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“External factors” caused problems for Barcelona’s Sónar this year, with altered dates and a riggers’ strike leading to a drop in ticket sales
By Anna Grace on 25 Jul 2019
Barcelona’s Sónar festival overcame multiple difficulties to bring its 26th edition to fruition this year, following a date change and a workers’ strike towards venue owner Fira Barcelona.
Sónar 2019, the second edition under Superstruct ownership, saw a 17% drop in attendance, with 105,000 festivalgoers attending the three-day festival compared to the previous year’s 126,000.
“The change in dates did not favour us,” said festival director Ricard Robles. Advanced Music-promoted Sónar, which usually takes place at the end of June, was scheduled this year for the 18 to 20 July by venue operator Fira Barcelona “unilaterally and non-negotiably”.
Speaking after the close of the event, Robles stated that “it has been an unusual edition but we have come out of it stronger,” adding that the team could be “mildly satisfied” with the final result given the problems they had faced just weeks earlier.
The biggest threat was posed by a workers’ strike at the festival venues, the Montjuïc and Gran Via, both owned and operated by fair trade organisation Fira.
Riggers for Fira, which is overseen by local and state governments, went on strike a week before the festival was scheduled to take place, protesting new service contracts.
“It has been an unusual edition but we have come out of it stronger”
Fira, the service provider, stated it would fulfil its duty to Sónar by hiring another provider. Festival organisers, who were not responsible for contracting the service, had no say in which company was to do the job. Sónar agreed the riggers’ claims were legitimate and urged parties to reach the best possible solution for all involved, that would result in the festival going ahead as usual.
However, representatives for the riggers filed a court motion, claiming that if new workers were contracted to complete the set-up, it would constitute a violation of their rights to strike.
On 16 July, two days before the start of the festival, a Barcelona judge ruled that another company could be hired to continue with the set-up. Although recognising the riggers’ rights, the judge stated that “exercising the right to strike for some cannot put the jobs of many others in danger and cause irreparable damage to a third party, in this case the festival.”
Yesterday (24 July), the Catalan Academy of Music issued a statement in which it showed its support for Sonar in one of its “most unfortunate” years yet, and criticised the “institutional silence” of Fira and local government institutions.
“The lack of a clear position on this conflict (the riggers’ strike) on the part of the Barcelona district council, as well as members of the general council of the Barcelona Fira, put the celebration of the festival in danger,” reads the statement.
“The lack of a clear position on this conflict [the riggers’ strike] put the celebration of the festival in danger”
“This significantly affected ticket sales and threatened the viability of a project that generates a huge number of jobs.”
The Academy also criticised Fira for its decision to change the dates of the festival for “strictly commercial and economic” reasons.
IQ has contacted Fira for comment.
“We stand by the Academy’s statement and are completely aligned with its position,” a Sónar representative tells IQ, stressing that Sónar was “caught in the middle” this year, with all problems stemming from “external factors”.
Despite difficulties, the Sónar team are “very much looking forward to the 2020 edition and hope all will be running as usual.”
The representative confirms that the festival will take place in the same venue for the next three years, moving back to its traditional dates from 18 to 20 June. The first early bird tickets for the 2020 edition sold out in just two minutes.
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