Spain's Sonar electronic music fest visits L.A.

Coachella is taking its show on a boat this year, but it’s not the only major music festival testing new waters. Sonar, the long-running Spanish music fest in Barcelona known for ambitious multimedia design work and electronica acts, is taking an abbreviated version of the festival on a full North American tour.

Although organizers have done one-off installments and recurring editions in cities including São Paulo, Brazil, and Cape Town, South Africa, this season's jaunt, which stops in L.A. at the Shrine Expo Hall on Saturday, is a telling experiment in how a name-brand music festival can reach audiences far from its own shores.


“Now electronic music is breaking the status-quo of rock and hip-hop in the U.S., so it looks to be the best moment ever to present Sonar,” said Enric Palau, co-director of Advanced Music (which produces Sonar) and its head of programming. “It's an exciting challenge to present what we do in front of new audiences, and at the same time it is very interesting for us to discover new talent in the cities we visit.”

The musical lineup is a provocative take on the meeting point between European artiness and American brashness. Die Antwoord, the cryptic South African rap-rave crew/performance art project, headlines the bill. They already have an established audience in the U.S., but their Sonar set could contextualize them in the larger ecosystem of global electronica, and not just as a bawdy club-banger freak fest.

The undercard is where it gets especially interesting. Rising experimental house artists including Azari & III, Visionquest’s Seth Troxler, Nic Fanculli and Gesaffelstein (a hit at last week’s HARD Day of the Dead) bring a sleeker and moodier side to the tour. The renowned Berlin design team Pfadfinderei are helming live visuals, and while most U.S. rave fests are veering toward frat-step bass drops and mass-market neo-house, Sonar’s sounds and sensibility make for coolly modernist pleasures.

"Sound and image are constantly crossing and creating new languages," Palau said. "Technology and creativity are our main focus, and from that, there are no barriers."

Nor are there geographic boundaries with this tour. As popular fests like Coachella and Bonnaroo confront the upper ceiling of what their venues can accommodate, Sonar’s smaller-scale touring model might present a way to expand abroad without diluting the essential experience.

Traveling to Spain for a dance fest is an expensive proposition, but if a night's worth of that sensibility can come to your neighborhood? Well, that's something to dance about.