Interview by Scott Murphy
March 30, 2017 – 23 years in, Sonar in Barcelona is recognized as one of the foremost electronic music and arts festivals in the world. But it’s not just music. It’s a hotbed of creativity and technology.
This Saturday, Sonar Hong Kong is going to make its debut at the Hong Kong Science Park in the New Territories. The day long event will feature DJ sets by local artists, alongside established headliners like Dave Clarke, Gilles Peterson, Kode 9 and an actual show by DJ Shadow. For the less musical minded, there will be workshops, masterclasses and interactive activities that explore technology and creativity.
Justin Sweeting, one-third of the trio responsible for the already successful Hong Kong festival Clockenflap, talked about how it all came about and what attendees can expect.
How did this all come about in Hong Kong?
It’s the right time for Sonar. Sonar feels very relevant to Hong Kong, in fact, maybe more meaningful for Hong Kong then anywhere else because it is this congress of music, creativity, technology and business all coming together.
A lot of people can relate to the festival format, and that’s almost simple to explain. But Sonar +D is really the congress of creativity, technology and business…and that’s really where we see so much potential of bringing something of true cultural value to Hong Kong.
We can walk people through the entire creative process. So we’re talking about having prototypes exhibited in what we call the Market Lab. Then we’ll have the creators talking about these things in kind of the keynote discussions. Then we’ll have master classes where artists are showing people how they use these things in real life examples. Then we’ll have the festival itself, where fans will see people using these things in practice. It’s very rare to be able to see all the links on that chain on the journey throughout the creative process. Hopefully, it will inspire people and we really want to get across how accessible these things are. It’s really for anybody who has any kind of interest in creativity and technology, which really speaks to everybody!
Hopefully, you’ll get inspired by something, or get your hands on something. You’ll join one of the “build your own” keyboard workshops and really want to learn more and do something yourself. It’s very much this idea of how we can inspire actors and catalysts to create more.
So music is the accompaniment to this…
Music is always the center thing that runs through everything. It’s kind of the ever present theme that runs throughout. It’s creativity through music. It’s technology that runs through music. I guess what we really want to get across is that we are very far away from being a rave. Electronic dance is part of it, but everything we are doing besides that, really is culturally relevant.
You see Hong Kong Science Park as the perfect venue. Why?
Absolutely perfect. The layout – it’s got a wonderful outdoor space. It’s got a well set up inside space. It’s got this array of rooms, so you can have these different experiences. You’ve got an all-purpose auditorium where you can audio visual shows. We’ve got these outdoor areas which are these natural amphitheaters. You can put on incredible large-scale outdoor shows. And indoors, there are large-scale halls which can fit 2,000 people to intimate halls which can fit underground stuff.
You have all these things which are set in this environment which is very technically minded. Plus, you have hills and the harbor, so there’s a great environment coming together. It’s tech, nature—and just the fact that 365 days a year, this is the home for science and technology where businesses are doing their thing day in and day out. It just makes perfect sense.
So who do you expect to come?
It’s a very big range. On the young side, we’ll have students. So then you have all the business sectors, so anyone who is involved in kind of creativity or technology – so that’s going from people working in agencies, to architects, to interior designers to anyone that’s involved in any industry that’s involved in some way with creativity.
If you have any kind of interest in virtual reality, you should be there. If you have any interest in drones or 3D printing, you should be there. If you have any interest in the latest mobile apps, you should be there.
And is this Hong Kong creativity or worldwide?
Both. So in the expo it’s great because we are going to be showcasing a lot of homegrown local talent as well as international stuff. It’s the same across the program. So, we’ve got keynote talks by people like Daito Manabe, who is one of the foremost visual artists in the world. But then we’ve got XCEED, who is one of our shining beacons of local, visual art.
It’s the same with the music program. You’ve got fantastic international talent and fantastic visual and local talent. It’s all trying to connect all those various dots and touch points. We’re very proud to be the Hong Kong edition.
And what was the pitch that got Sonar to sign off?
Initially, it was a case of us getting in touch. We were planning to do an electronic arts festival and the more we talked about it, the more we kept referencing the seminar. We thought, why don’t we approach them and see if they would be interested. When we did, the more we learned about each other and our approaches, their organization and how they were set up, their mission and their vision, we were just so perfectly aligned that it just made sense to do this together. They knew of us from the industry and our reputation.
Was it an elaborate pitch on your part?
No, not at all. The first meeting was through some mutual contacts. We expressed our interest in wanting to do this. They did their homework about who we were, our background, what we’re about and then it was very much a win-win. We want to build Sonar in Hong Kong – and in Asia – and they felt we were the right partners to do that.
Tell me one act and one exhibit not to be missed.
For one act, you really can’t miss DJ Shadow, because he’s just great! A seminal album to begin with, always at the forefront, always pioneering, and the thing is, it’s the first time he’s ever brought his full live visual show to Hong Kong and it’s an incredible show. We’re actually the first show of the year for him, so it’s a very, very special event. He’s excited about it and it’s completely unlike his DJ performances. This is his show. It’s going to be fantastic.
And as for exhibits, there’s a lot of different kinds. Within the Plus D world, we have the workshop side, so I would say don’t miss the chance to build your own synthesizer. It’s pretty cool. There’s real expertise and knowledge to be gained and people like Daito Manabe in Hong Kong is a big deal. In that world, that kind of visual artist space, he’s top of the game. Having the opportunity to hear him speak and what makes him tick is a real rare opportunity.
We have the full Sonar ticket, which is access to everything in the festival and all the plus D programming. Then you can buy a standalone Plus D ticket, which is just HK$180, which is really aimed at the students and creative types. We’re really trying to get as many people as we can to just see the stuff, to be exposed to it.
Sonar Hong Kong takes place on April 1st at Hong Kong Science Park, Shatin, New Territories. Tickets for the full event are HK$780 while entrance to Sonar +D costs HK$180.
For more information on Sonar, please visit:
Over the past two decades, Scott Murphy has talked to many of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, in addition to vital up and comers. As a long-time producer at MTV-Asia and Channel V, he created several programs and produced many long-form documentaries on such acts as U2, Metallica, Madonna and more. He’s also been published in many newspapers and publications around the world. Currently, he’s a Creative Director at Dragon 8, a Hong Kong based auction house.