Sonar Festival at Sound Academy in Toronto

The legendary Sonar Festival from Barcelona embarked on its first North American tour this fall. On Thursday the tour made its stop in Toronto at Sound Academy. The festival, known for both the music and arts component, brought a diverse lineup – covering hip hop, live soul, electro and house. Some of the artists rarely visit our city, so the opportunity to see DJs like Paul Kalkbrenner and Seth Troxler was one that many people appeared ready to take advantage of.

Unfortunately, we arrived too late to see much of Paul Kalkbrenner’s set in the second room. Due to the many acts on the bill, the venue was split into two separate rooms both on the first floor. The glass doors and draping were enough to provide suitable sound containment between the rooms. It also helped that the promoters staggered the acts, where possible, so that as much of the crowd’s attention could be focused on one of the two stages. Nic Fanciulli was holding it down early in the second room – playing a set rooted in bass-heavy deep house. Nic gave the speakers a good workout – one of the subwoofers in the second room had to be replaced halfway through his set. Fanciulli gave way to French DJ Gesaffelstein in the second room while Die Antwoord had the attention of most of the crowd on the main stage. While we didn’t see much of the South African hip hop collective, and while people that saw them might say the inverse was true, those that were in the main room missed a great set from Gesaffelstein.

Coming to the show, it was a toss-up as to who we were most excited to see: between Seth Troxler and Gesaffelstein. While we’ve seen and loved pretty much everything that Seth Troxler has done and produced, we weren’t sure what Gesaffelstein would bring. Some of the YouTube clips we’ve seen from him have pegged him as an purveyor of hard electro and techno, but we were very pleasantly surprised to hear more of his techno leanings on Thursday. Gesaffelstein’s skillful mixing was on display as he’d leave the track in for its peak parts and cut the transition right at the quietest moments. A nice refreshing change from some DJs who just play bangers and wait for the bass to drop to do a number on the crowd. But Gesaffelstein was picking his moments and playing some sick tracks, like tINi’s remix of Yaya’s ‘Never Alone’.

We popped over to hear some Azari & III playing tracks off of their recently released self-titled album. The album has been available online and in Europe since last year, so the release is more a PR play than anything, but their live show proved that the groovy, housey sounds on that album can easily be replicated live. Both their set, and Die Antwoord’s set, were very visually appealing – with stunning images on a massive screen behind the stage. Whether you were in the main or the second room, it was tough to avoid the light show from the main stage. While a significant portion of the crowd left after Die Antwoord, those that were sticking around ostensibly were there to see Seth Troxler. A Detroit DJ based in Europe, Troxler doesn’t make that many appearances in Toronto.

Due to the number of acts on the bill, we were a little bummed to see Seth only get an hour timeslot. His set got off to a poor start as he was noticeably frustrated by sound challenges on stage and in his headphones. When his mixer was finally replaced, Troxler settled into a serious groove. His sets are intended to take the listeners on a sonic journey and even though he had limited time, Troxler achieved that in his set here. The crowd that stayed ate up Troxler’s tracks. I’d list them if I could, but Shazam was certainly not attuned to the heat that Seth was dropping. For the first voyage of Sonar outside of Europe, this night seemed like a great success. We can only hope another Sonar tour is in the cards for the following years!