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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

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