Ever been in the middle of a festival in Britain, up to your knees in mud and freezing cold and trying to enjoy yet another group of four boys with guitars called the new Strokes by NME? Yeah, me too. That’s why I’ve ditched pitching tents in fields only to have those tents blow away while I’m at the main stage. Now I know exactly what I want from my festival: warmth, cleanliness, absolutely no rain and very little traditional guitar music.
If you’ve got a similar fatigue for the British countryside, then you’ll probably be interested in Sonar Festival in Barcelona. Twenty years after its inception, the Catalan event is a three-day extravaganza of electronic and experimental music. Split into two parts, Sonar by Day and Sonar by Night, the festival attempts to provide equal amounts of opportunity for both chin stroking and losing your shit. The earlier shows are focussed on emerging artists and the more experimental side of things, while the nights will see some of the more established and party-oriented music, although still with the discerning taste you’d expect from such dedicated curators – don’t expect David Guetta to headline.
Having said that, the initial line-up announcement does include another huge household name: The Chemical Brothers. They’ll be headlining the festival with a new live set as they prepare to release a new album in 2015. Another stalwart of the electronic music scene will join them, albeit a much more experimental and less commercially successful artist, Autechre. For me, as much as I think The Chemical Brothers will put on a great headlining set, the latter will be the more interesting show. The man has been leading the way in electronic innovation since the nineties, and it would be pretty exciting to see the master at work, knowing he has inspired so many of the celebrated producers du jour, from Four Tet to Rustie.
However, while occasionally I do enjoy the communal atmosphere of coming together with everyone at the festival to party with the headline acts, my highlights at festivals usually revolve around the smaller acts. Sonar has a wealth of these to look forward to, showcasing some of the most exciting acts around, some of which are fairly elusive. For instance, part-musician, part-academic theorist, part-visual artist, Holly Herndon does not play a lot of shows in Europe, particularly not in the traditional sense. Often preferring art galleries to festivals and gig venues, this is a pretty exclusive opportunity to see an artist who creates not only some of the most interesting and idiosyncratic music around, but also couples it with an equally impressive visual show. Not to be missed.
Another innovative artist, albeit in a completely different way, is SOPHIE, who will be bringing his warped, grime-meets-J-pop sounds to the sunny Catalonian capital. Creating abrasive, visceral beats under cutesy, almost uncomfortably cute vocals and staccato, rubbery synths, he’s an artist that really sounds like what the internet-age should be producing, rather than the sub-Disclosure forgettable chart fodder that is so popular these days.
Aside from the artists, the thing that gets me most excited is returning to Barcelona, probably the best city in Europe. Combining a beach holiday with one of the most vibrant and beautiful cities in the world, it really is the ideal location for a festival. I went for my eighteenth birthday and spent the majority of the time taking advantage of being able to get drunk legally for the first time. Three years older and wiser, I’d quite like to redeem myself in the city by behaving myself at a brilliant festival and sipping Estrella rather than chugging it this time around.
Sonar is perhaps my ideal festival: no British weather, generic guitar bands replaced by innovative electronic artists and a beautiful and inviting city to enjoy it in. With Barcelona being ridiculously cheap compared to London too, there’s not really much justification for another year at Leeds fest- book your flights!
Sonar Festival takes place from Thursday 18th to Saturday 20th June 2015 across various venues in Barcelona. For more information and tickets visit festivalmag.com/festivals/sonar