The Best in Festivals & Conferences: Sónar

CH. III – Sónar

Sonar International Festival of Advanced Music and New Media Art (let’s just call it Sonar) will host its 20th edition in June of 2013. The festival started in 1994 in Barcelona and since then expanded its operations to Brazil, Asia, South Africa and North America. About 15 employees work in the organization year-round and that number increases to about 500 employees, as the festival gets closer. I asked the COO of Sonar, Ventura Barba, if any of those 500 workers were volunteers and he responded that he doesn’t believe in people working for free. Props.

The festival lasts three days and two nights and attracts about 80 000 people annually from all parts of the globe. It has become, according to Barba, an international destination for festival goers because of the great reputation it has built over the past two decades. It focuses on avant-garde and experimentation. That’s why, year after year, the festival includes a good combination of underground, up-and-coming electronic artists along with more popular artists (LCD Soundsystem, M.I.A., Cut Copy, Boys Noize, Deadmaus) in its line-up. They structured their artistic programme in a way that up-and-coming artists play during the day at Sonar by Day where there are concerts, showcases, a professional zone and an exhibition area. The focus of Sonar by Day is the discovery of new talent while Sonar by Night presents the leading international names and major shows. This is why Sonar is an amazing platform and emerging artists. They get exposure and play in front of curious, attentive people eager to discover new artists and bands.

An interesting part of the organization I found was their partnership with RedBull Music Academy, which has its own stage and brings its own talent, picked out directly from their Academy. That’s a good use of a sponsor and a brilliant way to involve them directly in the organization of the festival.

The festival also attracts professionals of the industry with SonarPro, a place for the industry guys to create contacts and do business. In their words, it’s a meeting point for an audience eager for new ideas and specifically for professionals from around the world from various sectors in the creative industries.

I find the branding of Sonar really reflects their product. Creative, a bit underground, weirdly original and different. Instead of videos with the artists, the crowd and all that shazam, they present a new video each year, introducing the festival. They’ve even turned some of these videos into award-winning films. Here’s their 2012 video.

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