Primavera Sound is to Sonar what Phil is to Gary Neville: the younger brother, proud of his home city, who has not earned the headlines of it’s sibling but has achieved more in the eyes of critics due to his honesty and hard work.
That’s a very strained metaphor but arriving into Barcelona on the night of the Champion’s League Final, the eve of Primavera Sound ‘09, it does embarrassingly spring to mind. Primavera doesn’t have the international reputation of the world-renowned festival it shares its home with, but lacks none of the vibrance, charm or musical originality of the city’s longer-running event.
What makes Primavera so unique is that while from the outside it looks like it has a ‘Holier than thou’ indieness to it, on-site there’s a wonderful sense of unity through the many forms of expression. Headlining spots are just as likely to be given to ambient-punk experimentalists Deerhunter as they are huge-selling rockers Bloc Party; opening acts range from two-man thrash mentalists Lightning Bolt to the comparative easy listening of Bat For Lashes. But the breadth of music genuinely adds to a feeling of togetherness amongst the crowd. By the time malevolently masculine bands like The Jesus Lizard and SunnO))) take the stage even the girliest girls stare in awe at the vibrations and sweat pouring from the stage.
The festival is packed with both up-and-coming or critically acclaimed bands getting a rare chance to play in front of huge festival crowds; the kind reserved so often at English festivals for safer commercial acts. For some it is too much. Wavves’ Nathan Williams unfortunately suffers a mini-breakdown on stage, something he later blames on a combination of exhaustion, ecstasy and Xanax, and is pelted with projectiles by the crowd as he runs away. Other bands cope more admirably: Liars steal the Saturday headline spot on the ATP Stage as Angus Andrew gives the most extraordinary display of murderous/ camp/ loveable prima donna dance moves for which the role of front man was invented. Ghostface Killah serves up a performance of Wu anthems, Dan Deacon is joined on stage by an 18-person ensemble who raise hell, and Black Lips play at 3am on the last night stirring up as much trouble as possible.
By the end of three days most people are a (happy) mess. The last DJs come off stage at 6 in the morning, at a time where even the hardiest of Spanish ravers have had enough. All that’s left is a walk along the beach to your apartment in the city centre, where you can contemplate what’s just happened. The classics you’ve had the privilege of enjoying and the multitude of new music you’ve learned about.
Primavera is an education in the history of music and the art of having a truly amazing time.
Bat For Lashes