Whoever’s responsible for booking in Sonar festivals certainly has great taste in city break destinations. The Barcelona-based event has already branched out to host events everywhere from Buenos Aires to Hong Kong to Reykjavik over the last decade, alongside its annual event in the Catalan capital. And while Lisbon might be a little closer to home for the Sonar crew, it’s no less an appealing place in which to spend a couple of days partying. The second edition of Sonar Lisboa takes place in multiple spaces in the Parque Eduardo VII, a delectable city centre park near downtown Lisbon and features the kind of diverse and thought provoking line-up we’ve come to expect from the Sonar stable.
First up on Friday is James Holden in the Sonar Hall, the slightly smaller of the two main venues. Holden’s clearly enjoying playing live as much as ever since the release of this year’s ‘Imagine This is a High Dimensional Space of All Possibilities’ and he has the early evening crowd entranced with a set of modular excursions. Walking the line between the ethereal and the ecstatic, Holden proves why he’s still one of electronic music’s intriguing figures.
Over in Sonar Club, an almost arena-sized space housed inside the palatial Pavilhão Carlos Lopes building, Sofia Kourtesis [main picture] shows why her star is in the ascendant with a set of enveloping house and techno before Italian DJ Anifsa Letaygo plays a not for the faint-hearted set of slamming techno.
The main draw of the night is over in the Sonar Hall where Skream and Mala are closing out proceedings. After spending the majority of the last decade building his reputation as a DJ and producer playing mostly house, techno and disco, Skream seems to be getting very excited about playing at 140 bpm again and spends most of the weekend around the Sonar show excitedly tweeting about potentially going back out on tour with the likes of Benga, Plastician, Coki and Mala. And it’s a pleasure to see two of the sonic architects of dubstep rattling through classics like ‘Anti War Dub’ and ‘Midnight Request Line’, and clearly having the time of their lives while doing it. Indeed, Skream and Mala’s enthusiasm is shared by a crowd who delighted in rolling back the years just as much as them.
After spending the Saturday afternoon eating our body weight in Pasteis Del Nata, Portugal’s take on the custard tart, we make it on site for the tail-end of Folamour’s joyous AV show and the start of SHERELLE's back-to-back with Hyperdub boss Kode 9 on the outdoor Sonar Village stage. There might not be a more fitting pairing in dance music right now and the twosome are clearly enjoying themselves, in a playful and attention arresting set that leans heavily on jungle and footwork with everything from DJ Rashad classic ‘Brighter Dayz’ to DJ Tre’s ‘DnB Spaceout’ thrown into the mix, alongside the likes of Playboy Cartai and ‘Never Gonna Let You Go’ by Tina Moore. Sherelle, a natural on the mic, builds a great rapport with the crowd with interjections throughout and they pry plenty of people away from Peggy Gou’s packed out set of slick big room house and techno in Sonar Club.
Saturday evening sees Sonar Hall oversubscribed for WhoMadeWho’s live set but things get back on track with DJ Tennis and Carlita’s buoyant and emotive back-to-back in Sonar Hall.
With the sun finally breaking through for the Sunday after a cloud-filled Saturday, there’s a real feelgood factor on site as local hero Yen Sung packs out the Sonar Village stage to show just why she’s got such a great reputation in Lisbon and beyond. The Lux Fragil resident packs out the outdoor Sonar Village stage and works the crowd in the way only years as a resident can teach you, dropping classics like ‘So Let the Wind Come’ by Kerri Chandler in a set of delectably selected house.
Quick vibe changes can often bedevil festival line-ups, but Cinthie taking over from Yen Sung is a seamless switchover as the Berlin DJ lifts the crowd even higher with an up-tempo live set, demonstrating why she’s one of the most reliably brilliant producers working in house music today.
Things come to a close in Sonar Hall with an acid-laced techno set from Amelie Lens, leaning heavily on the effects box, before locals Violet and Photonz close things out with a back-to-back.
Plenty of festivals are influenced by Sonar’s almost peerless staging of these city events; in Lisbon, this weekend they prove once again, that few do it better.