Live review: Sonar festival rolled through Los Angeles with mixed results
On November 10 we saw the Barcelona based Sonar festival stroll through Los Angeles with mixed results. The event was held at The Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles featuring Paul Kalkbrenner, Seth Troxler, Nic Fanciulli, AZARI & III and Die Antwoord.
First off when I heard that the man, the myth, the legend, Paul Kalkbrenner was going to be playing in Los Angeles for the first time in years I was over the moon ecstatic. For those of you uniformed Kalkbrenner is a dj/actor from Germany who plays some of the best electronic music around. Check out his dvd here—it’s a much-watch for any electronic music fan. Coupled with the fact that Seth Troxler, Nic Fanciulli and AZARI & III were also on the bill it was hard to fathom how this show could go wrong.
With all this talent it is a shame that I have to give this show a somewhat negative review. It is not that any of the artists I mentioned above were bad, it is just that the production value was almost nowhere to be seen (sans the Zef group Die Antwoord who were surprisingly much better than when I caught them at Coachella years ago). With promotion staples in Los Angeles such as Hard and Insomniac having much success in the city, I thought that Goldenvoice would have done a bit more to promote and bring greater production value to a venue that has historically worked well for electronic music events.
The Sonar brand usually known for its avant-garde artists and exceptional festival production brought little to the table. For the Barcelona based brand that has been putting festivals on for more than 20 years it just seems like they threw this tour together without much thought. Maybe they overestimated demand for these artists and maybe it was not the best to have a headliner be a Zef-rap group from South Africa play with mostly minimal DJs.
First and foremost the event was incredibly undersold. At its peak the 4,000 person venue MAYBE had about 1,500. The bar lines were also extremely long so it makes me wonder what it would have been like at capacity. Not only that, but something seemed off the whole night. Taking about 30 minutes to switch between DJ sets and live sets with no house DJ seemed like a huge mistake and an afterthought. Having Kalkbrenner get the crowd going only to make us wait for 30 minutes with the house lights on for Die Antwoord to set up killed the mood. There was just too much downtime for an electronic music event
Saying all this, when the music was playing it was fucking good. This picture above was taken at 9 pm when I first arrived. There must have been about 200 people there for Nic Fanciulli but he played through it like a professional. The UK producer did not disappoint with his minimal take on house music.
Up next was Paul Kalkbrenner who went on at a way too early time of 9:30 p.m. The German producer who is used to selling out arenas looked like he did not have a care in the world that only about 400 people were there. In typical Kalkbrenner fashion he danced and sang along to all of his tracks. Kind of an antithesis to the French duo (Justice) who graced us with their presence last week, Paul got into it. Wearing his trademark soccer jersey he owned the stage with progressive mixes of his songs.
Known only to listen to and play his own productions, Kalkbrenner powered through his “Berlin Calling” soundtrack. Many in the crowd made signs professing their love for the German DJ. The highlight of the set and the night must have been when Kalkbrenner played his hit song “Sky and Sand.” Everyone in the crowd seemed to know the words and sang in unison. At that moment it did not matter that all there was was a screen behind him. It sounded amazing and got the the night going off with a bang.
That is why the 30 minute lull in action before Die Antwoord went on killed the night. You either like them or hate them and in all honestly this set would have not changed your opinion either way. Their humorous version of Mims “This is Why I’m Hot” had to be the highlight for me. Ending with “Enter the Ninja,” most of the attendees preceded to leave with the band.
Up next was the Los Angeles debut of AZARI & III. The Canadian duo’s Chicago house sound was a much needed break from the craziness that was Die Antwoord. The group’s hit “Manic” was the highlight of their set and should make everyone who left early pissed off that they missed such a great set. The group just recently debuted their self-titled album in the states and it has to be one of my favorites this year.
The 40 minutes left was far from enough time for Seth Troxler to do what he does best. His deep-minimal take on house music ended before it even had the time to take off.
I can’t speak for all of their shows on the tour, but I have a couple theories why this event was undoubtedly a financial and theatrical disaster. Goldenvoice treated this as a concert and that is where they went wrong. You do not have lulls at raves. That is just now how it works. Picking Die Antwoord was probably not the best move for your headliner. If in fact you really wanted to go with Die Antwoord, have them go on last. If you want to treat it like a concert do just that; have the biggest act go on last to draw people into buying drinks and seeing all the acts.
Die Antwoord just ruined the mood; at least if you would have had all the DJs play first we could have had 3 solid hours of dancing uninterrupted. It is a shame that this event did not work out because I really want more music like this represented in the LA area. Across town Wolfgang Gardner played for like the 5th time this year to a packed crowd at the Palladium, which I guess could be seen as a hint that maybe the states are not ready for these types of DJ’s to sell out 4,000 seat stadiums. In a country were Porter Robinson can sell out huge venues and electronic legends like Paul Kalkbrenner barely pull 500 sucks. Don’t get me wrong, that fact kills me inside but it is what it is.
Hopefully Sonar sees this not as a failure, but a lesson that maybe a smaller venue with more focus on production value will work out better for these types of artists. Bottom line is that when music was playing it was very good and I have to tip my hat out to Sonar for getting Paul Kalkbrenner to grace us with his presence.
Follow Kevin Camps @kpcamps.