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Sónar, International Festival of Advanced Music and New Media Art
Location(s) Barcelona, Spain
Years active 1994 - present
Founded by Advanced Music S. L.

Sónar is a three-day electronic and advanced music festival. It was founded in Barcelona in 1994 by Ricard Robles, Enric Palau, and Sergi Caballero. The festival has been divided into two parts since its inception: Sónar by Day and Sónar by Night.


  • Birth and early years (1994-1996) 1
  • Evolution and growth (1997-2000) 2
  • Sónar in the twenty-first century (2000-present) 3
  • Sónar and Barcelona 4
  • Sónar in the World 5
  • Audiovisual and multimedia activities at Sónar 6
  • Sónar for professionals 7
  • Image 8
  • See also 9
  • External links 10

Birth and early years (1994-1996)

Sónar was founded in Barcelona in 1994 as the “Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art”, by music journalist Ricard Robles and musicians and visual artists Enric Palau and Sergio Caballero. The first festival took place on 2, 3 and 4 June at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (Sónar by Day) and the Apolo club (Sónar by Night), with performances by Holger Czukay, Mixmaster Morris, Laurent Garnier, Sven Väth, Atom Heart, and Trans Global Underground, among others. This first event, which included the Record Fair and Technology Fair - the forerunner of what is now known as SonarPro - was attended by nearly 6,000 people and 40 members of the Spanish media.

In the next two years, the festival expanded considerably: the number of accreditation holders doubled in 1995 and tripled in 1996, and the number of visitors rose from 6,000 to over 12,000 in 1995 and 18,000 in 1996. Sónar by Night relocated in its second year, moving to various areas in the Poble Espanyol, where it was based in 1995 and 1996. Some of performances and sessions during these years included Spring Heel Jack, Josh Wink, Autechre, Richie Hawtin, Ken Ishii, Slam, Jeff Mills, Scanner, Orbital, Fangoria, John Acquaviva, Kenny Larkin, and Biosphere.

Evolution and growth (1997-2000)

The year 1997 marked a turning point for the festival, as Sónar by Night moved to a new venue, the Mar Bella sports pavilion, where it tripled its capacity. Performers included Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Jimi Tenor, Laurent Garnier (under his real name or the alias DJ Jamon), Marc Almond, Deep Dish, Motorbass, Plastikman, Herbert, Death In Vegas, Fila Brazillia, Roger Sánchez, Coldcut, DJ Hell, Sólo Los Solo, Atari Teenage Riot, An Der Beat, Chicks On Speed, Super Collider, and Miss Kittin.

With the late 1990s came considerable growth: from 18,000 visitors in 1996 to 28,000 in 1997, 38,000 in 1998, 43,000 in 1999 and over 53,000 in 2000. The festival's evolution can also be measured in the number of accredited media: in 1996 there were 72 Spanish and 15 international media, by 2000 the number had risen to 158 and 185, respectively.

The festival's image also changed radically during this period, and set the tone which made the Sónar campaigns one of its major calling cards; the parents of the three directors took centre stage in 1997, and subsequently made way for Brazilian carnival dancers, stuffed dogs on wheels and twins with extrasensory powers in the following years.

Artists performing at Sónar by Day during these four years included Squarepusher, Fennesz, Bruce Gilbert, Patrick Pulsinger, Pan Sonic, Mouse On Mars, Suicide, Aviador Dro, DJ Spooky, Pole, DJ Zero, Goldfrapp, and Merzbow.

Sónar in the twenty-first century (2000-present)

The 2001 festival saw another change of venue for Sónar by Night to the larger venue of the Fira Gran Via area in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, adjacent to Barcelona's Zona Franca area. This new home meant that it was possible to offer large format concerts with an extensive audiovisual display. This is the venue where some of the key concerts in Sónar's history have taken place: Björk (2002), Beastie Boys (2007), LCD Soundsystem (2010), Chic (2006), Pet Shop Boys (2002), Masters At Work (2001), Grace Jones (2009), and The Chemical Brothers (2005). They all performed on the main stage, SonarClub, which has a capacity for more than 15,000 people. As well as SonarClub, the stages at Sónar by Night (SonarLab, SonarPub, SonarCar, SonarPark, and Bumper Cars) have witnessed shows by many artists and DJs including M.I.A., De La Soul, Linton Kwesi Johnson, The Roots, Justice, Hot Chip, Janelle Monáe, Leila, Madlib, Prefuse 73, Ricardo Villalobos, Kode9, Plaid, The Sugarhill Gang, and Flying Lotus.

In the early years of the new decade, Sónar continued to grow, first stabilizing at around 80,000 visitors each year and then growing further to 121,000 for its 20th anniversary in 2013, 112,000 in 2014 and 119,000 in 2015. Sónar by Day also consolidated its extensive range, which is based not only on music but also the exhibitions at SonarMàtica, the activities at SonarPro, the screenings at SonarCinema, and the installations at Sonarama. During these years, the festival also collaborated with various institutions, spaces, and centres such as the GREC festival, the Centre d’Arts Santa Mónica, the Mies Van Der Rohe Foundation, CosmoCaixa, and L'Auditori, the venue for concerts by the Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra with Ryuichi Sakamoto + Pan Sonic + Fennesz, Francesco Tristano + Murcof, Matthew Herbert Big Band, and DJ /rupture, among many others.

In 2013, Sónar by Day, moved to a larger space in the Fira Montjuïc facilities at Plaza d'Espanya. In addition, the festival created Sónar+D, the next step in the evolution of what was known as SonarPro. Sónar 2013 featured performances by - among others - Kraftwerk (presenting their show in 3D), Pet Shop Boys, Jurassic 5, Richie Hawtin, Skrillex, Paul Kalkbrenner, Major Lazer, Jamie Lidell, Diamond Version, Chromatics, Diplo, Baauer, Nicolas Jaar, Liars, Lindstrøm & Todd Terje, Adrian Sherwood & Pinch, Seth Troxler, and Gold Panda.

Sónar and Barcelona

During its 20-year history, Sónar has transformed the dynamics and atmosphere of the city every June, as well as making Barcelona into the continent's epicentre of electronic music and one of its main attractions in the cultural tourism sector from its very earliest years. In 2004, Sónar contributed 47 million euros to Catalonia's GDP (according to a study performed by Deloitte); three years later, in 2007, the figure had risen to 52 million euros. The impact on hotel occupancy in the city is also considerable in the days before the festival starts; the occupancy rate in 2011 was 83.65%, and in 2012 it was 83.11%. These figures increase to 100% for officially approved tourist apartments.

In addition to the above, Sónar also leads to the proliferation and organization of other events, presentations and showcases that take place in Barcelona outside the scope of the festival itself, which in turn also attract very large audiences of between 50 and 70 thousand visitors, in addition to the 80,000 visitors attending the festival proper.

Sónar in the World

Sónar has been present in various cities all over the world since its first international foray in London in 2002. Since then, the festival has travelled to cities such as Chicago, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Hamburg, Bogota, New York, Seoul, and Rome.

Including the events scheduled for 2013 (Reykjavik, Tokyo-Osaka and São Paulo), these are the 42 events that Sónar will have held in 23 cities around the world: London (2002, 2003, 2004, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2011) / Lisbon (2002) / Neuchatel (2002) / Hamburg (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006) / Tokyo (2002, 2004, 2006, 2011, 2012 and 2013) / Rome (2003) / São Paulo (2004, 2012 and 2013) / Lyons (2004) / Guadalajara (2004) / Buenos Aires (2006) / Seoul (2006) / Frankfurt (2007) / Washington (2009) / New York ( 2009) / Chicago (2010 and 2012) / Cape Town (2012) / Toronto (2012) / Denver (2012) / Oakland (2012) / Boston (2012) / Montreal (2012) / Los Angeles (2012) / Reykjavík (2013) / Osaka (2013) / Bogota (2015).

Audiovisual and multimedia activities at Sónar

Since its early years, Sónar has been committed to being something more than a music festival. In its first year, the festival already launched several activities running parallel to the concerts and sessions. These included the technology and record fair (the roots of the future SonarPro), lectures, video art projections (the origins of SonarCinema), and art installations such as those by Xabela Vargas, Juan Antonio Lleó, and Louis-Philippe Demers & Bill Vorn. This was the origin of what would later become SonarMàtica, a concept that came to fruition in the 1996 festival, and which included installations (Paul Sermon and Ramon Caus in 1996, Victor Nubla and Masaki Fujihata in 1997, Tommi Grondlub & Petteri Nisunen and Carsten Höller in 1998), exhibitions (Designers Republic, Tomato, Charly Brown, Abuse Industries, etc.), demos, performances, conferences, music a la carte, and online content.

1999 saw the creation of SonarCinema, which offered a programme featuring 18 screenings including short films, documentaries, selections of clips and video art works. That same year, SonarMàtica was curated by Oscar Abril Ascaso, and focused on highlighting what was happening at the time in digital art in Barcelona, with works by Rafamateo, Juanjo Sáez, Orange World, Vasava, and Josep Baga. SonarMàtica would subsequently focus on specific themes: Berlin (2000), invisible London (2001), Helsinki (2002), 10 Years of Sónar (2003), micronations (2004), twenty-first century landscaping (2005), the "always connected" culture (Always On, 2006), magic (2007), film (2008), handcrafted instruments (2009), robotics (2010), portraits (2011, in collaboration with the OFF festival), and the new projects by UPF (2012).

In 2002, Sonarama, an exhibition area which focused on sound and audiovisual creation, was created, with works (by Edwin Van der Heide, Christian Marclay, Roland Olbeter, Francisco Lopez, Thomas Köner, Radioqualya and Mike Nelson, among others) that were displayed for several festivals at the Centre d’Art Santa Mònica.

All the non-musical activities at Sónar were subsumed under the heading of SonarPro in 2010, and under the new title of Sonar+D in 2013.

Sónar for professionals

In its first year, Sónar organized a fair for professionals with a dual dimension: first, the record and publishing fair (record labels, distributors, publications, publishers, promoters) and second, the technology fair (hardware and software brands, musical equipment companies). Since then, the festival has constantly focused on professionals in the industry, extending this concept as broadly as possible. During this period, the festival's professional area, known as SonarPro since 2010, has changed substantially, as it has gradually abandoned the trade fair format and become an open laboratory for the creative industries featuring demos, meetings with experts, conferences, business and networking areas, and technology workshops.

In 2012, SonarPro recorded the highest number of professionals and participating companies in its history, with more than 2,500 accreditation holders from 51 countries.


Since its inception, the image of Sónar has been one of the major attractions of the festival. Produced by Sergio Caballero, one of three directors of the event, the aesthetics of the Sónar posters, advertisements and merchandising often use ironic and sometimes even provocative items.

See also

External links

  • Official Website

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