For a quarter of a century, Sónar has been one of the leading names in electronic music. Not just by virtue of their flagship festival in Barcelona, but because they are one of the driving forces in pushing forward the culture and technology, and spreading the sound worldwide.
In that time, they have taken their unmistakable brand to all corners; from London to New York, Cape Town to Istanbul, Sao Paulo to Reykjavík. And last year, Sónar Hong Kong was held for the very first time, complete with performances from the likes of Gilles Peterson, Lady Leshurr, DJ Shadow and Ellen Allien.
Ahead of their return in March for a second edition – this time with a lineup that includes The Black Madonna, Laurent Garnier, Mount Kimbie, Floating Points, Squarepusher and more – musical director Justin Sweeting took the time to give us the inside info on growing the festival, and providing a rare platform for local talent.
First of all, why was the decision made to bring Sónar to Hong Kong for the first time last year? And what highlights can you pick out from the debut edition?
The timing just felt right for us to keep pushing momentum forwards with a more targeted festival offering. The mix of creativity and technology feels very relevant for Hong Kong.
There were so many great performances it's difficult to pick out just a few – though overall, I think the element of surprise for the audience and really setting new standards in terms of peoples' expectations was what really stood out with Sónar's debut here.
A science park seems like the perfect setting for Sónar – forward-thinking, technology focused etc. Was that always the place you had in mind to host the festival?
Absolutely, the moment we saw it, we knew it would be an ideal setting for an electronic music and arts festival. It truly is a wonderful venue which feels almost purpose built for Sónar!
What were the main lessons you learned from last year, that you will take heed of in the future?
We're always in a constant process of continuous improvement, and that will never change. Overall, we were pretty happy with how smooth everything ran from an organisation point of view, and the feedback from festival-goers, artists, media and Barcelona would further support that.
There are some minor site related tweaks we're planning this year to help improve some crowd flow movement, and the addition of some new bars in certain areas to help convenience, though by and large the mantra is to stick with the formula which worked so well for the debut edition.
How close are those ties with the flagship event in Barcelona?
Ties are very close and we're in constant dialogue with the team across all facets of the festival. It's been an ideal relationship really as we're highly aligned both in what we want to achieve as well as our working methodologies of how to get there.
Is the booking process made easier by the fact you have the hugely respected Sónar brand and all the history that it carries with it?
It certainly helps! We work very closely with the Barcelona Music Team to work on the lineup and the fact that the brand is so respected around the world, especially by the artists themselves, means that it's never a case of needing to convince an act why they should play.
How much scope and freedom is there to showcase and explore the local scenes for music, arts and culture on the lineup for the festival? And is that an important part of what you’re hoping to achieve?
It's highly important, and being the only instance of Sónar presently in Asia only raises that. To be able to draw from the incredible talent on our doorstep makes perfect sense on every level.
Is there anyone in particular from the local scene that you’re especially pleased to have at the festival this year? Someone that global audiences might not be so clued up about?
Fotan Laiki is an exciting local artist making waves here amongst the underground scene, and very relevant right now. Likewise, the Yeti Out team are doing great work connecting East and West musically with their new label project Silk Road Sounds, which we're showcasing with a special AV show in our Complex venue.
We've announced our full lineup now, so this is the time to really start to get to know the full programme and check out the wide spectrum and diversity of talent that will be on display come 17 March.
Finally, what would you say is the main thing you’re hoping for from Sónar Hong Kong’s second edition?
Sónar is a very forward thinking event for Hong Kong, and we want to show people how exciting, inspirational and rewarding the spectrum of electronic music can be, and open people up to a wider range of emotional, transportive experiences that go so far beyond what EDM or similar styled music events can reach.
Likewise, it's about showing how accessible it all is, and how technology and creativity meet in a very hands on, tactile way. We really want people to come and play, and be inspired, as these kinds of opportunities are so rare in HK.
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