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Sonar 1995: International Electronic Music & Multimedia Festival

Spain's annual Sonar festival, held this June in Barcelona, is one of a growing number of European events devoted to electronic music of all types. Derek Johnson & Debbie Poyser were in attendance.

Electronic music is alive and well in Europe, if this summer's Sonar festival is anything to go by. This eclectic mix of live music, multimedia installations, video screenings and plain partying brought together electronic musicians and DJs of all hues from all over the world, in one of Europe's most beautiful capitals.

Culture Club

Now in its second year, Sonar is meant to both celebrate and promote electronic music. Daytime events focused on the impressive Centre for Contemporary Culture building, where a large hall was given over to trade stands occupied by record labels, electronic music fanzines, rave and musical event organisers, and magazines. Central to the hall was a large stage, where afternoon and early evening gigs took place. One floor down was the video screening auditorium, a darkened, cinema‑like space where hypnotic experimental video and historic electronic pop promos were screened for two‑hour continuous sessions. On a higher floor could be found three multimedia installations and Sonar's computer room, housing terminals with CD‑ROM and CD‑i availability, plus Internet terminals for general use. Outside, a chill‑out tent featured squashy armchairs, and the talents of DJs such as David Toop. During the evenings, the focus shifted to Barcelona's Poble Espanyol (Spanish Village) — a curious Disney‑like recreation of Spain's regions, complete with local architecture. A large canvas erection ('The Tent') at the out‑of‑town site housed Sonar Club, a pretty much all‑night rave featuring two bands and three DJs per night. Over the three nights (stamina permitting), you could catch Orbital, Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia, Fangoria, Dreadzone, and Biosphere.

Weird Science

Sonar's multimedia installations provided an entertaining diversion, especially Gerard Van Der Kaap and Peter Giele's 'Chill Cave Terminals' — strange, almost coffin‑like enclosures which surrounded the onlookers' heads with reflected ambient images from an overhead video screen and filled your ears with suitably atmospheric music. This all took place in a virtually dark room, where one of the Dutch artists played moody jazz on his two turntables, and the darkness transformed a lava lamp into something almost mystical — and all without illicit substances! The other side of the multimedia coin was represented by the sadistic (but fun) 'Epizoo', by Catalan artist Antunez. This bizarre interactive installation invited spectators to grab a computer mouse, and use its pointer to electronically torment grotesquely mutated images of the artist on a large screen. The multimedia system was set up so that each jab of the mouse elicited comic squeaks from the animated artist!

Global Village

On a more serious note, Sonar also hosted several panel debates, focusing on the future of electronic music, and the people and organisations who make and distribute it. The aforementioned David Toop's 'Ambient Sounds and Imaginary Worlds' discussed the origins and current trends of ambient music, 'The Future of the Independent Music Industry' looked at the role and viability of independent labels in the 1990s, and 'Art on the Networks' tapped into the current obsession with all things net‑like, to consider the growth of new methods of artistic transmission.

As an international festival, Sonar succeeded on two levels: it certainly attracted an array of international record labels, and the artists appearing were drawn from all over Europe, plus the Americas. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, attendees were predominantly Spanish, which meant that a grasp of the language was necessary to really feel a part of the proceedings. On an artistic and musical level, Sonar's effectiveness for the spectator is largely determined by the strengths and weaknesses of the featured performers. Though artists such as the UK's own Scanner, Mexico's Jorge Reyes and Spain's adoptive son Michel Huygen undoubtedly produce compelling recorded work, electronic music still has a long way to go before it's truly entertaining as a spectator sport (Conductor of the Masses JMJ excepted here — whether or not you like his music, he certainly knows how to put on a show). All too often, electronic musicians think it's enough to simply stand on a stage behind their synths, backed only by a slow‑moving, or frankly pedestrian, video projection. Sonar's Poble Espanyol gigs were much more successful as a concept, allowing electronic music to exploit one of its real strengths — the ability to get people moving — as well as satisfying the apparently insatiable Spanish appetite for dance. However, Sonar aimed to satisfy not only on a physical, but also on an intellectual level, with its debates and its focus on multimedia technology, for which those behind the show are to be applauded. As a forum for European record labels and musicians to come together, Sonar also shone, but as a feat of virtuoso organisational skills, the festival was in a league of its own. Sonar is still only two years old — who knows what it might grow up to be?

Record Labels

Labels with a presence at Sonar included:

  • Hyperium/Hypnobeat (Germany)
  • Pink Records (Spain)
  • Blanco Y Negro (Spain)
  • Crammed Discs (Belgium)
  • Ninja Tune (UK)

Featured Artists


  • Aloof Proof (UK)
  • Child B (Spain)
  • UFO (Denmark)
  • Scanner (UK)
  • Fangoria (Spain)
  • Orbital (UK)
  • Vol Ad Libitum (Spain)
  • Feel Action (Spain)
  • MacGarin Ensemble (Spain)
  • Scorn (UK)
  • Psychick Warriors ov Gaia (Holland)
  • Dreadzone (UK)
  • Macromassa (Spain)
  • Michel Huygen (Spain)
  • Olivier Coupille (France)
  • Alex FX (Portugal)
  • Generator Group Electrogen (Spain)
  • Jorge Reyes (Mexico
  • Biosphere (Norway)
  • Madelman (Spain)
  • Atau Tanaka (USA)
  • Orquestra del Caos (Spain)


  • DJ Zeta (Spain)
  • DJ Jose Padilla (Spain)
  • DJ David Toop (UK)
  • DJ Stefan Robbers (Holland)
  • DJ John Acquaviva (Canada)
  • DJ Gloria (Spain)
  • Video‑J Andyvision (UK/Spain)
  • Video‑Js HEX (UK)
  • Video‑Js In Progress (Spain)
  • DJ Sideral (Spain)
  • DJ Da Costa (Spain/Germany)
  • DJ Delfin (Spain)
  • DJ Shark (Switzerland)
  • DJ Victor Sol (Spain/Germany)
  • DJ Gilbert (France)
  • DJ Kosmos (Spain)
  • DJ Kenny Larkin (USA)
  • DJ Doctor Grau (Spain)
  • DJ Toni Rox (Spain
  • DJ Katrine Klausing (Belgium)
  • DJ John Tye (UK)
  • DJ Gloria G3G (Spain)
  • DJ Paul Thomas (UK)