Barcelona’s Sonar music festival is embarking on its first eight-city North American tour with a bill that includes Die Antwoord, Tiga, and Gesaffelstein. In advance of Thursday’s Sound Academy stop, we catch-up with the most titillating act on the tour, Azari & III—on the day of the North American release of their debut LP.
Brace yourself: on Thursday night, a musical dynasty is coming to town. Founded in 1994, Barcelona’s Sónar festival of music and new-media art has become a pulse for not only emerging talent in Spain, but also all of Europe. You can tell it’s not massively mainstream because it’s not massively overshadowed by auxiliary distractions like, say, Coachella or Glastonbury. (Cue a dozen blogs regurgitating street style en masse.) But that’s because, as Dinamo Azari of Toronto’s own Azari & III tells us, it’s always been about the music. His swaggering, shimmering, disco-house quartet played last June’s three-day festival alongside Fatboy Slim, Deadmau5, Hot Chip, Lana Del Rey, and Nicolas Jaar. Sónar, however, is doing what its international counterparts are not: they’re bringing the lore and the legends to your backyard.
Over the years, Sónar has mounted editions everywhere from Tokyo to Cape Town to Sao Paolo. For the first time, though, they’re headed on tour across North America with electronic music’s biggest underground-ish names: Die Antwoord, Seth Troxler, Paul Kalkbrenner, Tiga, Gesaffelstein, Nic Fanciulli and, naturally, Azari & III. In short, it’s “eschewing bubble-gum EDM.”
The eight-city trek—which starts in Chicago tomorrow and criss-crosses the continent till it reaches L.A. on Nov. 10—is a fusion of live performance and DJ throw-downs. It’s a way to get crowds on this side of the Atlantic familiar with the idea and the vision behind Sónar and what it endeavours to do each year. According to its mission statement, Sónar “sounds out the current landscape of electronic music and its interactions and hybridization with other artistic disciplines … that renew and innovate in all areas of musical and audiovisual creation.” It’s a mouthful, an earful—it’s ambitious. And it’s poised to be so wonderfully unnerving and fulfilling that even the most devout worshippers won’t be left standing.
So when the chance came to interview a participating artist, I considered carefully. Die Antwoord’s Ninja scares the glitter out of me, but I wanted to know about his tattooed dick. Tiga, well, he’s from Montreal and I’m not sure I needed to know more about him after this piece of performance art. The natural choice, then—or the only choice, really—was Azari & III. If the Sónar tour is insanely hyped, which it is, then the only act to match that anticipation is our homegrown boys. I can’t look at a Facebook wall or read about Sónar without eager soon-to-be-diehards waiting for their first glimpse of the band in the flesh. They’ve been busy on the festival circuit, touring Europe to facilitate their mounting success (especially after that “opening for Madonna” rumour that didn’t pan out because, well, hello, internet!). After introducing their self-titled debut album to Europe last year, today they re-issue—or just release, whatever you want to call it—the album to North American audiences via Dim Mak Records, like a perfectly executed arc written into the plot of Sónar’s impeding domination.
In advance of Thursday’s Sound Academy stop of Sónar on Tour, I Skyped with Dinamo Azari about the road, the music, grandmas on MDMA, and Church Street’s leather boys. As for the future? “You never know with us,” says Azari. Well, there’s always Thursday to start finding out.
So Azari & III’s debut album has finally been released in North America. What have you been up to since first releasing it last year?
We started releasing singles a couple years back and that led to the album. It feels like we’ve been touring three years straight. We started off doing the DJ thing a little more, kind of breaking down and letting the music speak for itself, and we had a good team around us while we were developing. From there, shit, I guess we’ve been able to travel the world a couple of times to spread the love. And now we’re finally prepared for North America, our hometown debut, I suppose. Pressure is on, and it’s a little bit late to the game, but as far as the music scene goes in North America, R&B and hip-hop moves a little faster, whereas I think avant-garde dance music doesn’t necessarily hit right away. So I think we needed that time to get ready.
I was at the Azari & III show at The Hoxton last spring. How has your stage show evolved since then? Would you say you’ve grown as performers?
It’s hard to say—we’re just ourselves. We went through the summer playing the biggest festivals in the world, especially in Europe, playing in front of 10-15,000 fans a night, in a different country every night. So you get tight when you’re on tour. It’s just like anything. As far as the live tour goes, just expect a lot of raw energy—you’re going to get sucked right into that warehouse/Motown sound. We have an allure to our live shows. Think pelvic thrusts and a lot of bass lines—it’s hard to resist.
With the Sónar festival, you’re on tour with some pretty big names, some of whom you’re closer with than others. How would you say Azari & III fit on the bill?
To be honest, we are very, very related, and we spent the summer playing all the big tours, so we’re like a little family. I’ve known Seth [Troxler] for about four years now, and we’re both really into that wonky techno sound and exploring in new realms of styles of music, so he’s totally somebody we admire. Of course, you’ve got Die Antwoord with those crazy stage antics. Gesaffelstein has a great energy to him. We’re sort of in the middle of that. We’re kind of a combination of everyone put together, everyone on that tour in a bundle.
The middle ground.
Yeah! There’s points of extremely moody techno, moments of Miami bass, or super underground Chicago dirty house that’s just evil and thumping. You’ve got the beautiful New York disco soul. We kind of cover a bit of everything. We sneak it in.
Why did you choose the Sónar tour?
It was more their decision! We headlined Sónar this year with a few other people and it was a really good experience. Obviously, [you] see a lineup and an offer to play Sónar North America, you’re going to go for it. I couldn’t think of a better lineup to be honest—it’s fucking insane. If [this show] was going until 5 a.m., that would be amazing. I wish we were going that late, like a rave.
Do you think having the Sónar name attached will make this different than any other dance night at the Sound Academy?
I think Sónar definitely has an impact. I don’t think it will be as big as…maybe a Coachella in North America. It’s not as known [here], but that’s the point of this tour. It’s to show what we’re doing in Europe and, be like, “Hey, you guys have a lot of great talent over here.” There’s some talent from all over the world, and we want to showcase what we’re doing over in Spain. I think North America is starting to recognize that slowly. I’ve got some friends who’ve been going over the years. Everybody’s sort of heard about it, but it’s a long flight over and not everyone gets to experience something like that. So this is an experience on our side of the water.
What’s the proper festival like in Barcelona? What’s the energy there?
The energy is anything goes. It’s like, “Okay, what’s going to happen tonight?” The music is so intense, it’s really about the music. It’s not about drugs, or being the “place to be”—there’s no fashion, nothing. It’s just literally about the music. How could you not love that? [The organizers] know about music and about putting the right people together.
Let’s talk about Toronto. I wondered if Toronto would “get” Sónar, or if people cared enough to understand the idea. How would you peg the city musically?
I know the city well, and I grew up in a lot of different scenes. Toronto is definitely a market that can really surprise you. It’s just one of those markets that if you hit, you hit. In this case, Toronto’s always had a good rave scene and if they can hit a few of the older ravers on this one, they’re going to have a chance at getting a big crowd out. All the kids know the Die Antwoords and the Gesaffelsteins—those more underground dudes are still kind of pop stars in some sense, you know? I really do think it’s going to hit hard. Before, it used to be [everyone moved away]. Now everyone’s like, “Fuck that, we’re all going to Toronto, and we’re going to make it.”
Who do you want out to the Sónar show later this week?
I want those out-of-the-closet ravers, over 50s. You know those grandmothers with purple hair that, like, still do MDMA sometimes? A couple of them. Drop a few kiddie ravers in there—you gotta keep it colourful…and furry. Right? And then definitely a few of the leather boys.
A little bit [of] Church Street boys. What is it…The Barn? Or The Stables?
It’s definitely The Barn. But I think the Black Eagle is a better reference.
The Eagle is what I’m talking about! Bring the Eagle, we want that Eagle support. And then throw in a little suburbs in there. Fuck, you can’t hate on the suburbs.
I try my best not to. But, speaking of gays, it seems like everyone I know who likes you is gay. Do you ever think or care about having a large gay audience?
Everyone knows that if you hear about a neighbourhood where all the gays are moving to, that ‘hood is going to be worth double two years from now. And that’s all I have to say really. The gays know where it’s at. And I can’t help that, they just happen to be in the fucking know.
First come the gays, then come the Grammys.
[Laughs] You said it. We’re just going to keep working hard.
Sónar on Tour hits the Sound Academy on Thursday (Nov. 1). Advance tickets are available here for $36.50. Doors at 8 p.m.