Sónar: A Celebration of Music, Art, and Technology



With hundreds of music festivals taking place worldwide, a veteran attendee can become complacent with the entire festival experience – particularly events centered on electronic based music. Some festivals will debut this year while others are long-running and beyond a decade (or two) into the music event circuit. Just last year, Sónar – a Barcelona (Spain) based festival – celebrated its 20th anniversary. The 3-day festival got its start in 1994 solely in the city of Barcelona and has transitioned into a music experience hitting over 20 cities globally. Sónar kicks off in Reykjavik and Stockholm next month – followed by Tokyo, Mexico City, Barcelona, and Cape Town later in the year. Unlike most multi-day music events, Sónar makes use of the entire city in which the festival is held – not limited to one venue or landmark. Focus is placed on the significance of the combination of technology and creativity used by international and local artists. In this exclusive Life + Times interview, Sónar Co-Director and Co-Owner Enric Palau expounds on the concept behind the festival and what makes 2014 a unique time for electronic music.

Life + Times: For someone that has not attended Sónar, what can they expect?
Enric Palau
: Sónar Barcelona or Sónar Reykjavik?

L+T: Just in general. I know the festival stops in multiple cities and are all different in their own ways.
: Sónar is a festival about creativity and technology where the music is the most important complement in a way. There’s an absolute crossover between sound and visual arts. The festival is based a lot in new talent all the time – people that are researching new ways of expression. Some of them are relevant today and some are relevant names from the past – the originators. That’s the main idea.

L+T: What determines how an artist will be chosen for the lineup?
: For us, it’s always someone that’s strong in his way of thinking in making music and arts on a very wide open view. This now can be very diverse because, you know, electronic music now is crossing more styles than ever. It’s very strong in breaks and music that comes from hip hop and all different styles. It’s very mixed with pop and melody music in a way. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter the instrument that is used to make music or the music style. It’s more about the creator itself, the composer, the performer. So, that’s why we like all the time to present someone that has a very specific career – that can be Massive Attack in this 2014 or Kraftwerk last year as one of the originators of electronic music. For most of the cases, it’s based a lot on new talent – people that are now on a starting point of their careers.

L+T: You’ve no doubt witnessed the evolution of electronic music. What’s been one of your favorite parts of this journey?
: That’s a difficult one. I think it’s very interesting how music has become more democratic in a way. The process of making music is now much more available to a much more wide number of people. We started in 1994 where computers were starting to become an instrument, but now it’s popular. Technology became popular and now everybody uses technology in their lives – and also for creating music and videos and films and pictures, whatever. Now these instruments got cheaper, got popular, and became the most important instrument for creators. For me, it became an absolute revolution. Now there’s a lot of people that have not even visit music school, but they took their instruments – now which is basically a computer or one of these mobile devices – and they created something, they created a beat, they creating something else, and this came to be a song. In all that process of our (Sónar) 20 years, honestly, I like memories – but what gets me more excited all the time is [what] I’m listening to now, today, [and] tomorrow. I’m very excited with what we’re listening to to finalize the lineup for Sónar Barcelona in June, so I’m very excited about the young, new talent. Nowadays, this crossover that started to be quite strong for the last two or three years of hip hop and electronics – now it’s an absolute explosion everywhere. I’m very interested in seeing Evian Christ – it’s people like that that’s gonna perform for us in Barcelona. Evian Christ is a producer-performer that will also play for us in Reykjavik and Stockholm in February. He’s the kind of example of someone that is only 20 years old and is already one of the producers of Kanye West’s last album and is working with a lot of other very talented artists. It’s adding something more and very fresh, and very creative to music.

L+T: Wow. I’ll have to check out more of Evian’s solo work.
: Again, it’s not only technology’s evolution to create music – but also for everyone to access the music. What I’m telling you about Evian Christ and any of these new producers…it’s just fantastic the use of Soundcloud or all these platforms that give you the opportunity to have such a quick and fast access to all kind of music. We are living in a very interesting moment for music lovers, for musicians, for producers in general. I think it’s great.

L+T: I agree with you. There are so many unconventional ways to produce music now – especially with electronic music. I love it. In 2012, Sónar did a North American tour. Do you have any plans to host another tour in the future?
: We are discussing some ideas. We did eight cities in North America. Our idea was actually more of a test. The territory is so wide and so different in each city. We wanted to test our experience in different locations. It was positive and now we are discussing. The best result for us is to concentrate in one or two cities in the future. It might happen in 2014. It’s not a priority at the moment, but we’re gonna come back and concentrate in one or two cities.

L+T: Perfect. Throughout the years, I’m sure you have attended your fair share of music festivals. What makes Sónar so different than all of the other electronic music festivals around the world?
: The conjunction and combination of Sónar in Barcelona is a very special thing. We live in a very appealing city – which is Barcelona. It kind of provokes an experience itself – the festival and the city. The way we organize the festival [and] the way we present it we want to create all the time an experience for our visitors and for our followers. We create a different story in every stage and how we program who plays before and after, etcetera. It’s not just putting on a bunch of names one after the other. We create a story that needs to make sense. It’s a European city – it’s not a campsite in the middle of nowhere. It’s a city festival. That’s why I was saying at the beginning, it gives the experience of someone coming to a festival, but that a festival is completely integrated into an urban element which is Barcelona and its architecture. We always look for very specific and very avant-garde type of shows and presentations. That was the case [when] Kraftwerk did a 3-D show last year [and] younger producers like Jackson and His Computer Band – people that create a very specific stage performance [and] stage presentation of their music. That’s one of the things we always look for and as a result it gives to the audience something specific that they can only see at our festival. We are not only concentrating on the Anglo-British market, which most of the festivals are. This is again something even more specific from us that we look globally at what’s going on all over the globe to build the lineup of the festival every year.