Under The Radar


Oh my god-what a weekend!  Pearso and I met up in Barcelona to go to the Sonar music festival.  It was easily the greatest music festival I’ve ever been to and could definitely become an annual pilgrimage for me.

Here’s the lowdown on the festival: it’s been going for 13 years, all of them in Barcelona.  They try to bring up and coming artists who are pushing the boundaries of new music.  This year there was a heavy focus on hip-hop and (separately) Japan.  The festival is also somewhat unique in that during the day it takes place at an art gallery (the MACBA), so you end up wandering around galleries in between sets.

Here’s an overview of what we saw.  No photos; this time there’s a movie instead.  Click here.

Night 1

Here’s an overview of what we saw, some links to them and some commentary.  On Friday we arrived at the Gran Via to catch Rahzel and DJ JS-One.  For those who don’t know, Rahzel is (and has been for years) the world beatbox champion.  The man can do crazy things with his mouth and didn’t disappoint, especially with his latest version of his classic “If your mother only knew”.

That was followed by Nightmares on Wax who gave a great live set spanning everything from chilled funk to hip-hop.  Continuing that vein we went on to see One Self, London’s hottest up & coming hip-hoppers.  They were one of the few live hip-hop acts that I’ve seen that had a truly great sound.  For those of you who don’t know them, check out their self-proclaimed “signature song” here.

We closed the night to Matthew Herbert-who I think was the only overrated act we saw.  He was way too laid back for 3:45 in the morning and as a result we couldn’t get into the groove.

Day 2

The day kicked off with Tucker-who actually was a Japanese guy.  He was insane: I’ve never seen anyone play so many musical instruments.  He had a set of turntables, an organ, a bass guitar plus rhythm guitar and drums.  He used a series of foot pedals to play an instrument, sample it and then loop it to create tracks.  His music ranges from hip-hop to death metal with some classic tunes thrown in (think “duh, duh, duh, duh, ... Tequila”.  It was fascinating musical chaos that left the crowd speechless-especially when Tucker started throwing down crazy poses on top of his equipment (check out the cover of his album on the Oddjob website).  Moreover, he stood on top of his turntables to scratch with his hands between his feet; another time he actually scratched with his tongue!

Words do not describe what it was like.  Also, the ultimate irony was that we met him after the show (somewhere there’s a photo of Pearso dwarfing him) and despite having an intense stage personality he was actually the most timid, deferential guy I ever met (tres Japanese).

After that we checked out the Red Bull Music Academy lounge where we saw some great sets by James What & Dan Berkson and then Nina Kraviz.  Both sets were awesome: if you ever get a chance to see either live, check them out.  They took a tiny little space in the gallery and turned it into one of the most fun clubs I’ve ever been to.  Some of the audio will be upcoming on streaming radio-if you can find their sets give it a listen.

The next set was a unique Kiwi hip-hop/funk/dub combo in the form of Fat Freddy’s Drop.  They dropped it like it was hot (sorry, I couldn’t resist) for a solid hour and a half.  Turns out that a trip to Sonar four years ago is what inspired the lead singer to start the band.  They were followed by a laid-back dub set by the aptly named Dubbyman.

Night 2

After a futile search for a cab forced us to take the bus and miss Goldfrapp’s set we arrived at Sonar’s night venue in time to catch the tail end of Afra & The Incredible Beat Box Band.  This was three guys from Japan who make hip-hop strictly by beatboxing.  They did a version of “Seven Nation Army”-which is apparently the hot beatbox track right now; Rahzel did it the night before.

They were followed by the Digable Planets who did a set that revived all of their early 90’s classics.  They updated them a bit for today (and confused a lot of the crowd) by throwing in some guitar solos in unexpected places.  We took a break part way through to go check out the MFA because the light show coming from their direction was insane.  They were very cool: minimal house tunes in a room full of 5,000+ people underneath a shimmering blue disco ball surrounded by massive screens with kaleidoscope imagery.

We didn’t stay long though as we went to the other room to catch Diplo and A-Trak give the best performance of the entire festival.  This was there third show together and they did not disappoint.  For those who don’t know, A-Trak (Canadian boy who wore his old-school Montreal shirt) won the DMX world championship at age fourteen (check it here) and Diplo is one half of the founders of Hollertronix (one of the best party crews you’ll ever see).  Together, their show was off the wall, especially since they’ve integrated some ridiculous visuals to go with their tunes.  For example, at one point they were spinning Missy Elliot’s Gossip Folks over top of The Clash’s Rock the Casbah and the Missy video was playing at the same time and perfectly synchronized.  I don’t know how the did it, but the effect was mind-blowing!

Unfortunately they were only able to play for an hour and a half so it was back to the main stage to see the tail end of Miss Kittin and then Modeselektor.  Modeselektor was unique as they have worked really closely with the guys who were doing the visuals (Pfadfinderei-check out their previous work on their website).  As a result, they had integrated their own graphics right into the show to an incredible effect.

Also, we missed two shows that were supposed to be cool.  Modified Toy Orchestra use old toys to create music.  The Infadels are talked-about British indie rock.

Monday, June 19, 2006

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