Festival Frolics: Thursday, Sónar 2012.

With UK festivals conclusively on the wane, it's a marvel in itself that not only do innumerable hordes continue to pack knapsacks and point toes in the direction of Cataluñan capital Barcelona as though on some hedonism-fuelled, Fenchurch-drenched field trip but tantos are still waxing lyrical about the city's – and arguably the globe's – one and indeed only International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art, Sónar. Given the technological, but above all techno propensities of the bash it seems strangely apposite that it once again runs with a stereotypically German efficiency, once again gleaming as it glides atop an unrivalled organisational smoothness. Split, as per, between the Sónar de Día in the historically luscious, if latterly (and more pertinently later) salacious district of Raval and the Sónar de Noche amid the far-flung, office-bunged badlands of L'Hospitalet this division in ambience both atmospheric and environmental perfectly reflects the multimedial aspect to this avant-garde extravaganza that now comprises cinema, conference and most significantly, concert. As is our wont, let's face the unremitting, multifarious dance music to have affronted our eardrums – intermittently to an acidic degree – and evaluate as dubiously we may.
Getting this particular and particularly protracted party of sorts well and truly started is a Brainfeeder showcase programmed by the label's head honcho, Steven Ellison who's beaming as though Barcelonan sun personified. As such, up first is Essex upstart Stuart Howard, aka Lapalux. He may be more committed to his lethargic yet attentionally deficient, clack-spacked hip hop hybridisms than most here conglomerated although dropping in a snip of Puff Daddy's I'll Be Missing You brings out the sort of complimentary good measure traditionally reserved for ice cubes ceremoniously chucked into the most sanguine of sangrias as it warms out on an afternoon such as this. His mixes and mash-ups resound with stentorian impact, as they're heard booming out from umpteen streets away and given the picturesque, pseudo-historical setting in which they're barely contained a sublime juxtaposition is conjured. Indeed he and Ellison too make a seemingly odd pairing, the former resembling fumbling schoolboy and the latter leading said former astray as he passes "the Dutchie" to his righthand man in what may be construed as a vague demonstration of camaraderie. Ellison here portrays himself both as the corruptive elder and the doting foreman, instructing as he corrupts while simultaneously exhibiting his approval, nodding increasingly enthusiastically. Seemingly unified under the Brainfeed umbrella the expectation of the solitary DJ who voyages from smoggy early morning to grotty dank club lonely as a pollution-lined billow is too dispelled: you suspect were Ellison to have your back you could expect for your shoulders to be covered from the sun and its wearying effects where it'd otherwise stroke your pallid complexion, and indubitably for illicit herbs to pass through your respiratory system once sanitary normality were resumed.
Something of a lone ranger despite this being a collaborative effort with visual engineers Emmanuel Biard and David Leonard, Daedelus' Archimedes AV set is a joy to behold and is just so, most aptly, both aurally and visually. Performing before what looks like a reconstructed Rubik's Cube made from mirror just to up the infuriation inherent to that bloody puzzle further, it has an almost therapeutic effect as its shards swivel to reflect spotlights and refract attentions, at one point simulating an image of the crowd and with it the world closing in on itself around our enthraller. Arguably this personified thing of insentience and elaborate denomination effectuates an impression of Alfred Darlington's stint being more about spectacle than show and his is a set perpetuated more by a sense of distinct song than cohesive set, although again bubbled through hip hop inclinations his minimal crunches and drops match his velveteen blazer in subdued urbanity. The seemingly reclusive Darlington however reflects a creature more attuned to 'Noche than 'Día and if initially it may not bear much relevance down in the sunless doldrums of the SónarHall then he's soon betrayed by his soundsystem as it crackles, prior to fizzling out completely. Carrying on irregardless and ultimately unawares, the room gradually empties as though it were Tyondai Braxton up there with the power still surging and consequently although things eventually kick up again they're lacking in just that, kick, for the remainder.
If many an electronic artist whimsically fidgets wrists in what looks as though they're either doing a shit ton or shit all at any one moment then Thundercat stitches a suavity into the afternoon via the emotive tiptoeing of fingers atop slapped bass strings. There's a starkly accentuated gulf between Stephen Bruner and Darlington; a monochrome mutual exclusivity that's as pronouncedly different as day from night and it aids in further blurring any differentiation between such terminology as 'Live' and 'DJ'. When Ellison's turn to spin some Flying Lotus comes around it's plainly just not the revered plugged-in effect achieved of yesteryears alongside the bass of Bruner and additional enhancement from Dorian Concept and Richard Spaven on keys and drums respectively. No, today Ellison is anything but 'Live' as he opts to emit the clunky, clichéd likes of Labrinth's Earthquake, Yonkers and Niggas in Paris from trusty MacBook as though thumbing through some Starz TV reel. The most Kray juncture is when the power again snaps out, his once seemingly indelible smile flipped upside down as frowns abound. Later rather than sooner, he haplessly informs: "Imma play some shit from ma' new album", before enquiring whether "that cool". Needless to say it is of course but that he swiftly slips back into smash hitz with The Jackson 5's ABC (albeit with Bruner finally on bass) it's too little too late as attention spans and perspiring trotters have by now toddled off elsewhere.
And that elsewhere just so happens to be somewhere subterraneous; somewhere teeming with the unreal croons and inviting swoons of Copenhagen dreamweavers When Saints Go Machine. "Sónar! We've been dreaming of this for years", chirps an adorably exuberant Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild as they drift off into a markedly sumptuous Church And Law and certainly here be great Danes worth worshipping without question. It's on the wibbly bits where they wobble, for which flash a wink and propel a nudge in the direction of Kelly or check into Terminal One although when they've that voice upon which to rely – a voice that sounds by and large like the spirit of Arthur Russell gurgled up through the innocence of Anthony Hegarty – then redemption is always assured and in Add Ends they've not only a scintillating zenith of progressive contemporary pop but also an irrevocably absolute conclusion to one of the more serene days experienced of Sónar. Or at least of those still lingering in the mind like the fetid stench of stale fag smoke...