Before getting inside the complex on Saturday, we have to make our way through what is called Anti- Sónar -- a gypsy festival unto itself. This is for the locals and the kids with enough money to get there but not enough to get inside. They sell T-shirts and CDs and other bootleg tourist crap. They sell beer and water and some even have little liquor bars set up. They sell every kind of street food you can imagine. There are mini sound systems, or at the very least a car stereo with open windows. It's estimated that over the two nights, twenty-thousand people make this their Sónar -- without ever entering the building.
As soon as we enter the Sónar complex we get a taste of "Funky Voltron" -- Edan and Insight rocking together as Duplex. The Boston-bred emcee/deejay/producer said he got involved with Sónar after meeting some of the festival's organizers at the Hypnotic festival last year.
Did you have any idea what you were in for when you agreed to perform at Sónar? Edan: Sort of, because Hypnotic was in the same area but on a much smaller scale. As far as the magnitude, I didn't know. But I mean, Barcelona is an interesting place to begin with [laughs]. Is that the biggest stage you've played on? Edan: Yeah, it's up there. It might be the most I've played for. We did a Peace and Unity Fest at City Hall in Boston, which was free, outside. And that was kind of a hip-hop haven/heaven type shit. Who was there? Edan: I rocked with Insight. Ed OG was there, Pharaohe was there, PMD, Big Daddy Kane, KRS. That was definitely good day in general for hip-hop and for the city of Boston. For KRS and people with that kind of ideology to be performing under an invite from the city, that's just a cool thing. Did you see any of the other acts or walk around the festival? Edan: Not a whole lot. I was on vacation with my girl -- my moms was there -- so I was kind of just chilling. But I saw a lot of the people that performed in our area that night. De La was good. I'm sure people were surprised to see Kanye West come out. I thought Cut Chemist's set was really dope. DJ Yoda on the DVD turntables is fucking around with a new limitless medium. He gives the crowd a lot to latch onto. What was the craziest aspect or experience of the festival to you? Nothing I want to put in print [laughs]. But it can be a little too outrageous. It's like Ursa Major up in there! Yeah, it's huge. When we were in the back, in the press area, there were what looked like two whole airplane hangars that they aren't even using. Edan: Yeah, I know. But we had a good time in general. And I thought the sound was pretty good for a room that big. Pretty well balanced. We were impressed. And for us the festival is all bonus, because Barcelona is one of our favorite cities Edan: I've heard a lot of people express that sentiment, and I don't know that I disagree. I like it better than London. I like it better than Paris. Is there something in particular? Edan: Once we found the falafel spot -- the one where you get your base and they have the little toppings bar -- once we found that, it was a wrap. We hit that spot up on the regs. We hit that up a few times ourselves. Once we found that place, it was no more suspect ham sandwiches for us. Edan: Word. Somebody in the U.S. needs to get their shit together and bring that over here. There needs to be some relatively healthy late-night alternatives.
We simply were not ready for DJ Yoda. From the minute he starts cutting up clips from The Muppets, Eddie Murphy: Raw and Star Wars on DVD turntables and slamming them into hard-hitting hip-hop classics such as "It Ain't Hard to Tell" and "Paul Revere," he has our undivided attention. He set the crowd ablaze with a combination of reminisce laughter and five-alarm heat. In a word: ill. Before even performing a single song, the members of De La Soul start their set with a deejay mix of Native Tongues past-blasts that gets the crowd prepped for what's to follow: a similar-minded live show with songs including "Me, Myself and I," "Ring Ring Ring," "Ego Trippin'," and "Stakes Is High" -- classics that they perform with an ease and enthusiasm as if they made them yesterday. They read the crowd perfectly, letting them catch their breath momentarily between songs before dropping the next beat -- which on a sound system like Sónar's is almost like hearing it for the first time. It seems no secret to them: This crowd, this energy, this venue is something special. When they drop the "Rock Co.Kane" beat it's instant goose bumps. Dave from De La seems to catch the same shiver as he makes a move to the turntables and brings back the instrumental multiple times and finally lets it ride, hands in the air as if to say, "You feel that?" Somewhere in the middle of all this they say, "We want to bring our friend out -- Kanye West!" Without further warning or a moment to register disbelief, Kanye runs out in all white, straight into a brilliant performance. Alone on stage, Kanye effortlessly continues the momentum De La has built up. The transition is seamless. He storms through a series of hits -- "All Falls Down," "Jesus Walks" -- before making a quick exit, bringing De La back for more without a pause. On the other side, LCD Soundsystem and the Sónar Club area turn out to be a match made in heaven. Looking and sounding more like Talking Heads than King Tubby with a full band and the detached irony of James Murphy giving voice to the sound. They are ultra cool, ultra New York, and they quickly show they have a massive system at their disposal and are not afraid to test its limits. Suddenly songs that may have seemed silly or monotonous when they came up in your iPod Shuffle come alive for a crowd of Europeans who may very well be hearing them for the first time. It all makes perfect sense live. It's easy to sing along to "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah," especially after a couple of E dots and a few cups of San Miguel. And songs such as "Tribulations," which were already winning, spiral you close to aural etherea as LCD continues to relentlessly push the speakers to new levels well after you thought they could go no further. Cut Chemist shows the Sónar crowd why he's considered one of the best live deejays in the world with his now-famous blend of turntable wizardry, beat-juggling and clever visuals. And if you thought he might be cheating, the big screen tells you otherwise. When the clock strikes 4 a.m., MIA storms the stage and comes with strictly rough dancehall business. Nothing less. Joined by Sandra Melody, DJ Culture on the wheels and Diplo running around with a digi-video cam, she seems built for this kind of situation. Big crowd, big sound. You'd never know she's touring behind her first record. Toasting, boasting, slithering, stomping. When she sets her feet on the center speaker and gets her left arm swinging, she works the crowd into a frenzy with ease, flashing a sexy smile at her ability to do so. She gives the people exactly what they want and proves herself to be the star that nearly every press outlet known to man has proclaimed her to be. Two hours later the crowd has dwindled, but a few dancers are still putting off their meeting with the morning sun (again and again) when Diplo gets behind the decks to feed the hungry an early breakfast. He came on board because he was deejaying for MIA when she was invited. "But I got really busy in America and I had to drop off that tour and she got another deejay, so I wasn't going to do it at all," he said. "And then they contacted me and told me they'd pay for my flight and they wanted me to do the Razzmatazz party and that I'd have my own spot on the bill. So I was like, 'Yeah, sure .' And it was cool, because I really ended up having fun." Did you see a lot of the festival? Diplo: Not really, because I had to fly in and out to do a deejay gig in London on Friday. So I did the party on Thursday and then I was really just in that one area on Saturday. It was cool, though. Even though I got stuck with a really late slot, there was still a decent crowd there and a lot of people who were backstage were out there dancing and I was able to play some stuff that I really wanted to play, like old reggaeton shit like El General and whatnot. And I'm a deejay, man. I play for the people, and it seemed like the people were feeling it so I was happy. Yeah, I saw Maya up there helping you pick out records for awhile. Diplo: Oh, yeah, she was a big help [laughs]. She was trying to request some song I didn't even have I think. What was her reaction to the whole thing, because I thought her set was incredible? Diplo: She definitely did her thing. I didn't even deejay. I was running around with the camera the whole time just bugging out. Yeah, I saw you up there. How did the video come out? Diplo: I don't know. She stole it . But it was a good party, man, a good crowd. I think that had to be one of the biggest crowds she's played, too. How many people do you think were in there? I'd guess at least ten thousand honestly, because that space is huge and it was packed when she was on. People were wilding. Diplo: She definitely enjoyed herself up there. She loves Barcelona anyway. She used to be a deejay and she had deejayed there before when she was younger and really loved the city. I came out before, too. I think 2D2 invited me out before that, and the vibe there is real cool. The girls are beautiful. They have the beach The beach is outrageous. Diplo: Someone told me that it's a fake beach that they just built for the Olympics. That it used to just be rocks and water. Fake or not, I saw some glorious sights out there! Diplo: [Laughs.] Oh, without a doubt! A fake beach is still better than no beach.
For those with extra batteries the party doesn't die at the complex but continues at Barceloneta, where homemade, self-powered sound systems set up shop in the sand and kids slowly nursing their fragile heads begin the migration along the beach. The beach parties follow their own timetable. Casual drinking, smoking and swimming may be all the Spanish sun allows. But as the heat of the day begins to dissipate and the sun falls, the parties toward the end of the beach start to blast off. For many, these makeshift parties -- like that of the German Kompact label, under the stars, amidst sea and sand -- frame a perfect ending to a weekend that simply refused to take a break. Thanks to directions from Heather, a friend from the press office, the party continues for us as well. On Sunday night at a beautiful beachside spot bathed in red, we find DJ 2D2 heating up the wheels with one bulls-eye after another, from dub versions of Jay-Z and Beyonce to Mos Def white labels, from Amerie's "One Thing" to MF Doom instrumentals. After a barrage of the unfamiliar it's a treat to our ears, and we feel it's only right to represent New York City on the dance floor, along with half of the Sónar staff and an intimate group of cute girls, journalists, artist and label reps and some whip-sharp U.K. b-boys. We push the party well past 5 a.m. as the last ashes of Sónar slowly burn out, but not before Jason begs 2D2 for one more. He fingers through his records faster than a money counter and comes back with Platinum Pied Piper's cowbell banger "Stay With Me." The record at full volume, J.Roams gives the floor a Brooklyn stomp, and I get a nice wind-and-grind with a girl who claims to model for British Vogue. Ah, Barcelona
Georgia would later tell us that De La Soul's was her favorite performance of this year's festival. "I think they just came in and did it, and it's the way you feel when people are on that huge stage," she said. "It happened for us three years ago with Masters at Work, who loved that stage. They just came in and blew the people away. But to see a new artist coming in on a stage, especially in the big venue that can be quite oppressive -- and you have to feel at ease. To have that kind of performance, it makes me quite happy about it, because it's not easy. "For me [the other] highlights would be -- keep in mind that I can't see acts during the day because I'm stuck in the press office -- but I thought Maya was brilliant. She is not -- I mean De La Soul are these three big guys with a physical presence, and on that stage I thought she might feel a bit lost. But she is so confident. She really kind of stepped up like, 'Hey, I'm here,' you know? I was watching her in awe because she gave such an amazing live performance." Especially for an artist so new. GT: Yeah, that's the thing. She looks like she's been doing this for the past five years. And it's not that easy, especially at Sónar. A lot of people get nervous, and that stage is the most eclectic one, so it's big for some, small for others. But Saturday I thought was brilliant. I loved Cut Chemist and Diplo and Yoda -- Oh, yeah, that motherfucker -- GT: [Laughs]. I know, and he's up there very cool, very chill. I mean, when he dropped "Glaciers of Ice," I don't even know if European kids can understand. GT: No, no, I know. Right after the Tony Montana "My balls and my word" speech on that sound system, we were just like wow. I can't even tell you. GT: That sound system was really blowing people away. How did Kanye West get involved? GT: He found out De La Soul was playing in Europe, and he was also in Europe. So he phoned De La up, and apparently they were like, "Come out." But he was cool. Everything was just cool. He made it seem like they always perform together and he's just part of the band. I was in the back checking the pits, and when I saw him I was like okay. And he just came up to me like, "When do I go up?" The manager just said, "Whenever." He was like, "Cool." So that was good [laughs]. Really good. Sometimes people come with guests and it can be a real nightmare. That's funny, because he has a pretty strong reputation in the States for being this ultra-arrogant, pampered person. I don't know if that's justified or not, because I only know him through the records. GT: Sónar is kind of special because we have our calendar set so far ahead that when people have guests we can set it up quite quickly, as if they are coming as a guest and not as an artist we invited directly. If we did [invite him directly], he would [probably] be coming with all his requirements. But it was almost like he was just passing through with his mates. And I had worked with De La Soul at the press conference and was really impressed. They were just talking normal shit and really concentrating and really just professional. And to me, he seemed kind of the same. What other hip-hop acts have come to Sónar? GT: We only started having hip-hop this past year. The first hip-hop presence was still related to electronic music. We didn't want to go through too much hip-hop, as we never do with rock or pop or any other genre. What De La Soul said, which I think is very good, is that U.K. hip-hop has always tied in really big [to electronic music], but with their own kind of profile. But the interface between electronic and hip-hop has always been bigger in the U.K. than it has been in America, where there's lots more R&B crossing with hip-hop, and that can be much further from the sounds we present. But because of the wave of the English, and Anticon did a big showcase last year and Sage Francis was here four years ago -- these kind of sounds, along with the people who we were able to bring this year, have made a comfortable little space for hip-hop at Sónar.
Barcelona's own growth and reputation is growing right along with the Sónar festival. With a surplus of gorgeous women, an infamous topless beach, tapas, paellas and a sun-soaked climate that you can actually visit on a reasonable budget, it's not hard to see why. What is harder to imagine is another city in the world that would invite this kind of invasion, almost welcome it. We come back to our hotel at 9 a.m. and get treated to an overenthusiastic "Buenas dias!" from the joking staff. When we mention Sónar the next day, Victor and the other kids who work at the Hotel B have a similar reaction, shaking their head and repeating the word "Sónar" with a laugh. The only people who seem upset or bothered are the overworked cab drivers, who for all their grumbling probably make half a year's salary off these half-dozen days. Barcelona is a casual city where you can walk in and out of places for free and drink on the street for nothing. You stick out your hand and a cold can of Estrella is waiting for you. It's hot. People sweat. People dance. They dress like they're going to the beach, even at night. During our visit, we stumble across a jumping rock party, live jazz, all-night techno, dub reggae, underground hip-hop straight from a '90s NYC mixtape, and electro dance parties that go well into the morning. Every night the sun greeted us before our hotel beds did, but somehow this comes as no surprise in Barcelona, where there is always another party. Read part 1 Click here to post comments on the message boards Sónar photo gallery