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Sónar 2019: 10 key performances

A whole year criticizing. Criticizing that Bad Gyal was the main character of Sónar by Day. Criticizing that Bad Bunny was the biggest headliner of Sónar by Night. Criticizing that Cecilio G’s show was the most commented one, the one that raised the most expectations. Criticizing the great attendance at Dellafuente’s concert. Criticizing the absence of great concerts of high standing as those of Gorillaz or LCD Soundsystem last year. Criticizing, in short, that Sónar had surrendered (apparently) to urban music.

Was it really like this? Has Sónar ceased to be an advanced music festival? Has Sónar ceased to be a reference in electronic music? No. The answer is simple: no. It is undeniable that the shift towards the urban sound has been commented by everybody. It is also undeniable that it is not an invented shift, but real, tangible in our society and in the scene. Sónar does nothing more than to show a reality, be faithful to that reality and play the role of a window to the world. Isn’t that its true mission?


bad gyal sonar 2019 barcelona xceed
Image: © Sónar Festival


Discoverers of music and sounds: don’t be alarmed. Sónar is still Sónar. And, in Sónar, you’ll continue to discover what is coming, you’ll continue to discover the music of the future, the most daring, groundbreaking and avant-garde proposals. In Sónar, you’ll continue to discover that electronic music doesn’t understand historical moments or scenic trends.

We say this supported by the trancy futurism of Tutu, the environmental and experimental techno of Afrodeutsche, the dancefloor-oriented house of Leon Vynehall or Disclosure, the broken schemes of Deena Abdelwahed or Neon Chambers, the musical embraces of Caterina Barbieri, K Á R Y Y N, Kelly Moran, Daito Manabe or Max Cooper together with Bruce Brubaker, the extraterrestrial rhythms of Actress together with Young Paint, the transgressor hardcore of Virgen Maria or the incomprehensible and overwhelming spectacle of Arca. All that, without forgetting Lorenzo Senni’s rock ‘n’ roll format or DJ Krush’s scratchy and relentless hip-hop recital. But we didn’t want to give you a list of 30, or 20. So, after breaking our heads a lot, we’ve selected these 10. With them, we’ll travel again through Sónar 2019.


10. Holly Herndon pres. “PROTO”

It was Friday afternoon. The weekend was just beginning, but many of us agreed at Sónar Hall to attend one of the shows curated by Sónar+D. “PROTO” was a clear example of what the festival of technological development parallel to Sónar has been spreading this year: the influence of technology on the evolution of performative music. Holly Herndon, undoubtedly one of the most interesting multidisciplinary artists of the last decade, appeared on stage along with 5 vocalists (something new in her shows) and Spawn, an artificial intelligence (AI) machine specialized in sound generation, vocal processing and visual manipulation. Together with her faithful partner Mat Dryhurst, Holly Herndon gave us one of the most beautiful and intense shows at Sónar by Day 2019.


9. Underworld

“Drift”, Underworld’s latest project, was the perfect excuse, the trigger for Sónar to reconvene one of the most influential eternal groups in dance electronic music. It wasn’t their best concert (it has to be said). Previous performances at Sónar itself surpassed this edition. The perception of the sound (especially the bass) could be improved. We saw a softer version of Underworld. More impregnated with pop dyes than with psychedelia. Closer to the electronic band format, to the “hit” format, than to the more underground techno sound of the British group. But “REZ” sounded. And “Born Slippy” sounded. And we shouted, jumped and almost cried with them. Again. Again and again.


8. Red Axes (live)

The usual thing is to see Red Axes in concert format with vocalist Abrão leading the show. Another option is for two of the three members of the group to enter the booth in a DJ set format. In Sónar, however, they would appear in the Village, on Saturday afternoon, in a live format, with 3 mics, with a high range of instruments (drums, harmonica, guitar, keyboard…) and with their usual electronic live set. The result moved us to the multiple trips through Asia and Africa that have always influenced the music of this Israeli trio. Several of their latest releases sounded. Their level continues to rise. With them, Sónar by Day woke up, started dancing and got the party also started.


7. Maya Jane Coles pres. “Nocturnal Sunshine”

Under the alias Nocturnal Sunshine, one can find a special Maya Jane Coles, much stronger, much more influenced by UK garage and trance frequencies. Darker, if you like, but not industrial at all. Bumpier. More authentic. More suitable for the tastes of a classic Spanish raver. It fit perfectly into Sónar. The doubt was if 8 pm on Friday was the best time. It didn’t matter. After 10 minutes, we were already squeezing with Loom’s “Aacccid”. Shortly after, we were jumping with Daze Prism’s “Bad Man”. After 60 minutes, we almost lost our hands in homage to one of the most attractive selectors of the European underground spectrum.


6. Paul Kalkbrenner

If “Drift” was the excuse to bring Underworld, “Parts Of Life” was the excuse to bring Paul Kalkbrenner. In 2013, the man from Leipzig conquered Sónar’s heart with a live performance full of light and emotion. 6 years later, Paul reappeared at Sónar Club with a new visual show in which small cameras placed very close to the artist allowed us to almost enter his body. During those 2 hours (from 3 am to 5 am on Saturday night), every gesture of the German, every movement, every action was observed and lived by the audience. We hoped to discover many new artworks by Paul Kalkbrenner. However, little by little, the performance took on the tone of a “journey to the past”. And yes, we revived “Feed Your Head”. We revived “Altes Kamuffel”. We revived “Sky And Sand”. We revived “Aaron”. We revived, in short, the best “parts of his life”.


5. Murlo (live av)

After his successful tours through America and Asia as a DJ last year, Chris Pell locked himself in his laboratory to continue developing his audiovisual show. In it, psychedelic images are manipulated live, in which lyrics and animations, always vintage and digital, set the pace. Their sound was visceral, always surprising and unexpected. Pop, trance, hardcore, ambient, darkwave… And a massive lot of synthesizer. In short, a specific sound that filled Sónar Lab earlier than expected and made Murlo one of the greats of this 26th edition of Sónar.


4. Acid Arab (live)

It’s not easy to get the Sónar Pub full at 11 pm. It was full, and the audience knew that the newest Acid Arab sounds were on the way. It’s expected that in 2019 we will receive a new LP from the French duo, news that were confirmed in Sónar by listening live to a lot of music still unreleased. Oriental house, techno and acid combinations with Arabic songs… The route proposed by Acid Arab, also accompanied by a special set of lights for the occasion, made us open Friday night in style. Emotions were on the surface. And that had just begun.


3. Nicola Cruz

He’s the best ethnic music DJ in the world. By far. The intense Friday night with Tutu, Acid Arab, Murlo, DJ Seinfeld, Underworld, Mall Grab, Disclosure, Four Tet, Peggy Gou & Palms Trax and DJ Koze was no excuse. At about 4 pm, after starting with Kelly Moran’s manipulated piano, we quickly went downstairs to Sónar Hall and found the big party going on. Suddenly, the perception of time and space was nullified. There, there were only dancers with their eyes closed, hands raised and a smile of happiness in reaction to each of the tracks that Nicola Cruz had selected for his 1h15 session. Excellent mixes, precise, perfect. And a sonorous journey through the most tribal, ethnic and nomadic sounds that had never been heard before in Barcelona. Nicola Cruz gave us a master class.


2. Perel (live)

If Sónar has something special, it’s the restlessness of its audience. These are open, interested people, who don’t need to know the artist to give him or her a chance and dedicate an hour of their day to him/her. Something similar happened with Perel. She’s not the most famous artist in the Catalan capital (despite being one of the most important producers in the DFA label). However, the Sónar Dôme, curated (for the last year) by the Red Bull Music Academy (which is about to close), was filled to witness live the magic that this young German artist called Perel creates based on synthesizer, bases close to nu-disco and indie dance, melodies more typical of melodic house or even melodic techno tracks, and, above all, an angelic voice manipulated live based on echo and delay and with which she throws her messages to the dancefloor. The fact that she does it in German always gives her an underground touch that most clubbers like. That she sings treasures that will soon be imperishable anthems, such as “Die Dimension” or “Alles”, caused more than one to get goosebumps. Coming out of a live show by Perel is overwhelming. Few made us feel as much as she did in this Sónar.


1. Dixon

What will we say about him that we haven’t already said? Steffen Berkhahn (that’s what Dixon is really called) won the Xceed DJs of the Year 2018 thanks to 365 days of recital after recital. There’s no doubt he’s on the same path in 2019. His first season as an Ibiza resident (he hosts the Transmoderna party on Fridays in Pacha) is trying to revolutionise the island’s musical style. Coincidence or not (and we don’t like to believe in coincidences), Sónar has bet on him this year to close the Sónar Pub on Saturday night (or, better said, on Sunday morning). That’s where we’ve seen legendary closings like Laurent Garnier, Nina Kraviz, Helena Hauff, The Black Madonna or Richie Hawtin. That’s where Dixon made us wake up, where he made us dawn with him, taking us in flights from synth ambient to melodic techno, from dark house to psychedelic disco, from broken bases to the most regular ones. The music selected by Dixon is both beauty and darkness. It’s hope, but it’s melancholy. It’s light, but it’s solitude. When the first notes of “Ambient Braindisk” began to sound, we realized that Sónar 2019 was coming to an end, but it was doing so with the best electronic music DJ of all times writing history. Dixon hugged us, caressed us, took care of us, laid us down and kissed us on the cheek, relaxing our spirit and telling us “see you next year, Sónar”.


(Cover Image: © Sónar Festival)