What To See at Sonar Barcelona 2017

With this year's edition of the Barcelona festival replete with must-watch artists, we bring you a guide to the most unmissable arts playing a festival filled with unmissable artists. Photograph courtesy of Ariel Martini

As the names begin to roll out over the months, eventually cresting in the most awesome of sonic waves, each and every year it becomes more and more obvious that Sonar Barcelona is one of the best music festivals in Europe — if not the world. The line-up is considered and diverse, reflecting the fact that — when it comes to electronic music, hip-hop, and the culture spectrum in general — the very best of what we have to offer, as a community on a global scale, is considered and diverse.

With performances last year from Section Boyz, Oneohtrix Point Never, Anohni and Gazelle Twin — to name only a few from a lineup it isn’t even in danger of being hyperbole to call "sprawling" — 2017’s edition of the festival is here to remind us just how ridiculous bemoaning the state of contemporary music actually is. Coming hot on the heels of Primavera Sound, far from being the dregs of Barcelona’s festival season, Sonar is a rejoinder to the notion of festival fatigue and continues to prove, year on year – exemplified in 2016’s incredible Helena Hauff b2b Ben UFO set – that all musics have the power to be euphoric and, more importantly, unifying. That’s something we all sorely need right now. And something I can’t imagine us ever having too much of any time soon.

With that in mind, the Catalan capital plays host next week to what can — even in June — already be fairly called some of the year’s best music, and (because we’re good to you like that) we’ve put together a guide to just a handful of the things you’d be crazy to miss.


"An intense commingling of dancehall, sparse, ambient quasi-gothica, and dark electronics that form a murky, dystopian soup at once disconcerting and addictive — as fit to usurp Richard Wagner’s prominent place in Lars Von Trier’s Depression Trilogy or Clint Mansell’s place on the soundtrack for Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise as for the club."


"Russian DJ and producer Nina Kraviz expertly harnesses the power of subzero electronics on Fabric 91, the first mix CD to be released by the London club since news of its reopening was announced in November. This is a mix that exudes frosted air up your nostrils and the tingling numbness of frozen ears, music that is made for wandering outside on a bracingly cold day or raving in an unheated warehouse when you should be doing a January detox." – Ben Cardew


"The 13 songs which together make up Arca are a rending composite. The album revels in dichotomy, mixing baroque and minimalistic tendencies – bombast and understatement – classical tradition and bleeding-edge contemporary electronics: it’s music which separates the listener from their own lived experience and any inherent 21st-Century cynicism, transporting them to a world which, though not without nuance, wears its intentions earnestly on its sleeve."


Sure, I can see why you’d give me that look when I say the words "Barcelona Trap Queen" with this, the brightest gleam of sincerity, lighting up my eyes. Stow your cynicism, though – Bad Gyal is the real deal. Embrace it and thank me later.


"It feels odd to say what D∆WN is doing is still perhaps too niche to get her a place in the R&B ‘Hot 100’, given her sound is so broad and all-encompassing, but its true. Richard has carved out an ambitiously futuristic place for herself that the mainstream hasn’t quite caught up with yet." – Tara Joshi


"More than footwork, then, Black Origami feels closer to the spirit of Photek, Squarepusher or Aphex Twin in the mid 90s, when these producers took the rhythmic intensity of drum and bass and squeezed and contorted it into fascinating new shapes and it is notable that Aphex played a couple of Jlin tracks at his recent US DJing comeback. That might make Black Origami sound like an academic success, the kind of record to be poured over in gear-obsessed websites and drum machine forums. But it really isn’t." – Ben Cardew


"Matmos’ entire career has been concerned with finding these unusual sound sources, right back to their eponymous 1997 album, which infamously included recordings of a crayfish’s nerve activity, through field recordings of cosmetic surgery (on A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure in 2001), a cow’s uterus, Heidelberg printing press, semen, snails, etc. (on The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of The Beast in 2006) and so on and so on. In an interview with Artforum earlier this month, they said they’d "much rather hear a bowl of chocolate pudding than an 808 kick drum". It’s a good point. Electronic music opens the composer to any timbre imaginable, or unimaginable. Why limit yourself?" – Leo Chadburn


"Like Nina before her, Princess Nokia’s celebration of her spirituality comes hand in hand with pride in her identity, referring to herself as "that Black-a-Rican bruja straight out from the Yoruba / that Black Native American, I vanquish all evil". The video above is a typical Nokia, a boastful celebration of sisterhood, as playful as it as badass, as middle fingers up they chant in unison: "don’t you fuck with my energy, don’t you fuck with my energy"." – Zahra Dalilah


"Positive energy is what Pan Daijing hopes people take away from exploring her music. Guiding listeners into the obsidian depths of her noisy techno, it hopefully allows them to process frustrations and problems and come up for air towards the light at the other side." – Aurora Mitchell


You know Icelandic rap is a thing by now. Maybe you’ve been avoiding it. Maybe you felt like you had good reason. Here’s the thing – you don’t. Cross over; you (probably) won’t regret it.

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