Festival Frolics: Saturday, Sónar 2012.

A night out at Barça's most degenerate alcove has evidently taken its toll as there's a palpable dwindling in numbers come Saturday afternoon. The concoction of thirty+, endless inebriation and sunrise stumble is a heady one and the consequences are discernible, if never quite so explicitly divulged. Thus Cornelius' outré experimental project salyu x salyu provides a much thirsted for zen-like serenity amidst the furious techno everywhere elsewhere. NY-Chilean Nicolas Jaar's latest artistic endeavour doesn't exactly comply with such genre/ festival cross-culture stereotyping although this latest, animated deluge of "blue-wave" is as cobalt as any Monday experienced by Bernard Sumner, pre- or post-departure of his once beloved bass captain.
"Thank you for coming. We are Darkside", Jaar mumbles meekly before meticulously tweaking a knob or two. As ruminative as anything already in his arsenal, the show is involving; imposing; penetrative. But above all it's highly impressive as tracks wash into and through one another with a Mediterranean nonchalance; with an improvisational lightness that's matched by the odd interpretive dance manoeuvre. The solemnity of the solo show as it were is therefore replaced by a loose ease and as the omnipresently cited Morricone influence darts out from soft, nuanced undulations like Eastwood emerging on horseback from a billow of murky dust, you wind up questioning whether this is exactly what Jaar wants.

The answer to such imagined rhetoric would be ja klar, or sí claro, or heck yep or so it'd appear: he's in his element and it elevates the leaden mood of us all. Firm yet languid enough to never become overtly attention-grabbing, these be idyllic sonics for those in shades and collared shirts simmering in the afternoon sun. However as the SónarVillage gradually packs out you sense that Jaar's dabbling in this cool pool on the side is an unknown entity; let alone quantity. They who nod so enthusiastically and bob comparably emphatically enquire: "¿Sabes que son?" as the Roundhouse-ramming wunderkind on every radar flies under many; operating incognito for only a moment. Kudos must of course also go to Dave Harrington who manipulates his Telecaster in a way that it may excrete anything and everything from Mariachi march, to surges of house and back to reverb-soused Leone soundtrack. As massive, massively understated swarms of treble burst from every seam the duo depart to loops which in turn leave us longing for more. For albeit only Jaar's flipside, Darkside feels like the genuine article, devoid of those monosyllabic groans and the nondescript beat-bashing with creative libertad levered perhaps by moniker distracting from man.
If variety be the spice of life then variation is very much the order of the day: SónarPub has tonight been transformed in '90s hip hop niche as Jurassic 5 tees and the like abound, as does that increasingly familiar odour of slowly incinerating hemp. We're here for The Roots and, quite frankly, thankfully they're here too to inject some vivacious funk-styled hybridity into the late evening/ early morning. Their set dedicated to various deceased hip hop alumni, Jimmy Fallon's house band slide smoothly into a humdinger cover of the Beastie Boys' Paul Revere all guns blazin', white towels swingin', sousaphones tootin'. As with Lana Del Rey before them, this virtuoso jazz hop probably oughtn't ever work in such grub-laden industrial surroundings yet again, as with Del Rey, Black Thought et al. flourish as this evening they slowly blossom into a great festival band in the great British respect of the word. That, or the best wedding band the proportionately great "H to the the izz-O/ V to the izz-A" never booked in for his big day. Perhaps if he now perched atop 'The Throne ever ties any knots beyond the laces on his LV sneaks he could have the Philly troupe in. Heck, if he marries a certain Kardashian she'd certainly be more than capable of supplying any accompanying visuals...

But to return to focus, from the straight-up East Coast roll of The Next Movement, to an incendiary rollock 'n' roll through The Fire, or a Break You Off that's velvety as honeyed cacao it's an effortlessly sensational show. Damon "Tuba Gooding Jr." Bryson's sousaphone blurts proffer arguably the bestest bass heard all week and, as he and bassist Mark Kelley jive and chase tails as they and their respective instruments run rings around one another, the boon of the wireless is suitably evinced at this so-called 'Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art'. However it's the enviably gifted, soi-disant "string assassin" "Captain" Kirk Douglas who steadily grows into the quintessence of the greatness aforesaid, at one point raising his Les Paul skywards as though some divine sacrifice offered up to Bolan, Biggie, Yauch et cetera ad infinitum to one handedly slip out the solo of the summer.

Progressively vocal and with it inevitably focal, his talents astound (and perhaps to an ever more aspirational degree, given the slight lack of ambition elsewhere) as does this concise hip hop history of sorts; an erudite hip hopera if you will in which almost as many reworks – or at least intimations toward – as originals feature. Glimpses of Bo Diddley's Who Do You Love and Donna Summers' Love To Love You Baby are refracted through a boisterous take on The Meters' Handclapping Song; a gently inopportune Jungle Boogie insertion as aural tributes to informers and influentials dead or alive mirror their vocal intro. Testimonies aside, if Black Thought may be a self-professed "man of many hats" then his vocal capabilities are somewhat more one-dimensional whilst riffage from Sweet Child O' Mine – never previously heard bolstered by sousaphone, albeit brass scarcely audible over prominent Gibson crunch – feels all but entirely incongruous. And, tighter than a taut rope conjoining glistening yacht to Barça coastline or some comparably flimsy Cataluñan comparison born of perilous sleep deprivation, they're arguably almost too polished. Yet then to release any tensity and scuff 'em up slightly they unleash a ChestnuTT-less The Seed (2.0). And it changes everything as it sows a newfound, infallible zest in this most fertile of shows. It's an irrefutably magical conclusion and, to all extensive purposes, it validates Black Thought's booming of "You have been messin' with the best; the incredible Roots."

Mixing things up a little for Sónar are Metronomy who, having seemingly dimmed a little under the exertion of excessive touring at Field Day, inject some bracing electricity into reconfigurations of Loving Arm and Corinne that border on motorik attacks. They appear to have clicked back into a quite pulsating time which, you know, is slightly vital when playing this sort of sybaritic haven lined with those who long to well and truly 'ave it...

"Buenas noches Barcelona!" Al Doyle then vociferates and indeed any noche inclusive of a Hot Chip show could never be anything but as they again deliver a relentless thrill that's calculated yet ne'er careless. Maintaining that quintessentially British awk alt. appeal, a tszujed up Boy From School is swiftly followed up by what is, live, something of a soulful bruiser in Don't Deny Your Heart. Peppered with material from newbie In Our Heads, most comparatively unknown cuts are swiftly one-two'd with a hit bigger than La Barceloneta: like leisurely beach volleyball contenders they tease as they tee up belters with a typically gurgly Night And Day (coincidentally, in gaudy boiler suit, Alexis Taylor for once does vaguely resemble "a rapper" – or at least an Intergalactic Beastie Boy); with the disco shimmy to How Do You Do? that tonight sounds veritably enorme; even a once-around-the-block on Fleetwood Mac's Everywhere.

Thus as with Metronomy before them, they're discernibly up for this one – synthesist Owen Clarke in particular. And although the hammy vocals and steel pans of sentimental "love song" One Life Stand resound a little infelicitously on this 'Noche of ultimate depravation, as lights flicker, fringes flick and stomachs are jumbled from immoderate movement you recall why you fell quite so helplessly in love with this malarkey known as music in the first place. Hot Chip hath returned with renewed vim and although Joe Goddard is tonight lamentably peripheral (he's plausibly already exhausted enough having put in a shift with side project The 2 Bears just a few small hours ago, even if me may take the vocal lead on the ebullient pop trash of I Feel Better that's tonight protracted by a considerably less inevitable "Ayia Napa"-worthy breakdown) although it's the singalong synths and general unintelligibility of Flutes that reverberate most vividly. A strobe-infused Ready For The Floor – inaugurated by a sort of Nordic intro – is the latest in what rapidly comes to resemble an uncontainable slew of essential single and that's of course what Hold On continues to harness in four-minute format. It's all too prematurely curtailed, and they're gone; these gawky spacemen with retinas glued "to the stars". By and large, they're still hitting them.
Every Azari & III song sounds disconcertingly evocative of Technotronic's Pump Up The Jam; there's no escaping what, live, feels a phenomenon. Yet come la madrugada that's by no means a bad thing. In fact it's about as revivifying as the ludicrous choreography of the commensurately ludicrously named foreground pairing of Fritz Helder and Starving Yet Hungry. Feeding off of Hi-NRG interplay that's reckless as heck, they're not only the best two frontmen in Toronto but most probably on the entirety of the American continent as they bump, grind and systematically strip to Hungry For The Power, Indigo and eventually a visceral No Way Back. That they're both right here; right now; in the same band feels almost greedy as the attention-hogging twosome mooch cattily and strut as though atop crimson catwalk.

While this particular pairing may be so gay in the best, most beguiling and above all complimentary manner (to employ the term as was initially intended), Azari & III are equally engaging when the duo take much required breathers to dry down sweat-drenched bods. For like every great workout tape, it's the music that gets muscles initially flexing and in this case it's the infectious house of producers Dinamo Azari and Alixander III that forebodes tomorrow's crippling lactic acid buildup. The meaty hunk that is Manhooker is, for instance, bludgeoned into some emotive and above all distinctly sanguine electronica. Essentially however, although Christian Farley and Alphonse Lanza purvey a guru-like propensity for hacking up bloody wonderful electro-house it's the shapes pulled by their openly acrobatic vocalists that stick in mind. From Aztec convulsion through terrifying futuro flop, they're tonight stars in umpteen unnaturally enlarged pupils and with a voice as immediate and hopefully ever to be considered 'classic' as that of Starving Yet Full, to resort to crassness, the quartet dick on closest contemporaries Hercules and Love Affair.
Jurassic 5 emblazonment exchanged for Aphex, to put ears where abdominal endorsement is SónarPub is heaving for German gimmicks Modeselektor. Manning a desk of entangled cabling to have Steve Jobs twitching anxiously up in Alta Mesa, thousands are soon doing so similarly to Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary's self-confessed Pretentiousness. Like the interminable drip from an immovable tap set to techno (German Clap), it's worth wiping sleep from eyes and stuffing it down your ears – it's LOUD up in here – to observe the glitch tricksters chuck out a wardrobe's worth of bespoke scarves alone. As though conducting some fraught spring cleaning of their Sandbag it's done so to a Grillwalker which contains enough glitch to neutralise the country's National Grid.

Shattered and shit-faced, as The Black Block echoes hellaciously back off opposite office block (a little perturbingly it's that of Spanish babycare company Prenatal) that's it for another Sónar, and it's been yet another to have gone off without a hitch. Over the predestined amble through the predestined fuck ton of debris however, the first thought as you stagger ungainly on yet another hurriedly emptied can of Estrella Damm is that were the world to end tonight amid this ever apocalyptic, monolithic nothingness this may not be the best note for it to violently implode upon. And then another thought emerges from what feels like some downright irreparable ruination: is Sónar, as the festival's ostentatiously and oft offensively sardonic staple James Murphy once indolently garbled, losing its edge?