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The Great Sonar Expansion - Stockholm Edition

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 7/03/2016 Sean Bradford

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The third edition of Sonar Stockholm focused heavily on local Swedish Talent, had some strong moments, but missed a bit of the originality and feeling that has become synonymous with the Sonar Brand. Taking place outside of the city, the festival found its stride on Saturday night, about the same time that it ended. The lighting, however, was fantastic from beginning to end.
The Nobleberget complex (which has become a go to event location in Stockholm) was divided into three spaces - Sonar Lab, Sonar Hall, and Sonar Club. Sonar Lab, essentially a small tent constructed outside, was probably the space with the most consistent vibe. And while the energy was quite electric here (especially during a set by Yung Sherman), it was hard to deny the chill of a February night in Sweden. Sonar Hall, featured a hexagon installation on both sides of the main stage, which doubled as a chill out area. And Sonar Club was the largest venue, an open warehouse space, which shifted in intimacy depending on the act playing.
Friday night opened with a rock concert setup in Sonar Club, where Niki and the Dove played a live set which many people came early to hear. Lead singer Malin Dahlström went from channeling Fleetwood Mac to George Clinton, halfway through dawning a feather headdress and red sunglasses, while warping her voice through a TC Helicon processor. Holly Herndon's live set followed, backed by visuals resembling some sort of 21st century virtual dollhouse.
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On Friday it was clear that Yung Lean fans are both rowdy and loyal af. The mostly young male crowd was full jump mode through his opening chant of "wake up its a victory," and screaming along as he proclaimed, "I keep that kush up on me." In a country with a zero tolerance policy for drugs, his set showed a burning desire for more personal freedom.
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The Black Madonna won Friday night, with a fusion of sound from disco to techno, house to hip hop. She brought the Sonar Hall alive, and it was the first time it felt like a festival. People rushed to the dance floor, converging from all sides and dropping straight into the groove.
Saturday opened with Stockholm's Jessie Granqvist playing a very good techno set in the Sonar Lab. It was a shame it was so early and so cold, because Granqvist really knows how to create a vibe.
There were at least two samples of Rihanna's "Work" played on Saturday. One by Le1F, updating his debut single "Wut" and the second by Yung Sherman, during his set of disjointed hip hop , mixed with trap and female r&b vocals. Sherman's set in Sonar Lab was an experimentation of new sounds and sometimes it was fire and sometimes it felt like just an experiment. But taking risks and experimenting is part of the Sonar spirit and so it was definitely welcomed.
Speaking of risks, Saturday night belonged to New York Queer Rapper LE1F. Taking risks seems to be happening less and less these days, especially in concerts. But the audience loves when acts don't play safe. From his opening "Koi" which ended with LE1F vogueing in a fur, to jumping into the audience halfway through the set, he connected, and was rewarded. The crowd was engaged, bouncing and bumping to the beat, even without knowing the lyrics.
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Later in Sonar Club, it seem liked Hudson Mohawke just might incorporate Kanye's entire catalog into his set. Immersed inside of a haze of ultra violet lights, Mohawke hyped the crowd, opening big and not stopping. This was the moment the festival truly found itself. Jackmaster and Dorisburg (a last minute replacement to Annie Mac) both built upon this, but then the festival was over. I'm sure the shortened time had to do with strict local laws, but it would have been nice for an earlier start on Saturday. Also lacking was some sort of talk, workshop, or experimental component, one of the things that helps to make Sonar special. In the end it felt like a a series of shortened concerts. Nice, but lacking the individuality and vibe that makes a night out in Stockholm exciting and unique.
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