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Catalan music festivals: from craze to consolidation

Late spring and summertime bring a myriad of music festivals throughout Catalonia. Some of them have only lasted a few editions, but others have become true milestones at international level, such as the Sónar or the Primavera Sound.


28 June 2011 04:26 PM


Albert Lladó Romero

Barcelona (CNA).- At a musical level, Barcelona is living an unprecedented moment of success thanks to the annual celebration of two international festivals such as the indie music festival Primavera Sound or Sónar, the advanced music and multimedia arts festival. Despite the deserved recognition these festivals have earned, Catalonia is still a newcomer when it comes to organising festivals compared to countries like the USA, the UK or Germany. The recent history of these music festivals goes back to 1996 and the Doctor Music Festival, celebrated in a small town in the Catalan Pyrenees with no less than David Bowie or Blur in its lineup. Fifteen years later and with the 2011 editions of the Primavera Sound and Sónar confirming huge attendances once again, the major Catalan festivals have to choose how to put themselves on a level with the most prestigious and massive events, while trying to keep a commitment to quality.

The Sónar

Since its beginnings in 1994 in a small discotheque in Barcelona among friends, the Sónar festival has grown up without losing its identity. For the musical journalist Xavier Mercadé, this has been one of the secrets of its success. \u201CStaying true to your artistic identity makes you win the loyalty of the public. With the passage of time you create a crowd that believes in your brand independently of the lineup\u201D. Hence, artists that played back in 1995 like Orbital, one of the fathers of current electronic music, has been present recently, in the 2009 festival, 14 years later.  

The weekend of the 16th to 19th June Barcelona played host to the 18th edition of Sónar. 80,000 people danced to the music of M.I.A., Underworld, Electronic Man or Aphex Twin over four days and the festival has been acclaimed by critics and the general public as a leader in electronic music trends, not just for the music but for the conferences surrounding the industry. In fact, the festival has moved to Tokyo, London and Chicago, and has recently signed an agreement for celebrating a twin festival in Sao Paulo next year, funded partly by the Catalan Government with 120,000 euros. 

The Primavera Sound

The Indie music festival San Miguel Primavera Sound held every May in Barcelona, has followed a similar path. Under the premise of bringing both headline bands and emerging groups, the festival has taken advantage of the indie music boom to further consolidate its idea. 2011 names like Pulp, Fleet Foxes or Sufjan Stevens bear this out. Its growth has been year on year and has grown from 8,000 people when it first started to the 120,000 festival goers this year. 

Aiming at the foreign public and the music professionals

Their progressive growth and their strong musical identity aside, an added incentive of visiting Barcelona at such a privileged time (May and June), also works to attract a foreign public. But besides these factors, there is another important link: they are both a platform for musical industry businesses. Under the names of PrimaveraPro and SonarPro, both festivals offer an area to make deals among promoters, agents or record companies. Attendance at both events is similar (around 1,000 professionals accredited). According to festival sources it is not easy to know the volume of business created, however the 120,000 euro subsidy given by the Catalan Ministry of Culture to the San Miguel Primavera Sound Festival give an idea of its potential and profitability.

The beginning and the boom

In spite of the impact and the echo of these festivals, Catalonia\u2019s tradition in this industry is relatively short compared to countries such as the USA or UK, and global phenomena such as Woodstock, Isle of Wight or Glastonbury. In fact, the precursor festival in Catalonia, the Doctor Music Festival, was planned to reproduce these big festivals: it was celebrated in the middle of a field in a small town in the Catalan Pyrenees, where apart from listening to music, there was a large camp site. Music producer and singer Miqui Puig, thinks that \u201Cbesides planning a musical event, they had to educate people and create an inexistent habit of going to festivals. They started by following the big festivals\u2019 camp site model in the middle of nowhere for attracting people\u201D. The Doctor Music Festival, which has disappeared now, featured global artists like David Bowie, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan or Deep Purple over four years.

Later on Sónar appeared together with the international indie-rock music festival at Benicassim (known as FIB), on the Valencian coast since 1995. Its location, near to the beach, and lineups full of great international bands have made FIB very popular with tourists, making it a festival with a higher than average foreign following.

Failed projects

With all these festivals up and running, the music promoter Sinnamon came on to the scene in 2006 organizing up to six festivals in the same year. Its most important event was the indie music festival Summercase, celebrated in Barcelona from 2006 to 2008. It counted on famous artists from the very start and was planned to compete directly with Primavera Sound and with FIB, even coinciding on the same weekend of July in 2008. Over the years, the rivalry among these festivals had grown unprecedentedly to such an extent that Sinnamon had to overpay some artists for snatching them from their rivals. The promoter had not established a solid public and so after three years of savage competition, the project went bankrupt, finally disappearing in 2010. 

The future

It seems that the next few years look excellent for the Catalan music festival industry, but there are some doubts as to which path to follow as regards the two main events, Sónar and San Miguel Primavera Sound. The Sónar organisation decided two years ago that the festival had reached its crowd limit and so ticket sales were restricted to prevent crowd and organisation troubles. For instance, Sónar has lost 5,000 spectators this year, a measure applauded by their public. On the other hand, San Miguel Primavera Sound has grown every year since its creation, reaching a record of 120,000 goers in 2011. Although the Primavera Sound festival\u2019s main precinct has been enlarged (it can currently hold 40,000 people every day), some critical voices have appeared among the public arguing that it is now too massive. No one knows if the festival has reached its limit, a doubt which looms over the next editions.


  • One of the Primavera Sound's main stages moments before the start of a concert this 2011 (by P. Cortina)

  • One of the Primavera Sound's main stages moments before the start of a concert this 2011 (by P. Cortina)