Das Platforms / Contemporary Art


by Becky Freeman

29 Sep 2010

Sonar Festival seems to enjoy rubbing up against problems generated by the production and performance of electronic music. In decades past, music would predominately been made by groups of people, to be performed in front of a live audience. Yet much of contemporary music is produced by individuals, to be consumed solo - a kind of 'headphones on the train' world. This means that the presentation of electronic acts in a festival environment has to depart, in some ways, from the Woodstock paradigm which has dominated decades past.

Sonar is one of Europe's premier music festivals offering an artistic programme which combines electronica headliners, live music, DJs and hundreds of emerging artists representing the most innovative trends within electronic culture. Held annually in Barcelona over three days, Sonar is an urban event which serves as a discovery platform for artists and professionals alike.

By exhibiting in a range of environments vastly different from your average festival, Sonar attempts to contextualize and present acts in a way that reflects the nature of contemporary music production. Curated by various industry heavyweights (including BBC Radio's Mary Anne Hobbs and Red Bull Music Academy), artists at Sonar By Day perform in the range of spaces that span the Museu d'Art Contemporani, the Centre De Cultura Contemporania of Barcelona and an air hangar on the outskirts of town for Sonar By Night.

The stark interiors traversed en-route to the festival workshops are an appropriate setting for the meditative drones of minimal sound artist Phil Nilblock, coupled with striking himalayan landscape projections by visual artist Carlos Casas and the result is one of sensory delight. Meanwhile, in the open air astro-turfed SonarDome Mexican girl-rocker Teri Gender Bender (Le Bucherettes) unleashes her fury slinging raw meat across the stage and onto her backing dancer come singer in a blood stained dress and damning vocal akin to a female adolescent Nick Cave. Later, Moodymann demonstrates the importance of DJ as curator, performing a traditional DJ set complete with interludes, track announcement, general crowd pleasing adorned with sun-shower. This juxtaposition of live performance illustrates a kind of selective diversity prevalent in this new model of the curated music festival which Sonar adopts. It transgresses the idea of advanced music beyond the purely technological realm and re-engages audiences with the raw human forces from which the art-making stems from.

The common thread linking these musical artists is that they each have a philosophy of their own, an underlying systematic process which is displayed in the distinctive qualities and varied styles on show. Sonar illustrates the many ways in which artistic vision can be realised and executed in live performance, aided by advanced technology or otherwise. It reveals the complexities of electronic music as a performative art form and allows for deeper inspection dismantling the stage environment and assembling workshop stations and demonstration sessions alongside performances. It attracts a thoughtful audience who come not only to spectate, but to participate amongst like-minded peers. Sonar tackles the ever evolving realm of electronic and new media arts by creating a successful forum fueling dialogue, interactivity and procreation within these mediums, and thus encouraging and inspiring all who allow themselves to become entangled in it.