Festival Frolics: Sónar 2010.

A barrage of linguistically stunted World Cup commentary booms ostentatiously from the everlastingly open slew of Catalan bars, as Sónar by Day pumps out the more subdued side to contemporary electro from the heart of Barcelona's Ciutat Vella, the likes of Basque daydreamers Delorean, Mercury queen Speech Debelle and BBC Introducing starlets Nedry and Shake Aletti all sweating it out in a specially erected arena slap bang in the city centre, just off the sordid 24-hour hedonism of La Rambla. A mere three weeks have passed since Primavera Sound infiltrated the languid coastline and sweltering boardwalks of Cataluña's capital and with barely enough time to pack a Glastonbury bag or two, Europe's leading Advanced Music and Multimedia Art Festival, Sónar returns to smear squelched sounds, shatter illusions and preconceptions, and shave off a brain cell or two. Boasting a line up so eclectic it's effectively the polar opposite of Noel Edmonds' uniquely paisley wardrobe, with everything from Ryoji Ikeda light installations climbing 10km into the paint palette skies overhead to the latest in robotic technology, and onto anything and everything techno squeezed into a couple of sun kissed días.

However, all that changes once the sun shies away from the maddening crowds roasting in its blinding UV rays and hoards descend on the distant outskirts of the city to congregate in what seems to be an airplane hangar even in the most sober of states. For Sónar by Night, a compact clump of industrialised expo matter for two nights only becomes the future of all things electronic, blippy and glitchy, whilst hauling gargantuan throwback icons on board just for the ride, dragged lackadaisically in its watery wake as it washes up on Barcelonan shores. Stumbling through a floor already akin to a sea awash with plastic cups, Sónar pertains more to a strand of showcase ambience in place of the bastardised significance 'festival' has gone on to embody. It's Friday, it's midnight and the amorous, hallucinatory electronica of Francophonic pioneers Air are steadying for take off. Bouncing off the concrete walls of the vacuous SonarClub, sounds disperse whimsically, like Barceloneta bag sellers dashing from the Guardia Civil until the infamous reedy whistle of Alpha Beta Gaga gets toes a-tapping, necks a-nodding and tongues a-flapping. Countless ad campaigns down the line and the Talkie Walkie track still maintains a simplicity as refreshing as an in-flight face wipe. A devastatingly down tempo rendition of La Femme D'Argent rounds off proceedings in typically seductive, if a little lethargic fashion. A little like a certain Mr. Gainsbourg then really... Over in the SonarPub, sarf-west Lahndan electropop quintet Hot Chip reinstate themselves for approximately the 538th time as the geek chic contemporary take on Simon & Garfunkel that's somehow more thrilling than it sounds, Joe Goddard bounding about buoyantly to the likes of Hold On complementing Alexis Taylor's deadpan vocal delivery like strawberries and vinegar. Yet there lies an undying complacency almost in their purple prose, their Casio keys, that's ripped open and laid bare to rot in the chilling Spanish twilight, as the inane repetition of Over And Over shaves unerringly close to the bone in both name and nature, a fizzled finale to an ultimately disingenuous hour. Over in Sónar's tightest squeeze, it's lowest stage SonarLab, Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, fresh from frying brains to a genre-confused crisp with latest LP Cosmogramma, sets himself apart as the festival's ultimate sonic haberdasher, bashing together jazz, soul and aged hip-hop snippets with Mr. Oizo mixes and dishing out a sickeningly slick aural assault marathon. Astonishingly, what with Radiohead allegedly having wrapped up writing their latest record, Thom Yorke's implausible appearance is lacking. Who'da thunk it?! DFA main man James Murphy inevitably filled more column inches than Bryan Ferry setting sail on an ecologically sound Caribbean cruise when announcing latest outing This Is Happening to be LCD Soundsystem's final foray into the decelerating emptying of shelves in HMV, Spillers and every independent record stockist in between, yet as a live proposition, Murphy et al. still leave a little less than everything to be desired. Swaggering about like a zonked has-been amidst the sleaze of a Hollywood awards do, were Murphy to possess any less stage presence he may as well have saved a penny or two on sustenance, flights and intoxicants by employing a cardboard cutout of his ravaged limbs, Yeah still sounding as abominable as the day of its inane conception. Would it really be such a universally mourned tragedy were this to be his final fade out? From bowing out to returning to the fray of techno revolution, Richie Hawtin reignites his Plastikman set for an inaugural world tour under the immortal moniker, unleashing the minimal clicks, growls and bottomed-out bass pounding of I Don't Know from behind swirling visuals of fluorescent gum globules. Despite Hawtin's techno omnipotence however, his tendency to construct haunting electronica fit primarily for desolated alleys occasionally offers the impression of a Lego construction that after hours of pedantic strive for perfection never quite looks as enticing as it did on the box. Aging in incandescent splendour, The Sugarhill Gang, still evidently dining off of timeless hip hop classic Rapper's Delight if their body masses are anything to go by, invoke mass swayalongs before lending a helping hand, well, a handful of loosely rhyming couplets to Hudson Mohawke who picks up the crumbs left under the 'Gang's beat feast. Attentions are then flung to Frankfurt's second greatest export behind processed meat, Booka Shade, Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier delving deep into their slowly expanding discography to drag out the likes of Body Language and a particularly wired take on Charlotte assumed full frontally with electronic drum kits and a wealth of muffled synth lines borrowed from the banks of Jean Michel Jarre, Carl Cox and notably live, Saturday night closers The Chemical Brothers. The sun's up, plastic cups are knee-deep and a sunrise sangria on the city's sands beckons.

To experience Bryan Ferry, Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Brian Eno dig out the suaveness and shades to grace a slew of festival stages across Europe may have seemed all but utterly implausible a matter of months ago and whilst Eno may not have signed on the dotted line for London glam rocksters Roxy Music's one and only Spanish show this time around, art-rock owes nigh on its existence to these effervescent torchbearers. And three out of four beats Ferry solo shows hands down. Opener Re-Make/ Re-Model sees Ferry gyrate like Beach House's Victoria Legrand's neck on a bucking bronco, as Manzanera's Gibson guitars yelp credulously, whilst the interspersed oboes of Out Of The Blue perhaps provide the weekend's most organic orchestration. The Chuck Berry shimmies and blues bar keys of If There Is Something are equally intoxicating, as Ferry bleats more exuberantly than a pre-pubescent Shakira. Jealous Guy is San Remo channeled into song and Love Is The Drug could still turn Pete Doherty back onto human kindness and the hunt for a kindred spirit. Winehouse perhaps? Effectively Roxy Music still sound like speeding away from a string of illicit affairs at 80mph in a sixty with the top down and could only really be more glamourously sheened and preened were they endorsing any old slickening hair gel in a pair of Ray-Bans from faded decades. Where Ferry once proclaimed loneliness to be "a crowded room" however, this particular corner of Barcelona is far from crowded. Perplexing, if telling of this year's Sónar musical emphasis. Similarly, Sigur Rós' coronated king of howling, pensive dolor Jónsi over in the SonarPub draws an appreciative throng around half the size of that garnered by Hot Chip a mere 24 hours previously, despite thriving off a live show at least twice as impassioned, the frenetic drummed kinetics of Animal Arithmetic striking chords both onstage and within the hearts of those fortunate enough to stand before Jón Þór Birgisson tonight. Where Go can come across as distant and perhaps a little static, as Birgisson wails beneath a fluro headdress the intensity of his collaborative show with 59 Productions is as enveloping as a dinner party round the Reznors' with a mascaraed Manson in attendance. He's also become as closely aligned to fellow Icelandic idol Björk and her emotively charged neon carnival as possible, this side of undergoing gender reassignment. As howling rain sweeps across Jónsi's visual backdrops and drummers' arms blur, fade and disappear in unthinkable movement, closer Grow Till Tall sets this uniquely invigorating talent apart as the most fantastical set Barcelona is to witness this weekend. Not quite as vital a component to a weekend away in the gusty sea breezes and hazy petrol fumes of the Catalan capital is Dizzee Rascal and his Ibiza-conquering Armand Van Helden slash Calvin Harris super production folly although Dylan Mills, Bow bruiser-turned-chart happy cheeky chappy is an apt entertainer more than capable of updating Sónar's contemporary hip hop credentials. Where Dizzee's commonly castigated for his neglect of the rougher endz of past labours however, tonight a number of choice cuts from Boy In Da Corner permeate the whirlwind successes of Holiday and Dance Wiv Me, thanks to the grimy garage infiltrations of Nokia theft tales (Stop Dat) and watching/ perving on girls "grinding" (Flex). Dizzee then speeds offstage atop a scooter following the suitably rapturous hysteria initiated by Bonkers, perhaps the track to define a decade of crossover. Having obliterated drooping eyelids at their Primavera early morning white noise blitz, Bristol's Fuck Buttons return to Barcelona to cast their cosmically hypnotic constellation over those assembled before them, bathed in strobe and entrancing melodies shielded behind walls of noise tumultuous enough to get Aphex Twin crumbling at the knees. Olympians is elephantine in its sheer power, whilst remaining about as delicate as Gold Panda over a cacophonous ten minutes, whilst a woozy Surf Solar gets pulses racing to the pace of dangerous beats per minute yet with Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power twiddling their knobs before a far smaller disco ball than that exhibited at Primavera a mere three weeks previously, their impact is unfortunately lesser to drably disappointing extents. The stage being no more than two feet high doesn't aid matters and the duo are only witnessed on occasion, caught between a myriad of swaying skulls and retina-destroying strobe. As The Chemical Brothers expose the latest shot from the depths of their expansive electro-orientated brain matter having taken the past year and a bit to re-make/ re-model things including their latest stage show, Snow sounding chilling behind revamped visuals and Swoon adding a tinge of euphoria to proceedings (file next to Star Guitar), a lengthy trudge back to humanity, sanity and sobering awaits. A weekend in the city never felt so exhausting.