Dance-hungry Mexican music fans were in for a treat during the very first edition of Sónar Mexico. After being hyped for almost a year since it was announced through the 2018 event A Taste of Sónar Mexico, the Barcelona staple festival finally landed on Mexico City’s Parque Bicentenario, turning its grounds into a playground for music and technology, with an impressive list of shows by local and international acts.
Spread around three stages (four, if you count the roller skate rink/activation by an alcohol brand) Sónar Mexico’s size felt perfectly manageable. It only took a short walk to get around, which is welcomed when compared to other local festivals. Plus, the park scenery was very pleasing, and the overall festival experience was breezy.
We were greeted with an opening set by Perfect Lovers at the SónarLab stage. The co-founder of queer Mexico City party series Por Detroit delivered a perfect introduction to the festival, slowly turning up the dial from calm electronic music to a house party, joined on stage by genderqueer people who posed and danced the house down.
At the main SónarClub stage, people found in Roderic’s set what they needed to calm their early dance urges. Apart from the technical issues that turned his concert into an impromptu ambient show, the Monterrey producer, together with a backing synth musician, delivered an elegant house-rooted set that made the afternoon heat disappear.
In the techno and house buffet promised by Sónar Mexico’s menu du jour, it was the people who broke away from the apparent norm who stood out the most, many of which could be found on the petit SónarDome stage. Medellin beatmaker Verraco delivered a dark twisted set filled with drum & bass and jungle breaks, before an audience that grew and grew as time passed by. Timbalerx brought an arsenal of ballroom tracks to his insanely fun show, marking one of the absolute highlights of the day. Between edits of Beyonce’s “Formation” and Vampire Weekend’s “This Life,” his own wild interpolation of Rammstein’s “Du Hast” was fit for a ball. And performance artists Nadia Granados and Traición’s Pepe Romero brought a political commentary on plastic pollution in the oceans using delirious props and visuals.
The dome was also witness to Lao’s genre-hopping set, which jumped from mambo to Celso Piña (RIP), to Korn and Rosalía – and definitely marked the return of tribal guarachero to the dancefloors. The NAAFI member used half of his set time to showcase some of the artists he has worked with recently, inviting to the stage Mexican talents like ForyFive, Baby Boss, Robot, and Noa Sainz, plus a special appearance by L.A.’s own Speak. It was a bold move which sadly left some of the unexpecting festival-goers confused.
Speaking of Noa Sainz, the Mexico City-based Saltillo singer took over the SónarClub stage in a CrazySexyCool outfit to bring her smooth R&B songs, which get rockier when performed live. She showed every side of her gifted voice, and displayed her growing star power. On a similar vein, Guatemalan fan favorite Jesse Baez did his thing on SónarLab, where the audience chanted every song passionately –even his new song “Malibú,” which was just released days before. He even premiered a new song alongside MLKMN titled “Capricornio,” with sloppy results. But all and all, his show was a success among the audience.
A Sónar event wouldn’t be truly one without proper Spanish representation, and this wasn’t the exception. Sharply-dressed rapper Kidd Keo dropped trap bop after bop in his carefree flow, occasionally joined by butt-shaking dancers. Sita Abellán electrified the dome with a pumping techno set that gave seasoned DJs like Daniel Avery and George Fitzgerald a run for their money. And Alizzz really brought it with a set that mostly comprised afrobeats hits, dancehall anthems, and funk carioca remixes, like the “Estamos Bien” edit that sent the audience into a frenzy.
Last-minute changes in the program left the festival without Virgil Abloh, one of its headliners. Mexican artist Concret also pulled out of the lineup days before, citing among his reason the lack of technical support for his XYZ multimedia show, calling out the festival for not valuing “music, creativity and technology,” which is the event’s motto. There’s a point to be made here, as the technologic component could have had a larger presence in the festival beyond a few installations on site –including the amazing laser sculpture Cycles, by Cocolab. The only few artists who were able to showcase an strong integration between music, visuals and technology were Richie Hawtin with his CLOSER show, and Nosaj Thing, in conjunction with Bureau Cool (all of them foreign artists).
For its inaugural edition, Sónar Mexico made a great first impression, especially with the Ibero-American side of its curation. Although the Sónar events outside the main Barcelona festival aren’t always recurrent, we’re hoping that the Mexican version is here to stay.