Summer music festivals – sunshine, mind-blowing music, great times – these are words that immediately spring to mind at this time of year. Unfortunately, for a lot of us here in the UK there are three other words that tend to gatecrash this idyllic notion and they are: ‘rain’, ‘mud’ and ‘wellies’. So often we find ourselves ‘tolerating’ the typically unpredictable British ‘summer’ whilst trying to rave it up to the Prodigy or getting our groove on with Delphic. And for a lot of us, we battle through it in a Churchill’s England stylee, putting on a stiff upper lip and laughing off the deluge of mud and excrement as a mere novelty and the true mark of your character (looking out the window right now, I must admit the weather for the forthcoming Glasto is looking pretty good, but this is a rare exception to the rule really isn’t it!).
Well, bollocks to all that I say. Why tolerate this most enigmatic of seasons when you don’t really have to? Whilst the children of the local school down the road from the Matterly Bowl are being airlifted out of their flooded village and the various independent festivals are being put out of business by greedy police unions, there are many great festivals a mere hop, skip and a bogle away in Europe.
One such festival is Sonar: International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art, in Barcelona, where I was lucky enough to pop my european festival cherry just last week. As I cast my mind back a few days, I fondly recall the beautiful clear blue skies, the temperatures in the mid-20s, the throngs of bikini-clad beautiful people, the complete lack of feral psy-trancers, the friendly naked chaps with the grande tattooed pene… oh and of course, the music. Sonar, for me, was as much about the setting as it was the music. Nestled amongst the bohemian el Raval by day, and the enormous disused airport near the majestic Montjuic by night, Sonar had the best of both worlds. It had the sunny laid-back vibes of a field in the middle of nowhere, yet you could still duck out whenever you liked to pick up cartons of sangria for 1 euro from the local Supermercado (quite handy considering one of the few downsides was the expensive drinks and food – but then that’s pretty much par for the course at most festivals). Of course that was if you could tear yourself away from the very cool Adidas-sponsored VIP bar that was dressed up to resemble the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars, complete with giant Millennium Falcon-shaped beanbags. And as a respite from the sun and sangria, there were also plenty of seminars, product demos and exhibitions to sink your intellectual teeth into. Then after a quick spruce up at your air-conditioned, mud-free, non-leaky hotel nearby, you’d take a short bus ride to the Sonar By Night venue and simply immerse yourself in banging dance music until the sun came up.
And what music! Highlights during the daytime for me were the SonarDome roadblock for Caribou, the electro-punk noise of Nedry, the 80s p-funk of Shake Aletti, the socio-political rhymes of Speech Debelle and, most surprsingly, the deep house grooves of Pete Tong on the ‘ones and zeroes’. The evenings were a more intense affair where the bigger acts got to flex their 303s in front of equally bigger crowds across the three arenas. Of the heavyweights, I was stunned by James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem in SonarClub, who were completely on top of their game. Performances of Drunk Girls, All My Friends and the epic Tribulations would have left me frozen with amazement if I hadn’t been dancing like such a loon instead. There were a few WTF looks from the more leftfield-leaning punters as Dizzee Rascal banged out pop hits such as Bonkers and Dance With Me, but they were in a minority as the rest of the crowd bounced with the boy in the corner prior to being kicked squarely in the cajones by the mental grooves of Caspa. And I’d be ashamed to omit the simply beautiful SonarPub arena, lit up like Piccadilly Circus (if Antoni Gaudi did neon advertising, of course).
However, as those who know me would expect, my highlight of the festival was always going to be The Chemical Brothers on the last night. Tom and Ed performed their new album Further from start to finish, followed by an encore of greatest hits and there wasn’t a single static person in the entire room. I say room, but that doesn’t really do the Sonar Club any justice… the place is immense. Like several football fields immense. I’m not usually a big fan of huge gigs, usually because the atmosphere can be rather tepid, often thanks to an imbalance of aggro lager boys and plastic music fans outnumbering the hug-a-stranger rave crew. But in this case, everyone was up for it, everyone was bouncing to every beat and everyone was left smiling after three days and three nights of showing the rest of festival-land how to do an excellent music festival.
I have told one slight cerdo pie though. As great as the Chemical Brothers were, the absolute highlight of the festival for me was sunny Barcelona. Giant tattooed nobs and all :)