Sonar 2009, Barcelona, Thu 18 to Sat 20 Jun (5 stars)

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Orbital

The annual three-day music festival in the Catalan capital is famed as the world's best dance music event. The List was there to capture every last spin of the decks

After months of agonising waiting it was finally upon us – Sonar 2009!

Arriving at Barcelona’s supercool Sonar Village in the complex of Centre de Culture Contemporanea de Barcelona (CCCB) near Las Ramblas on Friday afternoon, we were like kids on Christmas morning, only our toys came in the form of sunshine and thudding bass lines.

Kicking things off for us were the sounds of geeky bowl-cut bedroom DJ Dorian Concept in the Sonar Dome, playing a set of experimental funk and twisted electronic chord changes with what looked like an 80s Bontempi keyboard. Whatever it was, the crowd were jumping.

Back in the Sonar Village Huw Stephens was delivering the usual quality which has made him so popular as Radio 1’s spare Zane Lowe. He was delivering the ‘BBC Introducing’ stage and treating the crowd to quality playlist fare like Jack Penate’s ‘Tonight’s Today’.

Next up were electropop duo La Roux who restored the legacy of the 80s with their mix of Eurythmics and Depeche Mode style beats. They kept their two big summer anthems ‘In for the Kill’ and ‘Bulletproof to the end, and they predictably went down a storm. Frontwoman Elly Jackson is best described as Annie Lennox lite, though she was certainly having it when we saw her later at Sonar by Night!

SBN is a short taxi ride out of town and the sound of the bass as we approached had the car rocking like a boat. Basically it’s a massive warehouse with three separate areas – SonarPub, SonarLab and SonarClub - but it’s compact enough that walking between each is easy.

First up was the mega talented Little Boots in SonarPub with her catchy electro sing-a-longs ‘Every Little Earthquake’ and ‘Meddle’. She was quite literally meddling with all sorts of instruments: stylophones, synthesisers, tambourines and the Tenori-on (little Japanese electronic instrument). She’s basically a hot Rolf Harris.

SonarLab was playing host to the emerging dub talent with Radio 1’s Mary Anne Hobbs curating acts such as Joker and Gaslamp Killer. She played a killer set herself, dropping Joker’s ‘Purple City’ and Flying Lotus’ ‘GNGBNG’ before handing us over to Joker himself. To think this guy is only 19 is ridiculous... his set of heavy, heavy dub was beyond sick.

Back into SonarPub again for Late of the Pier, who were amazing. They had a few sound issues which interrupted their set and seemed to put the keyboard player into a mood, but they came back to play rip-roaring versions of ‘Space and the Woods’ and ‘Focker’. Erol Alkan (who produced their album) was hanging out nearby and he and his crew were bouncing around with us. He looked a bit embarrassed, though, as one of our friends was wearing an Erol t-shirt. Supergeek groupie alert!

We took in some of James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem’s thumping DJ set in SonarClub with Pat Mahoney, and then the awesome Richie Hawtin. Our number two in the top three Sonar highlights of 2009 was definitely the monumental Buraka Som Sistema, though. How do you define them? They’re like a weird fusion of Dizzee Rascal, Public Enemy and a petrol bomb. ‘Make some noise’, they requested. And we did. Must see them again.

SebastiAn wins hands down for the biggest entrance of Sonar, followed in all the way by a camera in a boxer-entering-the-ring style, ciggy in mouth, to the sounds of swooshing helicopter blades. He delivered a classy French fuzz set including killer beats ‘Dog’ and ‘Momy’ from an illuminated deck, like some kind of solo version of Justice. Then before leaving we caught Brodinski (who was clearly loving his own work judging by the amount of behind-deck raving he was doing) to round off an unbelievable day.

Back at SonarVillage on Saturday afternoon there was a proper afternoon party, even more upbeat than the previous day, as Ed Banger Records were presenting their exciting array of talent. Mr Ed Banger himself Busy P was clearly lapping it up, while there were amazing scenes as the excellent James Pants challenged the crowd to a hilarious karaoke-off with his own version of The Doors ‘Not to Touch the Earth’.

The fun never stops at Sonar. Soon darkness fell again and we found ourselves back in SonarClub in the company of the imaginative (and beardless) hip-hop beatboxer Beardyman. ‘All the sounds you hear are coming from my voice!’ – yeeha! He was number three in our Sonar highlights of 2009 and entertained with tunes like Suzanne Vega’s ‘Tom’s Diner’, Kanye’s ‘Gold Digger’, Despina’s ‘Sugar-Daddy-O’ and some kind of drum ‘n bass edit of the Superman theme tune. And, just to show how much his finger is on the pulse, La Roux’s ‘In for the Kill’ - the dubstep mix no less.

Our number one Sonar highlight was slightly predictable in that it was probably pre-determined, though we weren’t quite prepared for just how good Orbital were going to be. With their trademark head-mounted torches, they indulged us with all the goose-pimple-inducing classics over ninety minutes and more, including the ‘Dr Who Theme’, ‘Chime’, ‘The Box’ and ‘Halcyon’. ‘Nuff said, really.

It was all quite emotional by this point, so we took some well-earned chill-out time in SonarPub, where Crystal Castles were having a difficult time with sound issues. ‘Courtship Dating’ sounded amazing, though. Then Jeff Mills was on to take Sonar into daylight once more…

It was now 5am and it would’ve been rude not to have dropped in on Carl Craig in SonarPub before leaving. The sun was up, the shades were on but the relentless crowd’s appetite for the party remained unquenched. We were rinsing the last droplets out of Sonar 2009 and we knew it! Craig seemed to understand this and duly obliged the baying mob with Vitalic’s ‘Midnight Express’ and Audion’s ‘Mouth to Mouth’, finally closing with the disco classic Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’. 1978, baby!

And that was it. Sonar 2009. Done. Until next year...

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