From 17th from 20th July, Sónar, one of the world’s leading festivals of electronic music, art and technological innovation, will return to Barcelona for its 25th year, and 26th event. The Spanish city’s annual celebration of electronic sounds began life as a bijou party in June 1994 at Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), both legacies of the 1992 Olympic Games.
Like many good ideas, Sónar began with a chat in a bar. Here, Enric Palau, an electronic music expert, Ricard Robles, a film buff, and the artistically minded Sergi Caballero were bemoaning the lack of an event representing their combined interests. Soon after, they began putting Sónar together. From the outset, Sónar attracted the support of Barcelona’s municipal council, which was looking for initiatives to continue the city’s cultural programme after the Olympics. Sónar not only fitted these ambitions, it gave them an innovative, world-leading form.
This year, the festival is moving from its usual June slot to mid-July, a change caused by the venue for Sónar By Night being double booked (the festival will return to June next year). Sónar has also transformed Barcelona into a thriving techno economy, but as impressive as the sums are, Palau doesn’t see this as Sónar’s most important contribution to the city.
Sónar features headliners that appear at other festivals. This year, they include acts such as Skepta, Disclosure and Underworld. But it’s the artists tinkering at the edges and pushing the frontiers of sound and technology that form the bread and butter of Sónar.
The eclectic roster of Sónar By Day also includes acts such as Fennesz, Ross From Friends, Artwork, Maya Jane Coles, Dengue Dengue Dengue, Sebastian, Actress + Young Paint live AI/AV, Red Axes live, DJ Krush and Erol Alkan, to mention but a few.
Another important side effect of Sónar is the citywide party that erupts around it, with a sprawling mass of extracurricular parties taking place. But it’s not all about music, and the non-music aspects of Sónar have also grown, with its film, arts and Sónar+D programmes exploring technology and culture. Last year, this saw Sónar broadcasting into space. This time, Sónar+D will look into the impact of artificial intelligence and quantum computing on creativity.