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Review by Zoë Robert and Katarzyna Woźniewska. Photos by Zoë Robert.
In its 20th year, the Spanish music festival Sónar was held in Reykjavík for the first time on February 15-16.
Harpa concert hall.
Friday Night (KW)
Sónar is off to a good start and the atmosphere in Harpa, usually reserved for classical concerts and the like, is positively brimming with energy, festival goers filling the harbor-side landmark. With an impressive lineup, the two-day event has people talking about its potential to rival Airwaves.
Harpa is a great venue but the concert halls appear, at times, too small—and occasionally too large—to accommodate the crowd. Punters queue at the door in the hope of catching a glimpse of their chosen performance. There are also too many impossible choices in the schedule leaving people running between venues.
Berlin-based electronica outfit Modeselektor takes the stage in Silfurberg. Playing hits like ‘Evil Twin,’ ‘Black Block’ and ‘German Clap,’ it’s a clear hit with the crowd and one of the highlights of the day.
Iceland’s GusGus, perhaps the biggest act of the evening, open their set in Silfurberg with the debut of their new track ‘Crossfade’ before moving on to their hits from their last album Arabian Horse. Long queues form at the doors.
These guys have the live performance down to an art form, but today’s remixes and vocals on playback weren’t for everyone. Most seemed content, though, but why insist on making people choose between GusGus and Retro Stefson?
I catch a couple of tracks from the remarkable Trentemøller from Denmark before it’s time to call it a night.
Saturday Night (ZR)
German electronic artist Alva Noto and renowned Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (perhaps best known internationally for having won an Oscar for the soundtrack to The Last Emperor) on piano are up in Silfurberg.
Again, venue capacity is an issue with people frustratingly queuing outside. “I don’t know what I’ll do if I miss that,” one young man tells me desperately.
Eventually, we get in. The crowd was seated for this set. Those without seats sat—even lay— on the ground. The visuals are an essential part of this show and the Harpa setting serves well here.
“I had goose bumps,” I overhear one of the audience members say at the end. The pair was one of the highlights of the festival, though I feel that their set could have been slightly shorter—it seemed to go on just a little too long.
The much-hyped James Blake was next in Norðurljós. He gets a rapturous reception and the crowd gets what they expect. He sure has a decent voice but his music is a simply too boring for my taste.
Back in Silfurberg DJ Óli Ofur plays to a virtually empty room; just a handful of people take to the dance floor. As Blake finishes his set, people start to stream in again to see Icelandic musician of the moment Ásgeir Trausti.
He takes a little while to warm up but once he does, he delivers a fairly solid performance. The scheduling of him after DJ Óli seems bizarre, though.
All in all, Sónar Reykjavík is a promising addition to the festival calendar. After making its debut, it’s clear that it is premature to discuss whether the festival has the potential to rival Airwaves. Some people loved the venue, others didn’t.
What is clear is that once people pay for their tickets, they want to see what they came for—not wait in long queues, even if only for 15 minutes.
Despite this, the right atmosphere was (at least at times) there and the event otherwise appears well-organized and gets full points for being on schedule.
Zoë Robert and Katarzyna Woźniewska – email@example.com