As Spain’s longest-running and most influential advanced music festival, the 2017 edition of Barcelona’s Sónar Festival saw its highest numbers yet, with 123,000 visitors from 57 countries celebrating its 24th anniversary across three tireless days and nights. While most applaud Sónar for its unyielding loyalty to music of all shapes and sizes, music is only a small part of the festival behemoth’s larger, underlying story.
Divided into two parts since its inception, Sónar By Day and Sónar By Night, the former is specifically built for individuals nothing short of inquisitive, versatile and forward-thinking. Acting as an experience more than anything else, Sónar By Day is founded upon the beauty of art and technology in all their forms; it facilitates the transaction of knowledge, asking of questions and it even provides answers for those who seek them. Offering much more than simply a music festival for the partygoers at heart, Sónar+D – the conference side of things – allows Sónar to stand out as a full-fledged effort that exceeds excellence and celebrate its identity as one of the most powerful institutions on earth.
It’s here that ideas are presented and conceived, dreams come to life and curiosities are piqued. No concept is too large or too small to delve into, and Sónar’s unrivaled dedication to supporting the advancement of art and technology is manifested in its ability to execute a large scale, three-day affair with uncompromising precision.
A day in the life at Sónar Festival widely varies for each and every one of us, but here’s our take.
12:00 PM: Doors to Barcelona’s Fira Montjuïc – one of the city’s largest exhibition centers – have only opened two hours ago, and Sónar by Day is already swarming with thousands of electronic music fans, techies, business professionals and creative minds. Groups of people browse through MarketLab, the official hub of Sónar+D. Once a year, MarketLab consolidates the very best of creativity, technology and culture to fuel conversations, inspire the curious and drive new ideas. From gaining hands-on experience with Richie Hawtin’s PLAYdifferently Model 1 to watching artist Albert Barqué-Duran use artificial intelligence to create art at the “My Artificial Muse” exhibit, there’s clearly a little bit of something here for everyone.
12:45 PM: Those fascinated by stage production and the pairing of light and sound are congregating around All Access Design – a multidisciplinary team of light design specialists, multimedia and mechanical engineers and graphic and motion designers. Best known for producing Vitalic’s cutting-edge scenography, All Access Designs lend their knowledge of sound image synchronization, light/motion design and video mapping to a number of fascinated observers, showing us exactly what it takes to design superlative visuals.
1:20 PM: Down the hall, children are enthusiastically crowded around Omnipresenz, a creative company that takes virtual reality one step further. Aiming to create a full sensory experience so that users can feel, see, taste, smell and touch their experiences, a guide whips out a fan, eucalyptus oil and a lollipop to help bring the VR experience to life. Who knows what the young boy sitting in front of me is seeing with his headset right here, right now.
2:15 PM: A line of bewildered attendees forms outside Sonar360º, a brand new feature presented by Movistar+. Situated just outside SonarVillage, or Sónar’s main stage, passersby try to peak inside Sonar360º’s mysterious white dome, but to no avail. By the time five minutes pass a curtain is unveiled, and I’m motioned to find a spot among 20 mesmerized people lying on their backs, gazing up at the dome’s rounded ceiling. A series of hypnotizing shapes, colors, sounds and lights are projected onto the dome in a short, 360 film entitled Versus, which challenges the relationship between 360° image and sound.
3:00 PM: First-timers are quick to learn that Sónar isn’t a typical festival. To the left of SonarVillage’s main stage is Absolut’s New Dimensions installation, an immersive space that transports participants to a new, limitless universe. Inviting only one group at a time, our vision is impaired by white, billowing smoke that consumes the rectangular space. New Dimensions culminates in a personalized video that films each group and is then sent to those who enter, giving us detailed insight as to how we interpret color.
4:05 PM: Rising Cologne-based DJ and producer Lena Willikens has just entered SonarVillage, and her sonic performance is drawing the attention of those that spent most of the day inside Sonar+D to network, participate in workshops or sit in on panels. The heat of Barcelona’s broiling sun is pounding down on thousands of dancers as they secure their spots on the Village’s turf. Lena’s set is rough. Gritty. Trippy. “Who’s performing?” one girl asks her friend. “Because she’s pretty badass.” Indeed, she is.
5:30 PM: Hidden deep inside SonarPLANTA is phosphere, a spectacle created by Daito Manabe and Rhizomatiks studio. Taking advantage of synchronized mirrors, smoke machines, beams of light and 24 video projectors, phosphere is a cross-disciplinary experience built by a computer system that pairs the physical space of the room with a digitally generated space. Much more than just a light show, spectators watch in awe as the lights, sound and a white bulb hanging above center stage work in tandem to produce one of the highest-quality digital art performances in the world. And then, just like that, the room is pitch black.
6:35 PM: Upstairs, I stumble upon a demo hosted by Pioneer and KiNK, who not only shows the audience how to use the TORAIZ AS-1 and SP-16, but also produces music live for just short of an hour. KiNK, a pioneer of house music, stands on an elevated platform as a camera behind him displays each and every movement he makes on stage, proving that real DJ’ing does actually require knowledge and aptitude.
9:00 PM: By the time 9pm hits, the sun still hasn’t fully set and Damian Lazarus‘ Middle Eastern-inspired sounds infiltrate SonarVillage. For true electronic music fans, his presence seamlessly teleports us to classic, Damian-led events like Day Zero and Get Lost. His mystique captivates the crowd as he gives us a taste of what Crosstown Rebels is about; meanwhile, pink, red and white flowers along with a series of white tapers adorn the stage, affording Lazarus the godly essence he very well knows and deserves.
1:15 AM: From day into night, the daily, 17-hour gathering flawlessly transitions from By Day to By Night. Just a short cab ride away, Fira Gran Via easily feels even more gargantuan than its By Day counterpart. With a slate of new stages including SonarlClub, SonarLab, SonarCar and SonarPub, thousands of fans have already claimed their front-row spots to see none other than Justice. The lights are intense during “Safe and Sound,” but we stand our ground as Gaspard and Xavier grace us with one of Sónar’s most timeless shows.
2:30 AM: On the opposite side of the building – about a 15-minute walk down a hall so long that it requires moving walkways – longtime peers Seth Troxler and Tiga are performing a rare, six-hour B2B set at SonarCar. Hundreds are standing in line outside the stage’s red, velvety drapery, which shields SonarCar in a way that prevents onlookers from seeing the magic taking place behind the curtain. An aura of mystery surrounds Troxler and Tiga, who have spent the last two-and-a-half hours delivering the very best in house, techno and tech house. Once inside, it’s clear their synergy is undeniable, and there’s no question as to why their set has invited a line spanning an entire hallway.
4:00 AM: Serving as one of the main draws of the 2017 edition of Sónar, Eric Prydz’s 4am set time only encourages fans to power through the night as they await their hero’s turn to take on SonarClub. Thousands are trickling into the colossal room as the lights instantly shut off, only to be reawakened with a series of rapid beams to pair with Prydz’s sinister track selection. Though maintaining a hard-hitting set throughout, the crowd cheers in unison as soon as Prydz teases his final track of the night – none other than “Opus.” By the time he walks off stage, the room is dark again, and we’re right back where we started.
5:45 AM: With an hour and 15 minutes remaining, I opt to take a stab at the bumper cars situated at the back of SonarClub. Marco Carola has recently started, and at the back of the room are a handful of ecstatic attendees who can’t wait to put their late-night driving skills to the test. The “techno cars,” or so some attendees casually refer to them, are by far one of the biggest hits of the weekend.
From music, technology and art-based conference by day to mini-carnival by night, Sónar has once again proven to be everything we’ve ever wanted from a festival, and then some.
Photos courtesy of Sónar Festival.