Out of Town
1987 2007: I Believe in the Rave
posted by June 18 at 10:40 AMon
İyi akşamlar from Istanbul. I’ve finally rested and recovered from Sónar and reluctantly fled Barcelona, and here are some final thoughts.
Every year, Sónar co-founder Sergio Caballero puts together a bespoke visual theme which sets the tone for the event just perfectly. My favorite so far is his work for 2001, a subtle jab at the pathetically optimistic political slogan “España va bien!” Look closely:
More after the jump.
This year, in honor of 20(!) years since the UK's first "summer of love" unleashed the rave, it's all about the smiley:
So there was plenty of rave nostalgia on tap this year. It's interesting to think how much has changed, and how little, since the notion of taking pills and gurning to loud-ass electronic music first crossed most people's radar. In some ways, dance music has been striving ever since to recapture the energy of the late '80s and early '90s, and for the most part it's fallen short (except with each year's new generation of teenage first-timers, whose enthusiasm is ever more short-lived).
Not to say that it's lost its steam entirely -- dance music is more alive than ever, if you aggregate all the isolated subgenres and micro-scenes. But, all respect to the people keeping the scene going, it's been a long-ass time since dance music as a whole has truly felt that fresh and relevant.
As many Sónar regulars were around the first time, or at least first discovered electronic music through its echoes a few years after, it's fitting that one of the headliners for this year is Altern8, the British rave duo who became UK micro-superstars back in the early '90s with over-the-top rave anthems that shamelessly sampled Detroit and Chicago classics-to-be and traded in subtle-as-hammers synth hooks and buzzing "Belgian Hoover" basslines -- the samples prompted a threatened kneecapping from Derrick May, for one -- and a pop image built on hazmat suits and bright yellow facemasks. And they brought back the energy with a set of wall-to-wall rave classics -- I shit you not, the first six records were Good Life, Voodoo Ray, Chime, LFO, French Kiss and Energy Flash. This kind of set would be a yawner for American audiences, who for the most part missed out entirely on the first wave of rave, but check this out:
Note the digital cameras -- this was 2007, kids. They were probably in diapers the first time around, but they were feeling it. Maybe there's hope.
One small tradition is to send out silly dancers to rile up the crowd during Jeff Mills' set -- techno godfather Mills is a Sónar regular, and a reliable highlight every year, and I think the festival organizers just like fucking with him -- and in keeping with the theme, there was gurning:
Unfortunately, this Detroit native is a rare sight in the United States, due to some unfortunate early experiences and the fatter paychecks (and better shopping) in Europe and Japan. But his unique style, played out through chaotic mixing and sharp transitions, is in my opinion the best techno on the market, and you should check him out if you get the chance. Bring earplugs.
Across the Fira Gran Via 2, at the SónarPub a quarter-mile walk away, Dixon, Âme and Château Flight put on several solid hours of sophisticated modern dance music, re-creating for a crowd of thousands the kind of vibe the Sun Tzu guys do for hundreds here in town. Although the beats were subtler and more sophisticated than the rave madness across the venue, their cultivated sense of timing and impeccable taste pleased the mind as much as it pleased all these bodies:
Another treat at the SónarPub, one which I've missed recently, is Matthew Dear's Big Hands, his new live project that adds drums and bass to this regular Seattle visitor's sparse vocal techno. Rough and moody, complete with leather pants:
And that's about it. Well, no. There was loads else, including a solid set from the Beastie Boys, some droning from Mogwai that was strangely appropriate for a hot summer night, some beatboxing from Rahzel, a lot of mistranslated awkward conversations with E-d up Spanish ravers, and enough beer and Red Bull to get you drunk and jittery. And now, finally, finally, it's time to go to sleep.