Barcelona's Sónar festival has long walked a trendy tightrope between big-name dance and electronica and an altogether artier festival experience. 2017 looks set to be no exception. Over 140 DJs, live acts, performances and activities are lined up over 4 days and nights, stretching into the small hours of each day and beyond.
The sounds are backed up by Sónar+D, billed as a conference where the tech and creative industries converge. In practice, it's a cavalcade of exhibitions, talks and interactive shows crossing all things multimedia. Never shying from the highbrow and experimental, the lineup will explore how AI and virtual reality can overlap with the arts, featuring experts from Google's R&D team and other tech luminaries. Distinctly trippy-sounding audiovisual shows will include a performance about the first monkey in space from the aptly-named Boris Chimp and astronomer Dida Markovic collaborating with Dopplreffekt and Antivj in a trans-media exploration of the birth and eventual death of our universe. Almost as good as a bloody mary if you're still coming down from the night before.
But let's get to the music. Sónar 2017 will notably open wth a whopping four-hour DJ-set from Björk. In many ways, the Icelandic goddess is the perfect ambassador for the Sónar philosophy, and her set promises to be as genre-blurring and label-proof as her recent records. Björk is also bringing an immersive VR experience and talk to the festival, neatly reflecting its trinity of music, art and tech.
Lest we get too carried away with the art attack, it's important to note that the core of Sónar's heavyweight acts will play on the Friday and Saturday nights. While the emphasis is very much on electronica, an impressive variety of styles and genres is covered across nine stages.
DJ Shadow's anthemic cut-and-paste hip-pop offers an early(ish) treat on the Friday, followed hot on the heels by the earthy minimalism of Jon Hopkins (DJ set) and the pounding, scattergun rhythms of Moderat. Nicolas Jaar will reprise his role as a Sónar favourite, guaranteed to receive a rapturous response with his moody, handclap-infused grooves. To see in the sunrise we'll have to choose between Soulwax's rapid-fire sample pilfering or the Nineties feelgood vibes of Masters at Work, who are playing a mammoth six-hour set.
Elsewhere on the Friday, the SonarLab stage will offer a different twist on the dance template with performances from Giggs, Little Dragon and Lunice.
Whatever you make of his madcap, saccharine neo-soul, Thundercat's unapologetic sound somehow seems the right fit for Sónar - his early performance on Saturday is bound to drag in the crowds. Then comes a tough decision, as a live set from Justice clashes with monsters of hip hop De La Soul. Whichever wins you over, a super late/early DJ set by The Black Madonna will channel hedonistic disco and house vibes to see you through to breakfast on Sunday morning.
One final project that definitely deserves a look will be Carl Craig's Versus Synthesizer Ensemble. Craig's techno will be expanded and reworked as a symphony onstage, bridging the Detroit underground and the rarefied world of classical in a collaboration truly worthy of Sónar's experimental spirit.
Photo of Björk by Santiago Felipe