Some music journalists claim that American music festivals could really learn a thing or two from Primavera. Others say that Primavera is the second version of the UK’s infamous Glastonbury.
When the lineup for 2014’s Primavera Sound was released, I was in awe. I was unable to attend (given that it’s in Barcelona, and I live in Edmonton, and I had already exhausted my vacation allowance on Iceland), but I could only hope that a festival that managed to put The National, Neutral Milk Hotel, Future Islands, Arcade Fire, St. Vincent, and many others in the same place was a festival to watch, and it moved to the top of my music festival bucket list. Primavera Sound takes place in Barcelona in the Parc del Forum, which is an enormous concrete park right on the beach. 12 stages are spread throughout the grounds for the three main days, while smaller concerts take place in the city in the days immediately preceding and following the festival. Naturally, I was paying attention when the lineup for this year’s festival came out back in January. There was no The National or Arcade Fire, but many other of my current favourites as well as living legends were scheduled to perform.
My boyfriend and I had floated around the idea of travelling to Europe somewhere in the summer, and combining this music festival with an adventure around Spain sounded like a great trip idea to us. We bought our passes and booked our flights, and scheduled about a week of time in Spain prior to the festival starting so we could get used to the time change and acclimatize to the vacation life. I’m not incredibly experienced with music festivals – Iceland Airwaves was the first full festival I had attended outside of Edmonton – so I had very little idea of what to expect (though I was at least prepared with the knowledge that there would be terrible, heartbreaking performance clashes). Here are my thoughts about the festival – who I saw, what I missed, what it was like, and ultimately, what I learned.
Artists seen (in order of appearance):
- Viet Cong
- The Thurston Moore Band
- Antony and the Johnsons
- Chet Faker
- José Gonzalez
- The New Pornographers
- Tobias Jesso Jr.
- Perfume Genius
- Belle & Sebastian (one song, before their set ended)
- Run The Jewels
- Ariel Pink
- Patti Smith
- Mac deMarco
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra
- The Strokes
What I Missed
- James Blake – He was on at the same time as Jungle, and while my original intention had been to see James Blake, my feet hurt too much to walk all the way back to the main stage area to see him, so I saw my alternate choice.
- Damien Rice – He was on at the same time as Perfume Genius, who is one of my current favourite musicians, though Damien Rice was a favourite of mine when I was younger.
- Belle and Sebastian – Again, a favourite band of mine when I was younger, though I listen to them less now, and they were on at the same time as Perfume Genius. I thought I’d be able to catch more of their set after Perfume Genius, but all I saw was one song.
- Shabazz Palaces – They were on at the same time as Sleater-Kinney, whose reunion and performance was much more important for me to see.
- The Soft Moon – They were on at 4 AM and we were just too tired – though it ended up with all the time we spent waiting for the shuttle bus, we could have just stayed and watched them while we waited for the Barcelona metro to re-open.
- Panda Bear – His was a weird show where you had to stand in line to get tickets for the show at a separate time than when the show was happening, and it was too much effort for us.
- Interpol – They were on at the same time as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who is a current favourite of mine versus Interpol which was a past favourite.
- My Brightest Diamond – She was only playing during the Sunday closing festivities after the official festival was over, and we were leaving Barcelona by that point.
What’s it like?
70 thousand-some people attend the festival over the course of three days, which is a LOT more than the 8000 who attend Iceland Airwaves over 5 days, or the 3000 who attend Edmonton Folk Fest over 4 days. Granted, there are also 12 stages for people to spread themselves out across, but it still potentially means shitty views of bigger bands, poor-condition outhouses, and loads of garbage. Major kudos to the Primavera Sound festival staffs who managed to clean up the garbage at the end of each night (beginning of each morning?) before the hoards of people arrived and dirtied everything up again. Despite all the stages and acts of varying musical styles, the sound at most of the shows was excellent. However, due to some of the smaller stages’ proximity to each other, it’s possible for a quieter act to get overpowered by a louder band. Tobias Jesso Jr., who came only with a grand piano and acoustic guitar, could barely be heard over the loud guitars of the nearby New Pornographers concert. He handled it graciously, but it was still disappointing to fans of him like myself to not really get to hear his show.
The grounds at Primavera are huge, so I was walking around a lot! On Day 2 and 3 I gave up on looking cute and just wore running shoes to ease my feet. It’s mostly concrete in the Parc del Forum, but there are patches of grass in some areas to sit down and relax on, and one of the stages is almost like an amphitheatre, and the tiered stairs leading down to it act as decent seats overlooking the crowd and stage. There’s a fairly large food area (nothing too delicious unfortunately) with lots of picnic tables and benches. And there are plenty of beer tents so the lines are never too long, though the festival sponsor was Heineken so that was all they have. Spanish people are different than Icelandic people in that they tend to get a bit more rambunctious and loud, so there were times that I could barely hear a musician because people were speaking/yelling loudly next to me. Additionally, as it was outside and in Europe, there was smoking everywhere, and it was impossible to get away from. But, all the crowds make for an incredible atmosphere. Everyone is excited about all the amazing acts performing, so not once did I meet someone who was in a bad mood or looking to start a scene. There were fewer international attendees than I expected, but people were friendly and eager to start up conversations before a band came on. And how can you beat the amazing lineup curation? I always had a show I could be at, and sometimes I wished I could be in three places at once. It’s exhausting to run from stage to stage to catch all your favourites, but with the quality of bands, sound, and set-up that Primavera presents, they’re all so, so worth it. The only act I didn’t enjoy was (surprisingly) The Strokes, and that was because I’ve never seen a band so uninterested in performing for their fans in my life.
What I Learned
It is a European festival, so the shows don’t really get started until around 4 PM, and electronica/DJ acts can play until 6 AM, as the sun rises over the Mediterranean sea. We thought that over those three days we’d still be able to get some Barcelona sightseeing done during the day, but between queuing for those earlier, 4 PM shows at 2:30 or 3, and being up so late that you sleep in a lot the next morning, sight-seeing isn’t really possible for more than an hour or two. The Parc del Forum isn’t really by anything other than the beach, so if the festival is all you’re doing, it’s worth it to stay in accommodations that are within walking distance. The metro closes at midnight during the week, but is open 24/7 on Saturday, so there are two days where you will be left to take either a night bus or the shuttle, which incurs long queue lines and a generally frustrating process when you’re tired and just want to sleep.
If you are fit and able to do other things in Barcelona during the festival, it’s best not to stay near the Parc del Forum, so you’re actually near some of the interesting things in the city (i.e. city centre, Gracia neighbourhood, La Ramblas). Primavera Sound is also less concerned with hydration than other music festivals. Water cost 2 euro and when they gave it to you in a bottle they took the cap off, in case I filled it with rocks and used it as a weapon or something. You could bring small unopened bottles of water in with you, but there were only one or two fountains to refill it at, and by the end of the night they were also covered in garbage. At the indoor venue, however, you couldn’t bring any food or beverages in with you, and had to leave it outside on a table to collect later. Consequently, I found myself not drinking very much at all (water, alcohol, or otherwise) because it was a bit of a hassle.
The biggest lesson I learned, and this is a continuation of what I experienced with the schedule conflicts at Airwaves, is that no matter who you choose to see, you will likely have made the right choice in that moment. I thought for sure I was going to choose James Blake over Jungle, but my feet ached too much to go back to the big stage so I stayed for Jungle instead, and they put on a good show too. Being front row for the amazing Perfume Genius set was worth missing both Damien Rice and the majority of Belle and Sebastian’s set. I’ve fortunately never experienced picking the “wrong” show, but I think when you’re choosing between artists of the high calibre that exists at Primavera, you likely won’t be disappointed either way. It’s going to take a lot to get me to hawk out the funds for another flight to Barcelona for another edition of Primavera Sound, but if you’re headed to Spain in the spring, definitely consider giving this one a look-sie.