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Sonar - Opening Image

A Faceload of Sonar

by Themba Kriger / 06.03.2012

Entering the imposing, limestone structure of Cape Town’s City Hall via a side entrance, instead of the historic steps, left me slightly disoriented. Navigating the broad passages and seemingly endless mazes of stairs was reminiscent of the side-scrolling action found in Mario World. White A4 pages, with phrases such as ‘VIP Bar’, ‘Red Bull Stage’, ‘Bar’ and ‘Main Stage’ on them, were stuck to the walls, surrounded by more pages bearing arrows – about as useful as someone telling you to turn left in outer space.

Having found the main stage, two or three flights up, located in a large hall with high ceilings, the first thing that struck me was the awkward shuffling of the crowd. Looking to the stage, the spot meant for the DJ is currently occupied by Joe Roadie, with his hair in a ponytail, connecting a MacBook to a DI box. Still, the room was filled, with a mixture of perspiration and anticipation dripping from eagerly waiting Massive Attack fans. What at first glanced seemed like technical difficulties turned out to be a planned intermission which was repeated after each European act. This simple device turned their sets into a performance more reminiscent of live gigs than those on the electronic scene.

Sonar - Shadow Lady

The almost-surprise DJ set by Massive Attack was sonically interesting, yet it left me feeling like I had just witnessed Jimi Hendrix playing Guitar Hero. While slightly disappointing, watching 3D and Daddy G play some of their favourite tracks, did give some insight into their musical influences and taste. Listening to their selection of dub and techno, the crowd seemed unsure of what to do. A few danced, but the fact that they didn’t recognise the music wasn’t helped by Massive Attack’s poor attempt at mixing. The main attraction, for myself as well as most other revellers, was the German duo known as Modeselektor. Their appeal lies in the fact that they are not afraid to break out from their techno roots, much like Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx and the Chemical Brothers amongst others.

While they could have gotten away with puking on their controllers and pissing on the crowd, they thankfully chose to put on a high energy show, filled with their greatest releases from the past decade and interactions with the crowd. Even Sebastian, with his broken English, managed to exclaim “Sank yoo Saus Afrikaaa!”.With the room filled to capacity, the sweat from a thousand merrymakers dancing with abandon made it feel like Christmas in Durban, which led to a mass exodus towards the bar and smoking areas (conveniently located two storeys above the main stage) after the set.

Sonar - Modeselektor

The room was only half full when French DJ and producer Brodinski started playing, despite ranking amongst the French electronic heavies, illustrating the oft repeated platitude that ‘Capetonians dance to what they know’. Of course it could also just be that most people were either still stuck at the bar or grabbing a smoke. The suspicion that Modeselektor were the main draw card for the majority of the attendees was reinforced by the high amount of people on the balcony adjacent to the Red Bull Stage as opposed to in front of it, even though it featured a line-up consisting of some of South Africa’s most interesting, up and coming DJs. House dominated with Diggin4Dodge, Terrence Pearce, Culoe De Song & Jullian Gomes, Thibo Tazz and Behr laying down that familiar four on the floor, while the cool-off was left to Richard The Third with his infinite magic crate and Rebel Clef digging deep in his box of bass.

Returning to the main stage, thirty minutes into Brodinksi’s set, was disappointing, due to a lack of a crowd, a feeling probably shared by the DJ who travelled half-way round the world for a half-full dance floor. I noticed the disorientation I had felt had not subsided. Instead, I realised that people like me, here for the music and little else, were the minority. A Taste of Sonar at Design Indaba seemed more like an event people attended, so that they could say: “I was there” rather than “I got to see some exciting European acts along-side some of South Africa’s most interesting DJs”.

Sonar - Brodinski

While the world of electronic music is filled with a vast array of different artists, we in South Africa will only get to experience a small percentage of that, not because promoters lack the money to bring them over, but because they fear poor attendance. A Taste of Sonar left a bitter-sweet aftertaste. While it wet my appetite for the main festival in Barcelona, it left me wishing that Capetonians were more open to music they haven’t heard before. It’s about the music, after all, and not the name.

Sonar - Thibo Tazz

*All images © Themba Kriger

5   5
  1. don't say "sub" says:

    “to make keen or eager; stimulate: to whet the appetite; to whet the curiosity. “

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  2. Daniel Neville says:

    Why not push this a little more and say what needs to be said. Crap venue planning = smaller crowds. Lacklustre promotion = smaller crowds and so on…

    I think to a certain extent the reputation Capetonians have when it comes to attending events is justified but all the blame cant be placed at their feet. Until promotors actually start thinking about the venues and how they are laid out (bar and smoking section a floor above the main stage… really?) as well as making a better effort when it comes to promotion of the events things aint gonna change much.

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  3. Dplanet says:

    If Massive Attack had been born in Cape Town they would probably be working a 9-5 having given up their music careers after failing to get any radio play and unable to make the crowd dance at The Assembly.

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  4. Don Dada says:

    @ Dplanet – ain’t that the truth!

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  5. pedro de pacas says:

    “While the world of electronic music is filled with a vast array of different artists, we in South Africa will only get to experience a small percentage of that, not because promoters lack the money to bring them over, but because they fear poor attendance.”

    Now that’s the truth.

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  6. Rob says:

    Look at this event page…. there are no links to who these artist are. I suppose google them. Brodinski? I never heard of him before. Its the promoters job to make me feel like I want to wait around and see the artist. They did not succeed in this. I only went there for Modeselektor . They were good!

    There were no shooter at any of the bars 🙂

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  7. Lumo-Lee says:


    I had travelled all the way from JHB to make sure I could witness the extraordinary talent that was presented at A Taste of Sonar (I still wana hit Sonar!). I’m an a huge fan of Modeselektor and Brodinski (highly disappointed by the crowd for this set) for the range of sounds. I do feel that Cape Townians are a hard bunch to impress with their Indie-awehness oozing from every piece of clothing.

    However, this was not the problem but more emphasis needs to be placed on promoters and they final production of such an event. The venue did not allow for smoking a huge negative for an party, as forcing people to go smoke in a complete different area changes their vibe, this include getting drinks. How is any party goer going to get into the groove of sounds, rhythms or beats they are not used to, if you break their listening just to doing what party peeps do best, smoke and drink.

    I think promoters need to understand, putting together an amazing event is not down to having huge names and no facilities to supplement that. I know it still needs to be profitable, but just a proper location of the bar and smoking section (the dance floor) will have a positive effect towards this and the overall vibe.

    All I can say is that it provided a awesome night out, the venue visual setup for the sets were done well and provided a great setting.

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  8. half way hipster says:

    IM SO GLAD THERE WAS NO MENTION OF DAS KAPITAL. That dude can make a full 7 minute track with the amount of hot air blown up his asshole.

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  9. nero says:

    The majority of Cape Town crowds don’t care about the music, and quite frankly, we get the acts we deserve. Respect to those who try to get acts here that are a bit off the beaten path. Maybe the crowds will eventually become more educated and aprreciative of subtelty as opposed wanting a bang bang bang athon.

    I thought that the venue, especially the main floor provided a truly spectacular backdrop for the music. I agree though that the layout was disorienting and needed a little tweaking.

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  10. Nitz says:

    1 hour sets do not make for a party especially with those 5 minutes intervals. The performers gave party goers a taste of what they could experience in a set played at Sonar. In each set there was no progression to create a story or take audience to a certain place. I went to hear the internationals, i heard them. Did it leave me wanting more – YES Would I see them again – YES but most def NOT in that format.

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  11. On and Up says:

    I think Themba misses an important point:

    The constraints of working with a heritage building… Being the grand old
    lady, that is the City Hall. It offered such charm and interesting features, on various levels.. Like the wood panelled rooms, with giant portraits of previous mayors… Intertwined with edgy graphics from UVA.

    The venue, the artists and the show made for a heady amalgam.

    Not to mention the fact that the Design Indaba managed to get permission to remove all chairs… And basically convert City Hall into a massive club.

    Surely that outweighed the minor irritation of climbing a flight of stairs!

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  12. nissim says:

    good tunes. kak bar. no tequila, and only the crappest, cheapest, ethyl-alcohol laced spirits served by somnambulists. the fact that the bar closed at 2am was testament to the power of the DJs – especially Killer Robot to keep the floor and the crowd till 4. Das Kapital was a joke. A blunt instrument. Had no place in this forum – the other DJ’s could have all shared his time between them and made it less disjointed.

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  13. (optional) says:

    Moan, moan, moan. That’s all I ever hear from Capetonians.

    I arrived just before the end of Byetone’s set. Until the lineup of this (in my opinion, perfectly adequately organised) event was announced, I had no idea who he was. I don’t expect organisers to spoon feed me: I let my fingers do the walking, and took the initiative to find out who the hell he was on the net. By virtue of the Sonar brand (again, something that only little background check would plainly reveal to be a globally pre-eminent music showcase) anyone with half a clue should have expected the format. Byetone’s technodrone would have been hard for any sound techie to sort out, and I think the team pulled that off admirably. So it was hot (welcome to Africa) and you couldn’t smoke inside (welcome to 2012) and the bars were packed (it was well attended) but really, was there that much to complain about? Hell no.

    Massive Attack was always billed as a DJ set, sure, the news came late (though there was an announcement made 3 months – yes, fuckers, 3 months – before by Ravi Naidoo that they were to play; if you’d done some digging it was on the Dizaandaba site), but is that grounds to bitch? Hell no again. We shouldn’t be obsequious and grovel for the has-beens of yore but come the fuck on, people, show some spirit and they’ll go back and tell their mates, who’ll be keen to play a town they heard was heaving with energy. Or am I missing something in the organiser-punter-jol dynamic? Doubt it.

    Modeselektor were off the goodamn hook, yet I must admit not that many people (all of whom paid a handsome sum to attend) seemed there for the music or to dance to it. I got squiff looks for bouncing around like a nutter, to one of the world’s most epic electronic acts, whilst they dropped tracks like ‘Black Rock’ and ‘Good Evening Mrs Magpie’? Fucksake, someone didn’t read the manual.

    Cape Town, you got some nerve. Get your shit together and show some appreciation, or you’ll face the same fate as lesser cities in this beloved country do: sweet fuckall.

    The lesson? Get off your ubercool skinny Hiptonian goddamn asses and show some fucking enthusiasm. You paid 250 bucks, and you stand around looking aloof?


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  14. BM says:

    The review misses some key, game changing points about this event::

    Firstly, for Sonar to find a collaboration partner here in CT, no matter what you think of Design Indaba, is a collossal win for everyone in the country (not just Cape Town) who has ever raised a hand to a bleep or a kick drum. Sonar is, along with Movement Detroit, Mutek in Canada and maybe 2 or 3 others, amongst the most respected, auspicious and rigorously curated EDM festival organisations in the world. The success of the event paves the way for future events with different artists, most of whom would be out of reach for the majority of independent promoters in SA, and the resulting exposure for our own.

    Secondly, for Capetonians to fork out R250 a head for a ‘dance’ event that doesnt go over three days and doesn’t involve fetid Israelis playing 15 year old trance is a massive watershed. The guestlist was kept super tight, but people still bought tickets and as a result, the money taken made the event worthwhile, a real case of ‘if you build it, they will come’.

    Thirdly, despite the pain inflicted on the fragile limbed smoking minority, the City Hall as a venue was a masterstroke, brought about by skilled negotiation and much patience on both sides. In a city where a fundamentalist council is trying its best to shut down access to clubs and bars at a time when most ten year olds are still awake, its no small victory to hold an event that goes on to 4am at the very seat (ceremonial, maybe) of power in said city.

    Say what you like about each act, there was truly something for everyone. Sonar is about discovering new names alongside the ones you’ve paid to see. Some you like, some you dont.

    I commend everyone involved in the setting up of this amazing night. History will judge you all well, I guarantee it.

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  15. Tondo says:

    Wot BM sed!

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  16. ... says:

    Quick thought, when planning an event in an existing space you work with that space, and its constraints. Unfortunately options of moving walls, building more rooms or side steppping bylaws are not possible. Cant believe people complain about not being able to smoke inside on the dance floor!?!

    The Main hall was on ground floor, and didnt the fact that the venue had different floors, nook and crannies make for an interesting night? All I ever here is how boring and same same Cape Town is, one night in a new space and we cant seem to handle the ‘change’!

    You may not realize this but a bunch of people busted their backs to make this happen, probably lost a shit ton of money, yet created an open channel to the worlds finest Advanced Music Festival and bought an unheard of array of international guests as well as giving a platform internationally to those local guys that performed…and you whine about smoking..ha! haha! Wow.

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  17. Alice says:

    ENJOY the adventure of being in a new space- really, if you found it “that” disorientating to alternate between a 1st and 2nd floor dance area then don’t bother going out in IBIZA, NEW YORK, BERLIN… or anywhere that people actually take clubbing seriously in fact.

    The venue was mind-blowing, relative and fresh.

    I think some credence needs to be paid to the fact that it really got people experiencing something new within a South African context. As for the casual Capetonian charm of leaving the party at 1am… well, I can’t say much for that. Maybe we’ll get there one day.

    Props to the organizers and the Design Indaba!

    If you need “promoters” to get to engaged in what’s happening around you, then you’re better off staying at home and watching cats dance to Justin Bieber on Youtube.

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  18. Alice says:


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  19. Das Kapital says:

    U guys r d bezt

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  20. bob says:

    @d plante youre on youre game

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