Sonar has been a staple part of my summer calendar for the last six years or so and this year they celebrated the 17th edition of the week long music festival in Barcelona, Spain. The official 'Sonar by night', if I'm honest has never garnered my full enthusiasm and my Sonar-Off experiences over the years have far outweighed the official!
Travelling miles to lose all your friends in a colossal aeroplane hangar with no hope of ever finding them again and being so far away from the stage that the dj is a mere dot in the distance isn't my idea of a good time.
Sonar-Off however, is quite the opposite with a week of intimate(ish) parties dotted across the city in clubs, parks, on beaches and hotel rooftops; all with the sublime backdrop of the cities charming scape. I as usual had a whole list of parties and artists I wanted to go and see - my little itinery which of course, went out the window upon arrival.
But that's the beauty of it I guess; there's so much on show that regardless where you end up, planned or unplanned, an epic time and most importantly, quality music from the industry's most regarded figures is going to be on show in abundance.
Sonar-Off 2011 kicked off with fleeting visits on Wednesday afternoon to the 'People Like Us' party at Mac Arena Beach Mar where unfortunately Serialism's Rainer was playing to an empty expanse of sand (which to be fair, apparently picked up later in the evening) and the Life & Death Showcase where Kyle Hall unnecessarily banged the shit out of sun drenched, upbeat terrace of fresh faces who quite clearly wanted music to reflect their mood...they weren't getting it.
Things got progressively better though with Wednesday night at BeCool for the Toi.Toi.Musik London showcase. In keeping with the underground vibe that Toi.Toi have managed to achieve in the last 12 months, BeCool is a small and intimate club which upon arrival, was rapidly filling up with recognizable London faces to the sounds of jozif and Voigtmann playing b2b.
Although these two are actually an odd pairing in their musical choices, somehow their partnership behind the decks seems to work with Voigtmann's vintage deep house or alternatively, Perlon style techno tracks merging seamlessly with jozif's rare disco house and techno gems; their coupling keeping the crowd at a constant level of excitement.
Hello?Repeat boss and Toi.Toi. resident Jan Krueger closed the floor which was by that point, laden with teased and sweaty dancers from Jay Haze's previous set.
A consistently striking dj, Krueger manipulated his collection of nineties techno and deep house vinyl to full extent, fusing them with an elegant and unobvious technique that never fails to absolutely blow me away, regardless of how many times I see him play.
The following day, Save The Day at Hotel-W hosted by Adam Shelton and Subb-an's One Records and Tom Craven and James Cotteril's new Illusion Records imprint was in full progress as I arrived to catch the end of The Mole's set on the second terrace; Canadian Colin as always was on top form dropping classic house records to a hands in the air crowd as the sun streamed across the decking.
Things weren't quite as rosy however on the other terrace where Fuck Pony, who was booked to do a one hour live set, was filling in as dj due to the cancellation of Maceo Plex 24 hours previously and the lateness of last minute replacements Art Department.
After The Mole hung up his boots for the day, fabric's musical director Craig Richards took centre stage to produce the by far most absorbing output of the party. Being a regular at fabric, I've seen Craig play countless times and can honestly say that I have never been disappointed. But, it's the few times I've seen him play outside of Room 1 that he's excelled himself to the kind of degree that Save The Day witnessed.
A devotee of rare vinyl digging and the weird and wonderful, Richards charm of mixing old and new, twisted and powerful house and techno music was ripe and his years of experience shone through. In a recent interview with Defected magazine Richards said "I'm not a selfish DJ; I like the handover to another...presenting them with the dance floor intact and not exhausted because of some selfish, narrow-minded agenda to burn the floor within the slot I have."
Whilst Craig's quote is totally true of his character, he stole the show at Hotel- W; that I believe to be through his years of experience and pure dedication to music more than anything else! Subb-an followed with his kick heavy Live show which only fuelled the crowd's hyped excitement with its dips and drop's, paving the way for Adam Shelton and Tom Cravens finale dj set. Whilst it wasn't quite the party of the festival that it had been built up to be, Craig's set alone was enough to make it a musical highlight.
Visionquest Meets Lola Ed at Sonar 2011 from Nick Ensing on Vimeo. Up next, back to Mac Arena Beach Mar to be greeted by a thankfully far larger crowd than the previous day - unsurprisingly so, because it was men of the moment Visionquest vs Lola Ed that were hosting. As we arrived, Ryan Crosson was playing along the obvious lines of current popularity; Benoit & Sergio's "Everybody" amongst other hits belted out to huge crowd stretching across the beach and to an equally large amount of industry people milling behind the decks.
Taking over from Ryan, Shonky played what was easily the stand out set of the night. A remarkable couple of hours ensued from the French dj, laying down beats such as his own imminent remix of Alex Celler's "Blue Vaudeville" and an edit of Andre Lodemann's "Where Are You Now" before being joined by Lee Curtiss for an infectiously upbeat b2b session of thundering house.
Anthony Collins took their lead, playing to supremacy before Seth Troxler & Dyed Soundorom's b2b laid out tracks such as 95's Dj Freddy feat. La Chose's "Emergency Delivery" and the more recent "Fail Forever" from When The Saints Go Machine. Pleasantly surprised by the Visionquest crew and their guest artists, they rallied an excitable and hefty following of fans and industry alike from the afternoon until the early hours of the morning, diminishing my pre-conception that the Visionquest event was going to be too 'obvious' in its musical appeal.
Thursday didn't end there and we left before Visionquest's closing to catch Glasgow's Sub Club bringing their infectious Scottish warmth to Sonar at BeCool. Sub Club's Saturday night residents Harri and Domenic warmed up impeccably for Cassy's set which was one of the most consistently solid techno sets I've heard in a long time.
For a dj with such stern appearance and lack of visual presence in the booth, Cassy held the crowd at air punching momentum throughout, never dipping or needing to build and break (or smile) to add fire to her bittersweet 'drop moment' mix.
Tobi Neuman joined Cassy by which point my memory fails me - all I know is that we stayed on that revolving dance floor in a constant state of dance until the sun rose.
Friday and I headed to Innervisions and Pampa at Mirabe, set high in the mountain and boasting a line up of respected and innovative dj's and Live acts the crowd was as I expected; mature and appreciative, enjoying the stunning backdrop of Barcelona from the terrace. Die Vogel's Live was received with whoops of joy as his "Welt Am Draht" remix played out with Live trumpet to an enchanted crowd. Henrik Schwarz and Ame's experimental set was also something to see although its rhythmic climax was short and sweet, the 'experimental' edge taking over a little too much for my taste. My only criticism of the otherwise classy affair was the need to rotate upstairs and downstairs between sets as the running order bizarrely depicted.
After a day of sleep and recuperation Sunday arrived and was what turned out to be the best day for me. Hotel Catalunya were hosting the Leftroom vs Culprit party on their roof terrace and after trekking up to the roof with beautiful views of Plaza Espana I was greeted by fake grass laid out over the dance floor and washing lines strewn with disco balls, plastic hearts and flowerpots of red carnations.
Seuil and Shonky took to the decks next, Seuil's own "Ultravision" track featuring JAW being a memorable highlight and Clockworks remix of "Morals" redeemed with squeals of delight, laying down a befitting atmosphere for Lee Burridge and Leftroom boss Matt Tolfrey who surprised everyone with a remix of "Crystalised" from the XX from Leftroom artist Inxec.
One of the great things about Sonar-Off week is the motivation and energy that's clearly passed on from one act to the next as they hand the controls over to their colleagues and more often than not friends, to continue the party. Leftroom vs Culprit at Hotel Cataluyna seeped this vibe in abundance between Droog, jozif, Subb-an, Seuil, Shonky, Tolfrey and Burridge.
10 years of secretsundaze at SONAR 2011 - Teaser from selective pressure + on Vimeo. Next and final stop of the week was the secretsundaze party in the incredible Montjuic Mountain. The climb to the Green Spot and the Terrrazza was worth it just to see the place alone; set amongst towering trees and mystical winding pathways it's a magical secret garden and inside the Terrrazza, a huge vast space with raised dj booth and a central structure which dancers took full advantage of climbing all over.
My late arrival to the London party, who were celebrating their 10th Anniversary (An absolute lifetime in event years!) meant I only caught the end of James Priestley's set outside before moving inside to the Terrrazza to see Adam Marshall, followed by deep house guru Move D play his usual expertise of low slung house with enveloping bass lines and smouldering analogue touch.
Giles Smith rounded up the party and my Sonar-Off week with a set that justifies why these guys have made it to 10 years and are still going strong.
No hype, no trend, no bullshit, quality will always prevail.
Bring on Sonar-Off 2012!