The festival, like football, is a game of two halves. But this effortlessly cool event rivals the World Cup for excitement this summer
There’s few cities more perfect than Barcelona for a festival. Buzzing city life and sun-drenched beaches combined with the locals’ commendable commitment to partying make it the obvious home for an incredible music event.
And, alongside a consistently stellar lineup, it’s surely one of the reasons Sónar - the international festival of advanced music and new media art – is now in its 21st year there.
The festival, like football, is a game of two halves. Spread out over three days, the effortlessly cool event is split into Sónar By Day and Sónar By Night. By day, hoards of fans head to the open-air Fira Montjuïc conference space in the heart of the city to get involved in the action.
By night, everyone jumps onto a shuttle bus to a Bladerunner-esque futuredome of music, otherwise known as Fira Gran Via L’Hospitalet.
It’s a huge, airport hanger of a place, and the only thing for it is to thrown yourself in at the deep end, join the 109,000-strong crowd and enjoy the cutting-edge performances for 72 hours of fun.
Despite the baking temperatures out in the main arena and Canada’s Ryan Hemsworth making his impressive mark on the SónarVillage stage; the crowds were already gathering for the much-hyped Despacio area.
Despacio is the beautiful brainchild of 2ManyDJs and James Murphy, who have built a one-of-a-kind soundsystem to create the ultimate disco experience. Eleven-feet high speakers surround the crowd in a perfect circle for the six-hour set that covers everything from Grace Jones to 10cc in their eclectic journey.
The most joyous highlight was when they turned their giant disco ball into the sun and blared out The Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun – a total spine-tingling moment, guaranteed to get rid of any cases of the hangover sads. No wonder Despacio had a queue the length of the festival to get in all weekend.
Red Bull Music Academy presented the SónarDôme stage across three days and it was a masterclass in showcasing some of the most exciting and up-and-coming worldwide talent. Not totally surprising, given it’s now their 10th year involved with the festival and they hit it spot-on with their acts from the get-go.
Welshborn but Glasgow-dwelling Koreless set the bar high on Thursday with an epic ambient performance that proved why there’s such a buzz around him at the moment, while DJ/producer T. Williams - also from the UK - wasn’t shy in pulling out the bass and took the party levels up a few notches in his lively set.
Any sore heads were roused back to life by the sweet sounds of Canadian Jessy Lanza – who’s not a million miles away from our Jessie Ware - and her standout track Keep Moving had the crowds singing along on the SónarVillage stage.
Meanwhile, things took a slightly darker turn as Mercury Music prize nominated Jon Hopkins presented his futuristic dance soundscapes to an eager Spanish setting. Intense, moody but very enjoyable.
Over at the RBMA Sónardome, Peru’s Dengue Dengue Dengue provided a pleasing mishmash of party influences when they hit the stage, but the stars of the show that day had to be the insatiably bouncy Buraka Som Sistema.
This Portuguese crew are soaked in carnival vibes, mixing dancehall with grime, dubstep and Kuduro (an Angolan beat, in case you didn’t know). Basically, if you weren’t up and dancing by this point, you were probably dead.
After a quick tapas interlude in a nearby restaurant (vital to keep those energy levels up), it was off to the first Sónar by Night. Caribou smashed their set in what was a festival highlight for many people, with their newest hit, Can’t Do Without You, going down just as well as their big tracks, Odessa and Sun.
Following them was Norway’s Todd Terje (pronounced “terry-yey”, after much debating on site) who’s biggest hit, Inspector Norse, got one of the biggest cheers of the night as his infectious synth pop matched the high spirits of the festival goers.
Funk merchant Dâm-Funk was the perfect pick me up at the RMBA stage on the final leg of Sónar by Day, a super-energetic live set and a great performer, who at times felt like a cross between Prince and Chromeo, which is never a bad thing.
It was time to roll out a musical heavyweight for the closing set on the SónarVillage stage and the legendary DJ Harvey didn’t disappoint with an uplifting couple of hours of killer tunes.
Later that night, it was back on the bus to the enormodome just in time to catch James Murphy’s disco-heavy set, a perfect opener for Nile Rodgers and Chic. Yes, they’ve been ubiquitous on festival lineups for a couple of years now, but is there really any better way to round off a festival than a bear hug with mates singing We Are Family? No, no there is not.
The heavens may have opened slightly afterwards, but the Good Times carried on until the sun rose on Barcelona again, bringing the the amazing Sónar experience to an end for another year.