Festival Frolics: Friday, Sónar 2012.

Odd sights, smells and above all sounds are encompassed by both Barcelona and the Sónar experience, but a persistently pesky vagrant getting brained with an aluminium chair on La Rambla by an irked camarero in mindless aggro redolent of WWE bravado ranks right up there among the more bizarre vistas of this particular vez. That comparably persistent whiff of overflowing sewer too this time seemed ever more all-pervasive. However infinitely more sensorially disorientating is the temporal inversion that occurs at every single Sónar: for although day must, by astrological edict, follow night conventional mornings are rarely encountered as afternoon awakenings ring in each 'Día. The morning therefore devoured by evening and subsequently 'Noche each one feels like your last, and especially so amid the overwhelming apocalyptica of L'Hospitalet. An isolated outcrop of a city in which drunks drink and what feels like all the drinks are this week drunk on a Catholically daily basis, a resonant midday soundcheck is scarcely perceived above the fiendish squeals of children canoodling and sonorously attempting to evade the contraction of cooties et cetera on the streets below.
Down the road meanwhile, Flying Lotus is reeling off a comparable set of commensurate disappointment to that of yesterday and it's this time heaving beneath the canvas of the borderline excessively branded SónarDôme. "Sounds like shite", slurs one of several disaffected and whilst this may not be entirely true re: his general sonics, it's difficult to disagree as far as the soundsystem's concerned. Dropping Aphex Twin's Avril 14th on yet another afternoon as frazzling as any rasher-spiced corn snack seems a little counterintuitive although as the beat drops they to have jabbed their way into the tent raise syringe-like elbows aloft irregardless for one umpteenth time.

Mouse on Mars then sound, appositely, almost inconceivably removed from humanity and the mortal sensations thereof, the drums of Dodo NKishi the only point of contact with a discernible organicity. This does however birth one of the weekend's infinite crisp juxtapositions as were any more human compassion demonstrated toward hometown hero John Talabot then, well, we'd probably all melt into an ooze of mawk on the slabbed, ash-stained stonage underfoot. And such is the humidity here within that the prospect of corporeal liquefaction already feels quite plausible.

Kicking back with the tropical samples of ƒIN opener Depak Ine, the nuances faithfully reproduced by Talabot and ever-present accomplice Pional are perfectly attuned to said sweltering climes as they engender an immersive, immensely good feeling. Similarly, it's overtly positive to see a Barcelonan flourish at this internationally embracive spectacular. As good a place to start as any, Talabot desafortunadamente soon loses himself amid a smog of dirty mass, his enlarged shadow ominous and in turn engulfed by obfuscating arms. Musically too the key to lucid consistency is one Talabot doesn't yet keep in his beardy custody: if much of ƒIN may have unlocked many a mind around the turn of the year then Oro y Sangre may never have been afforded such enlightening connotation. Tonight its screams are ever more blood-curdling and it's utterly unsettling as they screech through speaker with the inconsiderate recklessness of a newly attired race car. Occupying what would be forever known as the infamous Jaar spot of 2011 were Sónar to subscribe to the folkloric nonsenses of, say, Reading Festival it's undoubtedly a case of ropey new live show syndrome as dubious '80s pastiche dominates: prime sufferers are So Will Be Now and When The Past Was Present, both transmogrified in clunky Human League-esque plods to nowhere, even if the pair's duelling vocals drift lovably astray on the former.

Yet it's those unmistakably reverberant coos of Destiny that optimistically precede and impatiently proceed everything: we're hankering for what now feels a bona fide hit; buoyed by an irrepressible hopefulness that it may, just maybe, be imminent. And then Talabot lurches toward mic, bristles rubbing away at it. "Ooh-ooh" he chimes, the androgynous yodel sparking an unrestrained jubilation, prior to his ingenuous Anglicisms of "Don't believe in destiny" resonating pertinently as the ever-unknown of 'de Noche awaits. Signs, however tatty they may currently be, that Talabot could one day become the catalyst for a vivid Cataluñan musical revival; the talisman of a veritable progression are certainly there. They're just in need of a thorough rubdown and, perhaps most relevantly, time.
As Amon Tobin pounds the fuck out of SónarClub, at the opposite end of both sonic spectrum and the monolithic airplane hangar Sónar at its most debauched calls casa Lana Del Rey is fashionably late. But then I'd posit that when you're the height of fashion; no, when you are fashion (see Mulberry's the Del Rey) you can pitch up whenever the heck you fancy. Or not at all as has been the case with several London shows. But she's here; she's in the building, and that's precisely what's occurring with regard to anticipation. Thus were your average cynic to construct some form of acronym you may expect something along the lines of Late, Dismal, Repugnantly superficial star. However white her teeth may have been made, she's one heck of a lustrous one and tonight she proves it with an unforgettably pristine pop show as a shoddily drawn curtain unveils a blowout string section, grand piano but – and most pivotally – no rhythm section whatsoever, with a full-frontal orchestral effect scooted to the fore. All focus is therefore scooped onto the songs themselves while our eyeballs both scrutinise and cherish she and, whether scribed by David Sneddon or whoever else, the likes of Born To Die and Summertime Sadness are enough to crack boyish 20something voices for a second time.

Oft bastardised as 'Basselona', Del Rey may here sound somewhat hollow were we not swept so helplessly into a comely trap of swooping orchestrations and choreographed sighs. "Make some noise! I can't hear you!" she triumphantly hollers in a bewildering assertion of a previously latent-slash-illusive confidence. Has she found comfort amid the patent discomfort of stumbling TV showings and sets in the smaller cesspits of her Western World? Certainly she's one of our more manufactured popstars (subtract from that what you will) but she's now endowed with an immaculately tailored spectacular to match and perhaps, just as she was never intended to make nor break it as Lizzy Grant, she was never destined to enthral nor even entertain – beyond that somewhat masochistic manner we've all now sensed in her regard – in intimate environs.

But this is a whopper of a show, and if she may be the girl all the bad guys purportedly love to knock back, knock up and about then there's ample adoration evidenced here and, antithetical to many elements LDR, such sentiments feel astonishingly genuine. A certain fanatic clinging to the barrier for all things dear has even gone and whacked out some fantastical canvas of she riding atop a unicorn. However it's whoever may have devised this elaborate stageshow that's the real artist at work and momentarily, Del Rey herself may be perceived as thus. The coy dustbowl guitars of Blue Jeans are pushed back by her jejune chirruping of "Yes!" as she immediately exposes a believable belief in that which she's doing. She's in her element and that most vital of elements, her voice, not only doesn't stutter as she squirms but it resounds utterly sublimely as she honestly swaggers and imperiously stalks what instantaneously becomes her stage. "¡Hola! ¿Qué tal?" she quizzes and the resonantly whooped response speaks volumes: she's cracked it; she's become the consummate popstrel every H8R never assumed and every A&R only dreamed she could. And to paraphrase what's tonight a strangely moving, quasi-regal Video Games, it's better than we could ever have known.

Visually resembling a resplendent mermaid sat atop a beautiful sea of azure screen, she soon serenades us with new cut Body Electric: an ominous brood of a beast, she melodramatically falls to her knees to become crouching beau as she unrestrainedly yowls: "We get down every Friday night" amid affirmations of being the lovechild of Elvis and Marilyn; of Jesus being "my bestest friend". Again, lyrically, it's a pandering to the tortured princess aesthetic as she struts cocksure atop exposed thighs and stiletto highs: adorned in ornate shiny, shiny decadence she shoots shit of suicide, "black moonlight" and such stuff as nightmares are made of with the odd gratuitous profanity dissolved into its dank viscous flow just for good measure. It's followed, as with all she tonight airs, by increasingly emphatic, coital utterances of "Thank you", "Gracias", "I love you! I love you!" and so on and so forth, before eventually dropping down to smooch passionately with the front few rows; to meddle with the madcaps. She poses for photos and scribbles her pseudonym a couple times in what feels like a signing session interlude yet given the insanity she now attracts; that which enshrouds her it's endearing more than it is in any way exercising.

From behind sunglasses at night, she then confides in we: "You may need to help me here" as she wades into the bruising, trip hop-styled pseudo-patriotism of National Anthem and although she doesn't even attempt her intro spit, she'd doubtless garner the "standing ovation" enjoined were we not all already up. And indeed were opera in any way intelligible, imbued with singalong choruses (to delve further into implausibility) it'd maybe feel somewhere along these lines and that's a seemingly apt introduction to Carmen, hideous middle eight 'n' all. It's here where her croon first appears now not purely real weathered but also a lil' withered, and the Gershwin-lite schmooze to Million Dollar Man befalls a similar fate vocally. Nonetheless as she interjects sweet nothings (lamely affirming: "Imma get a lil' crazy" over a track that's ultimately anything but; imploring us to "pull off your clothes"; chirruping "Let's do it" as she chuckles at the general hysteria before her etc.) she's patently actually enjoying herself, as are we. Unreservedly.

Led off by burly minder, she insists we have a good night and "go fucking kerazy [sic]" and if it seems the last thing she'll now do her show ensures tonight will already go down as an unspeakably excellent 'Noche. For if she may be an unexpected highlight in an opposing setting (the incessant Hollywood generica enlarged on a screen beyond her svelte figure betrays this unremarkable if ultimately Spanish scenario. Her linguistic grasp is, however, educatedly firm), behind enemy lines within this arena of blippy bombast and hefty techno she brings respite and with it an ineffable brilliance. Thus as the feeble hip hop effect of Born To Die ebbs away surprisingly pleasantly the residual feeling is one of success; almost of conquest and if she has previously incurred something of a blog war, well, we're flying her flag and we're now doing so vehemently. I sincerely feared the barely-rhyming couplet of "I can be your china doll/ If you like to see me fall" (Without You) may have tonight rung gruesomely true. Instead she sets herself up on a lofty shelf, out of reach of the clamouring hordes who just so lust for her downfall.
James Blake follows things up with an unpredictably enjoyable DJ turn that clicks and a-clacks agreeably but when coming down off such high, all seems hopeless – at least initially. Local lad Coyu puts in a similarly impressive spin as a mild frenzy is whipped up over in the vast SónarClub although it's back with the bands, and the instruments, and the vocalists from which gaze cannot be averted that further joy is found. "I know we're a band, but we're here now" a typically fucked Ed Macfarlane claims and Friendly Fires have unquestionably come a long way, today more figuratively than flight-wise. On any initial evidence, their gallivanting progress is entirely merited as the potent bellows of Lovesick and Jump In The Pool drown out the heinously incessant drone of dodgems next door.
Revered minimal tech head Richie Hawtin then marks his return to L'Hospitalet with an invigorating throb which pulsates throughout his two-hour onslaught. However in the same way that LDR has thrived under a moniker that all but distances person from artistic persona, if musically the pair are all but entirely incomparable then, well, his Plastikman set back in 2010 was significantly preferable to tonight. Pumped up with "oof's", "aah's" and innumerable, impulsive drops the feel turns increasingly malevolent thus it's something of a headfuck when a blizzard of confetti is ejaculated down from above. With that, and as Simian Mobile Disco bore amid an icy whoosh of gear-consuming cloud we're left to thank all things holy for the goodness of Fatboy Slim. Rifling through the discog, he first plucks out Fucking in Heaven and although not there yet, at forty-eight he's perhaps nearer to its gleaming gates than many here in attendance. Or perhaps not, as his stint is scheduled to come to a close sometime around six...

Resembling a dodgy school disco DJ with barely any hair beyond that seemingly Hergé-inspired quiff and, alas with barely a whiff of any originality remaining he reels off what are, by and large, his hits. Although to scrub out Praise You with an acerbic rework of Where's Your Head At, or to bastardise Black & White Brothers' '90s-spanking hard-hitter Put Your Hands Up In The Air (that'll be Put Your Hands Up In The Air Sónar then) in place of playing something; anything from Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars is more than mildly wearisome.
Thus as Cook's star descends, Tom Jenkinson ups his Squarepusher stock. Now pushing boundaries visual as well as aural he is quite literally smothered in screen; reduced to a speck of Optimus Prime-esque pixel against an undulating mural of static malfunction. Or what a cerebral implosion may one day look like once we're all hooked into mainframes with circuit boards for brains. Lord knows we're longing for Jenkinson to plug in and pluck up that bass... Ufabulum however here sounds teeth-judderingly humongous as it darn well ought, Drax 2 coming across as android cardiac arrest while it sparks, then flatlines, then smacks your head in as it returns with an almighty anti-song din. Dark Steering meanwhile veers more toward a strangely emotive curve, although again it's all too devoid of the virtuoso slapping of bass and such. Now struggling for discernible pulse both momentarily within the music and consistently within the wrist, Sónar de Noche shudders to a halt. For we at least...