Sonus 2023 Report

The 10th running of Sonus Festival took place on the shore of Pag Island, Croatia, assembling a showcase of the big names in techno, tech-house and deep electronic music including Adriatique, Joseph Capriati, Claptone and Deborah De Luca. Ann McManus was there to check it out.

The first impression

 After a day warming up for the evening, enjoying tanning with a side of cocktails and dancing on the nearby Novalja beach, we embarked upon Zćre beach. The scene we encountered was quite unlike anything I’d seen. Imagine Verona Beach in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliette on speed. The expansive beach was an eruption of sound: many variations of electronic music all playing loudly at once, screams and shouts from crowds of people having fun, arcade game noises; and, distantly, the sea. The beach set up with bright neon entertainment everywhere – pop up food stalls, arcade games of all sorts, restaurants, bars, fairground rides and people dressed in netted outfits in all colours revelling everywhere.  

Sonus Festival 2023

Imagine Verona Beach in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet on speed.

Most importantly, were several super clubs, waiting to entertain us. Unlike the majority of festivals, rather than have a central area with a series of stages, Sonus expands along a beach, with five super clubs within a few minutes' walk of one another, each policing entry separately rather than through one entrance. This had the benefit of no queuing to get in and out of the festival site and no security checks. Queues were well managed and moved quickly to check those going in and out of the clubs. There was also a beach bar or two with their own DJs and sound system on a less grand scale to the official Sonus clubs, but a fun place for a quick dance between super clubs. I liked that the crowd was very international and hard to pinpoint any specific dominant nationality.

Sonus Festival 2023

On the first evening, we grabbed some dinner on the beach. It maybe wasn’t the best way to prepare. It turned out to be an absolute sensory assault with sound clash from at least three clubs playing techno, trance and the club in the restaurant playing hip-hop and commercial. Good for a bit of pre-party people watching but it wasn’t somewhere you were going to have any deep and meaningful conversations over dinner. 

Mind-bending light shows, great pyrotechnics, and meticulously designed stage setups added a level of grandeur to each performance.

The clubs

But moving to the clubs, I immediately understood the draw of Sonus. I loved the sense of being in the open air, with different types of trees growing through the middle which made for good meeting points when you needed to locate friends. The lighting production was incredible in every club. Mind-bending light shows, great pyrotechnics, and meticulously designed stage setups added a level of grandeur to each performance.

The open air design meant the clubs never seemed too hot and despite a lot of dancing and smoking, the air always felt fresh and I never returned home feeling a desperate need to wash my hair and chuck everything in the washing machine. Bathrooms were much nicer than the usual festival portaloo. The bars operated swiftly. Perhaps too swiftly for my penchant for red-bull vodkas to keep me dancing through to the last act. But this certainly was not a week for sleeping much! 

Sam Paganini at Sonus Festival 2023

The music

My five standout acts of the festival were:

1. Paula Temple

2. Dax J

3. Klangkuenstler

4. I Hate Models 

5. 999999999. 

I spent a lot of the rest of the time in Kalypso, a club built a bit like a tree house. Each night it played host to the latest of the closing sunrise sets. Night one was a relatively gentle welcome to what would unfold as the week went on. Chelina Manuhutu mashed up evidently crowd pleasing commercial hits with a tech house beat, like sampling the naughty lyrics in Khia – "My Neck, My Back" which got everyone going. Taking in Dennis Cruz’ Balearic infused tech-house set among the palm trees with a cold drink, holiday mode was truly on. 

Chelina Manuhutu at Sonus Festival 2023

I was ready for something stronger on night two and I Hate Models delivered hard and fast, relentless techno sound I was after. Both similarly thumping techno delivered in very different ways so that the transition from one act to the next flowed perfectly. The crowd went off with particular fervour to Azyr – Direct it to the Roof (RIOT CODE Remix).

                                       999999999 at Sonus Festival 2023

Dax J, Paula Temple and Klangkuenstler played in succession in the stunning palm tree filled Aquarius. Dax J mixed around with speed and sound to create a playful, sometimes dark set. The sound was banging but accessible, sounding like tubular bells on a joy-ride. 

Whenever you thought the sound couldn’t get any harder, [Paula Temple would] prove you wrong again and again. And you wanted to be proven wrong.

Dax J at Sonus Festival 2023

Paula Temple’s went straight in with an unyielding techno set infused with thrashy garage samples. She coaxed the tempo up more and more. Whenever you thought the sound couldn’t get any harder, she’d prove you wrong again and again. And you wanted to be proven wrong. It was so more-ish. For a sample of the sound, check out 

Mental Crush – "Fear Factor"

Mental Crush – "Acid Destroy"

CANCEL – "Sleep is the Cousin of Death "

Klangkuentsler was a new discovery for me and a very entertainingly versatile ensemble of crashing techno beats with smart one liner vocals woven in to punctuate the drops. Alongside punchy tracks like Bentech - "Emotional", he mixed in fun classics like Mo-do – "Eins Zwei Polizei" and concluded his set with an unexpectedly turn to a softer sound sampling DJ Elbe. 

While I was seeking harder and faster sounds, some of my friends were there for the deep-house side of the event and were happily catered for in Papaya. Silvie Loto won some new fans as a result. In Adam’s words, Silvie Loto delivered a nuanced and funk-filled set interweaving classic house with a harder edge. It proved a welcome relief from the more monatomic offerings around. This was reflected in the pre-influencer crowd. 

Silvie Loto at Sonus Festival 2023

Sven Väth’s closing set was a bit too chilled tech-house for me after being blasted with techno all week. I heard he’d played a harder set earlier in the night so the closing set was probably a bit of fun to ease everyone back into a sunny mood. 

The destination

As a destination, Novalja, the closest town to Zćre Beach was a nice enough place to spend time during the festival, although I wouldn’t pick it out as a standalone holiday destination. The beach scene was good fun, with a particularly lively area of the beach playing host to a few party beach bars (cue: more sound clash). We established our favourite beach bar (Beach Bar Garden) and made a beeline there every day for a revival swim followed by warm-up beers, well-mixed cocktails and a variation of local shots over the course of a week. We found plenty of decent places to eat in the evenings, though restaurant prices were surprisingly comparable to London. The official shuttle service was not great and the shuttle was normally packed by the time it got to our stop so I’d recommend using local taxis if you’re in a group and can split the cost. 

Sonus Festival 2023

Final thoughts

I came away from Sonus with my passion for techno reignited. There were so many variations of techno, tech house and deep house on offer that wherever on the spectrum your music interest was, there was something to watch. The combination of well-managed super club venues, amazing light production and a solid line up of known and unknown acts made for an excellent event.