For me, the set and setting of a music festival is just as important as the line-up. It’s not enough to have huge DJs if the festival is in a poorly designed area or the general vibe doesn’t suit the music. There are many factors to take into account of course, but luckily for me, Sónar Reykjavík was armed heavily in terms of set and setting as well as an extremely satisfying line-up.
The city itself, Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, is all about the flow. People here are pretty good at adapting, perhaps due to the impressive way the weather can go from amazingly sunny to a confusing mix of snow and rain. In this sense, it seems the residents of Reykjavík have learned to go with the flow, which is just plain refreshing. So often, lately, electronic music and its festivals are accompanied by an almost oppressive “let’s-get-fucked-up-man” vibe. And, well, suffice it to say you won’t be finding any “Molly is my home girl” t-shirts in downtown Reykjavík. Not during the festival and not afterwards. If this sounds good to you, wait until you get a taste of the sheer variety and quality of music available to attendees this year.
On day one if you were looking to “close your eyes, lay on the floor and feel the music,” then you would have wanted to check out LaFontaine since that is how he described his Sónar set to the Reykjavík Grapevine before the festival. This was pretty spot-on. His set was not at all aggressive and yet groovy enough to consistently drive the energy of the crowd while appropriately setting the scene for the incredible DJ Yamaho.
I have to stop here for a minute and focus on Yamaho. Here, listen to one of her mixes while I introduce you:
I have been lucky enough to catch a number of Yamaho’s sets while kicking it around Reykjavík so I was really excited to see how well this would translate to the Sónar atmosphere. The stage they had her on was sadly my least favourite. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t my favourite. It was put together in this large area on the second floor outside of another theatre. The atmosphere was saved by the psychedelic nature of the LED-lit glass framework of Harpa (the concert hall) itself, but the stage was lacking in terms of intimacy. Thankfully the beats were so good the crowd seemed not to notice.
I had plans for a couple other DJs but only managed to tear myself away from Yamaho for barely twenty minutes before happily returning for the end of her set. Carefully selecting tracks from her arsenal of vinyl, Yamaho kept the energy high as attendees soaked up the last beats of the night.
If you were interested in experiencing more of the technology side of the ‘Music, Creativity and Technology’ festival, you had the option of playing that old school arcade game ‘Pong’ with your smartphone using Harpa itself as the screen. Sónar’s website describes it as multimedia artists Atli Bollason (IS) and Owen Hindley (UK) creating a “platform that allows you to log on to a special network, join a virtual queue and then take control of either paddle by tilting your device. The game itself is rendered in real time on Harpa’s façade using the 714 LED lights installed in the 43m high steel frame.”
In addition to playing Pong (as if that wasn’t impressive enough), while the game was not in play the façade displayed audio reactive visuals to the beat of whatever artist was playing inside the main room. For more info on Pong and the gentlemen behind it, click here.
This turned out to be a fantastic decision and now I find myself grooving to tracks like this:
Other bigger names worth a mention were Todd Terje and Paul Kalkbrenner, both of whom seemed to be at the top of the list for pretty much everyone I asked. Last year Kalkbrenner cancelled last-minute due to some sort of eye infection, which was both really disappointing and sort of lame sounding (sorry, Paul). This year more than made up for it in my eyes (again…sorry). Kalkbrenner is a definite must-see at any festival he plays, I promise.
At the end of this festival, I knew one thing for sure: the local talent was not to be overlooked in favour of the big names. Yes, there were lots of talented and famous DJs in the lineup of whom you should make every effort to see, but Reykjavík DJs like Housekell, Futuregrapher, and DJ Margeir were among the most solid performances of the weekend. In this regard, I have to hand it to the folks at Sónar Reykjavík for knowing how to balance the talent locally and globally.
Sónar Reykjavík 2016 will be taking place on February 18th, 19th, and 20th and tickets are on sale for 9.990 ISK, which is roughly $75 USD. Yes, you read that right $75 for all that talent and creativity in one of the most beautiful places on planet Earth. Do yourself a favour and click here to grab a ticket now at that price before it reaches the full price of 18.990 ISK or ~$142