Sónar is celebrating it’s 20th birthday this year, so they decided to hold the festival in four major cities of the world: Reykjavík, Sao Paulo, Tokyo and of course Barcelona. In Reykjavík, where else would Sónar choose to host than Ólafur Eliasson’s Harpa concert hall? The sparkling green crystal palace on the shore.
The festival opened late on Friday afternoon in Harpa’s Nordurljós recital hall with Bedroom Community labelmates Valgeir Sigurðsson, Paul Corley and Nadia Sirota. An intimate crowd enjoyed the concert, but the relaxing atmosphere was soon smashed down by Ghostigital. Ex-Sugarcubes and electronic veteran Einar Örn Benediktsson seemed in a constant seizure, striking a crucifixion pose every once in a while against the echoing hard rhythmic beats. The sound was jaw-dropping, and left ears ringing for hours after the set.
As night came in, and Harpa got crowded, the techno arrived: German duet Diamond Version (AKA Alva Noto and Byetone). Unfortunately by the end of the gig, only a hundred-or-so people remained to let out a tired round of applause. Many left to see Modeselektor in the next room, but apparently they were not the act that everybody was waiting for. Suddenly security had to step in to calm the crowd, who were in a rush to hear the Icelandic dance-house group GusGus. Their smoothly building and flowing music filled the full house with a huge amount of joy. And to keep the smiles on Harpa’s face the equally mellow Danish DJ Trentemøller pleased them with tracks like 'Moan’ and Bruce Springsteen’s ’State Trooper’.
Next day Alva Noto came back with pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto to deliver a stunning one-hour show of microsound with mellow piano chords, mostly taken from their 2011 album, 'Summvs’. Their performance was theatrical: it was like an OR and Sakamoto was the chief surgeon, cutting his piano open, with Alva Noto as a technician. Running his fingers through all the keys, Sakamoto showed the utmost routine. The heartbeat got deeper, longer and then stopped. The operation was so successful, James Blake singing 'I Never Learnt to Share' on his boyish choir voice next room and the Icelandic jazz group Kippi Kaninus’s egyptian fusion downstairs seemed a bit immature by comparison.
But Gluteus Maximus, the leading DJ duo from Iceland, their massive dark macho house music and the weightlifters surrounding them on stage dragged us down to the weirdest hell. They are the dark side of GusGus. Replacing DJ Biggi Veira with Margeir, but keeping all the others (President Bongo, and singers Dániel Ágúst and Högni Egilsson) suddenly the unearthy magic transformed into a demonic men’s club. By midnight the whole house was pulsating with bass. High heels got dumped and fur coats were soaked in beer. Squarepusher’s Nintendo show blew up Silfurgberg.
Captain Fufanu, the two youngster techno DJs who were constantly sliding up and down the rails and chased by girls during the whole weekend, closed the event with a pleasent little disco at the Bay View Area. They are the absolute new frontiers of Reykjavík nightlife and not only seriously talented, but good looking to boot.
Praise to Sónar, and look out for Icelandic musicians. If you are lucky enough, grab the chance to visit one of the other three Sónar cities, and do your best to visit Iceland at least once.
Words by Hanna Tardos
Photos by Olga Nyári