Behind the scenes of Barcelona’s legendary electronic music fest
By Duncan Rhodes
Tips for attending the world famous fiesta…
Get ready kids for the big one. Sonar Festival is Barcelona’s biggest and best contemporary music event, and one of the city’s bona fide highlights of the cultural calendar. Dubbing itself ‘the international advanced music and multimedia art festival’ (translation: rave up), Sonar brings the very best of electronic music to Barcelona, for three days every year in June.
The inaugural event took place in 1994, and since then the festival has blown up in terms of popularity and international acclaim. Amongst the legendary artists that have taken to the stage/decks/laptops are Orbital, Chemical Brothers, Kraftwerk, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Bjork, Pet Shop Boys, Skrillex and the Scissor Sisters.
Despite the appearance of these giants, Sonar is as much about new and relevant music, and the mainstay of each year’s programme is given over to quality acts, that may not be household names, but most musos would give their right arm to hear play – think Four Tet, Justice, Hercules & Love Affair and Richie Hawtin.
Then of course there’s plenty of scope given to local bands and artists whose talent merits a much wider audience – Cabo San Roque and The Pinker Tones spring to mind!
Sonar by Day
The action is split temporally and geographically into Sonar by Day and Sonar by Night. For 19 years Sonar by Day took place right in the heart of the Raval district in the open and enclosed spaces around MACBA museum and the CCCB, however in 2013 the organiser announced they are moving the daytime shows to Fira Montjuic, just by Placa Espanya.
The main advantages of the new venue being a lot more space, and the fact that is now a fair bit closer to Sonar By Night as well! The new space will still be a mix of outdoor and indoor areas. Although the big names tend to be reserved for the night time shows, the vibe during the day fantastic with a good-looking crowd in hipster threads sipping mojitos and cheering on the DJs who play at the Sonar Village and other stages.
Sonar by Night
By night things get eveb more raucous. A chemically enhanced crowd make their way to the Fira Gran Via, a vast state-of-the-art exhibition centre in the suburb of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat. Here the venue is split into three major zones, Sonar Park, Sonar Pub and Sonar Club covering a whopping 100,000 metres squared. Safe to say that if you like electronic music, and you like raving, you’re gonna have a good time.
Meanwhile special concerts, with separate ticketing also take place during the festival at the L’Auditori.
Getting to Sonar
Getting to Sonar by Day presents no problems. Simply hop on the green or red line of the metro to Placa Espanya and from there the pounding beats and a chain of fashion-conscious music freaks should signpost the way. Two Venetian style towers are a handy landmark. Getting to Sonar by Night requires a little bit of effort, but thanks to the organisers throwing on a regular bus service from the city centre is still a cinch. Sonar Bus leaves from Placa de les Drassanes near the bottom of Las Ramblas (metro: Drassanes) and shuttles uninterruptedly Friday and Saturday from 8:30pm to 8am. For more transport options and info head to the relevant page on the official site.
Buying Tickets for Sonar
The official site has more ticketing info, including up to date prices and official list of online vendors. It’s often worth buying in advance and first release tickets tend to be significantly cheaper.
Accommodation is not hard to come by in Barcelona, although you won’t be getting any discounts during Sonar weekend. Check out our Sleep section for a wide variety of Barcelona accommodation and hotels, or head straight to our apartments or hostels page if you’re decided on what type of digs suit you best already.
Tickets to Sonar Festival are considered quite pricey for many of the city’s residents so perhaps it’s no surprise that virtually all the bars and clubs in Barcelona will attempt to cash in on the Sonar vibe by throwing parties of their own – some in the spirit of Sonar with cutting edge house and electro DJs… others not.
Invariably there will also be a number of cheap raves, beach parties, fringe events and other shindigs, so keep your eyes out for posters and flyers around town. Right through the week leading up to Sonar things will be kicking off! The biggest unofficial event is called Anti-Sonar, although we’ve heard mixed things about it… go with locals if you wanna check it out. Users may post parties in the comments below.