Sónar 2023 Report

Sónar celebrated the 30th anniversary of its first Barcelona edition in 1994 with an attendance of 120,000 from more than 100 different countries from Thursday, June 15th to Saturday, June 17th. More than 250 activities across Sónar and the music industry-focused Sónar +D included concerts, DJ sets, masterclasses, talks, panel discussions, open debates, installations, and creative-technology showcases. Mike Barnard plus contributors Laura Jones and Samantha Kemmy were there.

What was really exciting this year was the range of visual shows really pushing the creative use of technology to enhance performances. Long may that continue.


This year, Sónar organisers made significant changes to the By Day timings and layout. There was an early opening for the +D project space at 11am, made available only for delegates, while the music was pushed back to 3pm avoiding the peak sun which used to beat down onto the SonarVillage, often preventing the acts getting much attention. To further encourage attendees onto the SonarVillage dancefloor, the stage was flipped so it faced down the entire courtyard with a marquee cover for complete protection from the sun.

Ahadadream by Nerea Coll

The food trucks were also moved from the heat of the sun to an air conditioned food court inside the main building, in effect creating a new chill out space away from the music. While the intentions worked wonders for the food trucks, the SonarVillage tent provoked some protests of lacking any gaps for fresh air to circulate, but that was a problem caused by all the dancing so it was mission accomplished in terms of getting the crowds dancing - more on that shortly.

Project Area by Nerea Coll

I spent the first morning taking a sneak peak at Processing… 30 years of Sonar, an installation that would be open to the public for the duration of Sónar. Created by Sergio Caballero, co-director and responsible for the graphic campaigns of Sónar, the visual journey had been generated by an Artificial Intelligence and offered a creepy but arresting 40 minutes of morphing images to the the music of Fennesz. Which such a focus on AI across the +D actvities, it seemed right that AI would be used to deliver the graphic campaign, and the film would be used for changeover graphics on all the stages across the weekend. Perhaps the biggest learning was AI isn't great at creating faces - but it's fun to watch it try - and the cat sequence stole the show, as often happens when felines get combined with art and technology.

Our first music act was KYNE in SonarHall, playing a full band show. The Spanish r&b act’s silky vocals attracted a dedicated crowd which featured her parents watching on from the front barriers. There were possibly a few tears in their eyes as old family videos were used as the visuals for ‘DAUGHTER ISSUES’ - even KYNE was welling up - and they had every reason to be proud. This was a bold, confident show that set the music performances of Sónar’s 30th anniversary off on a sure footing.

Kitty 110, LaBlackie, and L’Beel by Roncca

Next we stepped out into the SonarVillage sunlight for rap, drill, and electronic three-way from Kitty 110, LaBlackie, and L’Beel. Their debut ensemble performance had a free-wheeling vibe perfect for keeping the growing audience on its toes. We’d take a look back in SonarHall to see Catalan artist Marina Herlop as she performed a cover of Kenji Kawai’s ‘M01 Chant I - Making of Cyborg’, famously used in the title sequence of Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995). The pitch-perfect rendition by Herlop and her collaborators retained all the power of the original, the vocal drama offsetting much of the electronic music over the weekend.

Marina Herlop by Nerea Coll

Nothing was quite as opposite to Herlop’s show as what we saw next: Grievous Bodily Harmonics in the Complex+D auditorium. Their Melting Smile show was the first time the duo of Rian Treanor and Elias Merino had performed together in 10 years of sporadic collaborations in what was a heavy audio experience of intense beats. The part improvised, part algorithmically-generated audio was a sonic assault, blasted into a smoke-filled room.

After this super intense experience, we danced our way back into the party spirit thanks to US-born, UK-based multidisciplinary artist Manuka Honey on the decks in SonarVillage. A looped ‘Work It’ sample weaved its way into her mix of reggaetón, cumbiaton, dancehall, and shatta which saw us through to Bristolian producer and vocalist Grove.

Laura Jones saw Grove’s set. She said: “From Bristol to Barcelona, I wanted to see more of Grove live after I caught ‘Feed My Desire’ at Love Saves The Day last year, all rumbling basslines and a UKG-fast lyrical flow. As the first act I saw at Sónar By Day, they did not disappoint! We walked into an absolute riot (the fun kind - we’d be incited to start actual riots too on social commentary charged tracks like ‘Big Boots’ and ‘Stinkin Rich Families’)! 

Grove by Ariel Martini

"Playing with EJ:Akin, their tracks were a sound clash of dancehall flavours, dubby wobbles, punk mentality and fast jungle breaks. It ended with a stage dive into the energised early evening crowd to the dubstep breakdown of ‘Your Boyfriend’s Whack’ . The excitement of Grove and EJ:Akin created a beautiful feedback loop to and from the crowd, back to the grins on the two artists’ faces that was amplified by us!"

Meanwhile, I squeezed into SonarHall to catch some of Oneohtrix Point Never's AV show with a dramatic light show conceived by long-time visual collaborator Nate Boyce. The real-time animation system updates the graphical theme from the pair’s decade long history together, offering a 3D effect at the back of the stage. This helped  providing a greater sense of visual space to go with the sonic atmopsherics. Sadly, due to the sheer popularity of this show, I couldn't get central enough to really appeciate the visuals, and there was another AV show to indulge in one of many clashes for those keen to see artists with AV leanings. 

Exchanging one AV show for another, I switched to Sónar regulars Nosaj Thing and Daito Manabe who were teaming up for a show based on the former’s brooding Continua album released last year on LuckyMe. Set in the small +D stage, this was initially a seated gig as everyone made themselves comfortable on the floor as they waited. As the Nosaj Thing’s dark waves of synths washed over us, Manabe's arresting urban visuals evoked a sense of cold displacement - and would be the first of two shows from him which would leave more of a sense of creativity than any of the arena-sized visuals on offer during the nights. 

Nosaj Thing & Daito Wanabe by Roncca

Half-an-hour in, and the +D stage had filled up with a seated audience just before the start time, leaving a sizable queue of latecomers trying to find a way to weave through the crowd to the back of the space and the limited standing room left. Luckily, when the LA producer dropped 'We Are (우리는)' with its more upbeat percussive breaks, the audience responded by getting to their feet to make room. This was fitting as this invited even more people to witness another fine collaboration between these two artists.
Adigéry’s sultry dance moves while Bolis switches between synths and guitar brings their album to life on stage.
To cap off the first day, we’d take up a spot at the front of the SonarVillage to see Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul’s live performance of their collaborative album Topical Dancer. Their playful on-stage chemistry was super cute to watch as their blend of pop, electro, and punk tackled racism, colonialism, and sexism in the most danceable way. Some of that credit may belong to their producers - their Deewee label bosses and Soulwax brothers of David and Stephen Dewaele - but Adigéry’s sultry dance moves while Bolis switches between synths and guitar brings their album to life on stage in a way that means the messages resonate much more.

Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul by Roncca

Stand outs were the opener ‘Blenda’ where the lyrics ‘go back to the country where you belong’ were delivered with such zest you want to sing along joyously despite the connotations, the spoken word of ‘It Hit Me’ had us entranced, and the dramatic ‘cold as ice’ delivery of “Ceci n'est pas un cliché” kicked off an infectious baseline. Music can carry a strong message even with a smile on its face, and the crowd agreed.

Now the darkness set in, the new tented dancefloor of SonarVillage was lit up for Black Coffee’s closing set - at the time when traditionally the final set has enjoyed being both sole stage still open and benefitting from the cooling evening air. No such luck this time. It was quite hot under there - the trade-off with encouraging everyone to dance from 3pm under cover with nowhere for the heat that generated to escape. It wasn't a big problem, but you did wonder if there's something simple the organisers can do next year to get the air circulating, such as removing some of the transparent sections in the roof.

Black Coffee by Fernando Schlaepfer


Our first foray into a Sónar by Day show on the Friday led us to Spanish artist Merca Bae’s debut live show 2048. Billed as a performance that would both push the soundsystem to the limit and provide a visual spectacle, he delivered on both fronts. Sonically, Bae’s approach was a multi-genre soundscape with atmospheric ambiance providing build ups and pauses to more vigorous exercises through tough 4x4 hardcore beats or the famous amen breaks of jungle. Flanked by banks of red lasers and backed by a huge LED screen with dramatic red, black, and white imagery, Bae went for an apocalyptic, futurist visual vibe which fit the dramatic music. This vision of 2048 left a deep mark on the SoanrPark dancefloor.
Merca Bae went for an apocalyptic, futurist visual vibe which fit the dramatic music.
Meanwhile, Laura Jones dropped in on saxophonist Bendik Giske. She said: "I was drawn to the haunting saxophone solos of Giske because of the unusual nature of the playing. What could easily be manipulated using electronics, conversely for an electronic music festival, here is an artist that achieves an otherworldly sound by technique.

Bendik Giske by Ariel Martini

"Employing the same circular breathing as beatboxers to create continuous notes (and didgeridoo players to create a hypnotic pulsing sound), it was complemented by atmospheric sonic aesthetics. Add a flair for the dramatic, and the dry-ice swathed opener of ‘Cruising’ was every bit as visually arresting as the music."

The 'sad trap' of Albany and vouge house of MikeQ were teasing out the dance moves at SonarPark and SonarVillage respectively, but we opted for quite the opposite: Ryo Ikeda's return to Barcelona with a new live show based on his album ultratonics. Using raw data and mathematical models to generate music and projections, his compositions would often look and sound like white noise and distortion at first, but as time passed a musical rhythm would become audible while the projections developed more obvious patterns. This was an intense, dramatic experience - and one of the reasons Sónar continues to inspire with its continued interest in how technology can advance not just our enjoyment of music, but also its composition.

Ryoji Ikeda by Nerea Coll

After the impressive mathamtical complexity of Ryo Ikeda's set, next up we were treated to one of the sets of Sónar 2023: Daito Manabe live. The long-time festival collaborator was appearing on stage solo for the first time with an 'antidisciplinary' live show that straddled music, performance, and visual experience. Back in the +D room, we were treated to seven screens of visual creativity set to beats Aphex Twin would be proud to call his own. 
Manabe's clearly learnt a lot from collaborating with the likes of Björk, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Arca, and Squarepusher - now his visuals have a distinct soundtrack.
A naturalist, almost hand-drawn array of shapes and formations weaved their way across the screens for the first part of the show, the electronic soundtrack scattering around as though looking for something. Soon more familiar rock-like objects came into view, then suddenly we had a solid dancing figure, morphing in shape, then cloining itself as the broken beats became more violent and increased in intensity. The visuals followed suit, packing a dizzying punch as landscapes appeared then terraformed into new ones, all while the shapes continued to pulse and strut with the beats. Musically, Manabe's clearly learnt a lot from collaborating with the likes of Björk, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Arca, and Squarepusher - now his visuals have a distinct soundtrack. We can't wait to see where he goes from here.
Daito Manabe by Sergio Albert

Despite the party on stage during The Blessed Madonna's set - which included her playing 'The Man with the Red Face' in tribute to the sick Laurent Garnier who was forced to cancel his shows this year, including SonarVillage on Saturday - and the lure of Max Cooper's 3D/AV live show in SonarHall, we decided to make the move to Sónar by Night to see the start of Aphex Twin's hyped live show.

The Blessed Madonna by Nerea Coll

It was very much a 'come to daddy' moment as we exited Sónar by Day with those looking for a fast transit by coach struck by the hoards trying to do the same. We opted for a Metro route which was speedy, arriving into SonarClub with a few minutes to spare. There we were confronted with a giant cube held above Aphex's equipment - perhaps he had borrowed it from Deadmau5 - as his logo glided over all its panels.
AphexTwin by Ariel Martini

We'd soon be up and running with a moody lighting and the slow burn of electronic beats, but anyone expecting this set to power into life with a dramatic 4x4 beat or Amen breaks would have been seriously disappointed. Aphex was on pomp tonight, teasing the crowd to near big beat drops that would evaporate away into the heat of the room, often in a blizzard of lights. At one point early in the show, the lasers fired at full power, producing a wave over the vast space of the SonarClub as a heavy gabber-like beat thundered forth, then again it was gone and Aphex began to build again.

Much of the music were reworkings of other artists, however he did give 'Xtal' and 'Boxing Day' airings tonight. The second half of the show brought more energy as he pummelled the audience with frantic bass and lighting to match. This was one very much for the fans and those willing to give themselves over to the drama of a Richard D James set. We had to get a groove on before it finished to catch Fever Ray, inextricably scheduled to start at the same time as Aphex would finish at the furthest stage away. 

Aphex Twin by Ariel Martini

Laura Jones had taken the bold move to see Ikonika in SonarLab. She said: "The Resident Advisor stage at Sónar By Night has been the natural successor now for a few years since throwing it back to Mary Anne Hobbs’ yearly showcase when she brought, but not limited to, dubstep from the likes of Kode9, hip hop, garage and UK Funky. Kode9 would grace the stage a little later with Sherelle, but it was Hyperdub Records contemporary Ikonika that I chose to seek out because of her new Bubble Up live show offering. 

"Weaving in fresh new influences such as Amapiano, synth pop and deep house into rolling Rinse-era basslines, her sultry live vocals and improvised whoops and hollers over the mic got the party started for us, along with all those that had sought out something fresh and new as an alternative to big room boys and toys. It set the tone for a great night mining the groove of breakbeats, bass and live performances all with a decidedly UK underground flavour, that I only left my position at SonarLab once, to go and be captivated by Fever Ray for an hour."
Dreijer’s onstage persona is somewhere between haunted office worker and lounge lizard.
We'll leave it to Samantha Kemmy to provide the commentary on Fever Ray: "In ‘Even it Out’ from Fever’s Ray’s Radical Romantics, Karin Dreijer stresses that they (Karin) do things methodically with an emphasis on the phonetic ring of the letter M, and here at Sónar by Night they do just that. The stage set is minimal, save for one lone street lantern lamp filled with opaque gaseous light that will soon change colour with the rhythm and mood of the music. 

Fever Ray by Ariel Martini

"They begin their set with ‘What they call us’, the first track from Radical Romantics and the most familial sounding in the vein of their back catalogue. Dreijer’s onstage persona is somewhere between haunted office worker and lounge lizard. Clad in a suit that appears drained of colour, their appearance is simultaneously mournful and enigmatic in their pallet of off-colour paper still warm from the photocopier. Dreijer’s fellow vocalists are just as commanding and powerful on stage, their energies contrasting, yet synchronous as they take turns holding the audience’s attention. This synchronicity is most tangible and charged when both vocalists flank Dreijer hip to hip for ‘Shiver’, climaxing their vocal performance on the ‘you’ of the line ‘Can I trust you!?’. The second half of the set is dedicated to the peak club energy of ‘Carbon Dioxide’ and Plunge anthem ‘To the Moon and Back’, in which the audience joyfully join in to sing the celebratory closing lyrics of the song.

"A truly avant-garde performance in which Dreijer performs with every cell in their body, combining hand flourishes, grimaces and uncanny dance chorography fit for after hours in Twin Peak’s red room, totally bewitching."

Fever Ray by Ariel Martini

After the excitement of Fever Ray's set, CC:Disco! stepped up to the decks in SonarPub to carry on the grooves. We regrouped for Shygirl’s set at SonarLab where 'Coochie (a bedtime story)' went down a storm ahead of the garage masterclass from DJ EZ. The legend stepped up to the decks in Lab next and we were expecting a masterclass in turntablism as the speedster mixer got down to business. With his signature ‘DJ EZ’ sample, he kicked off slowly with the opening beats of ‘Gotta Get Thru This’ and playing with Missy Elliott’s ‘Work It’ before launching off powered by DJ Zinc’s ‘Blunt Edge’. We were 100% on side.
DJ EZ stepped up to the decks in Lab next and we were expecting a masterclass in turntablism as the speedster mixer got down to business.
His breathless set had forgotten gem ‘Eastern Jam’ mixed into recent mega hit ‘Rumble’, a stark drop of ‘Sweet Dreams’, and a nod to Sónar’s techno leanings with what I'm sure was a Detroit banger by Robert Hood. Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bassline Junkie’ was a surprise winner, while 'RIP Groove’, ‘Heartbroken’, and ‘Too Many Men’ were already going to bring cheers. After 90 minutes of non-stop party fun, a final blast of ‘Seven Nation Army’ to close brought the curtain down on a stellar DJ EZ performance.

I took a breather from the Lab to catch AME b2b Marcel Dettmann in SonarCar, around half way through their five hour set. At that point they locked into providing a consistent beat and barely looking at each other - but still the techno powered on. I'd take my leave at this point, but Laura Jones cracked on until the end in SonarLab with Sherelle x Kode9 followed by DJ Marky & MC GQ.

She said: "For a few years back there it had felt like Sónar, representing many corners of electronica, had overlooked jungle as part of that melting pot of early dance music. It’s taken legends of the scene, and now emerging artists, to bring it to Barcelona once more. Sherelle, as a label boss and DJ, can’t be pigeon-holed, spinning 160bpm+ without impunity whether it’s high speed techno, breaks, footwork or jungle or anything else that defies category. In pairing up with Kode9, whose own experimental approach has taken him far beyond the 140bpm dubstep sphere, this was always going to be interesting. 
DJ Marky took us on a journey in 90 minutes to encompass VIP dubplates, dark rollers, showmanship and turntablism, and, ultimately, sunshine vibes.
"If we bubbled with Ikonika, we were now at boiling point as the jungle beats intensified ready for closer, the drum & bass don DJ Marky. Junglist classics ‘Renegade Snares’ and ‘Original Nuttah’ went off to rapturous dancing, the duo making it look easy and like they were here to enjoy the music as much as we were in the crowd, with Sherelle excitedly jumping on the mic to tell us so.

"With barely a soul leaving the dancefloor, it was time for Brazilian DJ Marky to enter with a crate full of liquid gold to take us through the dawn into daylight, and MC GQ on lock to usher us there. Whilst known for his wide-ranging track IDs and all-nighters that would feature friends from across the drum & bass spectrum, the start of the set was given over to warm, soulful vocal tracks from the likes of Emily Makis on Pola & Bryson track ‘Phoneline’ and Collette Warren & Riya on ‘All for Something’. This is the skill of a legend like Marky, who would take us down and then right back around on a journey in 90 minutes to encompass VIP dubplates, dark rollers, showmanship and turntablism, and, ultimately, sunshine vibes, all the while being instructed to smile by GQ as a reminder that life is good when you are in possession of a Sónar weekend ticket!"


A slow start to Saturday meant we only arrived for Sónar by Day in time for a very special set from 2manydjs invite Peach and Tiga which was arranged when Laurent Garnier dropped out. Their two and a half hour set carried a huge weight of expectation given both Tiga and the Dewaele brothers longstanding collaboration with the festival, while Peach could add some fruity selections as a bit of a curve ball to break up the boys club. The results were spectacular - and not just the music.

2manydjs invites Peach & Tiga by Nerea Coll

There was next-level banter between the Dewaele duo and Tiga, with the brothers so used to playing together they would almost have a sixth sense what and when to mix or help out when the other was at the decks, but they had a critical eye on Tiga who would often drop his own tunes such as 'Louder Than a Bomb' and 'Mind Dimension' - leading to the latter getting a few disappoving scowls in jest leading to Tiga to apologise. Meanwhile, Peach did her thing mixing in vinyl selections that kept a gritty house and techno vibe.

They had the SonarVillage jumping throughout, but there were two big moments where 2manydjs turned the screw: first with their 'Work It' remix which always gets a huge reaction, and, finally, with surprise-package set-closer: Fischerspooner's 'Emerge'. It was one of those moments where you didn't know how right a song could be until the instant you heard it, and suddenly everyone was looking at each other approvingly and dancing like it was 2003 again.

2ManyDJs, Peach, Tiga by Ariel Martini

Honourable mentions for Sónar by Day go to Hector Oaks. who I just had enough time to stop into briefly at SonarHall to see his Fuego Universal live show kicking off in his fast and furious fashion, plus Horsemeat Disco x Prosumer who delivered a disco masterclass to close the final Sónar by Day session in SonarVillage.
Prydz had a glossy, headline-worthy production for all the house-heads and visual junkies to lap up.
When we made it to Sónar by Night, we were there just in time to see a glimpse of the Eric Prydz HOLO show as he wrapped it up. On possibly the biggest LED screen ever seen at SonarClub, a giant hand was reaching out as though above the crowd while ‘Pjanoo’ played, retreating as the beat kicked in to be replaced with a dazzling display of lasers and colours on the screens. The 3D effect of the hand didn’t really work being at the back of the crowd, unavoidable for late-comers like us as it extended almost the full length of SonarClub, but there was no doubt this was a glossy, headline-worthy production for all the house-heads and visual junkies to lap up. We hear the whale was particularly awe-inspiring.

Eric Prydz Holo by Ariel Martini

We headed over to SonarLab where Laura Jones caught the majority of the Anz and Nene H performances, while I dipped back into SonarClub for Mochakk and Chloe Cauillet who kept the space bouncing along with big room tech house. Laura Jones said: "I sought out high energy sets on Saturday night having rinsed out Friday night into Saturday morning! Anz is an artist who I was pleased to hear defies being put in a box, her sweet and poppy daytime radio friendly EP track ‘You Could Be’ melting in the face of the hardcore breakbeats pumping from her DJ set tonight, a highlight being the speed garage track sampling The Prodigy’s ‘No Good (Start the Dance)’.
Many of the new wave of dance music artists live the spirit of old rave, which celebrated a coming together of different styles in one night.
"I stayed on in SonarLab as I was loving what came next from an artist I’d not come across before, Nene H, but whose selections span techno to trance and grime, and even ‘Pump Up The Jam’ which had this raver racing back from a quick refuel at the bar to jack my body. I keep reaching for that phrase “can't be pigeonholed” which makes me happy that many of the new wave of dance music artists live the spirit of old rave, which celebrated a coming together of different styles in one night."

Next up we saw Tiga b2b Cora Novoa whose set seemed to be going in the same direction as the previous two SonarClub boom shows once a hard techno remix of Tiga’s ‘Mind Dimension’ had kicked off the tunes, with a concern the demands of the biggest of Sónar by Night’s stages would mean a loss of the Turbo Recoding boss’s sense of fun.

Tiga b2b Cora Novoa by Leafhopper

But with Cora by his side serving up the inventive swerve balls while Tiga drew on his back catalogue and sense of nerd, we were in good hands. A somewhat tongue-in-cheek drop of Vitalic’s ‘You Prefer Cocaine’ signalled turn towards beats with a humourous edge, and Tiga even turned and shrugged his shoulders apologetically to Cora when he dropped MGMT’s ‘Kids’ into the mix. Cora just laughed. We got another helping of Opus III’s flighty ‘It's a Fine Day’ lyrics used to offset heavy 4x4 beats, and there was plenty of time for Tiga to weave in a few more of his own productions such as heavy remixes of ‘Sunglasses at Night’ and ‘Shoes’, giving over to Cora who had fun blending in her own selections of textured tunes that kept the SonarClub lively.
Richie Hawtin by Ariel Martini

After Tiga b2b Cora Novoa, we get some air outside and then got thinking about making our way home, drifting through SonarClub one final time for Richie Hawtin's take on the boom show ahead of Amelie Lens closing proceedings on the biggest stage. Thinking back over the 12  Sónars I've attended, it seems like only in the last few editions the SonarClub has been able to stay packed out through to 7am, such is the popularity of the hard techno closing sets now. But what was really exciting this year was the range of visual shows really pushing the creative use of technology to enhance performances. Long may that continue.

Sónar’s 30th anniversary celebrations will resume in September, when the festival curates the soundtrack for Barcelona’s Piromusical de La Mercè. In 2024, Sónar will return to Barcelona from Thursday, June 13th to Saturday, June 15th as well as Lisboa (Friday, March 22nd to Sunday, March 24th) and Istanbul (Friday, April 26th and Saturday, April 27th). For details go to sonar.es/en.

Images by Ariel Martini (2manydjs invites Peach & Tiga (2); Amelie Lens; Aphex Twin; Bendik Giske; Eric Prydz Holo; Fever Ray; Grove; Richie Hawtin), Fernando Schlaepfer (Black Coffee),  Leafhopper (Tiga b2b Cora Novoa), Nerea Coll (2manydjs invites Peach & Tiga (1); Ahadadream; Marina Herlop; Project Area; Ryoji Ikeda; The Blessed Madonna), Roncca (Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul; Kitty 110, LaBlackie, and L’Beel; Nosaj Thing & Daito Manabe), and Sergio Albert (Daito Manabe).

Additional reporting by Laura Jones and Samantha Kemmy.

Amelie Lens by Ariel Martini