On Thursday (June 12), Sonar kicked off the first of its three full days of special artist showcases and cutting edge music technology events with a nuanced show by German pianist Nils Frahm, Machinedrum’s new high-octane live set, Trentemøller’s hybrid band brilliance, and a spellbinding festival-closing live performance from Plastikman.
3:32 pm: Barcelona has delivered a delightfully sunny day for Sonar attendees. Ticket and accreditation lines run long, but smiles can be seen everywhere. Entrants are rewarded for their patience with a smorgasbord of music stages and skeletal wooden enclosures housing interactive art installations and electronic gadgetry. Sonar feels like a music festival from the future.
4:16 pm: In the bustling Sonar+D conference area, a distinguished looking man runs his hands along thin needles of green light. Melodic notes materialize from the laser harp with each airborne pluck. On an adjacent interactive table, a girl sings into a microphone to digitize her voice using Voctro Labs’ Vocaloid software.
5:00 pm: Whistles fill the air as German pianist Nils Frahm appears onstage at SonarHall. Sporting no fewer than four different synthesizers and a grand piano, his setup resembles a space age NASA console. Bent over his synthesizers like an animated marionette, Frahm launches into his first song with hands dancing on the sea of keys and dials. Dueling synthesizers face off in arcing crescendos as the artist switches seamlessly to solo piano for melodic breakdowns.
5:30 pm: “I’ve got one last song,” an excited Frahm informs the crowd. Buzzes of confused conversation can be heard as Frahm’s set is scheduled to go another 20 minutes. “It’s very long!” Frahm clarifies to audible cheers. Brooding synths ebb and flow as Frahm returns to the controls, layering introspective organ chords over buzzing analog bass. He transitions into a percussive interlude before allowing his fingers to dance along his piano’s high keys, slowly building to a crowd-thrilling climax of ebullient piano chords.
6:12 pm: Canadian DJ Ryan Hemsworth delights the SonarVillage crowd with twisted broken beats and airy soulful sampling. Sweat-drenched and smiling, he bobs with the beat above his Ableton controller.
7:05 pm: Travis Stewart – aka Machinedrum – takes the SonarVillage reins and launches into his brand new live show in support of recent album release “Vapor City.” Interweaving programmed rhythms with his live drummer, Stewart guides the audience through a soundscape of stuttered break beats and humming synthesizers.
7:31 pm: World Cup fever is alive and well in Barcelona. A bevy of jersey-wearing Brazilians gyrate to the music, pretending to drum along to the booming bass drops.
8:17 pm: 63-year-old Mute Records founder Daniel Miller takes to the SonarVillage decks with dark and danceable beats that recall his production with Depeche Mode. The stoic producer’s stern affect bears a strange resemblance to Severus Snape. Significantly less hair, though.
8:38 pm: Danish multi-instrumentalist Trentemøller claps his hands emphatically behind a formidable array of synthesizers, sending the packed SonarHall into cheers. Flanked by a full live band wielding guitars and tambourines, the artist transitions from squealing arpeggiated synthscapes into a melodic marimba interlude.
9:21 pm: Trentemøller’s female singers do the robot. Many in attendance attempt to emulate. Quality varies.
9:25 pm: Following a haunting rendition of “Thinking About You,” Trentemøller finishes strong with frenetic finale “Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider Go!” Daniel Miller remains dour as ever outside, curating a pensive soundtrack to Plastikman anticipation.
9:57 pm: A resonant tone rings out at SonarVillage. Excitement ripples through the crowd. Richie Hawtin appears on a raised platform in the center of the enormous crowd, donning his Plastikman persona behind a giant Ableton screen and an array of controllers. Photographers who assumed he’d be onstage begin to curse and cut a path through the crowd. The Objekt obelisk looming before him hums to life.
10:20 pm: Following tension-building minimal tones and percussive interplay, a thumping kick drum animates the audience. The obelisk is alight with dancing green lines split and arc across its face with each foreboding bass hit. One gets the sense of the Objekt as a nefarious entity to be confronted, tamed and tended under Plastikman’s watchful eye. After cutting away to a seductive looped guitar line, Hawtin raises one hand to cue an unyielding bass drop.
10:32 pm: “Richie!” an inebriated Spanish fan yells, momentarily breaking the spell and prompting a smirk from Hatwin. The obelisk emanates shifting red and green tortoiseshell patterns while Plastikman meticulously layers effects over snarling bass and choked synthesizers.
10:50 pm: The obelisk’s patterns shift in nervous tics as Plastikman’s show reaches its climax. The patterns unwind as the sound spirals down into low bass rumblings. The Plastikman logo briefly appears on the obelisk as the crowd erupts, Hawtin steps down from the controls to a cascade of cheers from the surrounding crowd. After draining a water bottle and shaking many fans’ hands flung his way, he is briskly escorted through the audience by a throng of security guards.