Sónar Reykjavík Brings The Best In Electronic Music To The Winter Masses
Today we live in a truly globalised Bass Culture. Whether it’s dubstep from Santiago or drone techno from Kazakhstan, our digital interconnections ensure that the entire canon of dance music, past and present, is at our fingertips. Local sounds and flavours on street corners all over the world are ripe for plucking and commodification by DJs and producers in another continent. Every weekend, there are more new club nights, more new festivals and parties catered for by DJs criss-crossing the continents on low cost airlines armed only with a toothbrush and laptop.
At the heart of all this mayhem, standing like a calm fortress against a whirlwind of blind hedonism is Sonar, a shining beacon that celebrates a global cultural phenomenon, a fortress that draws fans, artists, and industry professionals into its steady embrace.
Sonar has come a long way since its humble beginnings more than 20 years ago. Founded back in 1994 by three men, Ricard Robles, Enric Palau and Sergi Caballero, it was simply titled “A Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art.” That year, Mixmaster Morris, Laurent Garnier and Sven Väth performed to around 6,000 people. Over 20 years, its brand and stature have grown organically in tandem with dance music itself and it is now one of the biggest and most important events on the dance music calendar. Last year was its biggest year ever, with over 100,000 people passing through its gates.
The festival has defined its importance by helping define a canon for the genre itself, while being able to capture and book artists in their prime (Daft Punk in 1997, LCD Soundsystem in 2003, Ricardo Villalobos back-to-back with Richie Hawtin in 2004). It also manages to trace the line of current dance music back to its pioneers, booking such acts as The Pet Shop Boys, Kraftwerk and Derrick May last year alongside newer acts such as Skrillex, Karenn, Seth Troxler and Fatima Al Qadiri.
While keeping to its core beliefs as festival, Sonar has continued to grow. Two years ago, it moved on from its traditional daytime venues at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) and the adjacent Center for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) in favour of a bigger spot, Fira Montjuïc in Plaça d’Espanya. At the same time they created Sonar+D, a series of events that aim to look at the link between dance music, creativity and new digital technologies.
In reality though, Sonar is a brand, and since 2002 it has spread its reach out to cities across the world in a series of franchises and parallel festivals. Step forward Sónar Reykjavík. The festival decamped to Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Centre last year where, despite some institutional issues (crappy licensing hours for starters), it passed off as a success. There were exceptional performances from foreign artists like Diamond Version, Squarepusher, James Blake and LFO, while locals Ghostigital, Sísý Ey and Gluteus Maximus wowed the international media present.
In its second year now, the festival has grown from two nights to three and has 67 artists lined up on the bill. This year also sees the festival run in tandem with Sonar Stockholm, with headliners travelling between the cities on different nights. This could mean a fair bit of standardisation in the headline acts, but a number of top line international artists such as Evian Christ, Diplo and Paul Kalkbrenner will still be appearing over the festival weekend. Meanwhile, far away from much of the heat and light of more established scenes around the world, there are also some incredibly talented young artists, DJs and producers plying their trade on these shores.
To that end, the organisers of Sónar Reykjavík have a gold-plated opportunity to use the festival as a vehicle for change by not only making it a well-planned showcase for Icelandic electronic music, but also a breeding ground to foster new growth and much needed dynamism from Icelandic dance music both in terms of DJing and producing. But whatever expectations you may have for this year’s Sónar Reykjavik, all we can say is this; no matter your preferred flavour of electronic music, be it glitchy electro pop, deep disco house, or stonking techno, we can safely guarantee that there will definitely be something on offer this weekend that will cause your ears to burn and your hips to grind.
Now get going and remember to have it large, OK?
Bob Cluness’ Picks
Talk about seeing the light. As the head of neo-psychedelic band Caribou, Dan Snaith had a good thing going on. But then he had to go and do a Four Tet by going to clubbing after gigs, which ignited a passion for dance music and culminated in the creation of his DAPHNI alias. His 2012 debut album, ‘Jiaolong,’ a collection of previous 12”s and unreleased tracks, shows a deft, astute hand in understanding the language of dance grooves that at the same time feels loose and nimble. He also showed that his mixing skills and ear are up to scratch, producing a SEVEN AND A HALF HOUR long mix on the release party for ‘Jiaolong.’ This guy is definitely no slouch. Highly recommended.
Saturday, February 15, SonarClub – Silfurberg, 23:00–00:30
If you fancy your beats a bit harder and righteous (No disco tech house for you, right?) then we recommend getting down to the car park on Friday night to hear some tr00 deep local techno action where you can hear EXOS holding court. A pioneer in the Icelandic techno scene, EXOS (IRL name Arnviður Snorrason) has been DJ’ing and producing techno of the purest form since the ‘90s, releasing music with the likes of Thule and Force Music. With a canon that includes three albums (We recommend 2001’s ‘Strength’) and over a dozen EPs, he’s played with legends such as Dave Clarke, Surgeon, Mortiz von Oswald and Marcel Dettmann. With new stuff coming out in 2014 on his new label, Strobelight Network, you need to check him out.
Friday, February 14, SonarLab – Car Park, 23:00–00:00
Dance music comes in all shapes and forms these days and it doesn’t come in a more multifaceted or mysterious form than music from the head of JAMES HOLDEN. He burst on the scene in 2006 with ‘The Idiots Are Winning,’ a skittering blend of microgrooves and abstract down-tuned electronica. But it was his 2013 sophomore album ‘The Inheritors,’ (released on his equally enigmatic Border Community label), where things got really interesting. A no holds barred mix of analogue drone sounds, splintered techno fragments and evocations of krautrock and KLF chaos magick. If you have ever danced in a dark forest or cave with the wood nymphs, then JAMES HOLDEN will be the desired soundtrack for you.
Saturday, February 15, SonarHall – Norðurljós, 23:15–00:15
There’s been some interesting stirrings happening in the local house scene over the past 12 months, with many local producers and DJs upping their game a bit, injecting fresher sounds and grooves into their sets, something which was sorely needed. Out of all the local house acts on display over the weekend, the inside money says you should go and dance to HOUSEKELL on Saturday. Áskell Harðarson may be one of the newer kids on the block, but his preference for playing deep soulful house music marks him out from the rest of the pack. When he joined local club house/garage collective BORG in 2012 though, it all went up a notch and now we’re expecting some banging 12” vinyl releases from him in 2014. Tapps Aff!
Saturday, February 15, SonarFlói – Bay View Area, 00:00–01:00
There are quite a few acts on this year’s SONAR line-up that are so new, they’ve yet to release any actual material or make their live debuts. But out of all of them, none seem to invite more intrigue and interest than Icelandic/French duo STARWALKER. Making their live debut at Sonar, the pedigree behind this new project is copper bottom solid. On one side you’ve got Jean-Benoit Dunckel (of existential French pop act Air), on the other you have Barði Jóhannsson (of Bang Gang and Lady & Bird fame), and… um… that’s it as far as we know! But on the strength of their debut single “Bad Weather” we can expect some gorgeously layered, downer pop of the highest order.
Friday, February 14, SonarHall – Norðurljós, 20:00–20:45