Sonar Festival : Barcelona CCCB/Montjuic

Aphex Twin, Leila, Plaid, Kid 606 and DJ Hell go laptop crazy in Spain...

Now in its eighth year, Barcelona’s Sonar Festival (of Advanced Music And Multimedia Arts) is today considerably more relevant to the international dance community than the vacuous corporate cocaine blandness of its unfocused US cousin, Miami’s Winter Music Conference.

A sunny, spirited three-day celebration of all that is good, interesting and weird in electronic music, it’s to the Catalan capital that thousands of keen-eared Brits and cosmopolitan Euro ravers have decamped in Glastonbury’s absence, eager to sample the myriad delights of an event that resembles an enormous 72-hour [I]Wallpaper*[/I] magazine photoshoot with a none-more-cutting-edge soundtrack. Although by the final day the sight of a laptop onstage fills most revellers with dread, in the right hands this ubiquitous tool provides many Sonar highlights. The undulating aquatic lullabies of Helsinki’s Vladislav Delay, for example, (who later delivers deep opiate house in his Luomo guise), or esteemed PowerBook jockey Kid 606’s energetic hatchet job on Missy Elliott‘s ‘Get Yr Freak On’, and the considered humour of Hamburg’s green-suited and much-admired Felix Kubin.

Indeed, those acts who tout guitars tend to bore. Sonic Youth‘s regular collaboration with Jim O’Rourke finds the ageing New Yorkers disappear discordantly up their arse during a 30-minute John Cage interpretation, while Iceland’s Sigur Ros are, as ever, interminably dull. Then Warp Records take control. With Squarepusher cancelling (he wants to finish a track at home), new Finnish signing Brothamstates instead seduces with fractured ambience. Plaid deliver digital funk and playful cyberdisco, and contrary bastard Aphex Twin destroys minds with a hardcore gabba maelstrom that includes a truly sick mix of veteran nihilists Whitehouse over old skool anthem ‘Super Sharp Shooter’. Russell Haswell’s avant-noise/pure techno collision crushes skulls – a genius headfuck mirrored in intensity only by the festival’s closing tribal-acid rush of Richie Hawtin, Phuture 303 and Carl Cox.

But it’s not all technotechnotechno. Studio-dwellers Zero 7 emerge gracefully for the first time with a live band and lush soul revue, while Capitol K and Lemon Jelly entertain outdoors at sunset with, respectively, delicious electronica and an inspired DJ/live set of Lemon-tweaked Moroder and Electronic. Yet Sonar really belongs to Leila, the single-minded control freak from London whose super-rare live show is one of the most astonishing NME.COM has ever witnessed. Manning what looks like a big soul spaceship, she frantically controls her beautiful technicolour music as her vocalists Luca, Roya and Donna Paul take turns in the spotlight. Not even the depthcharge electro of Radioactive Man, up next, can detract from her spectacular achievement.

Other highlights include a negligee-sporting Julee Cruise perform ‘Falling’ with pluralist New Yorker Kahn; the dry ice and hip-hop turbulence of Techno Animal; Felix Da Housecat muse Miss Kittin debuting her new tasty synth project with Ladomat Records’ Goldenboy; and, at a ridiculously glamorous DJ Hell party, performance art superstar Fischerspooner miming to his immaculate ’80s-esque electro-pop smash ‘Emerge’ in sequinned thong and cape.

In fact, so riotous is the DJ Hell event that, once outside the club, furious residents drop plastic bags full of bleach onto the still-hollering partygoers. It’s an unfortunately apt finale to a weekend of casual madness: because in many ways, Sonar really is the bomb.

Piers Martin