Sonar Festival - In Brief

Sonar Festival - In Brief

Mica & The Cluster

The band themselves were very South London. Dirty grimy beats. Pretty cool. At the end Mica(?) did the cutest little ukulele ditty. Still stands as one of the highlights for me.

The Invisible

Another UK group. Really really tight performance. I'd like to hear their studio work. Reminded me of both Seal and P.J. Harvey. Possibly a bit safe. Worthy of investigation though.

James Holden

DJ set. Kind of how my mate described it - "the guy's sexually frustrated". Pretty fitting. I thought it was generally a good set, it would crescendo without ever quite getting to the punch-line.

Beastie Boys - Instrumental Set

Goddamn I'm glad I got to see the Beasties doing an old school instrumental set. They only played tracks off the first few albums. Lots of stuff off Check Your Head which suited me just fine - it's my favourite.

Haswell & Hecker

I was trying to get to Sunn O))) but I completely screwed it up. Anyway I'm glad I did. Possibly the pick of the festival for me. Intense beyond belief - my hearing is still suffering. A single laser sat in the middle of the stage pointing back into the crowd (as seen above). The music is constructed by feeding footage of disturbing scenes (the Madrid bombing for example) into computer software. The sounds created were so intense that a section of the roof came down - plaster everywhere. Loved it.

The Executives

I have a DJ set of theirs around here somewhere - I need to dig it out to give it another listen. Very funky, 80's electro beats.


Finland 80's electro power pop revived. These guys were fun. Great image, great tunes. Cheesy keytar goodness. I'm desperate to get more of this.

Richie Hawtin

I have friends who have been banging on at me to see this guy for years. Glad I finally did. Technically he's an absolute genius. The basically just used the turntables as simple sound generators and then created the songs out of layers of effects. Very cool. Still too downbeat for a good dance as far as I'm concerned.

Dizzy Rascal

He's slipped a notch in my books now. When I first heard his stuff I thought it sounded fresh and interesting. Watching him play was a bit disappointing - very much like any other Hip-Hop act. Should I be concerned that he too now performs with a plaster on his head?


French turntablist perfectionists. Hell of a display - very well organised. Amazing to watch 4 guys knocking out a song in perfect sync on 4 different turntables. Lovely.

All in all I had a really good time. There was certainly a huge variation of music to listen to - that is what I love after all.

Fanfare Ciocarlia - Queens and Kings

Fanfare Ciocarlia - Queens and Kings

Radio 3 naming you the years best world-music act (2006) is going to do wonders for your reputation. That probably goes a long way to explaining why the Barbican Centre was completely packed out for their performance last night. The enthusiasm shown by the crowd, however was completely driven by the band.

It was a hell of a performance and the crowd didn't hold back in displaying their appreciation. Most of the night the stage was dominated by 40 year old men with big brass horns - though flamenco dancers did slink past from time to time to provide the eye-candy.

The album is cool but it just doesn't match up to the live experience. Truthfully, there's no way it ever could - there are just a few times in my life where I've witnessed performances that even come close to matching this in energy. There's something incredible about hearing brass live. I love the way it sounds like it's tearing through the air - invokes the same satisfaction one derives from shredding paper. From what I saw last night everyone felt the same way about the gig I did.

Gilles Peterson - Sunday Afternoon At Dingwalls

Gilles Peterson - Sunday Afternoon At Dingwalls

I was lucky enough to get to enjoy the Sunday Afternoon At Dingwalls reunion last year. If I hadn't gone along to that gig I wouldn't have given this album a chance (due entirely to my own ignorance). Whenever I've seen Giles DJ in recent years I've always found it a bit... safe. Just a bunch tracks based around latin beats - see what I mean about ignorant?

The only reason I went along was that a mate of mine (Adrian) insisted that it would be great history lesson. How right he was.

The atmosphere was absolutely incredible. All the old regulars had dusted off their dancing shoes so they could slide around the dancefloor with their slick jazz moves. The music itself was fantastic. See, I had no idea that this event spawned the acid jazz movement - though it's all so obvious now. These were the people that resisted the draw of popular dance music, choosing instead to evolve jazz.

The album is a great little sampler of what the party was like. The songs are all fun and very danceable. If nothing else you get to enjoy a bit of that history lesson.

A Hawk and A Hacksaw - The Way The Wind Blows

A Hawk and A Hacksaw - The Way The Wind Blows

I write this sitting aboard the train that's taking me to see these two (along with Fanfare Ciocarlia) performing live for the first time. I generally have a policy of not listening to an artist before a gig but for some reason I'm breaking that rule now.

Silky smooth, it is. Velvety fiddle and accordion work. Apparently when playing live they use such trickery as funny hats with drumsticks attached to allow for more simultaneous instrument playing. The scales used in Klezmer are so refreshing after having listened to the same old scales used time and again in western music. This Albuquerque couple have still managed to invite a good dose of western influence into their sound and all the singing is in english making it accessible for layfolk like myself.

Just arrived back from the gig! Very nice indeed. It was Fanfare Ciocarlia that stole the show - though I'm still in love with A Hawk And A Hacksaw.

The Nextmen - Personal Golf Instruction

The Nextmen - Personal Golf Instruction

Everyone aspiring DJ should be forced to listen to The Nextmen. You get a hell of a history lesson free with every mix set. Not only that but you get great beats and some of the best party tunes around. They know how to scratching enhances the energy of the mix, instead of smothering it.

Personal Golf Instructions is broken into a series of lessons based around different aspects of golf; The Grip, The Stance, The Woods, The Irons, Chipping and Putting. The intro to each lesson is infused with cuts from a golf lesson vinyl they've dug up from somewhere.

Don't pass up an opportunity to see these two do their thing live. I've managed to see them 4-5 times now and I haven't been disappointed for a second.

Ratatat - Ratatat

Ratatat - Ratatat

I've gone through several infatuations with Ratatat over the last couple of years. The last one was fuelled by their London inclusive tour. I'd been listening to their second album, Classics, fairly exclusively (though I did give the first one a brief shot). Another infatuation is eminent - this time I feel like I'm going to be all over their debut, Ratatat.

The secret is that it all sounds backwards (somewhat like Boards Of Canada or RJD2's production). I think that's what makes it so nice to listen to - each note floats over, popping just out of reach. Very pretty. Great melodies, and great beats too. Their live set up is more traditional then I'd expected; synth, guitar and bass. The use of synths instead of a drummer for the rhythm lends a lot to the sound, the beats are crisp and full.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression - it's not all downbeat, far from it in fact, the sound is generally very uplifting and these guys really know how to rock.

If nothing else it's more proof that people sending random mp3s to your email does help to sell cds. Really looking forward to hearing more from these cats in the future.

Jakob - Cale:Drew

Jakob - Cale:Drew

Jakob have been in my life for more years (10?) than I can remember now and I wouldn't have it any other way. As a cheap comparison you could say that they sound something like [insert post-rock group here]. I guess the elements are there - pounding drums set the scene while lush layers of guitar noise swirl overhead.

To see Jakob perform live is a semi-religious experience for me. It seems to take a good couple of seconds for the sound to find its way from Jeff's guitar to the listeners ears. What is it doing inside all those pedals? Biding its time, swirling around until it's ripe. Only then can be considered mature enough for our ears.

The variance in dynamics across the album, or even within a single song, is huge. Some of it ambient, hauntingly beautiful while other bits use their hard edge to provide a great contrast. They don't take the approach of other post-rock bands - it's not a slow growing organic build up of noise. When Jakob want you to have it, they just let you have it. And I highly suggest you just sit there and take it.

Vitalic - OK Cowboy

Vitalic - OK Cowboy

If you like your electro at all you have to have a listen to Vitalic - it's dance music done right. My first taste of this Italian master's work was due to the featuring of La Rock on 2manydjs essential pt 2 mix (if you're yet to hear it stop reading right now and go and get yourself a copy - I'm not kidding... essential). Most of my friends decided to skip his performance at Glade last year in preference for the typical glob-dual like fare of the Sancho Panza tent. I can tell you right now they made a big mistake.

I'd actually only listened to the album a couple of times before seeing him live so I was a little unprepared for his display. Refreshingly it was a predominantly live setup - lots of synths (just how we like it). That's probably how he managed to get it sounding so huge. Layers upon layers, up and up we went, building to insane crescendos. I guess that's what I should have expected, after all that's exactly the roll La Rock plays on 2manydjs pt 2. Those poor little djs that followed his act came out of it sounding weak and shallow. The album actually goes a good long way towards capturing that energy. And that's what it feels like - like the disc is an attempt to portray what this guy can do for you in a live environment.

It's not all club stomping beats though. The opener, Polkamatic, is a lovely playful little ditty and plenty of the other tracks are packed full of subtle production work.

If you're now getting inspired to listen to La Rock again please try not to injure yourself.

Mark Ronson - Version

Mark Ronson - Version

Ha! Two years ago when I was banging on about Mark Ronson you didn't want to know. Even at the tail end of last summer I struggled to drag people in to his tent at LoveBox (AKA the Sweatbox - a title well earned), though those who were there were treated to a nice sneak preview of Version. See? See what's happened now? Now he's lined up to be the DJ act of the upcoming UK summer.

This is the point where I'm meant to go, "his new album isn't as good as his first one". Sorry to disappoint but I'm not going to. His new album is a fine piece of work. Covers, all endorsed by the original artists. That's like musical heaven to me.

It's pretty typical Ronson styling. Each track is treated to funky rehashing, dowsed in horns and left out in the sun to spontaneously combust. The opener 'God Put A Smile Upon Your Face' being a prefect example of just that process done right.

As expected he draws on a great range of sources for the original material. The one that gets me is Amy, a track from Ryan Adam's criminally underrated debut, Heartbreaker. Even the Ronson cover risks drawing a tear from my eye.

Morcheeba - Who Can You Trust?

Morcheeba - Who Can You Trust?

While digging through my albums today I stumbled across Morcheeba's very first album. Ahh, back when Morcheeba were good... really, really good. To be fair their following albums were actually ok but Big Calm has the dubious honour of being one of the most overplayed albums of all time.

Who Can You Trust? was a better album to begin with. Even the names 'Moog Island', 'Tape Loop' say more. It feels like raw stoned toying in an attic somewhere, before they had a reputation to live up to. I guess things have worked out pretty well really. Big Calm is like a sacrificial metal... soaking up the attention and leaving the old stuff untouched. Just the way I like it.

Anyway, it's tasty. Smooth vocals, lovely beats. Going to be perfect one afternoon this summer.

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