Sonar By Night
If Sonar By Day is a playground, then Sonar By Night is Disneyland. It’s the kind of thing that has to be seen to be believed. A gigantic warehouse/hangar/trade show structure one long and wide indoor space that looks like it would hold 50,000 people alone with two outdoor stages that rival the size of main stages at most festival. In between, there are bumper cars with an international DJ playing to those brave enough (or off their heads enough) to hang out on the perimeter of the bumper car track.
The lineup is a mixed bag: Deadmau5′s show is impressive in scale but dull in texture yet it brings in the punters, Amon Tobin’s Isam show loses its impact in the massive hall, Lana Del Rey was playing the wrong festival pretty much, Friendly Fires did what they do best, The Roots lost me during a jazzy meandering set when they played ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’, Die Antwoord were fun for all the ten minutes I saw of them; it will work well in the Academy in Dublin next month no doubt. James Blake got to see what it felt like to DJ on a main stage with his every CDJ move scrutinised by the Sonar video screens so it felt a bit #stadiumstep. His set went hard on early DMZ dubstep so it was fun. Modeselektor did their greatest hits thing, as they did at Forbidden Fruit a few weeks earlier.
Joined by Dave Harrington live as he was the next day for Darkside, Jaar’s live show relies on subtle changes in his tracks to keep things moving. On record, it can be a bit abstract but in front of what felt like 4,000 people at Sonar by Night, it was deep and widescreen. Jaar’s tracks can have an acid jazz tinge to them which works because the palette is kept muted and the beats are keeping the focus on your feet. I’m glad I picked this set; it was full on audio escapism.
I’d never seen Metronomy live before but heard they were a bit more muscular than their recordings suggested. Well, it really worked at Sonar By Night, songs from The English Riveria album formed the bulk of the set (naturally) and were positively danceable and even a little bit rave. While they were one of the few “guitar bands” performing at Sonar (singer Joseph Mount jokingly called the instrument slung around his waist “the enemy of progress”), they lined up at a similar time slot to New Order and in that regard they continue the tradition of English indie-dance bands.
It’s almost too easy to dismiss Hot Chip at this point. They release great singles and decent albums generally but live, is where they excel. Watching them play on Saturday, I realised I haven’t seen this band play live since Electric Picnic 2005. How did that happen? Well I’m in the enviable and minor position of telling you that the band live are much better live these days but you probably knew that.
Hot Chip members are currently in a pretty fruitful period with a new album In Our Heads and side projects including The Two Bears, Joe Goddard’s solo stuff, About Group and New Build. That’s some considerable music making in the last year alone and that talent and sense hits headstrong into their live set. Each band member was assured in their role. Alexis Taylor, Joe Goddard, Felix Martin, Al Doyle and Owen Clarke were joined on stage by Rob Smoughton on every other instrument and the excellent Sarah Jones, of New Young Pony Club on drums. The setlist reads like a greatest hits at this point: ‘Boy From School’, ‘One Life Stand’,'Over and Over’ ‘I Feel Better’ and ‘Hold On’. New album songs ‘Don’t Deny Your Heart’ and ‘Flutes’ in particular will be up there once the album sinks in. ‘Ready For The Floor’ even segued into Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’. What more do you want?
So Sonar 2012 overall was a great experience. I had underestimated the scale of Sonar By Night, it really is a bit mindblowing. I sadly missed John Talabot and Squarepusher but will see the former this weekend. Musically, if we’re talking trends, traditional house and techno were staples, juke and footwork tracks were common and reflecting the lack of segmentation of genres in dance music, all of it was mixed together in most sets. The high energy club-based rap hybrid played by the likes of Nguzunguzu, the LuckyMe crew and brought mainstream by tracks like ‘Mercy’ is becoming more prevalent. It’s a lot of fun to dance to as well. Commercial dance was represented by Fatboy Slim and Deadmau5 but give me Skrillex any day, at least his show is hyper fun, not just endless buildups and breakdowns. Dubstep was confined to the Hyperdub showcase and James Blake’s DJ set, there was no aggressive “IDM version” to be heard thankfully.
More sets from Sonar at http://redbullmusicacademyradio.com.