You know the feeling. You’re poolside, high on sunshine and exotic cocktails unimprovably delivered by a steady stream of perfectly formed twenty-something waiters in short shorts and shades. That GCSE Spanish is holding its own, your tan’s kicking in and work, England and that ex you left back home – all subsumed by the sweet narcotic rush of a holiday executed to plan. And then they turn up and ruin it all. Fresh off an Air Melanoma flight from London Luton. Shirtless with their sagging British bulldog tattoos, those irrepressible poster guys and gals for the Great British Sumer Getaway. They shame us every holiday. Chanting to footie like knobs in otherwise serene streets, confirming yet again, that the biggest problem with holidaying in Spain is the English. I worry it’s just a matter of time until Europeans become more pro-Brexit than the most diehard little Englander.
All of which makes the sparkling creativity and expertise displayed by Team G.B at Off-Week 2018 not only joyous, but a much-needed source of redemptive national pride. In its annual round up of the parties, EG explores how the Spanish festival embodies the problems afflicting the music scene today and why it was the U.K. labels (Eng-ger-land!) who claimed the biggest prize this year.
Off-Sonar is a honeytrap of big-league events. A tech/house smorgasbord that leaves even the most committed music fan overwhelmed by choice. Location factors heavily too. From the Monsterium’s gothic cloisters to sun-drenched art-infused rooftops, club arenas framed in sparkling LED, to Off Forum’s giant aircraft hangar-style beach stages. When it comes to pitch-perfect settings Barcelona doesn’t miss a trick.
An easy contender for best venue was Dj Tennis’s Life & Death situated in the grounds of a Neoclassical mansion, perched in the hills above Barcelona. Muscular sound systems coupled with slick production, friendly staff and a classy food village catered for every whim. Except that a radio booth was plonked next to the DJ ensuring a constant competing drone against the decks just some 15-20ft away. The Armani sunglasses campaign too was a peacock’s step too far and left us wondering exactly when the rave scene swapped a bit of honest tarpaulin in a field for mahi-mahi tacos and Essex boys in mid-range couture. So often at festivals aesthetics take priority, compromising what is surely the point: Sound. Mid-Sunday afternoon this was poor although we heard inevitable great reports on Dj Tennis, Gerd Janson and Moscoman later that night.
Musically there remains much to be said for going off-piste and seeking out the smaller events on offer. The bigger ones, particularly those around Poble Espanyol tend to be over-subscribed to cheek-by-jowl proportions making for a familiar pushy, disparate, lad-heavy crowd. Big league events, though impressive to look at are all too often a sanctioned victim of the marketing machine. They lack the personality and vibe of their smaller counterparts. I can’t help but wonder too if they’re beginning to sound and feel, well, a little tired. It’s just doof doof techno accompanied by doof douche tourists, shrouded in homogenous lines of long black t-shirts, jostling silently to invariable BPM. (It should be added here in the interests of global mental health, that it has not and never will be permissible to wear sunglasses at night, unless your name is Stevie Wonder or Wyclef Jean). I wonder if people are taking themselves too seriously and missing the point: This is all in the name of music, remember, not a room full of waxed egos, agro staff, merchandise stalls and a €99 on the door extortionist policy.
Greedy, noisy commercialism and diluted musical output does not promote the evolution of art and is the very essence of disposable content we were escaping in the 90’s. It’s come full circle. We are now the silent perpetrators of the very thing the dance music movement was created to avoid. The fundamental ethos was one of freedom of expression and unity. It was available to everyone who wanted to be there and judgment – sartorial or otherwise – left firmly at the door.
For precisely this reason we cannot pile enough praise on the events pulled off by London’s Fuse, Toi Toi and Half Baked this year, the latter of whom drew a friendly music-focussed crowd and spent an entire day repeat sound-checking to ensure the cleanest audio filled their bicycle-carnival-decorated club space. Standout sets came from headliner tINI together with Mike Shannon and Robin Ordell making for one of the best engineered, bang-for-buck (€10-25) events EG attended all week.
Then comes Fuse: Though overcrowded, this was musically an unexpected contender for the best Off-Sonar night of 2018, dolling out not only superb production but two simultaneously infallible sets by Enzo Sigurasa and Archie Hamilton.
Video Credit: Sevan Sarkissian
Elsewhere we heard rave reports about London’s Secretsundaze with several citing it as their favourite: ‘the music was on point, the crowds were lit and the vibe just perfect’ one girl said. Circoloco was its usual laser red, bells and whistles affair but lacked groove. Meanwhile FRRC saw Villalobos back with both hands on the wheel, delivering one of the best sets we’ve heard from the Don of minimal in a while.
Romania’s Ar:pi:ar suffered with their outdoor setting and felt flat at times. Their signature frequencies are characteristically clear but here the bass and low end was muffled, even distorted and for a melodic set, it lacked variance in pitch. The trinity of Rominimal bliss that is Raresh, Rhadoo and Petre Inspirescu generally struggle to deliver less than audio perfection, so it’s unsurprising that Rhadoo went on to play well at London’s Toi Toi x fabric later that night. Ion Ludwig too pulled out the stops here playing a dark, typically narrative deep set. Props to Toi Toi however, who despite big name billings, including the formidable Craig Richards and Margaret Dygas, insisted that ticket prices were maintained at a modest €15-20.
Holding up the UK flag too were Art of Dark’s pool party, Cartulis and Point: It is here and in out-of-town venues like Atipico or at Spain’s Rumores where you’ll find the loveliest secrets of Off-Sonar. Where micro-vibes and oozy-warm crowds make the dance-floor shine again with a forgotten resonance. The kinds of parties where you’ll emerge with new friends on each arm. Ones you’ll actually like in the morning. Where people take care of one another, where the vibe is lighter, looser and somehow more sincere. Many of these London-based labels are of founded by internationals who have chosen Britain as home. Testimony to the cultural diversity and viability for growth that accompanies the U.K. scene.
Whilst the parade of glamorous locations, sun, sea and sexy holiday vibes (and waiters) lend a unique edge to Off-Week, for many it remains that visceral connection to the music that keeps us coming back and rubber stamps the festival’s enduring relevance. And these parties have yet to fall under the dominion of unchecked commercialism. Barriers of wealth, age, class and status seem momentarily suspended. It was the U.K. labels that best delivered on this old-school ethos in 2018. So, Team G.B, for reminding us what it’s all about, for keeping it pure and the music centre stage, for fighting against the tide of Sonar’s increasingly aggressive commercialism (and our own domestic stupidity), we salute you. In the words of my friend Caesar (trust a Spaniard to sum it up perfectly): ‘What’s the best thing about Off-Sonar? Bringing us all together’, Olé, Olé, Olé.