The festival culture has long existed in countries like the United States and England for decades. However in Spain it is a relatively new phenomenon. The Sonar festival is now at the forefront of Spanish festivals; it attracts an international audience and is becoming one of the most important European music festivals.
Sonar humble beginnings began in 1994 and were simply a gathering of like minded music lovers who wanted to celebrate their love for electronic music and share it with whoever was willing to participate. Within 5 years the festival grew considerably and began to make some waves within the festival scene.
The festival has always taken place in June and until 2002 was set by Marbella beach. These earlier festivals really had a sense of innocence and the music rather than commercial exploits was the focus of the festival. It was never 100% organized and many people used to jump fences or enter free using many other techniques but that has been part of the festival scene from Glastonbury to loolopauza.
In fact I was at the very last Sonar festival by the beach and it was magical. The warm June evening, the good humoured crowd and several different stages with different types of electronic music made it a night to remember for a guy used to wet muddy English festivals.
Unfortunately, due to noise pollution, Spanish laws and a multitude of other reasons Sonar was not allowed to put on their festival by the beach anymore. This could have been the end for Sonar but the organizers knew they were on to something big so from 2003 until the present day the festival has been split up into Sonar by day and Sonar by night.
I have to admit I prefer Sonar by day (Is it just me or am I getting on in years now?)…
Firstly Sonar by Day is centrally located in the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) and Centre of Contemporary Culture (CCCB). Both buildings are a short walk from Plaza Cataluña, the main square in Barcelona.
The day has a slower pace and in general people seem content to sit in front of the stage, take in the warm June sun and listen to the various styles of music on offer from trip hop to live electronic funk performances from chill out to minimal house. There is a real relaxed festival atmosphere and sense of unity during the day.
The day also offers companies related to electronic/dance music to promote their products. The local discos and some international discos all rent space to promote their club nights. One can also buy records, CDs and musical equipment. Moreover the Sonar also offers live DJ sets, conferences, and debates, audio and visual projections and showcases the new trends within the music scene.
They have recently introduced Sonar kids which gives children the chance to get involved in musical workshops and classes which I personally think is a great idea and a great investment for future generations.
As I stated, Sonar by night now is not by the beach (what a shame…), the festival by night is in Hospitalet in the Fira Gran Via 2, 20 minutes from Barcelona.
Now, I’m from London and was part of the rave/warehouse generation which started parties in illegal warehouses in the late 1980s. There was real excitement in those days to go to an illegal party in a broken down warehouse in some dangerous part of London and party till 10am. So I am in no way anti warehouse parties, however after going to Sonar on the beach the parties in an enclosed warehouse on a warm June evening is simply not comparable.
I did attend one Sonar night and although there is a small open air section it really lost its innocence and charm. Having said this festival has gone from strength to strength and can boast 80,000 visitors during its 3 days.
Sonar has changed its music policy over the years. Initially it was solely an electronic music festival but over the recent years huge bands like The Beastie Boys, Kraftwork, Bjork, Grace Jones and the Chemical Brothers have all graced the stage. Big name DJs like Geoff Mills and Carl Cox has Djed on more than one occasion and the line up is always varied and interesting. Yes, over the years Sonar has become more commercial but that is the price of success. One can buy day tickets, night tickets or both day and night tickets with prices starting from 30 euros. It’s still a great 3 day festival and the 80,000 people who come to the festival prove it is one of the top musical gatherings to date.
Address - Sonar Day
Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) and Centre of Contemporary Culture (CCCB)
Plaza dels Angels 1
Address - Sonar Night
L’Hospitalet de Llobregat
Hours Sonar Day 12.00 - 22.00
Hours Sonar Night 22.30- 0500
Admission fees (in 2009):
Sonar Day – 30 euros
Sonar Night – 48 euros
Combined ticket – 140 euros Sonar Day (18, 19, 20 June) and Sonar Night (19 and 20 June)
Tip: if you buy your ticket online or by phone, you can skip the long queues to enter the festival. Just print your electronic ticket and enjoy Sonar without queues.