In Spain where an annual festival known as Sónar takes place in June, a diverse lineup of talent from the dance music and hip-hop world have united since 1994. It’s a format similar to what the United States is accustomed to every summer when music concerts—big and small—sweep the nation from Austin to Miami and beyond. What’s rare is having the most major event from Barcelona, the world capital of electronic culture imported to North America. Tonight, Sónar on Tour makes its first stop in Chicago—one of eight that spans Toronto, New York, all the way to Los Angeles where it wraps up on November 10th.
There’s no festival in the U.S. that compares to Sónar. It’s truly one of a kind. Experience and participation are their two pillars. 2009’s events at NY’s Baryshnikov Arts Center had multiple rooms of DJs like Prefuse 73 and DJ Rupture, meanwhile in another part of the building, visitors were given an interactive demo of The Reactable, a forward-thinking instrument that allows users to manipulate cubes on an illuminated surface to create beats from scratch.
On Friday, Sónar’s bill features South African rap group Die Antwoord, and Canada’s house music quartet, Azari & III in NYC. [UPDATE: The NYC leg of the tour has been cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy.]
It’s been all eyes on Azari & III over the past year with their video “Hungry for the Power” turning heads like rubbernecking on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. They’ve been pushing the envelope giving one of the most energetic performances for a dance music group, and over the phone, they deserve a standing ovation for keeping the conversation interesting. As for who might already be “standing at attention,” is their label head Steve Aoki who released their self-titled album on his Dim Mak label yesterday. It’s getting harder to look away. Read the Q&A and get a sneak preview of the album below.
From left to right: Alixander III, Fritz Helder, Starving Yet Full, Dinamo Azari. Photo by James Moriarty.
Mass Appeal: So you guys are gearing up for Sónar.
Dinamo Azari: We’re really excited. We played for Sónar in July. Things are really well. It’s great to see we’re included on their North American outing. This is our second time doing the North American thing. It’s not a regular thing for them. It worked out for us because of our album coming, it makes for a better touring situation for us. They’re using most of the people they liked and enjoyed from the past festival.
So it’s like bringing a piece of Barcelona to New York.
DA: It’s a really good lineup. If that was coming through my town I would be going.
Can you tell me some of the highlights of your performance in Spain?
DA: That’s a hard question to answer because we never really know what our shows are like.
Alixander III: It’s like a lot of pelvic thrusts. Some really heavy analog basslines that get through your whole body.
DA: Make sure you go to the washroom before you come to our shows.
AIII: Shut your eyes and just basically go with it. It’s one of those.
DA: It depends on the show. At Sónar in Barcelona we were live. This time around we are keeping it more old school. We’re doing more of a DJ live PA setup.
There’s a lot of techno DJs playing like Tiga, Paul Kalkbrenner, Gesaffelstein, I know there’s a ton more. Anyway, it’s definitely dominated by more of the modern techno artists.
AIII: Dominate! Techno artists like to dominate [Robot voice].
DA: And so you’ve got us and Die Antwoord which are live, both of us kind of bring that raw energy, that raw vibe of that old school kind of hip-hop—DJ’s in the back, singers in the front, pelvic thrusts in your face.
Totally. It’s a really balanced lineup with you guys and a lot of those core techno guys.
DA: And all these DJs that play the cooler side of things, ya know? They did a good job of getting the cooler side of what’s hot right now. Everyone they’ve chosen is real creative artists.
AIII: It goes beyond just dance music and party stuff. Theres actual art and soundscape. People really take the craft seriously, in the tradition of how techno originated in Detroit and Germany.
You guys are in an interesting place geographically.
DA: You can just drive to Detroit on your lunch break. We’re really close to Detroit, or New York. You can go to a little Quebec disco, just six hours north.
Do you guys make a concerted effort absorbing the sound of certain regions?
DA: It just happens naturally, growing up with whatever’s around you. Mr. T was definitely an influence because everytime I turned the TV on, he was there.
AIII: “Listen to yo’ parents, the bible made it clear. If you break the rule, God help you fool, you got Mr. T to fear.”
DA: The vocals kind of exude what is a hybrid personality. It’s like the message, in the sense that’s coming across in a song that’s kind of like a sophisticated schizophrenic. He’s completely in charge of his episode.
You set the bar for any other vocalists that would work with you. Is there anyone in particular that you’re looking to work with in the future?
DA: Just growing up with the four of us, trying to take advantage of what we’ve learned over the last couple of years and being able to make that shine and turn that into something that we’ve always wanted to.
AIII: One thing that we’ve learned is that you can’t really plan stuff too much. Everything about us was serendipitous, transient. . . things come true. And things come out of the blue and all of a sudden. . . I mean the whole project itself…
DA: Maybe a couple of duets in the future with some very interesting new artists.
AIII: An all instrumental EP at some point because we’ve had a lot of time experimenting with sound and texture, more abstract type of installation pieces.
DA: Is Yoko Ono making techno now?
I think she is. She’s been making techno or dance music for a few years now.
DA: It’s not so much about collaborating and having that person some play the thing or co-write. It’s more if a vibe strikes where you know you’re on the same page with something, and you both kind of believe it, then that’s the type of collaborations that we get into. It kind of happens based on a spark.
As you mention Yoko Ono, and she makes techno music, does that mean you’re interested in working with her?
DA: Yoko is definitely interesting. She’s a very interesting artist. We’d be willing to work with all types of people if she had an interesting idea and she wanted to bring forth, Yoko would be a great artist to work with.
When your video [“Hungry for the Power”] got banned this year, that’s a testament to pushing the envelope. Do you think that played a factor in attracting you to Sónar?
AIII: No not really. Sónar was one of those things that a year before, we played an off shoot of Sónar—Razzmatazz, the club in Barcelona—it’s one of those things due to good agents and great management, and a solid label that was always in the cards for us.
DA: Hard dicks. [Laughs]
AIII: We were attracted to Sónar because it’s one of those things where if in Europe, you gotta play it. There’s the whole symbolic thing going on, where the whole kind of European aesthetic and promotion empire that they have is coming over the pond, that’s gonna open a new scene and a new crowd. The American crowd they’re young and very open minded to those types of stuff.
Sónar definitely prides themselves on the artists that they commission.
DA: They get the right people with the cool kind of edge to them and not the fucking cheesers. We’re pretty honored to be a part of that.
I read in Mixmag that Steve Aoki was a big fan of your work.
DA: He’s putting us out. [Laughs]
What’s it like working with him?
DA: So far so good.
AII: This is so fresh and so new. We’re just so happy that he’s on board with the release, and in the U.S. With the tours we’re gonna figure out what it’s like.
AIII: Google Alerts don’t lie! I can tell how excited Steve Aoki is about the record because the amount of Google Alerts, and how people are receiving it in the States. It’s like boom!
DA: He’s wearing real tight pants and you can tell. [Laughs] You can just tell when you’re close by him.
You get a nice little nudge.
DA: It’s the full package ya know?!
How did you guys connect?
DA: We connected with him in a golf cart at a stage in Holland. We nearly ran him over in Holland. It was like a distress call when like five tons of water dropped on us in a period of three minutes and everyone was scrambling. We all ended up on a cart with him and we had a Steve Aoki sandwich basically. We all jumped in this little cart. . .
AIII: We scooped him up, all bathed in our pheromones and he just couldn’t stop thinking about us after that.
But not actually in a golf cart?
AIII: No, at a festival where they shuttle you around in a golf cart.
DA: It wasn’t like an LA golf. . .
AIII: That was Alice Cooper. That’s a whole other story.
DA: That’s Alice Cooper who is actually a fan of ours, if you’ve done your research.
When I look at the tracklist, it’s really inspired by the feeling of being on drugs.
AIII: Like every song written in the history of music.
DA: Even Ke$ha has to be high when she’s making her shit. She’s gotta be high on that shit. Roger Troutman, everybody’s gotta have a little something they like to sneak in there.
AIII: The record was made throughout the winter, and it’s really dark and you get out the studio and it’s 10-inches of snow and it’s freezing minus 25. Gradually over the period of six months, it’s so cold and it’s getting warmer, you’re bound to have something really dark and kind of sexualized-ambient. And sometimes we’ll be here after, go out to dinner or a small party ’til late, or we’ll leave the studio going to a party.
DA: We’re not exclusionary, if someone’s got a good vibe, it just adds to the experience. It’s kind of like hanging out in a concentration camp for a little longer than normal.
AIII: That’s what life in Canada is like by the way.
DA: It’s like the great escape. You’re digging that hole to get out. Get out of Canada! Gotta get that record somewhere out of Canada. Dig that tunnel to Europe. The subliminals just come out.