I came to Barcelona to cover Primavera Sound festival back in May, packed one bag, lost my job and figured I may as well add to the city's unemployment problem. Waiting for Sónar took a while so I did some traveling. I saw the world's only public monument to Satan. I jogged around Montjuic. I went to the beach by myself. Then the festival began, and things started to fall into place.
I've never been to Sónar. It's expensive to fly here when other people do, so for years I've just checked out lineups, listened to sets—Aphex Twin, Richie Hawtin, Nile Rodgers, Ryuichi Sakamoto. The billings traditionally skew progressive and experimental and, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary, this year is Sónar's most controversial; the headliners include Pet Shop Boys, Kraftwerk and Skrillex.
The festival is unofficially accompanied by a wide assortment of Off-Sónar events, any number of which trump any city's best. Yesterday, Thursday, there's was the Sónar day program, which features Metro Area, Sébastien Tellier and a live set by Todd Terje and Lindstrøm. There was also an Off-Sónar Resident Advisor rooftop pool party with Bicep and Scuba and R&S Records' 30th anniversary with Juan Atkins, Nathan Fake, Lone, Space Dimension Controller, Untold and Jus-Ed, among a hundred others.
At night, it's even worse. There was a Life and Death event on Montjuic with Dixon, Thugfucker, Tennis, Tale of Us and Boddika. There was a Numbers party with Surgeon; a Tresor showcase with Moritz von Oswald, DJ Hell and Regis; and a Hessle Audio event with Ben UFO, Pearson Sound, Joy Orbison and 2562. There are a dozen more I could name, but you get it. It's amazing. It's insane.
Sónar Day has moved to Plaça d'Espanya this year, but the Off parties are not held to specific areas like they are South by Southwest or Winter Music Conference. One's on the ocean, one's on the mountain, one's in the city center. Here my report from day one:
Everywhere I go, everyone else is somewhere else, so I head out alone.
I've got a variety of schemes running; list hustles, how to score a Bicing card so I can ride city bikes, how to avoid spending my severance check in one week. Most of these schemes don't pan out.
It's 90 degrees in Barcelona. I hop the metro and head to Diagonal for the Resident Advisor party. I figure I'll go there first, hit the R&S anniversary, then head to the actual festival.
The RA event has been at the same rooftop location for several years running—the drink prices and 360 view are stupefying. You can see the whole city from Montjuic (the mountain below which I currently reside) to the Mediterranean, and the pool is full of Brits. The staff greet you in English.
Rolling solo to a pool party where you don't know anyone is kind of a weird look. I buy cigarettes and beer and resist the impulse to stare at my already-dying phone.
I talk to some Belgians who throw a music festival that allegedly dates back to the Middle Ages. Bicep runs through some vocal house roof jams, and I run into Todd Terje's manager Mattis, whom I met briefly, drunkenly, at South by Southwest, and fellow Norwegian, Lars. They ask me where I live and I don't really know what to say.
I hear Richie Hawtin's playing a free show at Parc de la Ciutadella, then I hear he's playing the party I'm at. I think about the R&S thing—it's pretty far, and I'm having a pretty good time.
We hang out for a while. I meet exactly one Spaniard. Bicep are with a crew of their mates getting ripped. Scuba gets on the decks. Richie Hawtin shows up, they whisper sweet nothings in one another's ears and we head off to Sónar finally.
As we leave the hotel, I realize that I'm not going to make it to half the parties I hoped to, as always. Todd Terje and Lindstrøm go on in ten minutes and I still have to grab my passport, figure out where and how to pick up my press pass, charge my phone, eat.
I'm on my way home, so I stop by my best friend Joe's for a beer and a smoke. We sit in his backyard. We take off our shoes.
"You're in good shape," he says, as I drink his last beer.
We laugh about a bunch of stuff, then go out and grab a big bottle of Xibeca and a bench, while kids play soccer in matching Messi jerseys with a bike for a goal. It's almost 11PM when I head to catch Dixon at the Life & Death party just up the mountain.
I figure I don't need to buy any more drinks, so I pick up a traveler of vodka. I'm solo again, the party is impossible to find. GPS denies it. The club's website is blank.
I climb Montjuic, end up at a cul-de-sac and a hotel. I scare a cleaning lady. She tells me the club is one way, the hotel staff tell me another. The sound of techno can be heardon the mountain. I've got the traveler of vodka in my hand, 200€ between the insert and the bottom of my Air Max.
I finally find the club—it's so obvious, I jog by it every day. From afar, it looks like The Abyss. I duck my vodka in a bush and walk up behind two Parisian TV reporters, Cristophe and Marie. They ask where I live. I still don't know.
They have some issues with the list. I end up with a plus one, so I give it to Marie, while Cristophe sorts himself out. We roll in together, everyone asks us for drugs.
Dixon plays a room that looks like a Cirque du Soleil set. Thugfucker set up downstairs, behind what looks like a Virgin America counter, all purple lights and airport hanger vibes, but the music's cool. The crowd's Ibiza-friendly and festive, some costumed, and for 7€ you can buy half a beer.
Dixon's banging it out. I text Lars to see where he is. He's with seven Norwegians, working on the guest list. Dixon denies a cameraman, who's apparently filming a documentary about the spectacle.
Magda gets on, we head downstairs. Christian Löffler is about to play, but all the melody's getting to me.
I convince Cristophe and Marie to roll to BeCool see Joy Orbison and Ben UFO, since I bought two tickets. They cut our wristbands at the door and pocket them. The security guard makes a joke about cutting my wrist. Life and Death, I guess. We catch a cab. I hope I haven't made a mistake dragging these Parisians from the Cirque to the UK basement. I'm not sure how this nice Parisian girl is going to take it.
We roll up to BeCool, where we're greeted by a parade of pale kids squatting, smoking. We dice up a door hustle, but some people in the line overhear and just offer us their spare ticket.
It's dark. BeCool lists its previous performers on a column inside the club, and has a revolving dancefloor, which is pretty stupid. We just miss Joy Orbison, and instead catch a percussive, jarring set from 2562. The drums scrape the ceiling, metal on metal. I love it, but I can feel Marie's confusion. They're not dancing. There's no melody. No vocals. No matter where we stand, drunk Brits stumble into us. We're in the eternal hallway.
The revolving floor starts and literally revolves us to the door. I walk them out and apologize, but once outside, they claim to have enjoyed it. I suspect they're just being polite.
Outside, a drunk Portuguese Frenchman with an impossible name directs us in English to kill all bankers, lawyers, financiers (pointing to his friend) and to "Fuck Paris."
"Right now I am chilling my monkey soul," he adds, a harbinger of impending confusion and doom. Now would be a good time to go home.
I head back in, Joy-O and Ben UFO playing back-to-back. I can't tell any of these guys apart. I'm dancing next to a dime. Lars taps me. I meet him and his Norwegian homeys and we drink more beer. None of us made it to Sónar. All of us have spent a small fortune on beer.
"I'm on vacation, fuck it," Lars says. I'm not.
Joy O plays an edit of his song with Boddika, "Swims," and the crowd is wilding. It's 4AM but it feels crazy. The room is still packed. Pale hands in the air.
I meet a Spanish guy named Michael.
"Are there others?" I ask him.
"Yeah, one, over there!" he says, pointing out one other Spanish dude with a beard. That makes two.
Lars' homey goes for another round, and we head to the exit. On the way home, I walk past Joe's place, tempted to knock and wake his ass up like I used to do eight years ago, when I first started coming to Barcelona.
I walk to my door, fumble my keys, swear I'll learn Spanish. I get home to a high-school alumni newsletter asking where I live and what I'm doing. I'm living in Barcelona. I'm learning how to pronounce the name of my street.
Theo finally made it down from Montjuic but now he's lost on the beach drinking expensive beer. Follow him on Twitter for more adventures in raving - @badbarks