It was that time of year again to head out to Barcelona for the annual pilgrimage to Sonar and its ever increasingly popular off-Sonar spin off. For me this was part two of the European techno season after my recent excursion to the Ibiza opening parties. With most of the European techno community in Barcelona for the weekend this promised to be a big one, and the quality and scale of what’s on offer just seems to grow year on year. Essentially, anyone who’s anyone in techno would be playing somewhere in the city on Sonar weekend. It is incredible really – and healthy for the scene – that the city can support all these different events taking place at the same time. My itinerary would involve going to the main Sonar festival on the Saturday night and Innervisions’ off-Sonar event on the Sunday. But first up on the Friday was Solomun’s Diynamic Outdoor party at Parc Del Forum.
This was my third consecutive year at this particular event and through this time Solomun’s stature as an artist has continued to grow and grow. For me, though, this party has always been about much more than just Solomun himself as it offers the chance to see many of the other talented artists on his Diynamic Music label get to showcase their talents behind the decks on the big stage. And in the previous two years I’d seen some great artists for the first time at the event. For that reason it had been great in a discovery sense, seeing for myself that artists such as Adriatique and HOSH had DJ skills up there with their prodigious studio talents.
With the line-up on offer, needless to say I was keen to get down there early. After a few early afternoon beers in Barcelona’s El Born district we got a taxi down to the venue, arriving around 4.30pm. Parc del Forum is a big open air space down by the coast, away from residential areas. The event site was enclosed without access to the coast but it was still a nice spot. Two years ago when the event was smaller there was access to a poor excuse for a beach – basically a few rocks – as promoters tried to entice clubbers down to the venue early. But with the event’s increase in size this experiment had fallen by the wayside. The main thing, though, was that the party was outside and coming from the UK that is ideally what you are looking for with off-Sonar events. When you have a climate like Barcelona’s in the summer you want to make the most of it by being outside. And the weather was hotting up nicely just in time for Sonar weekend after what I had heard had been some ropey weather in the weeks leading up to the event. Summer had now, though, most definitely arrived!
On arrival the event was still a long way from filling up and the huge main stage with its festival set-up felt lacking in atmosphere as a result. So we headed over to the much smaller, more intimate, second stage and caught the last couple of tracks from Magit Cacoon, a DJ I first discovered by accident a few years ago on a stag do at Tresor in Berlin! Musumeci was to grace the decks at 5pm and he was the first DJ on the line-up who I particularly wanted to see. The Sicilian has risen up the ranks in recent years with releases on Bedrock, Kompakt, fryhide, Endless and Connaisseur as well as of course Diynamic and his own Engrave Ltd. He didn’t disappoint, building the vibe perfectly early doors, serving up lots of quality music including Love Over Entropy – ‘The Whisper’ and Jimi Jules – ‘Othervision’, interspersed with bigger tracks from Tube & Berger and Rampa.
After an hour I ventured back to the main stage where HOSH was now half an hour in to his set. I really wanted to see HOSH having seen at first hand two years ago what a great DJ he is when he had been the standout performer. Since then the esteem in which I hold him as an artist has continued to grow following the release last year of his stunning ‘Stories From Sa Talaia’ album. This is available for free download as a continuous DJ mix via HOSH’s Soundcloud page.
The problem, though, was I wasn’t really feeling the main stage at this early time of day (the party still had 7 and a half hours to go). I like to get fully absorbed in the music, locked in the groove, and experience the journey of a set rather than chop and change between stages too much. A choice needed to be made as to which set to commit to for the next hour. In the end Musumeci, who had not put a foot wrong in his first hour, won out so back to stage 2 we went for the conclusion of his set. As I had discovered HOSH two years ago, this year it would be the turn of Musumeci and later Karmon who followed him on stage two.
I have since watched HOSH’s set in full via the Be-at tv event stream (http://www.be-at.tv/R_8IAA.frame) and can say it is stunningly good and well worth checking out if you are into your melodic techno. Whilst this may just be down to my own musical tastes, in terms of flow I would much have preferred HOSH to have been playing after the more housier sounds of Kollektiv Turmstrasse and not before.
At 7pm Karmon took to the stage 2 decks. Bespectacled in a smart blue collared shirt, Karmon looked more like the sort of businessman you would see day to day at the office. But behind this demeanour was someone who knew what he was doing behind the decks as he crafted an impressive set. As a producer his recent body of work for Diynamic’s ‘Picture’ series has for my money been one of the stronger contributions to the series so far. The concept here is that Solomun gets one of his label mates to put together an extended EP/mini album of around 6 tracks. Karmon’s tracks ‘Acido’, ‘Major Minor’ and ‘Brutus Jam’ that he released via this format have all been big ones for me. And in his set here Karmon was laying down lots of great tuneage, weaving house and techno together with some artists I would normally associate more with progressive house, some highlights being Jamie Stevens – ‘The Forgotten Dive’ and the Stereocalypse Remix of Luis Junior – ‘Ipsum’, seen in the below video.
Next up on stage 2 was Johannes Brecht, who was laying down lots of a big basslines in a strong opening salvo. But soon it was time to finally get properly involved with the main stage for Swiss duo Adriatique, who were a must see on tonight’s line-up. I first discovered them via a string of strong releases back in 2014 and, having seen them play for the first time here last year, they also know how to DJ, laying down the right blend of uplifting melody and dancefloor energy.
The crowd had built up nicely during Kollektiv Turmstrasse’s set and was now approaching full. As the sun went down the second hour saw the big tunes coming out. A pleasant surprise was them dropping Christian Smith’s Hypnotica Remix of Carl Craig – ‘At Les’. This was sandwiched between two of Adriatique’s productions, their remix of ‘Monument’ by Tale of Us & Vaal and their own ‘Voices From The Dawn’, both released on Tale of Us’ Afterlife label. There was then a nice twist at the end as they finished with Atlantis – ‘Fiji’ (Trance Wax Version), a breaks mix of a classic old trance tune that I remember Paul Oakenfold used to hammer back in the day.
It was now time for the main man Solomun. There was a sense of anticipation in the air as he took to the decks for a 3 hour set to close the night. For many attending the event, he was the drawcard that they had specifically come to see. My expectations were high having seen him play three weeks earlier at the Solomun + 1 opening in Ibiza.
Solomun’s Pacha Ibiza parties are great – I’ve never been to a bad one – and a key part of this is his selection of guests and the format. This involves just one DJ guest who warms up for Solomun who then plays the middle part of the night before they go back to back at the end. This last part is for me always the best bit. Perhaps in itself this is surprising as I’m often not a fan of back to backs and have been left disappointed down the years when DJs’ respective styles have not worked well together and there has consequently been a lack of flow to the set. But I have never had this experience at Solomun + 1, where the guests I have seen (namely Ame, Michael Mayer, Mano Le Tough and DJ Tennis) have complemented Solomun perfectly and vice versa. The results to my ears have been better than the constituent sum of parts, take for example three weeks ago when the final hour of Solomon B2B with DJ Tennis had been immense. Here’s a short video:
I’m digressing, but the point is he’d set a high bar for himself, and for me there was also a question of how well the music he has been pushing through his Pacha residency would compute to closing the big festival stage. Of course, Solomun has made his name by being a very versatile, eclectic DJ but the festival fail safe big room techno sounds aren’t really his thing, at least not for the whole set. It all added to the intrigue of what he would serve up over the 3 hours – a long set by festival standards although it was after all his party.
20 minutes in he dropped the above track which seemed to get the crowd going, before mixing into his first breaks record of the evening (there were to be more tracks from this genre as the set unfolded). He settled into his groove through the mid section of the set as the energy levels rose. Yet from here the set didn’t really progress in the way that I had been expecting. Whilst he still played plenty of good tracks, for me his set from last year had had a bit more energy to it across its duration. His set programming tonight had a more eclectic feel with a not insignificant nod to breaks in the latter part.
It came as quite a surprise in the last half hour to hear him drop Soul of Man – ‘Dirty Waltzer’, a breaks track first released on Finger Lickin’ Records way back in 2002. Solomun is nothing if not a man of surprises, a chameleon, and he should be applauded for his eclecticism in weaving together various different sounds and influences. I’d seen him on previous occasions play various tracks that I would classify as progressive house, not tracks you would necessarily have expected Solomun to play based on the sounds on which he had made his name. Essentially, though, he was applying the mantra that good music is good music and that DJing is not about being straight-jacketed by narrow genre pigeon holes. And if he can introduce a newer generation to different genres/styles and some great artists within them, new or old, then that is all good and positive. Personally, I’d probably have preferred a bit less breaks and a bit more melodic techno on this occasion. But fair play to play him for doing something different. He’s clearly being influenced by this sound a lot at the moment – check out his recent remix of Eagles and Butterflies – ‘The Last Dance’:
There was one breaks track he played that truly did deliver and that was ‘The Q’ by Alex Metric and Ten Ven, a massive synthy melodic breaks record that I suppose would be categorised as progressive breaks. Back in the day I loved progressive house and I loved breaks but found a lot of the ‘progressive breaks’ tracks of that time, i.e. circa 2004, to be a bit too floaty and not gritty enough. There are of course a few very notable exceptions and ‘The Q’ would be in that category and was a perfect penultimate track. Its definitely a big record for Solomun right now as he also played it near the end of his Pacha opening set. When the extra synth line kicks in at 3 minutes on the video it takes the track to a whole other place giving it a much more summery vibe.
From there he mixed into ‘Turn The Page’ by The Streets and then at 2am the night was over. All in all it had been a great night given the breadth of talent on offer and we had witnessed some great sets. After the 9 and a half hour dancing marathon I was feeling spent. There was to be no after party or after after party for me. There was, though, time for a tin of beer on the beach with the crew to reflect on another epic off-Sonar party, and I certainly came away from the night feeling very inspired.