Since 2004, Barcelona's Sónar has been one of the premier European music festivals, attracting up-and-coming visual artists and some of the biggest names in electronic music. The 2012 edition featured performances from New Order, James Murphy, Hot Chip, James Blake and more, with a record-breaking attendance of 98,000 people over three days.
While organizers have expanded to host events in Brazil, South Africa and Tokyo, this year the festival decided to launch an eight-date North American fall tour, with the goal of "challenging and expanding what dance music can be." A daunting prospect perhaps, when you consider EDM's stranglehold on the Canadian and U.S. concert industry, but the packed crowd at Toronto's Sound Academy proved there's an audience that appreciates a wider spectrum of dance music.
No group exemplifies Sónar's "try anything" spirit than South Africa "rap-rave" oddballs Die Antwoord. Despite being on a lineup that consisted mostly of DJs, based on the number of people wearing the group's "ZEF" shirts and girls dressed as female vocalist Yo-Landi Vi$$er, it was clear who the majority of the crowd were there to see.
While they're known for their outlandish lyrics and sometime controversial YouTube videos — a recent clip for their song "Fatty Boom Boom" featuring a male Lady Gaga impersonator drew the pop star's rage — the trio (DJ Hi-Tek, male vocalist Ninja and Vi$$er) seemed more interested in starting a party than getting political. This seemed to suit the room just fine, as the band delivered a high-energy set that ended with fan favourites "I Fink U Freeky" and "Enter the Ninja."
Late set times and the venue being divided into two rooms resulted in a slightly thinner crowd for the tour's Canadian representatives, Montreal-born DJ/producer Tiga and Toronto's Azari & III (whose debut album was finally released in North America last week), but they still managed to show off why they're more than capable of representing the country on the international stage. Bolstered by the dance moves of vocalists Fritz Helder and Starving Yet Full (aka Cedric Gasaida), the latter provided a much welcome second wind, as the crowd danced to the group's combination of techno, new wave, funk and pop into the early hours of the morning.
The rest of the night was bookended with sets from Seth Troxler, Paul Kalkbrenner, Gesaffelstein and Nic Fanciulli, and while they might not have been household names to everybody, they represented the Sónar organizers' commitment to musical diversity from underground house to minimalist techno.
While only time will tell if this North American tour becomes a yearly tradition, the inaugural edition suggests the support for such a carefully curated event is present and enthusiastic.