Sónar report

The highlights from last weekend's festival, including New Order, Flying Lotus, Maria Minerva and Joy Orbison.


Words by: Charlie Jones

Sónar By Day:

Flying Lotus
Playing twice at the festival – first on Thursday afternoon at SonarVillage as part of the Brainfeeder showcase, and for a second time on Friday afternoon at the SonarDome – the LA musician shows why, despite his brand of twisted and bent-out-of-shape beat work being taken on my many others, he’s still the master. He’s a charismatic performer too, whipping up the audience with a powerful stage presence as well as his engaging blend of screwed samples and body-jerking, off-kilter beats.

As DJ sets go, Nightwave’s early afternoon show in the SonarDome was a real firecracker of a performance. Slovenian-born Maya Medvesek seriously knows what she’s doing, building and building up to a 100 metre sprint, tearing through juke, hip hop at an enthralling pace. It’s giddy work for a sunny afternoon, and leaves you feeling a little breathless just watching her throw together tracks, the BPM getting ever more dizzy. Her command of the crowd is total, and it’s a great surprise win of a performance.

Maria Minerva
Of all the 100% Silk stable of artists playing at Sónar over the weekend, Maria Minerva’s work has been the most consistent and intriguing. She plays on Saturday afternoon in the Sónar Complex, a stage slightly out of the main site that looks like an old church, and provides a suitably special backdrop for her beguiling set. Last time I saw her live, she stayed very much behind her equipment, head bowed, systematically going through her performance. Today is a different story. Her confidence has grown considerably over the last few months, and she’s flailing about, belting out her hypnotic, warm and fuzz-over songs like a pop star playing a stadium. The new songs she plays also sound promising, and whatever is next for Maria Minerva, she’ll certainly have our attention for.

Though the Saturday at Sónar was plagued by the occasional sound glitch, Xxxy still managed to pull punch after punch in the SonarDome. In contrast perhaps with his own more cerebral productions, his DJ sets are straight up, slamming, late-night track after track. He plays Levon Vincent’s Man Or Mistress – the very definition of a slamming, late-night track – at around 7:30pm while the sun is still high in the sky. It’s masterful and controlled as well, rough-edged house and techno that keeps hands in the air and the tent he plays in full to the brim.

DJ Harvey
A treat for those resident in the UK (he never plays here) was the opportunity to witness DJ Harvey at the SonarDome early Saturday evening. He’s only given an hour and a half to play, which for a DJ more comfortable with playing for six or eight hours, you get the feeling isn’t quite scope enough to show what he’s capable of. Because of the short slot, he mainly sticks with techno – including his own new Locussolous production Berghain – and then moves to ecstatic disco in the later half. Your left wishing it could have been a weirder, that he’d dug a little deeper into the crates, but it’s still strong stuff and ends the day on a high.

Sónar By Night

Maya Jane Coles
Sónar by night is a spectacle. Nothing quite prepares for the scale of the complex. It feels like something that could be seen from space – three stages rigged up with strobes and lights, before which mind-bending numbers swarm, nod their heads and shake their limbs. One DJ whose rise to the top of this making-large-quantities-of-people-go-wild game has been particularly speedy in recent years is London producer Maya Jane Coles. She seems incredibly comfortable playing to such vast numbers late-night at the SonarLab, pumping out house and techno with deft skill. It’s maybe a little monotonous and one-dimensional, but definitely competent work.

New Order
New Order in the SonarClub at 11pm have a pretty easy task. They’ve got so many strong songs to their name that all they need to do is play them. After kicking off with the slightly lesser known Crystal, they indeed proceed to do just that. It’s amazing how fresh and high-flying a song like Bizarre Love Triangle still is, and Blue Monday, its raw build and robotic march, still sounds ahead of the curve. They also give the crowd a smattering of Joy Division tracks, climaxing their set with Love Will Tear Us Apart hitting the thousands in front of them right in the heart.

Hot Chip
You forget just how much Hot Chip have ingrained themselves over the last decade. Seeing them play in the SonarPub on Saturday night, you realize just how many good songs of euphoric robot pop they’ve got. The Warning, Boy From School, One Life Stand are all present, and sound great on the mammoth sound system they’re playing on. One kind of wishes they hadn’t switched up Over & Over into something widescreen and stadium, as the way the original nervously juddered and twitched into life was definitely part of the charm. Nevertheless though, it’s sing-alongs all the way down their set list, and exactly the kind of pop pick-me-up one needs as the festival inches into the early hours of the morning.

Mary Anne Hobbs B2B Blawan
Blawan’s work as a DJ and a producer is hard, rough, raw and rude. Perfect for the gigantic crowd gathered here, all pumped up and ready to dance, to sink their teeth into. Mary Anne Hobbs meanwhile is one of Britain’s best and most renowned at choosing tracks, so combining the two was always going to produce fireworks. On Saturday night/ Sunday morning at the SonarPub they definitely impress, hammering out hard-nosed techno, ripping through plenty of opportunities for the crowd to raise their hands in the air: Swims gets an airing, and there’s a moment when Blawan plays three of his own productions in a row (including his most recent raw clubbing triumph Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage) which shows just why he’s risen to become one of the best.

Off Sónar

Move D [Warm, Electric Minds & Fina Records Off Sónar Party]
Move D is competent. The way he can control a crowd, make them jump for joy and nod and shake about with the subtlest of shifts is impressive. He’s a DJ that works a crowd’s emotions as well as their bodies, making those before him swell with happiness and pump with energy, creating a very special kind of party atmosphere. This kind of easy captivation of an audience only comes from someone with such levels of experience and passion.

Joy Orbison B2B Jackmaster [Numbers Off Sónar Party]
Joy Orbison’s profile is generally spoken of with respect to his productions. But he’s someone who has grown from strength to strength as a DJ as well over the last few years, and tonight it really shows. He follows on from Levon Vincent, whose exploration into techno’s harder and darker edges was met rapturously, and he plays alongside Jackmaster, one of the most masterful party DJs of recent years. Joy Orbison though is arguably the stand out, every time he takes to the decks the energy levels in the room noticeably rise. It doesn’t hurt that his own material is so good, and the moments those tracks come out are the ones that shine.

Ame (Live) [Innervisions Off Sónar Party]
The Innervisions party is set on the edge of the city in a park, up a hill, which you climb to passing through cobbled streets, constantly “wow”-ing at the view. Ame’s live set is as breathtaking as the surroundings. There’s a lot of talk in recent years, with the likes of Hessle Audio coming to prominence, of dance music being stripped to its most raw. Ame has been playing techno in a different way at its most to-the-gut for years now, the driving squall of Enoi, the unambiguous all out climax of his Envision remix, testament to the fact this is dance music played as hard deadly as possible by someone with really technical nuance and power. Henrik Schwarz of the label joins him towards the end, and then Innervisions label heads Dixon and the DJing one of Ame close proceedings with unmatched selection prowess as the sun sets over one of the most idyllic party locations imaginable. A special day indeed.