This post appeared originally on THUMP UK.
When social and political shitstorms are raging out there in the real world, you'll probably be looking for an escape valve; luckily for all of us, festival season's here to save everyone from interminable chats down the pub about centrism, careerism, and Marie Le Conte. Why spend a summer cowering under parasols in British beer gardens when you can easyJet over to the continent for a few days of sun, sand, and suspiciously cheap seafood?
For years now, Sónar's been one of the most loved and respected events in the calendar, and given that the sun-dappled streets of Barcelona are preferable to waterlogged fields, mud baths, and wet-wipe-showers, it isn't hard to see why so many Brits flock to Spain for a few days of parties, talks, and queuing up for the right wristbands.
A meeting point for music fans and industry heads alike, who wouldn't be up spending three days and two nights partying in a city where you can buy an ice cold beer for €1 on a corner at La Ramblas, before soothing the hangover with a restorative dip in the ocean?
One thing that's always a bugbear at these mammoth multi-disciplinary conference events is the schedule. Yeah, you usually get a little timetable of the running order in a tiny book immaculately encased in a plastic sheath hanging on a jazzy lanyard, but really, what are the unmissable highlights? Ahead of the festival's 24th year, which kicks off this week, we've done all the hard work and put together five of the acts that, on our terms, are the ones you should be stood in front of holding a Tropical Red Bull, hyper-carbonated lager, or whatever you so desire...
1. Suzanne Ciani (Sónar by Day, Friday)
The word pioneer is bandied about quite liberally in our post-truth world, but Suzanne Ciani is without a doubt entirely worthy of the moniker. A name that most electronic music fans recognize, but maybe don't entirely grasp the importance of, Ciani was born in postwar America, and through meeting synthesizer designer Don Buchla at University of California in the '70s, helped the shape the face of modern computer generated music. An early adopter of analog synths, her early work ranged from advertising soundtracks for companies such as Coca-Cola, all the way through to scoring movies like The Incredible Shrinking Woman. In the '80s she became one of the leading lights in the new age genre, with standout tracks such as "The Eighth Wave" still making their way into the more subdued strain of DJ mixes over three decades later. It's not often you get to see a true innovator in action, so consider Ciani's Friday daytime set on the Red Bull Music Academy unmissable.
2. Beautiful Swimmers (Sónar By Night Saturday)
Simon & Garfunkel. Hall & Oates. Chas & Dave. The list of infamous musical partnerships goes on, but none resonate quite as much as Washington DC-based DJ duo Max D and Ari Goldman. Whilst they both smash it individually, releasing music via their own respective labels (Max D heads up Future Times, whilst Ari runs World Building), when the pair get together in front of a dedicated crowd, the Swimmers grab every gold medal going. Following a steady narrative of ruff and ready house and a smattering of techno, the pair expertly weave in forgotten gems across the electronic music spectrum, be it UK garage, kwaito, or blissed out early '90s piano jams. Rest assured, your arms and legs will not be stationary at any point during this set. Oh, and we guarantee that you'll be trying to adopt Max's signature head-rolling into your own dance-repertoire as soon as you clock him doing it.
3. Masters At Work (Sónar By Night, Friday)
Setting you up with another set of pioneers, Sónar by night on Friday plays host to a leg-achingly spectacular six-hour session from New York house bosses, Masters At Work. Consisting of Louie Vega and Kenny Dope, the New York natives have amassed a reputation as the dons of the city's glittering house, hip hop, and Latin dance music scene over the last 30 years. Just one look at the pair's discography is enough to make you feel light-headed, with a bevy of vocal cameos from the likes of soul and funk legend Roy Ayers, Loose Joints, Shanice, India...and Mel B.
4. Floorplan (live) (Sónar by Day, Friday)
Everybody who says they like house and techno (yes, everybody) should know who Robert Hood is. An early member of Underground Resistance alongside Jeff Mills and Mad Mike Banks, Hood later forged his own illustrious solo career, acting as the tour de force in establishing the genre we now know as minimal techno. A powerful figure in the city's scene, he has since left the techno homeland for Alabama, but remains active as both Robert Hood and the more gospel-spiked Floorplan. Keeping it in the family, he enlisted his daughter Lyric to tour as part of the live show which can only be described as a "religious experience." The fact that he's an ordained pastor adds to that, obviously, but even little Christopher Hitchens might see the face of the Lord when the Hoods drop "We Magnify His Name" or "Ritual". If you're going to talk to God, then make like Hood and do it via techno.
5. Elysia Crampton (Sónar by Day, Friday)
Despite producing and remixing as E+E for quite some time, it's really been the in past two years that we've seen Virginia-based experimental artist Elysia Crampton profile truly rise after capturing the world's attention with her debut album on FaltyDL's Blueberry Recordings, American Drift. A strong and commanding voice in the support of queer and trans identities in the music and club space, Crampton aims to instill positivity and progression into her productions, which are an aural smorgasbord of astral dripped pads, stilted reggaeton-esque percussion, chaotically spiraling piano keys, and perfectly disorientating sound effects to create an out-of-this-world experience that is quite hard to compare with anything else out there.
Sonar 2017 takes place later this week in Barcelona.