Lisbon calling… 909originals’ Emer O’Connor reports from Sónar Lisboa

909originals’ roving reporter Emer O’Connor travelled to Lisbon to soak up the inaugural Sónar Lisboa festival, which took place in a variety of venues across the Portuguese capital. Over to you, Emer. 🙂

“Music is the answer to your problems… keep on moving, then you can solve them.” We ecstatically chanted the immortal words of the Celeda/Danny Tenaglia’s 1998 classic, as Sónar Lisboa’s Saturday night headliner Honey Dijon whipped up a storm in the sumptuous surrounds of the 1920’s art deco Pavilhão Carlos Lopes.

After two years of living through one of the strictest lockdown regimes in the world, dancing for three days and nights to the likes of Overmono, Richie Hawtin, Hector Oates, Bicep, IAMDDB and The Blaze, and being dazzled by visual installations in some of Europe’s most magnificent concert venues, Sónar Lisboa delivered the perfect antidote.

Sónar D+ was where my fully-immersive weekend experience began, at the Hub Criativo do Beato. I wandered the corridors of the EGEAC building, marvelling at the digital works by local and international artists and encountered a four-year-old Japanese child entranced by Alessandro Cortini’s hypnotic site-specific sound installation.

I then entered the Fábrica do Pão, a beautifully lit space in swathes of blue and purple, where a spotlight rested on a grand piano. Intrigued, I sat down and had an enlightening chat with Catalunyan radio (@icatfm) music journalist Blai Marsé, before the gifted Minorcan pianist, Marco Mezquida took centre stage.

‘Piano + AI’ was a co-creation project for the jazz and classical performer with scientists and engineers from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), as the computer responded in real-time with different synthesised soundscapes, generating a feedback loop between the pianist and the artificial intelligence. It was riveting.

Satisfied with my Sónar D+ mission, I headed back to the centre to prepare myself for Sónar By Night. After traipsing the streets of Lisbon to find my hotel, I was reluctant to travel across the city again between two venues in opposite directions and so we tossed a coin – heads for Dixon and tails for Charlotte de Witte.

Tails won out and off we went in our Uber to the Centro de Congresso de Lisboa, a colossal auditorium where the enigmatic DJ Stingray met us on arrival, donning his trademark balaclava. I was able to get a bird’s eye view from the balcony overlooking 10,000 revellers below and the awe-inspiring visuals.

Techno legend Richie Hawtin was up next in a clash of the titans, as he went head-to-head with Héctor Oates, eyeballing each other on front-facing decks. Richie led the charge with some quality Detroit bassline grooves and myself and my parceiros de dança enjoyed a brilliant bounce at the back of the Millenium Falcon-esque space.

We beat our way up to the front of the crowd for the last set of the evening, enjoying yet another perspective of Sónar Lisboa’s spectacularly high production values as Charlotte de Witte took to the stage. We also bumped into a local gaggle of hens having the best bachelorette party ever, haha! The only downside of the event was being surrounded by chain smokers – so we hightailed it back up to the balcony for one last hardcore bop as de Witte dropped her magnificent remix collaboration with Enrico Sangiuliano of Age Of Love.

After a great sleep and fat brunch, we sprinkled on the biodegradable glitter and entered the Pavilion, eyes wide open and bushy tails wagging for Day Two. First up was French artists The Blaze, most well-known for their multi-award-winning video triptych Virile, Territory and Heaven – with which they teased the crowd, playing intermittent samples of their tracks for the duration of their set.

We took a micro dance siesta in the sunshine and bumped into some Irish pals and then made haste for the VIP facilities, taking the lift to what I believed to be a rooftop viewpoint. Instead, we bumped into the stunning Angolan-origin, Lisbon-born rapper and songstress IAMDDB and her multi-talented co-stars the McKing sisters, Jennifer and Jasmine, who had just finished their performance.

We had great banter with these absolute babes and were bowled over by their generosity as they handed us their bottle of Hennessy Cognac and took selfies for my 909originals Instagram stories live-on-site.

909originals’ roving red rascal’s amazing luck didn’t end there, as in walked a very handsome guy and his beaming friend. “It’s a great festival so far, what a fantastic setting, what are you up to?”, realising that I was actually in the artist’s hospitality area and really shouldn’t be there.

I’m DJing”, he replied. “Oh very good, I’m here as a music journalist myself, my name’s Emer, what’s your name?” “Nicola,” he said. “And when are you playing?” “Now!” he said, and the penny dropped – I was in fact holding up headliner Nicola Cruz. Somewhat mortified, I gave him a big red panda bear hug and squeezed another few selfies with him and his lovely manager before allowing them to escape, and we exited stage left.

Cruz who resides in Quito, delivered tribal vibes during a cracking, high-octane electronic set and I wondered how the high queen of house Honey Dijon would follow up from there – by upping the ante of course, with wall-to-wall bangers, including a savage remix of Crystal Waters’ Gypsy Woman and the legendary Octave One’s Blackwater featuring Ann Saunderson.

Lining our ravenous tummies before Sónar By Night’s jam-packed program was imperative, so following a delizioso Italian, we took the metro to the phenomenal late 19th century playhouse called the Coliseu dos Recreios.

We skipped into the 4,300-seater draped ceiling amphitheatre as Sam Shepard, aka Floating Points, as the rhythmic synths of his latest release Vocoder began to escalate. After a lil’ bop, we decided to go for a meander and discovered the steps leading up to the Royal Box, when Belfast-born Bicep took centre stage. We marvelled at the sea of enraptured ravers, as they swayed to the magical melody of Glue and a spectacular petrol-coloured laser beam shimmered overhead.

Lisbon legend Rui Vargas closed out the extravaganza in style and we danced to his driving house til we dropped.

On the third day we rose again, meeting all our friends both old and new at the magnificent Mirador da Graça for a late lunch in the glistening sunshine. We were amazed by our own resilience as we returned for the last hurrah as French electro-swing and sampletronica duo Polo & Pan gave us back the spring in our step. Jayda G brought things up another gear with her blissed-out Chicago house, as our toes twinkled to her Grammy-nominated Both of Us.

Weeks before Sónar, I discussed my upcoming adventure with one of Ireland’s most highly-respected promoters, Subject, and a great friend of mine, Ro Flynn, who told me to keep my eyes and ears out for Overmono [who come to Dublin to play Centre Point in October] and when he’s right, he’s right! The musical melting pot they create, which smashes techno into UK garage and drum n bass, reignited our energy levels. The pinnacle of their set was their remix of Dublin-based songwriter/producer/vocalist David Balfe’s mind-blowing eulogy to a dead friend, I Have a Love.

“I have a love, and it never fades
From red garden sheds

To watching lads on steds knocking heads
From the two by two fuck you punk stage
To a warehouse rave, with a bloke we met on the way
Dancing til day…”

Roll on Sónar Lisboa 2023!

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