Both Mr B and me are avid electronic music fans and when we heard about Sonar in Barcelona we booked straight away. We have a record label so could get cheaper tickets through AIM, a wonderful supportive organisation for independent record labels and music industry. British Airways was a good port of call to organise flights and hotel. It works out a lot cheaper that way.
Landing at Barcelona airport we were delighted to hear Brian Eno‘s Ambient Music for Airports being played over the speakers. It was sublime and surreal especially as Mr B had been listening to the album earlier. What a difference playing music in an airport makes. It really affected how everyone interacted. Airports are often a hive of frenetic energy, but the soundtrack completely chilled everyone out.
We booked to stay at the 5* Barcelona Tower. It is in the Hospital district and quite a trek into the centre. However, the metro is just opposite and taxis are also outside. It was about 10-15 euros to get into the centre and there was also a timed complimentary shuttle bus from the hotel to both the airport and Plaza España.
Mr B was very disappointed when he saw the room as it was facing away from the centre, overlooking the hospital buildings and a built up area. He was not impressed. The door key did not work either so I popped down to reception to see if we could get a better room. I was shown the Duplex Suite which has two floors, downstairs a living room and toilet. Upstairs a jacuzzi bath under the sloping window, huge kingsize bed and two person shower.
Yes, we will have this one. The wonderful guy on reception said no additional payment was required as the original room booked was not suitable so he gave us a complimentary upgrade. The room really made it and Mr B cheered up immensely when he saw the incredible view from the window.
The sea on the right with the iconic Montjuic tower and the rest of Barcelona spreading out to the left.
Sonar is split into Sonar by Day and Sonar by Night. It is held in two different venues. By Day is held in the area of Montjuic at the large Fira and has lots of workshops, talks and special performances alongside the bigger acts on the open air stage. There is a cool VIP section with an enormous specially designed fuss ball table (four end to end customised so loads of people can play at once). The weather was roasting so fans were set up with water billowing in rain clouds spraying across you as you walked past. Heaven.
One of the big draws on the opening night was Björk‘s DJ set. The UV light effects were amazing, my trainers and dress lit up. The stage was shrouded in foliage and Björk was hidden from view most of the time. We made our way right to the front and I glimpsed what I could perhaps guess was her ankle. The set was four hours, we stayed for about an hour. Some of the set was incredible and other parts were more experimental. To be honest, we were glad to have witnessed it but prefer her songwriting to her DJ sets.
The first day we headed over to one of the indoor auditoriums to listen to Andy Stott. Mr B has been a fan for years and was over the moon to see him on the line up. The queue was pretty long to get in and we sat on the back row. The stage was completely black and the lights went down. Andy’s set was incredible and taken from his new album ‘Kindness of Strangers’. I did not feel so kind to strangers however, as lots of alleged ‘fans’ stood right behind us jibber jabbering away as his set played on. It was really infuriating. Why come and stand in the dark at a gig and then shout loudly throughout? I turned round angrily and asked them to ‘Vamos elsewhere’. A few moments later and the loudest part of Andy’s track came screeching through, you could not hear yourself think and it was fantastic as the loud mouths left the auditorium and I closed my eyes to enjoy the rest of the set.
We left to grab some food on the nearby street and went to a burger joint. It was busy, but the food was great.
Sonar By Night was held 5 minutes away at Fira Gran Via. Held in a huge cavernous building there were three stages to enjoy the music line up. There were literally thousands of people there but the space made it feel like a few hundred. Downside was not enough bars, it was roasting so I was on water only but it took a good 25 minutes of queueing to get a drink. They need to address this for next year, they have held it for 24 years so you think they would understand the need for more bars. I suggest that they just have an outlet for water only and keep alcohol separate. You are also required to load currency onto your ‘smart’ wristband so you can beep your way to refreshments. In theory again, this works on not having to carry cash around with you, but you must remember to credit the excess cash back to your card BEFORE you leave Sonar at the end of the festival. We forgot and when we returned home, again forgot until the deadline had passed and realised we had 30 euros left on our bands.
We enjoyed Jon Hopkins set which was really busy in the main auditorium. He was on about 3am. The sound was excellent and the VIP section allowed you to dance at the side of the stage and dance floor area, but I think most people preferred to be in with the rest of the delegates in the maelstrom of the dance floor. It was a really good set.
The beauty of attending Sonar in Barcelona is the revisiting of this wonderful city. It has everything, beaches, culture, food, shopping, beer, wine did I mention shopping? We enjoyed rediscovering this gem so much. Flights are pretty cheap to Barcelona all year round, and we even considered renting a place out there so we can fly out at the drop of a hat.
If you get tired of eating tapas there are some lovely Italian restaurants in the centre. We are suckers for Italian food and always search out the local trattoria or pizza place wherever we are in the world. One of favourite squares to hang out with a cold beer is Placa Reial. Gaudí designed the amazing lamp posts here and you can see everything from Flamenco to jugglers to acrobats in this fine square.
Do not miss the spectacular food market on Las Ramblas. La Boqueria. It has been here for years and is a real gem. We were parched and bought a couple of freshly squeezed papaya juices. It’s colourful, vibrant and exciting. The local bars surrounding the market all have delicious bites on offer, whatever is fresh from the market that day. Locals and tourists alike gather, chat and sample the yummy morsels. We searched out an Italian restaurant just round the corner from the market. Walk right through and then turn left into a narrow tall street. The Italian Bar Bacaro is situated in what seems is their private home, you really feel welcomed here. The food is out of this world and I’m sure that nonna (grandma) was in the kitchen making food. It was outstanding.
The Hotel Oriente on Las Ramblas is only 3 star but dates from ages ago. Hemingway and a whole host of famous people stayed here and the building is magnificent. I feel it is a real shame that some updating hasn’t happened to make it at least 4 star, but perhaps nostalgia is a draw rather than comfort and convenience. I loved the art deco style of it.
There are many little breakfast cafes operating along Las Ramblas but the one opposite Hotel Oriente was really good. That’s where I took this photo.
Two more gems we discovered were the Egyptian Museum and the Perfume Museum which is situated in a perfume shop at the back. You have to ask for them to open it for you, and you pay a small fee to enter. They have thousands of perfume bottles dating back thousands of years. It’s incredible. I was particularly interested in ancient Phoenician perfume vessels and they had a whole cabinet full. I love the hand painted designs of these beautiful pieces, some even of hand blown glass in exquisite designs that would not have looked out of place in a Missoni Home catalogue.
The Egyptian Museum is centrally located too, and what a gem! A business man became interested in Egyptology and over a number of years amassed an amazing collection. In June when we visited there was a temporary exhibition of Tutankhamen in the basement which was fascinating.
We even saw a statue of Bes, the little pygmy god of Ibiza, brought over by the Phoenicians who built colonies in the Med whilst they were trading. Bes was also worshipped in Egypt and appears as the god of childbirth protecting mothers. Interestingly in an old diving book I once read, the diver Capt Ted Falcon Barker discovered what he thought was an ancient Roman galley under the ocean near to Il Conejara a small island off the coast of San Antonio. It is purported that Hannibal was born here. (The ancient general not the killer forensic psychiatrist). In my musings I don’t think it was a roman galley he found but instead a Phoenician one, perhaps even belonging to Hannibal’s mother who it is said was shipwrecked en route to Ibiza and Hannibal was born on this small inhospitable island. In the wreckage was discovered a pottery jug with a figurine of Bes on it. The Captain had no idea what it was or who it symbolised. I recognised it immediately and if she was on that boat and that vessel had been brought for her to drink from to protect her from poisons and unclean water then we can imagine that it could have belonged to her. I would like to think so.
If you hop over to the website for the Egypt museum they also organise field trips to Egypt discovering ancient sites. They have one this year on a number of dates exploring Nefertiti. I also have researched this very interesting woman from ancient Egypt and she was a fascinating person. From the extensive research that I have conducted I have come to the conclusion that the ‘king’ she was married to Akhenaten was in fact a woman too, all the depictions of her/him are with breasts and a rounded belly. We have only been discovering ancient Egypt for just over a century so there is an awful lot we have to learn about these amazing people.