About This Festival
The Sonar Festival started out in 1994 to be something more than just another music festival. Yes, it would feature live performances, all grouped together broadly under the electronica umbrella, but founders Sergi Caballero, Enric Palau, and Ricard Robles wanted to push the boundaries beyond the experience of just being an audience member at a concert.
Electronic music, the current avant garde of modern music, is constantly morphing. Consider that there are dozens of primary categories: Industrial, hardcore, electronica. ambient, breakbeat, drum and bass, disco, and house, to name a few. And underneath those are hundreds of subgenres and sub-subgenres: space disco, ethnic electronica, hardstep, eurobeat, acid house, dubtronica, speedcore, and, well, you get the picture. Unless you’re a die-hard fan or a music journalist (like founder Robles), it’s simply too much information. And that’s where Sonar comes in.
Sonar Festival - Music First
At its core, Sonar is divided into two primary parts: Sonar Day and Sonar Night. Day takes place at Barcelona’s Plaza d’Espanya, an historic public square built for the 1929 International Exposition and one of the primary venues for La Merce celebration. (Creepy fun fact: This is the former spot where all pubic hangings were performed until the 19th century.) The plaza is where you’ll see all the major headliners performing on stage during the day.
Sonar Night is held primarily at the exhibition center in the L’Hospitalet neighborhood, but also holds events throughout that neighborhood and greater Barcelona. Sonar Night is where you’re most likely to catch up-and-coming (think Baauer) or well-established (think Diplo) DJs spin set in smaller venues.
In 2014, UK-based Massive Attack will be debuting a new album and stage show live at Sonar. Other headliners to keep on your short list include French dance band Yelle, new darlings Pretty Lights, Canadian DJ Tiga, Aussie expat and minimalist Ben Frost, and Lusophone hip hop artist DJ Nigga Fox.
The Sum is Greater than the Parts
More than the just the usual line-up of musicians (and each year, it’s a truly spectacular line-up), the Sonar Festival aims to immerse attendees in every aspect of electronic music, hybridizing a festival experience with elements of trade shows, professional conferences, and the classroom.
Sonar+D is the professional side to the event (this was formerly known as SonarPro, but all the non-performance events were rebranded in 2013). Musicians, producers, stage directors, hardware and software manufacturers, and more gather for workshops, demonstrations, hands on sampling, and even TEDx talks. Attendance typically falls within a few thousand, which is pretty good for a trade-show.
Also falling under Sonar+D is SonarCinema, showcase of movies, digital shorts, arthouse documentaries, and longform digital art. If you’ve ever attended a Daft Punk show, you’ll understand the power of imagery used in modern musical performance. SonarCinema runs concurrent with Sonar Day, and it’s a great idea to schedule some time out of the hot Barcelona sun to catch a screening in an air-conditioned venue.
Families are by no means excluded with the recent addition of SonarKids. Activities here run from day-long supervised LEGO building tents, musically enhanced skate parks (complete with a ramp connected to a synth so each run produces sound; instructors are on site), and full immersion on-stage performances where kids learn about all the technology that goes into a show (including visuals, instruments, and mic work). If you’re looking to earn the Mom or Dad of the Year Award, consider this for your musically gifted child.