DJ Harvey on 25 years of Sónar and his set at SonarCar


When it comes to house music, no-one symbolises the hedonism, emotion, fun and abandon of dance music as much as DJ Harvey. Given his outsize stature on the scene, and the legendary reputation he's cultivated over the last 30 years, it's somewhat surprising that he's only played Sónar a handful of times. Still, no-one has a better grasp on the evolution of house music in the Mediterranean than the globetrotting ex-pat, and we can't think of anyone better to do justice to SonarCar than this titanic talent.

In anticipation of his six-hour set at Sónar by Night, we talked to Harvey via a Skype call from Barcelona to his Los Angeles home.

Your first performance at the festival wasn't until 2012, what do you remember from that day?

I remember it was really good fun, there was a big crowd right in front of me and the atmosphere was great. I think I only played for an hour that day, which is very short compared to what I'm used to. But I had a fantastic day, both the first and also the second time, when I played two years later at Sónar by Day in front of even more people, if I remember correctly.

This year you are going to play for six hours at SonarCar. Is this your preferred length of set for your style of dj'ing?

Yes, definitely. In six hours you have the opportunity to develop a narrative and tell a story. There is enough time and space to change up genres and musical feeling.

What is the musical story you would like to tell? Do you plan your set a few days before the gig or do you play on the fly?

In reality, it is always the crowd who decide what I am going to play in any given moment. With current technology and hard drives that allow you to carry thousands of records on a tiny device, I have many options to move from one place to another. The choice of each track depends on the reaction of the people in front of me; that's what helps me decide what record to put on next. Sometimes people say to me: "how amazing that you can play any music you want, whenever you want", and I always answer: "It's not what I want, it's what you want!"

Do you at least prepare the first five tracks?

Maybe I will have some idea of what I will ​play first at the beginning of a set, so that I have an opportunity to go in one direction or another. Also sometimes you need a bit of time to feel comfortable and familiarise yourself with the booth, the venue, the equipment and the atmosphere. Normally I start with something quite atmospheric that sets the tone a little, but at the same time something that is adaptable enough to allow me to later go wherever I want. This tends to be three or four tracks, no more.

Do you like cars? Which is your favourite?

Yes, I like them but I've always been much more into motorcycles. In fact, I have a motorcycle but no car. Now that I think about it, I must be the only person in Los Angeles who does not have his own car (laughs).

What is your relationship with Barcelona?

Barcelona is a beautiful city with a special vibe. It has many of the things that I like about European and Mediterranean culture; although the truth is that I have never spent enough time there to get to know it better. Whenever I have visited it's only been for a few days at a time, which is a shame.

You of course spend more time in Ibiza. How would you describe your feelings ahead of this summer at Pikes Hotel on the island?

I really enjoy my residency there because I can completely control the atmosphere. I have been regularly going to Ibiza for 30 years, and for me nothing has changed. People often say: "oh, the island has changed a lot" but for me nothing has really changed. There has always been a commercial side, a spiritual side; even the people are the same as before (laughs). In Pikes I can express myself with total freedom and I know the place inside out. People seem to really enjoy it, so it has all worked out really well.

Is it very different for you to play at a club like Pikes than at a festival?

All places are different. At Pikes the crowd are very close to you and the dance floor is small, it is a very intimate environment. At a festival everything changes, usually everything is more dynamic and above all there are so many more people. But I adapt well to any situation, I am not a DJ from a single place or that can only play in specific conditions. I always play the music that I think is the best choice for each moment, it does not matter if I'm in a basement in Detroit or on a paradise beach in Bali.

The conditions and atmosphere of SonarCar are more like a club than an open-air festival...

Yes, I have already been told that it is a unique space and that it has the appearance and atmosphere of a club. It will be good for me to develop a six-hour set. It is sure to be one of this year's most intense and special moments; Sónar is a very prestigious and globally renowned gig, and I am really happy to be part of the festival this year.

Do you think that clubbing still holds the same importance for new generations as it did a few years ago? Have you noticed any significant changes in the public's behaviour?

The dance music industry is now well established, and stronger than ever in all aspects: digital sales, festivals, nightclubs, media ... It is a huge global industry that moves millions of people around the world. Perhaps the most important change from the point of view of artists is that you previously performed or played to promote, in some way, your records so that they sold well; but people don't buy records anymore, so the trend in recent years has been the opposite, to release records or tracks in order to be able to perform, almost as an excuse to tour the world. This changes things considerably and has begun a new period in which festivals have a lot of say, because they are the places where the greatest number of people gather and the place that generates the most income for artists. At the same time and from another point of view, much of the music that is now made is quite retro sounding and has already been done before: house, techno, disco; and the need for people to enjoy, dance and meet each other to have fun is the same as it's always been. So, in that sense, I don't think there have been too many changes over the last twenty years.

And you? Have you changed the way you play and your nocturnal lifestyle since you began?

Right now, professionally speaking, I am very happy with the place I'm in. It's thirty years on and I feel that I have earned everyone's respect and that I can make a living from the profession that I love so much. In fact I consider it my art, not my profession. And being able to live from it and still enjoy it, is all I need; nothing else really matters.