Various venues, Lisbon
“I am sitting in the morning at the diner on the corner,” rings Suzanne Vega’s angelic voice on Tom’s Diner. Venezuelan producer and vocalist Arca is ushering in the Friday night festivities of Sónar’s first-ever stop in Lisbon. She’s standing in the grandiose Carlos Lopes Pavilion, the centuries-old Portuguese hall situated at the downtown Parque Eduardo VII, which was initially built in Rio De Janeiro but transported to Lisbon and rebuilt in 1932. It’s one of the main venues for Sónar’s debut Lisbon edition.
Clad in a black dress, white pinny and matching thigh-high boots, Arca is sipping champagne, smashing the cue button, mixing in tracks from last year’s Kick anthology and sliding the volume controls up and down with a mischievous glee. It’s meticulously organised chaos, folding in everything from her own experimental Kick(s) productions to mutated R&B cuts, heady pop and menacing trap. This smorgasbord of sounds, influences and creative practices is what has come to define this cutting-edge Spanish event.
What sets Sónar apart from its peers is a firm commitment to innovation. Its well established Sonar+D programme has become something of an incubator for future technologies and research. Lisbon’s hub Criativo do Beato is situated down by the port, where the complex of warehouses and spaces opened in 2021 and plays host to Nata Infini – the debut installation piece from Alessandro Cortini. Elsewhere in the disused factory are dance installations, virtual reality pieces and various works and projects exploring themes of sustainability.
Saturday’s schedule runs longest, from the afternoon until the early hours of the morning. Portuguese talent dominates the afternoon’s schedule with opening sets from Lisbon collective Percebes Cru and Porto’s Ana Pacheco. India Jordan closes their set of rave and trance with a rapturous version of Paul Oakenfold’s Cafe Del Mar – a fitting soundtrack to a welcome warm outdoor dance.
As Sónar By Day becomes Night, there’s time for a quick Ginja before arriving at Coliseu dos Recreios. This 19th century building continues Sónar’s focus on jaw-dropping spaces for their inaugural edition around the Portuguese capital. Here, thousands of festival-goers are crammed into the auditorium for a UK-heavy lineup with Chloe Robinson (fka Barely Legal) warming up the international crew with a mixture of bass, techno and UK garage. It’s the only event held at the colosseum all weekend, and none other than Belfast duo Bicep are topping the bill, cementing their status as main stage-worthy headliners. The well-greased Bicep live machine is as good as any tabletop electronic show can be. They arrive on stage to the backdrop of their muscular logo and an extended synth intro, before taking 2015 classic Just for an early outing. As expected, they save their most streamed – and crowd pleasing – singles Glue and Apricots for last. The long, drawn-out live version of the former provides the perfect precursor to the latter’s unmistakable warped vocal line.
Following their triumphant recent live shows in London, brotherly producers Overmono arrive for the penultimate set of the festival. Pulling heavily from their UK garage-indebted sound with their own cuts like Le Tigre, the euphoric Those I Love remix and recent Plastikman-esque single Gunk. We’re also treated to Daft Punk’s Rollin’ & Scratchin’ before a dizzying medley of drill and drum’n’bass that rattles the very foundations of the colosseum. It’s an instant festival highlight straight from the UK’s fastest-rising electronic innovators.
The joy of Sónar Lisbon lies in its palatial venues and the stunning productions put on by the organisers – specifically how they balance creating unique, memorable experiences without interfering with the spaces’ historical grandeur. It’s within this attention to detail that both local and international artists truly thrive, and no better example of that is the enthralling b2b session between Lisbon’s very own Violet and Bleid. Spanning the thrashy reaches of electro, techno and hardcore, the two close the affair with a big beat remix of Faithless’ Insomnia into Born Slippy that has the final dancers spinning into the balmy Lisbon night.