Primavera Sound. The moment that marked our first time away since the inception of Sun 13.
The Barcelona festival is like no other. At the moment, at least. Speaking to punters over the two weekends and similar conversations ensued, with suggestions that the festival has become too corporate, as the organisation looks to expand beyond its Barcelona and Porto festivals with events in Chile, Argentina, the United States and next year with the festival’s bumper second weekend set for a debut in Madrid.
Yes, this is a cause for concern. While it’s a great opportunity for people in other parts of the world to get a taste of the Primavera experience, expanding any sacred art form is a risk, both financially and artistically. Will Primavera lose its authenticity? Will the financial burden of making this thing worldwide impact on the organisation’s origins? Time will tell of course, but until then we shall reserve judgment and offer nothing but our well wishes.
This year’s festival experienced its own issues, mainly (and perhaps expectedly) due to COVID-19. With various artists having to cancel, these events had Primavera scrambling for new acts while many of the draw cards performed multiple times over the two weeks. There’s obvious sympathy for this and those critical are perhaps being too harsh.
Festivals are risky business at the best of times, and this is only amplified given the circumstances of the last two-and-half years. So what if Gorillaz performed twice? Or in King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s case, five times (and apparently not repeating a single song). Take comfort in the fact that live music is actually back in some capacity.
While the major issue which threatened to be the black cloud over the event arrived on the festival’s opening day (we’ll come to that in a bit), Primavera A La Ciutat had its growing pains, too. With various shows taking place around the centre of Barcelona between the first and second weekends, punters were forced to queue for hours just to get inside these venues; many of whom didn’t get into certain venues at all (we missed Tropical Fuck Storm and Interpol because of this).
Again, given the circumstances and the two year absence of the festival, this was merely an experiment that Primavera probably won’t peruse in future years.
So, that’s the moan over (well almost). Without trying to get bogged down in negativity, over the two weeks, the peaks most certainly outweighed the troughs. In this modern world we are quick to forget that no matter who you are, everyone’s allowed an off day. The day one issues don’t change the fact that Primavera is the world’s best music festival. After all, how many festivals give you the choice of seeing Dua Lipa or Oren Ambarchi?
While the festival has gone all out in bringing the world’s biggest artists into the fold, the organisation has never forgotten its roots with some of the world’s finest underground talent still appearing year after year. That’s what makes Primavera what it is. A broad-church for the arts and endless possibilities, and we were thrilled to be a part of it.
This isn’t a Primavera road map by any means. We weren’t even going to publish anything about it and treat the two weeks for what it was: a holiday. This is just our experience, which is the beauty of music festivals – everyone has their own.
And with that, here are some of our observations over the two weeks in Barcelona.
The elephant in the room
Okay, so let’s get the negative vibes out of the way first. To put it bluntly, The festival’s opening day was nothing short of a shit show. The bar queues meant that the punters on the way home at three in the morning, while weary, were also stone-cold sober. No bad thing for the locals, of course, but the sheer lack of organisation was alarming; especially from a festival who has always prided itself on running like clockwork.
With the amount of people in the Parc del Fòrum, added to the fact that the main stage programming on the day was minimal with only two acts performing, this meant it was dangerously overcrowded. And, to the cynics eye, oversold.
Whether the first weekend was oversold is merely speculation on our part. Aside from that, some credit has to go organisers. The bar staff issues were swiftly rectified the following day and, more importantly, water availability which was perhaps the most dangerous aspect on the festival’s first day, with queues for the three (yes three) available water points each extending beyond 200 metres. The next day saw multiple new water points installed and these issues seemed alleviated for the rest of the festival.
The Armed are the best live band in the world
Despite the storm clouds hovering over on the first day, for 50 minutes of it those worries were a distant concern thanks to the Detroit hellstorm, The Armed.
Really, it was daylight for second when talking about highlights over the two weeks, as The Armed blew the competition away with their withering noise-rock opera that, quite simply, we’re still amazed by.
Maximliasm on record is always perilous, but live The Armed delivered their snarling mess with a performance for the ages. We reiterate, The Armed are the best live band in the world. And we’re not joking.
Let’s talk about Pile…
Because we can. Along with The Armed, Pile were a band we’d been wanting to see live for years, and they didn’t disappoint. Firstly, with their towering set as a part of Primavera A La Ciutat at Sidecar where Pile had the 200 capacity in fits of euphoria as they zigzagged through their discography with spit and rancour.
There was no question that we would catch both of their Primavera outings and their performance at Ouigo on the Thursday of Weekend 2 stood up mightily as well. Pile: music produced with gale-force intensity. For those who missed them, have a word with yourself.
Did anyone actually use crypto at the bar? Binance
What was once the Primavera Sound main stage and having gone under about a dozen different monikers since, Binance is one of those stages that always welcomes the favourites.
Starting with Les Savy Fav, who after a lengthy absence picked up where they left off years ago. Tim Harrington, sporting a multi-coloured beard and white suit, didn’t go abseiling down the stage, however he did manage to procure an industrial-sized table and have his audience crowd surf it in front of stage while he firmly remained on top of it. Yup, the guy is still mad as a hatter.
Meanwhile, after all these years Sharon Van Etten may have turned us, with a shadowy arena rock performance that actually worked, transcending her methodical meanderings on record. It’s been a good decade, but consider our interests piqued. Patience is a virtue, after all.
There were no such troubles for Weyes Blood, who was lovely, charismatic and everything you’d expect from a live show. Natalie Mering was in good spirits and why not? This is an artist at the height of their powers; her songs carrying even more weight live than we thought possible. A new album is on the way, too.
Throughout the first weekend, Binance was all about the vibe. Cigarettes After Sex most certainly did their thing, while Beach House really nailed it, well-versed on how to get deep into their groove with a spellbinding set. As the soft blues and reds projected from the stage, washing over their adoring fans, it was a good way to end the day.
The second weekend was all about nostalgia, beginning with Ride who performed their revered LP, Nowhere which went down an absolute treat. And speaking treats, The Jesus and Mary Chain followed doing what they do very fucking well. And before you ask: yes, they played April Skies.
The only minor grumble at Binance was Bauhaus or, in our case, lack thereof; their clash with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds had us making tough choices. We’re very much hoping there is a next time.
Creature comforts: Rockdelux Auditorium
Over the years, The Auditorium has arguably been our favourite stage, which made it slightly disappointing that there were no acts performing in this beautiful space during the second weekend.
That said, we got our fill during the first, and while Kim Gordon evaded us due to the enormous queues on the first day, the next two began by getting in early and enjoying the comforts the Auditorium has to offer (namely seats and air conditioning).
Including the music, of course, starting with the mighty Low. The first of their two performances over the weekend (we missed the second due to the certain matter of Einstürzende Neubauten), from front to back, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker guided us through the incredible HEY WHAT, which translated beautifully in this epic cauldron. Over the last three decades it’s not a stretch to suggest that Low are the best band in the world and their performance didn’t waver our opinion.
Day 3 of the first weekend saw The Caretaker weave his magic in underdog fashion. The self-professed champion of the underground produced a series of fractured soundscapes using surreal visual backdrops to make the experience one we won’t forget in a hurry. Who knew that Leyland James Kirby could get his Sinatra on, too? Unexpected, but that’s what made this experience a fantastic one.
And speaking of fantastic, look no further than Jenny Hval. In support of her fantastic 4AD debut, Classic Objects, Hval and her band broke down the boundaries of pop, dismantling these songs with the avant-garde quality that has served her well over the years. A fitting curtain call for the Auditorium. For us at least. Until next year…
People en masse: Pull & Bear/Estrella Damm
These stages are quite daunting considering most of us are still finding our way in this new post-lockdown world.
Main stages have never really been our thing, with a preference to mill around the smaller stages and avoid the masses. In any case, there was plenty to whet the palate over at the Pull & Bear and Estrella Damm. And before you ask: no, not Tame Impala. We saw them and yes, an exquisite light show, but that’s about it.
While Pavement were having loads of fun (and why not? They really were great and far better than their performances during their 2010 reunion tour), Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds did what they do best, thrashing through their body of work, which included some nice additions from Abattoir Blues/ The Lyre of Orpheus. Opening with Get Ready for Love and it can’t be anything other than sensational, right?
Meanwhile Cave’s rendition of I Need You was easily the emotional moment over the two weekends, as he dedicated the song his sons, Arthur and Luke.
Before the Bad Seeds and, despite one of the smaller crowds at these stages, Einstürzende Neubauten stole the show, rolling through the brilliant Alles In Allem with aplomb. An odd choice for them to perform on the Pull & Bear stage, no doubt, but perhaps it was a logistical choice given their miscellaneous array of bespoke instruments. Either way, all hail Neubauten. Blixa Bargeld and Co. nailed it.
The Strokes, Tyler The Creator, Gorlliaz and Dua Lipa? They were probably all great in their own right, but we didn’t catch a glimpse. It’s a main stage thing…
Cupra, Cupra, Cupra!
Formerly known as the Ray Ban stage, Cupra has been home to some of the best performances Primavera has ever seen (Stereolab in 2019, anyone?).
Over the two weekends it was a place for nostalgia and ’90s reverence, beginning with Dinosaur Jr who absolutely left nothing onstage. Lou Barlow was the most animated we’ve ever seen him, while J. Mascis stretched beyond his usual monosyllabic in-between song patter. Never say never.
Getting a late call up due to a rescheduling which saw Caribou slide onto the main stage in place of The Strokes due to one of their members getting COVID, Mogwai hopped on the plane and escaped the Jubilee in one of the finest performances on the opening day. Their set on the second weekend was equally as good and quite different with not a shred of disappointment in catching them again in favour of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Slowdive made a timely return with a set we’d all come to expect from them, really. The sun didn’t hit, it was going down, which made the whole thing even better!
During the first weekend, Idles (really not our bag all told) drew what was easily the wildest crowd over the two weekends. An incessant mosh pit of sloganeering anthems for a good hour and the audience lapped it up big time. Fair dos, people really dig ’em.
Friday of Weekend 2 saw us having a quiet beer around the corner from our motel before making the trek into Parc Del Forum. The Estrella tasted nice enough and we did well not to spit it out after seeing a figure emerge from around the corner and towards us: No other than one Thom Yorke! It can be confirmed that he really doesn’t like people, walking straight past us like we were ghosts. Not even a smile (sorry, couldn’t resist).
The Smile lived up to the billing, though, and while A Light for Attracting Attention is yet to really sink into the bones, live these songs contained a new kind of energy. Many had this down as their weekend’s highlight and it’s a fair point. They were pretty damn good.
The underbelly of it all: NTS Warehouse
One of the other regular stages of Primvera’s past, 2019 saw us seeking refuge in this underground car park stage where a host of avant-garde experimental talent showered us in tech-house and dance floor euphoria.
This year, the stage was set (literally) for more outlier purveyors to weave their magic, and for us it all started with firm favourites, Moin. Prior to actually getting on a plane to Barcelona, we didn’t even know Moin were playing! Such as our chaotic organisation, we only studied the timetable at the beginning of each day, and the two greatest surprises landed in NTS.
So Moin. What a cathartic mess they conjure up, with Unwound-inspired dread in what was the darkest rain cloud over the two weeks. Moot! was one of last year’s top releases and they did the album every bit of justice in the live arena.
The second surprise? The don of experimentation, Oren Ambarchi, who was joined by Konrad Sprenger and Phillip Sollmann. The trio delivered an hour long composition that expanded into some sort of drone-laden banger. Hypnotic, loud and just plain fucking good.
That wholesome feeling: Plentitude
Tucked away alongside Ouiga stage, Plentitude had plenty going on over the two weekends, showcasing an electric range of artists who projected vitality out towards the Mediterranean Sea.
While The Armed stole the show with their performance, Parquet Courts drew one of the biggest crowds over the two weekends, before Shellac delivered yet another series of razor-wire rock ditties, including a few new ones for good measure.
Earl Sweatshirt produced a performance which was like a perfect comedown, with the songs taken from the great SICK! amplifying the fact that it’s one of our favourite records so far this year.
The second weekend saw great sets from Pond, The Weather Station, and – what turned out to be one of the highlights of the final day – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, who have really honed in on their craft since the last time we saw them back in 2017. They now possess a body of work fit for any festival stage across the world and it’s great to see.
Ouiga? Yeah, Ouiga.
While we’ve already paid a good dose of homage to Pile, Ouiga was one of our favourite stages over the two weekends. While we missed the high-octane assault of Otoboke Beaver, fear not; we endured the mutant-rock bludgeoning of Tropical Fuck Storm who basically reverse engineer rock ’n’ roll as we know it. We never thought we’d say circle pit and Tropical Fuck Storm in the same sentence, but there you go. It happened.
Jehnny Beth had the crowd eating from the palm of her hand with a Reznor-inspired performance of amphetamine-fuelled industrial rock, however it all felt a bit like a curtain-raiser for the second weekend which presented the next best performance after The Armed.
Enter High On Fire.
Whatever you think about the controversial Matt Pike, one thing can’t be denied: High On Fire shred hard, and while they didn’t hit the stage until after 1am, it’s arguably the best we’ve ever seen them. With new drummer, Big Business’ Cody Willis, High On Fire created roaring pillars of noise that almost stirred up a tsunami in the Mediterranean Sea. Lightning-fingered and in good spirits, Pike stole the show, as High On Fire were hands down the highlight of the second weekend.