Breathing in the view from the Park Guel’s highest point, we looked out onto the city trapped between the mountains and sea. Feeling pretty powerful, we’d finally arrived. 4 days and 3 nights in Barcelona for one of Europe’s biggest showcases of electronic music – well the after parties at least.
Shelling out for flights and beds to sleep in left us too broke to go to the actual festival. For us (whether it was preference or not) it was all about Off-Sonar: the post-festival schedule away from the air hangers and headliners.
Growing in tandem to Sonar, the Off-Sonar machine is no doubt setting fear into festival organisers. Scoring arguably the same amount of popularity as the main event; the city’s clubs, beaches and any other free space big enough for a soundsystem take on an unbelievable breadth of DJs, labels and promoters.
Our first night landed us at Be Cool, the guidebook’s proclaimed ‘club for clubbers’. Out of reach from the Diagonal, the dark basement played host to Electric Minds’ annual BCN gathering. Always with the family: Move D, Prosumer and Bicep made the billing.
Heading down into the depths of the mainroom Prosumer rolled out the disco edits as a noticeably British-strong crowd piled onto the dancefloor. Although sad to find the club’s revolving floor was stationary (really hoping it wasn’t just a myth) the soundtrack and soundsystem pulled through.
Bicep delivered a set that verged on tech-house to a sea of red faces and dripping necks; their soulful House classics seemed absent tonight. Closing the night though came a DJ iconic to the Electric Minds imprint: Move D. A long-term favourite of ours, he held his own dropping the pace from Bicep’s power-hungry selections leading raw, hands-in-the-air scenes.
Two days later (and double the hangover) we’re on the other side of the city at the Grand Central Hotel to catch up with Move D outside of the club setting. It’s easy to get presumptuous when you’re surrounded by the glittering scenes of Barcelona. When management tell you to link with a DJ after his set at an ostentatious hotel; I was readying for a poolside chill, in my head I was already laid out across a lounger…
Arriving and poorly miming ‘where is the party?’ to the maître de we’re ushered across the marbled lobby into the café. Across the room of hot and sticky leather seats and 10 euro cocktails Move D stood behind a ridiculously out-of-place pair of decks. It’s hard to describe a room that can be so oddly quiet despite blaring out some of house’s biggest records. .
Bowing out with Andres’ ‘New For U’; the ten or so café patrons politely clap in appreciation – worlds apart from the intensity and sweat of Be Cool a few nights before. It’s hard not to comment on the set he’s just played; an obvious still-aired gig to a handful of people who probably don’t know his name let alone the basics of techno.
“You’ve got to like every individual party – even this thing (today). I knew it was going to be hard to get up, I knew there’d be probably no people and everyone was at home or crashing out at the beach… I couldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy myself.”
Around since the early 90s David Moufang’s timeless take on techno and house has earned him a level of respect that’s not freely handed out. There’s an authenticity about him which transcends his whole career: from extolled sets at Panorama bar to esteemed releases (check the latest To The Disco record out on EM). A veteran who continues to push some of the most exciting and adventurous music across Clubland, he’s had time and experience when it comes to the festival.
“I like Barcelona a lot but I was never too sure about Sonar. The first time I came was in ‘96 and since then it’s got a long way off what it started out as. It’s become more commercialised. To some extent it’s too big for me to like it. You walk down the Ramblas and it’s full of these techno tourists. I think it kind of sucks – I prefer the city when Sonar’s not happening. This year though it seems to be more relaxed. I haven’t seen the really bad obnoxious ravers yet or the taxi drivers that shoot off when they see me with a record bag.”
“Sonar used to be such a cool festival, and I think it still is, but they’ve shifted away too much from the interesting underground and experimental stuff it all started about. Now they have Grace Jones and the Pet Shop Boys. Naturally the real party life has moved to the Off Sonar. I like how it all comes together; it seems to be a global gathering of people. It’s a bit too much of a crazy rush for me but that’s a personal thing – if I was 20 I would be well submerged in it”
Off Sonar’s mad pace is an undoubted reflection of today’s DJ culture: explosive. Nothing more quite capturing the richness of it all than Resident Advisor’s own pool party. Finding ourselves at the top of Hotel Silken Diagonal on the Thursday we’re miles away (and floors above) Sonar’s beginning intentions. While bloggers turn big-time DJs Bicep played behind a framing of Belvedere Vodka we dipped our translucent pins into the rooftop pool unashamedly indulging in the strict guestlist policy. It’s all so, so (great but) ridiculous.
Barcelona’s a constant flip of the coin. From the sweaty dark clubs and cafes to high-rise pool parties – it’s a city of opposites.
Take our Friday night: pinched wallets, lost phones and a flat-out rejection to see Carl Craig to then be driven across town, left and lost in a quiet non-descript suburb – chins were low.
After trawling the streets and finally getting through the doors of Almosgavers 86 for the Klockwork’s showcase a 7 euro half pint and a desperate pin-up of set times listing ‘Ben Clock’ could have been the nail in our Friday night coffin. But then came the highs: I never thought brutal and relentless techno would be a game-changer for me but Ben Klock’s extended monster of a set drove an unbelievable crowd. Projecting through the pillars of the club, the heavy one-two soundtrack beat down on beaming faces, the first predominantly Spanish crowd we danced amongst. Looking around as the lights came up with the respite of Larry Heard’s ‘The Sun Can’t Compare’ was a total testament to our crew and techno that it was all happy endings.
Leaving the club in the hot morning sun and joining the early risers on the beach is what made this city a clubber’s paradise. No doubt its position as one of Europe’s party destinations is due to its location, its temperament and heat. It’s such a beautiful city which does more for the post-club cotch than London’s offerings of closed curtains and stale Redstripe.
Comparisons to home can’t be helped. Barcelona may have the beauty and the weather but as for a scene? It never really felt like we touched it. When people say Barcelona truly comes alive over Sonar’s grasp it’s probably true – what happens when the international crowds and DJs go home? Looking over RA and the forums BCN residents are thirsty for more. Sonar and Off Sonar’s crazy, intense week of partying leave the rest of the year’s weekends craving the same vitality.
Chatting with Move D on the same line; it’s not Barcelona, Ibiza or Berlin he cites as the best raving destination – it’s the UK. “Why? Because I think people have the best connection to music there. A lot of the people I play for are usually in their early twenties and a lot of the stuff I’m playing was made around the time they were born. My theory is that what you grow up with you subconsciously take it in then when you get older you can somehow remember from your childhood and you tend to like the stuff. I was born in ‘66 so I’m really big into the Beatles because of my parents. Maybe that’s what’s happening with the young raving scene in England? Their parents were raving in the late 80s/early 90s and somehow they were bred on this. [The people who make the party] really dig what I like about techno.”
While Move D’s next stop is Ibiza (“Whenever I have two weekends off in a row it feels like something’s wrong, something’s broken. You start to itch”) we’re heading home on the Easyjet route. Deposits back and as some serious Barcelona blues kick in –nothing feels sweeter than a hangover blamed on Sangria.