Sónar is a particular sound odyssey. Its premise of redefining preconceived notions of sounds and noise has instigated acts ranging from sheer ear-wrenching, high-frequency drones to banging hard-house sets. In its 13th year, Sónar — the International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia — held from June 15-18 in Barcelona, Spain, was as ear-opening as ever.
It began as a modest affair. In 1994, the 6,000-person festival was a plan hatched by three lads — music producers Sergio Caballero and Enric Palau, and journalist Ricard Robles — who envisioned an event that incorporated experimental music, cinema and multimedia. As a bastion of art events ever since, the festival's ethos of experimental innovation has been truly nurtured throughout its unprecedented übersuccess. This year, 90,000 people stepped into the noise lab — a three-night, two-day celebration of sound wizardry from some of the world's finest music maestros.
Sónar by Day took place on several stages inside the stunning white walls of the hipster-infested Centre for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona (CCCB). The lineup included samplings of advanced rock, hip-hop and electronic folk and pop, among other genres, from top acts like Scissor Sisters, Liars and Birdy Nam Nam. And bursting with high energy throughout the day was the Red Bull Music Lounge, which delivered ravishing performances from its very own Red Bull Music Academy graduates.
For a wee beat break, people meandered around the museum's intelligent multimedia exhibits — Sónar à la Carte, Sónar Matia and Sónar Cinema — which explored new relationships between electronic music, visual technology and mobile culture.
Sónar by Night's soirees — a mega rave with an all-star lineup of performers including Goldfrapp, DJ Shadow, Nightmares on Wax, Laurent Garnier, DJ Krush, Satoshi Tomiie, Kenny Dope, Jeff Mills, Digable Planets, The Knife and Miss Kittin — was coupled by a run of more intimate and impressive shindigs orchestrated around Barcelona's favorite locales. True standouts were the Berlin-based contingency of record labels that not only gave some smash-hit performances but also challenged conceptions of musical genres, reworking sounds into clever new tapestries. Berlin's Kompakt Records bash (at the quaint Barcelona club, Nitsa) featured Michael Mayer, DJ Koze and Tobias Thomas in an excellent, raw deep-pop session. Meanwhile, Electronic Beats — a T-Mobile initiative that focuses on the link between lifestyle, entertainment and communication — held a splendid industry event featuring a minimal set from Germany's hot upcoming producer Dominik Eulberg. And on Barcelona's sandy stretch on Sunday, it was an all-German gathering of the tribes — Kompakt Records, Richie Hawtin's M-nus label and Berlin's sensational hybrid-electro label, Get Physical — that independently whipped up downright exemplary beat sessions, closing this year's noise lab.