Art Radar has a look at some of the critical artists making Sónar Barcelona in 2018.

Sónar is a three-day International Festival of Advanced Music and New Media Art that takes place at various venues in Barcelona. The festival runs between 14–16 June 2018. Art Radar makes a selection of the must-listens.

Sonar Press Image. Image courtesy Sonar.

Sónar Press Image. Image courtesy Sónar.

Over the last decade the Sónar Festival, which had its first edition in Barcelona in 1994, appeared to have peaked and troughed. Were bigger audiences and a more mainstream line up evidence the festival had lost its way? Was it the economic crisis? What kind of aesthetic crisis was electronic music having in the late 2000s and early 2010s? In 2016 Sónar showed signs of expansion in various directions. First were the editions of the festival in Hong Kong and Istanbul. Then was the increased space given over to digital and sound arts, including programmes of workshops, performance and exhibitions. Now the 2018 line up at the festival’s mother ship location of Barcelona is starting to reflect again the forward thinking roots of the festival that the locals love to hate. Art Radar takes a pick of the artists and musicians that are making Sónar cool again.

Fatima Al Qadiri Portrait. Image courtesy the artist and Sonar.

Fatima Al-Qadiri Portrait. Image courtesy the artist and Sónar.

1. Fatima Al Qadiri

Senegal-born, Kuwait-raised and Berlin-based composer and conceptual artist Fatima Al Qadiri bridges the music-visual arts frontier like no other. Her work, whether as a sound designer, producer or video maker, uproots and examines the relations between war and video games, sound and national memory, soundtrack and internal dialogue, in works that often use queer strategies to critique the lingering orientalism of Western consumption of global cultural production. Her records are enveloped in rich conceptual frameworks that may envisage a journey into an “imagined China” (as in 2014’s Asiatisch), explore the soundtrack of war as refracted through video games (as in 2012’s Desert Strike EP) or promote the right to protest (as in 2016’s Brute).

Miss Kittin and Kim Ann Foxman Portrait. Image courtesy the artists and Sonar.

Miss Kittin and Kim Ann Foxman Portrait. Image courtesy the artists and Sónar.

2. Kim Ann Foxman / Miss Kittin

Hawaii-born artist, DJ and producer Kim Ann Foxman is going back to back with Sónar favourite Miss Kittin for an unmissable collaboration. Foxman shot to fame as a vocalist with New York’s LGBTQI ensemble Hercules and Love Affair. Since the mid-2000s the artist has carved out a role as a producer in her own right. Foxman is celebrated for her beguiling and original vocals, her DJ sets and delivering consistent catchy hooks and haunting melodies. Her Firehouse Recordings imprint (inspired by the old firehouse in Brooklyn that is her studio and collective creative hub for DJ strays) is responsible for a steady stream of releases. Teaming up with Miss Kittin (whose practice in electronic asserts itself against what she has called “the intellectual snobbery” of techno), here are two artists unfazed by trends, building and innovating on the nostalgic records of their youth towards dynamic futures. Kim Ann Foxman and Miss Kittin are deeply rooted in the music.

Kampire Portrait. Image courtesy the artist and Sonar.

Kampire Portrait. Image courtesy the artist and Sónar.

3. Kampire

Ugandan DJ Kampire is another producer-DJ-artist departing from feminist conceptual strategies. A core member of Kampala’s Nyege Nyege collective (label and festival), Kampire is one of East Africa’s up and coming DJs. After honing her craft at Hollywood, home of Nyege Nyege Tapes, she opened for Jojo Abot’s Kampala Women’s Day concert, played the Eternal Disco stage at Nyege Nyege International Music Festival in Jinja, and followed The Black Madonna’s East African debut, as part of Santuri Safari’s Femme Electronic. Her sets of bass-heavy music are inspired by her upbringing in a mining town along Zambia’s copper belt, where she listened to Congolese music and African pop. Her style is a quick fire of mixing and editing, perfectly blending and then disrupting the nostalgic tropes of contemporary African music. By 2017 she had already performed at Amani Festival Goma, Congo, Africa Bass Culture in Burkina Faso and opened for acts like Diplo and DJ Maphorisa in Uganda.

KOKOKO! Portrait. Image courtesy the artists and Sonar.

KOKOKO! Portrait. Image courtesy the artists and Sónar.

4. KOKOKO!

Kokoko! are a collective whose recycled instruments made of scrap metal have shifted the landscape of what sounds are possible in Congolese electronic music. In May 2017 KOKOKO! released a short video on YouTube introducing their first single “Tokoliana”, showcasing their innovative instruments – including a typewriter jerry-rigged to bang on a piece of scrap metal, and an upright harp made of wires strung up to old coffee cans. The makeshift instruments are not just a creative response to the lack of electronic music tech in their native Kinshasa but a transformative collective experiment in electronic beat production. The five-piece ensemble are now touring Europe in association with supporter (and fan) French producer Débruit, who they encountered through a musical collaboration project called Africa Express, i-D reports.

Amp Fiddler and Tony Allen Portrait. Image courtesy the artists and Sonar.

Amp Fiddler and Tony Allen Portrait. Image courtesy the artists and Sónar.

5. Tony Allen

If KOKOKO! evidence the emergence of an experimental Afrobeat new wave, the presence of Lagos-born jazz drummer Tony Allen confirms Sónar’s intergenerational support of the Afrobeat family. As drummer and musical director of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s band Africa 70 from 1968 to 1979, Allen was one of the primary co-founders of the genre of Afrobeat music. Fela once stated that “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat.” At Sónar the Afrofunk innovator will perform this year for the first time with Detroit’s Amp Fiddler at SonarDôme.

Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima Portrait. Image courtesy the artists and Sonar.

Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima Portrait. Image courtesy the artists and Sonar.

6. Yuzo Koshiro

Tokyo-born Yuzo Koshiro is not to be missed at Sónar, if not because he represents a rising set of video game music composers who are transitioning to the stage. President of the game development company Ancient, the composer-producer-DJ is often regarded as one of the most influential innovators in “chiptune” (video game music), mixing irreverently a number of genres, including breakbeat, electro, hardcore, house, jungle, techno, hip hop, jazz and synth-rock. Koshiro has been called “the greatest game-music composer of the 16-bit age” having created some of the most memorable game music of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The artist is most famous for his The Streets of Rage soundtracks, which are considered ahead of their time, featuring a blend of swaggering house synths, dirty electro-funk and early trance elements. At Sónar he teams with long-time collaborator Motohiro Kawashima to perform video game classics live for the first time.

Chino Amobi Portrait. Image courtesy the artist and Sonar.

Chino Amobi Portrait. Image courtesy the artist and Sonar.

7. Chino Amobi

The Nigerian-North American producer Chino Amobi grew up in Virginia. In March 2016, Amobi released “Airport Music for Black Folk”, a short collection of ambient tracks named after citie – “Malmo”, “Berlin”, “Rotterdam”. Far from the sustained keys and billowing loops of the Brian Eno’s ambient opus “Music for Airports” (1978) that it references, Amobi’s transcontinental score has a more explicit critique of air travel: buzzy synths swell into prominence like a takeoff, asymmetrical percussion mimics the metallic dance of landing gear unfolding, and talk-box samples evoke the chorus of voices, automated and analogue, that echo through terminal halls and migratory control checks. Amobi’s collaborations – notably with fellow-artists Nkisi, based in London, and Angel-Ho, in Cape Town – mark him as a new generation of border defying artists who see art and critique, music and politics, travel and knowledge as one. Notably, much of the work coming out of the label these artists founded together – NON Worldwide – goes hand in hand with an arts rooted international critique of race and racism.

Rebecca Close

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Sónar 2018 will run from 14 to 16 June 2018 in Barcelona, by day at Fira Montjuïc
, Avinguda Rius i Taulet, s/n
08004 Barcelona
, and by night atFira Gran Via L’Hospitalet, Av. Joan Carles I (corner Botánica), L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, 08908 Barcelona
. To get your tickets on time visit their website

Related Topics: Emerging artists, sound, multimedia, promoting art

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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