One of the few people outside the organization that can honestly say they've never missed a single edition of Sónar, DJ and producer Angel Molina has been a fixture at the festival, whether as part of the line-up or as a spectator - since the beginning. This year, on Sónar's 25th anniversary, he returns to play Sónar by Night, for a set that's sure to bring back memories of his first set way back in 1994.
Over all this time, one thing has remained constant in Molina's work: his dedication to his craft and his reluctance to follow the sirens call of fashion. Whether this be the demands to cater to a more commercial audience, or changing his sound to accommodate the demands of the big clubs, Angel has forged his own path by investigating, listening and then creating his own narrative. A rare feat in the increasingly soundalike field of big room techno.
Who better then to discuss the highs of the festival from the beginning through to the present day?
How many times have you played Sónar? Do you even know?
Not really, no! It's actually easier to think about how many I haven't played. Maybe three or four in 25 editions. So 20 at least.
The first time you played was at the very first edition, in '94...
Yes, but it almost didn't happen. I was playing in a club - the +KO in Cornellà - and a mutual friend of the festival directors told me that they were going to do it. So I brought them a recording, two or three months before the festival, and they called me. I was playing on the last night, so I went on Thursday and Friday to check out the atmosphere and thought it was a place where I could risk a little more than usual. In fact, that was all I'd dreamed of: playing the music I liked to a clued un audience in front of me, being able to take risks and having people react. After my session Sven Vath played and that's where we met. Later I would go to Frankfurt to see him at the Omen.
Did you have an inkling of how big the festival would get at that first edition?
Not really. no. It was obvious that they were passionate about the project but at that point it was just starting, and it felt like it could go either way. After two or three editions it was already clear that it was going to last and it was there to stay for a long time, because they quickly won the respect of everyone in the scene and the audience and repercussion grew very quickly.
You could almost say that your career has grown in parallel to that of the festival....
Well, not just mine. Before Sónar there was already a scene, and we must not forget what was in the 80s or early 90s, but what we understand as club culture, is born or arrives with Sónar, which gives it the necessary impetus to consolidate. And so, those of us who were already there grow, because there are many more opportunities.
The move to the Mar Bella venue in'97 must have been important at the time, right?
Yeah, it was the year of Daft Punk, and I was playing before them. For me that was a big fucking deal, because the responsibility of being in front of so many people was something new for me. Also the fact of having to set up a session for a very mixed audience: it was no longer a question of playing to a niche audience that I knew would respond. I learned that there, to adapt, to expand and not to be snobby in my selections.
Did you prepare the sessions much back then?
I actually put more effort into them now. At that time you had the records you had, and even if you had a lot of them, they were relatively limited, and even more so if you kept to the new releases. So packing a bag was easier. Preparing a session today is a drama; There's so much music just a click away that you always feel like you're missing something or that you haven't heard everything you should have. For me it is essential to make the best possible selection, so the process is sometimes a little tortured. Besides, you used to be guided by the covers, you'd find what you were looking for faster. Today everything is names, you have to organize yourself a lot during the week to have the right selection.
Has your style of mixing changed much over the years?
I don't know.... I don't think so, when you already have a style and a way of doing it, it's there, even if you don't realize it. It is something that remains, even if you do adapt it to different spaces and moments.
Now the public can access the same music as the DJ and at practically the same time. Your job is getting harder, isn't it?
That's one of the most complicated consequences of the digital world, yes. Imagine if you also only play vinyl, so it takes a longer to get hold of the record: and by that time everyone has heard it before on the internet. The point is, if you think that what you have to do is to surprise and give the audience something different and new, that they don't know, then yes, your job becomes much more difficult. But I have my doubts that this should be the objective.
So what is the objective?
To play music that can appeal to both the heads and the general public that are there at the time, and to structure the set in a way that's organic and authentic to yourself. Whatever you play should be what you want to play, without being a victim of trends
Your relationship with the festival has not been limited to playing, but has gone further, for example with the sets recorded for the Wax Sessions series or the radio programs, perhaps facets that many people don't know about.....
Indeed, my relationship with the festival goes far beyond that. Perhaps most evident are the two CD mixes released on SonarMusic,'Wax Sessions II' and'Wax Sessions III'. But at the same time I also participated in the selection of songs from the compilations published annually in each edition of the festival, especially in the more dance part (Sónar De Noche), and even as a music consultant. As far as radio is concerned, we did the three seasons of Sonar Club 40, which focused on the musical news of artists participating in the festival, and an interesting collaboration between Sonar and Radio FG, a French radio station. I can't say the exact number of sets I did or how many seasons it lasted, but I remember recording sessions regularly and quite frequently, perhaps weekly, and in cassette format. I still have a lot of them. In Spain they were broadcast on a television channel with a fashion show in the background, something I always found quite strange.
Are you already preparing for this year's session?
Not yet, but it won't be long. I have a rough idea of where I want to go. This time I'm not opening for a group or a specific project, something I've specialized in at the festival in the last few years. This time it's an hour and a half, between Modeselektor and Helena Hauff, so it'll be all dancey and dark, with a little EBM at the end. .
Can we go over some of those warm up sets?.... Let's review the names...
Duran Duran, Yazoo, Pet Shop Boys, Roxy Music, Jean-Michel Jarre... and Chris Cunningham... except the last one, they're all groups or artists from the 80s and I like them a lot.
What have these sessions meant to you?
Extra nerves and tachycardia! (laughs). Well, I was clear that I was opening for the show, and they are people I respect and who have influenced me a lot, so the idea was to know where I was and to know which audience was in front of me, an audience that was always more difficult for me. It's a lot of responsibility. But it has been very rewarding, and I have also been able to meet some of my idols, which has given me great moments. With Duran Duran, for example, I shared stories and conversation for almost an hour in their dressing rooms. I've always been a big fan and it was an important moment for me. These things don't usually happen with DJs you share a booth with or have known for a long time.
Do you miss more personal contacts of this kind between professional colleagues?
I think that, in general, in techno, right now, there are few people who are there because they are really interested in music. I detect too many reasons that have nothing to do with music, especially among the younger DJ's. I feel like their reasons for getting into it are often the wrong ones. On the other hand, when I've met the biggest and most famous DJs in the world, they usually have a human component that, unfortunately, I don't find in the others. The question is, why are you here? And I'm afraid the answer is different now than it was before. I think to go far in this you have to be constant and not get carried away by the immediacy. And of course, this is more difficult now, because things are going very fast.
What other highlights come to mind in your long history with Sónar? Whether playing, listening or dancing...
That first set I'll never forget. Also, I remember that one of the members of the Test Department came to give me a kiss when I finished, that was incredible, because they have always been a reference for me in the field of industrial music. I also remember a set on the outside stage at the Mar Bella venue, as the sun came up, playing loops. It was the Minifunk era, and Laurent Garnier was standing next door watching all the time, and he was especially amazed by a loop I did of "Can You Feel It" by Fingers Inc. And as a spectator the first show that comes to mind is The Knife's concert in 2006. Then, of course the X-103 concert with Jeff Mills and Mike Banks at the helm, and, more recently, The Black Madonna's session at Sónar by Day.
And finally: which artists do you intend to see this year or don't want to miss?
Lorenzo Senni, Lanark Artefax, who I love, Sophie, Demdike Stare, Helena Hauff, Francisco López, DJ Stingray, the Dominic Fernow thing with Low Jack and Silent Servant, Dabrye, Octo Octa and Despacio.