Aside from being one of Europe’s best-loved and established festivals, Sonar is also one of its most visited — with an estimated 120,000 attendees signing on for this summer’s comeback edition. Throw the OffSonar parties into the mix, and it’s safe to say Barcelona was practically overrun with electronic music fans this past weekend. Even so, with so much going on at the same time, it’s also difficult to shape a review that’s in line with others: after all, most of us attending probably enjoyed very different experiences. This year – as is customary really – we stopped off at a couple of brilliant but also equally different parties, starting on Friday at DJ Tennis’ Life & Death party. A bit of a journey outside of the city, it more than made up for this thanks to its lavish setting.
A stunning backdrop of castles and rolling hills, it hosted a mammoth line-up throughout the weekend, with the likes of Palms Trax, Roman Flugel and John Talabot playing over two nights. Highlights of the night included hearing big festival anthems such as Levon Vincent’s ‘Man or Mistress’ and Nathan Fake’s all-time-classic remix of James Holden’s ‘Sky was Pink’ and though the night had its moments, it always felt a bit like the warmup for what was to follow.
Indeed, ask any Sonar veteran and they’ll likely tell you the same thing: when it comes to Barcelona in June, the actual Sonar festival itself is the one party you simply cannot miss. As ever, this year’s line-up was devilishly eclectic, and featured stadium-sized electronica (Chemical Brothers, Eric Prydz), discerning house and techno (Joy Orbison, Helena Hauff, Midland b2b Shanti Celeste), more broadly accessible sounds (Folamour, Blessed Madonna) and even UK hip-hop from AJ Tracey.
And who better to kick things off than the Chemical Brothers? Drawing on decades of experience, their live show is as exciting as ever, and even if it’s something you’ve experienced before, changes are the opening chords of ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’ are still going to leave you with goosebumps on a packed dancefloor. Theirs was a set packed full of raw energy throughout, with accompanying visuals and practically all their biggest tracks featuring.
With Eric Prydz adopting a similar vibe outside, we decided instead to make a beeline for Joy Orbison, whose eclectic set kept us guessing throughout. At this stage, Joy O is adept at playing such large cale shows, and though his stature has risen in recent years, he’s also learned how to navigate that sweet spot between discerning electronic music fans and casual festival goers. Following Joy O’s diversity and the Chems’ raucous vibes, the night called for something a bit more fun, something that’d help us ‘reset’ as we made our way to the early morning. Step forward Blessed Madonna and Folamour, both of whom injected the party with a heavy dose of fun. Folamour’s set was packed full of high-tempo house moments, the likes of which kept us smiling long after the party finished. Credit too to the Blessed Madonna, who held the fort as only she knows how.
With tiredness now setting in, the final set of the weekend was also one of our most anticipated, with Midland going b2b with Shanti Celeste. Two DJs at the top of their game they brought out the best in one another, with both in inspiring form. An irresistible melding of sounds throughout, the duo seemed to share a chemistry behind the decks that spoke of many shared nights together. Slowly leaving Fira with the sun again touching our faces, we were again reminded why Sonar is considered such a tour-de-force among house and techno heads — and indeed, the many in between. Accessible but not pretentious, fun but never too cool for its boots, Sonar itself truly is a festival – and a spectacle like few others.
Before we go, a note too for one of the weekend’s most unexpected highlights, the Seekers party in Tunnel Club. With Rhadoo headlining and also featuring Triform (whose killer live set really set the tone for the night), Emilio, Alex Picone, Desyn, Junki Inoue and Bruno Schmidt, this was a perfect way to end the weekend, with excellent vibes from start to finish and an equally educated and up-for-it crowd. What’s more, Tunnel is a brilliant club featuring two equally excellent rooms, though the night’s standout set nonetheless belonged to Rhadoo, who dropped discerning and obscure house and techno cuts throughout, with Temple’s ‘Keep Your Body in Trance’ a new personal favourite. A really fun couple of hours that kept the energy high, it signed off the weekend in exceptional fashion. Roll on 2023!