I hit the runway at Barcelona-El Prat a little after 9:30pm Wednesday evening. As I prevail another Ryanair flight I silently thank the universe. I sit among a crush of likely festival-goers, each overcoming the haze of pre-flight Amstel. The evening’s outcomes would be two-fold, the memory of a beautiful sunset viewed from the terrace of an Airbnb, and a hangover I would carry with me for seven more days. Tomorrow is the first day of Primavera Sound.
Primavera is a city-based festival, held at the massive concrete waterside complex Parc del Fòrum. This means AirBnB, hostel, or hotel living. No tents, no grass, and nobody murdering Bob Marley on acoustic at 4 am. In fact Primavera is a festival-by-night so headline acts are usually taking to the stage around this time. Sound horrendous? You’ll adapt quickly. The festival boasts its largest capacity of 64,500 per day this year, so there’s plenty of people about to keep you on your feet alongside a plethora of (unfortunately pricey) scran and dutch lager.
The line up is massive, with 295 acts performing across 22 stages, most inside the main Parc complex, with a few scattered about the city.
Inclusivity has been a big topic at the festival this year. At the beginning of 2018, 45 international music festivals pledged to combat gender inequality in the music industry as part of the PRS’s Keychange initiative. The plan encourages organisations to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022 to bring about an era where inclusivity is “The New Normal”.
Primavera have recognised that 2022 is not soon enough and so this year the festival’s line-up comprised 50.77% female artists, 41.92% male, 6.53% mixed, and 0.76% identified as non-binary. There’s a lesson here for a certain Scottish city festival, amongst others, for whom gender parity has been a (recently very embarrassing) afterthought, normality edges ever closer folks.
There were a lot of acts I saw for the first time this year, the line-up felt current, and felt to be one of the strongest Primavera has curated. If you can survive the hours, ignore the commercialism, and forgive the astro turf laid out at the main stage, then you’ll possibly love this festival of guaranteed sun, early morning madness, and categorical talent. Here are some of my highlights from this year:
Julien Baker: Epic but reserved
There are merchants selling 1 Euro Estrella outside the festival gates I head to see Julien Baker, her five year career leading up to opening the huge Auditori Rockdelux indoor stage situated at the doorstep of Parc Del Fòrum. I can hear the familiar despair of Julien’s voice as I shuffle towards it through the spacious angled foyer and up to the balcony of the already packed-out auditorium.
It’s dark. Faint blue light provides just enough illumination to find a seat. Julien stands alone in the void below, while a single spot light establishes the solid ground from which she shatters everything else.
Her performance is powerful and captivating. Her final two songs Turn Out the Lights, and Appointments both end on Julien just-in-so reaching the top of her range, but it feels like she could give more as she parcels up emotion and meaning in each note while slamming hell out of her guitar. A synthetic pad and deep bass drum are used sparsely here for that extra emotive gut shaking boom.
Dream Wife: Pure psyched punk pop
London’s Dream Wife, a formerly fake girl band created to star in an art school mockumentary, hit the Adidas Originals stage in the late afternoon. Head-shakes of agreement and joy are exchanged in the crowd as the band bounce on to the stage, hammering out punk-pop lead lines with spoken / screamed / chanted vocals. There’s a sharp edge to this band’s bounce and style, there’s 90s pop aesthetic without the sickening “bubbliness”, more like Alice in Wonderland brandishing a knife perhaps. The colours amplify their energy and it’s clear that Dream Wife are charged to be making their debut Primavera performance.
Big Thief: Ooft, that was sad, again please
“Would it help … to go deeper, I am the photograph in you … still as the moment we’re lying in right now” sings Adrianne Lenker surrounded by wildflowers as she and her band begin to play on Pull&Bear, one of two main stages. Knowing that Big Thief write as form of therapy, recounting their struggles in picture perfect detail, it’s impossible not to empathise, their songs break down your barriers as you find common ground in the stories you’re told.
The beating Barcelona sun and Shark Smile mix perfectly, we bop along to this story of young but doomed love and are given some respite before Adrianne teases the raw power of her voice in Terminal Paradise before she fully erupts in the screaming dark country rock ending of Contact. It’s here I’m overwhelmed by sadness and awe, this set fast becoming my favourite of the entire festival.
Maribou State: Faultless summer-house
We’re met with the Lotus stage at the beach-side lowest point of the festival by Maribou State kicking off their set with Nervous Tics. Holly Walker is on vocals as Chris Davis and Liam Ivory create the summer-house vibes behind.
It’s around 4 am and it feels like the sun it still setting, or perhaps it’s threatening to rise, either way the atmosphere is euphoric in both natural and chemically induced senses for some. I settle into the crowd as Holly beckons the final drop of Steal, “Need the remedy to sleep at night”. A subdued tribal side-chained beat takes over with ambient bass-heavy synthetic layering throughout. The colours on stage mix seamlessly with the natural light from the clear horizon in our periphery. From where I’m stood I can see the party spreads from the main crowd into factions along the shoreline as some attempt to wind down from the long day passed.
In my mind this is the perfect finish to the first day, “This will be the last one from me” calls Holly, bringing us back to reality after The Clown. She leaves us with Chris and Liam to finish on Vale, and Turnmills, a guitar-lead, almost John Frusciante-esque house anthem that we’d still be chanting as we board the 6 am tram home.
Lucy Dacus: Earliest and most devastating set of the festival
The first show of the second day. I make my way jelly-legged down the steps of the Ray-Ban amphitheatre to the eager sun-trapped sizzle of people surrounding Lucy Dacus and her band, “this song is about how America sucks”, she states in tribulation, “I’m trying to be more positive, but it’s hard”, gently plucking the opening line of Yours & Mine. The audience is quiet but sizeable. Many are content observing from the large steps that rise at the rear of where I’m standing as I nurse my first cold beer of the day. Lucy comes back to us, “I’m gonna do something different, this is our newest song, it’s about my mother”. My Mother & I speaks of body image and considers that which is passed on by blood and that which is passed on by lesson from those that raise us. I Don’t Wanna be Funny Anymore, provides the uplifting dose of sad-rock needed to finally welcome in this new day. The band’s penultimate tune Night Shift kicks into driven shoegaze noise with Lucy singing, “You got a nine to five, so I’ll take the night shift”, in what feels like avoidance tactics in a relationship going deeply awry. The set ends on a yet to be recorded song and I take away some of Lucy’s last devastating words, “I don’t know how you keep smiling”. As I leave I’m haunted slightly by the relentlessness of life, help.
Snail Mail: Shredding is cool again
The Primavera stage is backed by a rare grassy knoll for those wishing to be reminded of a more traditional festival experience. Here Snail Mail, lead by 19 year old Lindsey Jordan, are a truly commendable success story already. Her band launch into their set with confidence but halts as Lindsay coolly says “man, that sh*t just gets out of tune huh?”. Now I’d heard that Snail Mail love to shred, and Lindsay she tunes up she slams her guitar as if to confirm it, inspiring pure belief in the cutting guitar solos to come. This is first dose of American indie rock I’ve had all weekend, and as I walk away from this set, I’m left with an overwhelming desire to bin my laptop and dig out my Strat.
Beak>: We all chant the melody
It’s full to the brim and close to sunset as Beak> step out onto the Primavera stage. I’ve lost my friends. I’m sent a picture of a man in a farmers cap as a landmark. I stand on my tip toes and remarkably spot this cap some thirty rows deep ahead of me. If there’s something to be said about the crowds at Primavera it’s that they’re friendly, and they’re loose. In my fifteen years of festivals so far I’ve never had crowds more easily traversable. Two minutes and thirty “Perdóneme”s later I’m in.
Beak> have a habit of causing crowds to sing repetitive guitar riffs at full volume. I found myself lost in the mindset of a football hooligan that loves bass delay. “Is it loud enough” asks Geoff Barrow before bringing on “the best metal drummer [he] knows” to our delight to play the bongos for the final song of the set.
Aldous Harding: We are so very mortal
The persona of Aldous Harding is one of an entitled higher being, commanding the respect of the humans below. She tows a line of appreciation and pity toward their screams of adoration. It’s difficult not to love our god even as she facially contorts (or frankly, gurns) her way through the opening song, Designer. She’s magnetic.
It’s clear her performance has developed over time. While audacious, Aldous is believable, her actions neither ridiculous nor contrived. Her voice is restrained, and her actions are calm and considered. I raise my camera as Aldous locks on to my actions. Zooming in, her face twists to a manic grin, tongue peaking out, and head nodding to the rhythm of Elation. The moment feels like a competition in who will relent first. I concede and return to my place in this world.
Aldous demonstrates intimacy with her band, as if to have accepted them, but they still appear mortal. Subtle smiles are exchanged as she and her keyboardist share the keys. In the final few seconds of the set we see Aldous become human, joining her hands in praise whispering “thank you” as she leaves us to dawdle about existence once more.
Avalon Emerson: In Bits in The Bits
Avalon closes the final night of the festival proper with over nintey minutes of entrancing danceable new wave, rave, techno bliss. The visuals bring something extra that seeing Avalon in a club doesn’t. The colours are almost synaesthetic. The Bits is the busiest I’ve seen it all weekend with many unable to face the congestion on the bridge over from the main area. There’s a definite mix of day ticket holders and weekend warriors, many of the latter are laid on the sand exhausted but holding out for the end of Avalon’s immaculate set.
The Beths: We’re The Beths
Held at the Sala Apolo, there’s bunch of shows the day after the main festival finishes with free entry to all ticket holders. Acts included Agost, LNDFK, Amyl and the Sniffers, Efrim Manuel Menuck, cupcakke, and Miya Folick, running late into the night with DJ Coco and Flaca, but the stand out for me are The Beths.
Hailing from New Zealand, The Beths provide fun, moving, honest rock. The vibe in the room is wholesome and we are blessed with beautiful relief at a time where we never thought we’d see another day, singer Liz Stokes congratulates us “it’s last the day and I commend you if you need to not stand”.
The band form an awkward but comical dialogue with the crowd for the entire show, ending each interaction with “we’re The Beths”. Now either exhaustion has got to me, or this band are so charming that I find this hilarious every time. My suspicion of the former is later confirmed as Liz sings “But there’s something about you … I wanna risk going through” in Future Me Hates Me, and a few tears begin to form.
By the end of the show there’s a small pit formed at the front of the stage, arms raised chanting “I die, I die little death”, the spirit of the festival is back in full. The band hug each other on stage and take a bow saying “We’re The Beths, rock band from Auckland New Zealand”, Liz confirms “it’s true”, “we’re The Beths”.
Leaving close to midnight, the earliest of any night, I feel safe in the knowledge that I’ve survived this exceptional weekend and that I might remember what it’s like to finally get some rest.