Fit State' from their latest LP 'The Warning' with established hits from 'Coming On Strong' such as 'Beach Party'. Knowing how to work a crowd, Hot Chip saved the best for last and delivered 'Over and Over' to a thundering crowd response. It was a definitely a Sonar moment, which made all the silly queues for toilets and drink tokens all worthwhile.
Hot Chip were followed by weak performances from Goldfrapp and a unnecessarily hard DJ set from local techno hero Angel Molina in the SonarClub. In finer form, Diplo vs. A-Trak amazed the consistent numbers in the SonarPark by programming an eclectic set that cut its way pass Kanye West right through to Tiga's mix of Tomas Andersson's 'Washing Up'.
The Spectral Sound label showcase out in the SonarPub promised much but delivered little. Both Body Code and Matthew Dear as Audion played uninspired bass heavy live sets that missed out the all important groove and melody components. It was a similar story with Ryan Elliot's DJ set, although he did manage to introduce some of the melodic qualities that has made Spectral releases so enjoyable over the last couple of years.
Judging by the growing numbers in the SonarPub it was pretty clear that Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos were the headline act for the Sonar majority. However, the set (although impeccably mixed and sequenced) lacked real character and became overly repetitive and reliant on large bass drops to create diversity for the tightly packed audience. After half an hour it actually became more entertaining to watch Hawtin's skill on his customised Allen and Heath Xone:92 than to listen to the music vibrating from the speakers.
Luckily for techno fans looking for more groove and variety the quirky Agoria (aka Sebastien Devaud) was also on in the huge SonarClub. And due to the influx of people into the SonarPub area the main club space was less busy and far more comfortable, and the music much better. Agoria had the SonarClub firmly in his control as he sequenced funky techno alongside more adventurous selections like Paul Woolford's 'Erotic Discourse'. It was also nice to see the French DJ playing predominantly on vinyl and doing a better job than the hi tech set-up in the SonarPub and elsewhere. Crucially, Agoria applied variety to his set, shifting from upfront techno to melodic rhythms and jazz infused deeper material with fluidity.
The last night of Sonar started brilliantly and ended in fine form also. It was just a shame that some of the artists in the middle of the line-up failed to impress. In an ideal world the programme would have been condensed so that the Beat Factor team could have avoided the ordeal of trying to get a bus home alongside 50,000 plus people who stayed until the end.
The Beach Parties
Numerous parties surround Sonar, but it is the beach parties that normally provide the most individual and enjoyable non-Sonar activities. And this year was no different. On the Sunday after Sonar there were at least 4 beach bars in close proximity on the Playa De La Nova Mar Bella beach, all presenting some of the best DJ's on the planet. The Get Physical crew hosted one of the Mochima Bars and their deeper sound worked well in the beach environment. M.A.N.D.Y, Williams and DJ T all played good sets. That said, the similarities between Get Physical's new musical movement and older trance qualities are becoming more pronounced - with DJ T at one point playing a record with a breakdown that would have knocked the spots off the best Gatecrasher had to offer in its prime.
Michael Mayer hosted his Kompakt party next door and the numbers in attendance proved that it was also a success. Further down the beach Alex Smoke and Andy Cato played to a diverse selection of clubbers and beach lovers for Cato's Shut and Dance project. True to form Alex Smoke provided the best performance, mixing Derrick Carter vocals with his own lush techno productions as the sun began to fall. Groove Armada's Andy Cato stepped up next and mixed a nice selection of house and acid-tinged grooves. Although the quality of his set was consistent, it ended up sounding ordinary in comparison to the inventive rhythms of Soma's Mr Smoke. And as one party closed another open with London's well supported Secret Sundaze continuing right through the night courtesy of Tobi Neumann and Dan Berkson with James What.
As Sonar gets more popular, as I'm sure it will, the problems it faces will increase. Many of these problems were obvious this year, with large queues during both the day and night, and poor ticket organisation. However, these are small prices to pay for the opportunity to experience groundbreaking music and mind-blowing performances in unique environments. Once again Sonar 2006 provided these unforgettable experiences by the bucket load. Top of the list for Beat Factor has to be Hot Chip, Agoria, Fat Freddy's Drop, and Dan Berkson and James What grooving inside. Further memorable moments must also include Alex Smoke playing on the beach, or simply searching through new releases in the record fair. We could go on, but of more importance is the fact that Sonar provides special moments for everyone who attends, each one special for personal reasons. And this is the great strength of Sonar. The musical diversity it offers in beautiful and unique settings, combined with spontaneous atmospheres sets Barcelona's International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art apart from any other festival in the world. And long may it continue.
Beat Factor full Sonar 2006 coverage:
Sonar 2006 Event Report - Day 1
Sonar 2006 Event Report - Day 2
Sonar 2006 Event Report - Day 3
(Photographs courtesy of Sonar Press and Farnaz Azari)
For further photographs and reports visit www.sonar.es
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