Barcelona CCCB/Pavello De La Mar Bella

An impressively diverse three-day rave...

Cabbages and pigs’ trotters. Tear gas and sunburn. Art, noise and techno techno techno. For three sweltering days and nights at the [a]Sonar[/a] festival of “advanced music”, [a]Barcelona[/a] embraces all that is good, bad and frankly absurd in the field of what most people call ‘dance’.

Now into its seventh year, [a]Sonar[/a] showcases the cream of international electronica, techno, house and the downright peculiar, and also hosts cultural conferences, exhibitions of multimedia art and technological and professional fairs. At least, that’s the general idea. For while its intellectual intentions are admirable, the fact is that come nightfall at its beach site, [a]Sonar[/a] becomes an impressively diverse three-day rave. After all, dancing on the sand to DJ Hell at sunrise says far more about contemporary culture than a dozen daytime symposiums on clubbing and its relationship with art ever could. Even highbrow electronica producers have to let what hair they have down sometimes.

During the day, [a]Sonar[/a] takes place in the centre of [a]Barcelona[/a], inside and in the courtyards of the modern Centre De Cultura Contempor`nia (CCCB) building, and in an adjacent chapel, Capella Dels Angels. This latter building is transformed quite literally into a church of noise thanks to its inventive booking policy of laptop-tapping maestros such as Bavarian Powerbook wizard Hecker, Japanese sonic extremist Merzbow and the beautiful industrial ambience of veteran avant-goths Coil.

Given that [a]Sonar[/a]’s nocturnal events at the seaside Pavello De La Mar Bella compound don’t finish until nine or ten in the morning, and given that most of the nightly 10,000 plus revellers obviously seek stamina in products other than beer and the ubiquitous Dark Dog energy drink, the daytime activities at the CCCB are merely a distraction to the punters’ chief priority: chilling out and holding their heads, moaning, “Estoy jodido” (that’s “I’m spangled”, of course).

Still, it would be foolish to miss mid-afternoon eclectic cut-up dub sets from much-fancied Studio One revisionists Burnt Friedman, Pole and Kit Clayton , just as the opportunity to sample the current flavour of Mute Records – exemplary Krautronica from Echoboy, spazzing histrionics from Dutch techno tease Speedy J and deluxe pitch-shifting courtesy of V/V/E (aka Finnish duo Pan Sonic and ex-Einsturzende Neubauten panel-basher FM Einheit) – should be seized.

As with any event where like-minded artists and industry professionals meet, for those inclined there’s plenty of networking to be done. An increase in corporate sponsorship means that this [a]Sonar[/a] is the biggest so far. And perhaps because of this, it seems that by trying to be all things to all people and cramming as much into the programme as possible, the festival lacks a sense of cohesion. Yes, all electronic music is represented here, but these days it’s often everywhere else too.

So quite where bottle-blond romo queen Marc Almond fits into the scheme of things on Thursday night at the Pavello De La Mar Bella, is unclear. Ten minutes and no Soft Cell hits later, we leave to find Death In Vegas in a tent playing an enjoyably violent version of the set that’s already conquered the UK. Indeed, so confident is Richard Fearless in his band’s ability that he nips off for a pee during a final, snarling ‘Dirge #2’ and returns for a solo DJ stint.

Equally irreverent are Brighton’s Super_Collider, whose dynamic warped funk excursions are choreographed to include madcap graffiti displays and an inter-band game of tag. In terms of sheer spectacle, Jamie Lidell and Cristian Vogel‘s white-suited soul visionaries are matched only by Chicks On Speed the next night. [a]Sonar[/a]’s most hyped take advantage of their top billing in front of 6,000 bemused Catalans by decorating the stage with video screens, life-size cut-outs and a portable house and even stop midway through to bring us an advertisement for a fake product called Datablod. Is it art? Probably. Entertainment? Certainly. Completely out of control? Definitely.

More appealing to the legion techno purists are the relentlessly tough sounds of Richie Hawtin – whose excellent set is marred by security’s heavy-handed use of tear gas to break up a fight – and the prevalence of Powerbook glitchmanship: check the austere droning of Austria’s 11-strong Mego Laptop Orchestra. An abiding memory, meanwhile, will be of looking down on to a packed main arena wriggling (i)en masse(/i) like maggots on PCP at five am Sunday morning to the nosebleed techno of Carl Cox. Rumours of the genre’s gradual death have been hugely exaggerated.

It’s a synth fetishist’s paradise, too, with Add N To (X) unveiling their rasping pop direction; tongue-in-cheek Germans Dakar & Grinser, Artist Unknown and Zombie Nation (whose ’80s-derived anthem ‘Kernkraft 400’ is set to repeat its European success in the UK) flying der Euro-rave flag; while dapper lounge futurists The Gentle People and Mute‘s avant-torch song-touting Goldfrapp bring some semblance of normality to proceedings with, you know, proper songs and stuff.

Yet for a neat summation of [a]Sonar[/a] we turn to Stockport’s pig mask-sporting V/VM, who, with a cabbage rotating on each turntable and pigs’ trotters dangling from the decks (hey, nice symbolism!), bludgeons classic love songs like ‘Careless Whisper’ and ‘All Night Long’ into patties of rancid noise.

The sound snobs storm out, everyone else roars with laughter. Despite its chin-stroking ambassadors, then, the future should really not be taken seriously.