Primavera Sound was launched by four amigos in 2001. Since that first event, which drew 7,700 curious music fans to see 18 bands, it has become a global smash – one of the most essential urban music festivals in Europe. The 17th instalment saw over 150,000 music lovers fill the Parc del Fòrum site to soak up a mighty billing of artists from all over the world.
The festival also spreads across Barcelona and many of the visiting bands play several sets, both in intimate city centre venues and at the sprawling outdoor location by the sea. The Primavera Pro part of the festival, also held in the city at the Centre of Contemporary Culture Barcelona (CCCB), is a must-visit. Guest speakers such as super producer Youth, Bill Drummond and Viv Albertine make it a hugely impressive component to Primavera Sound and it offers a wide platform to inspire and inform a broad swathe of people eager to get a foothold in the music industry or move up a rung in it.
With sessions entitled Funding Music Ventures: Different Stairways to Heaven, Revenue Sources in the Recorded Music Market and The Power of Music to Boost Positive Change, there is always an engaging and informative session to join. One of the highlights this year was Billy Bragg being interviewed by journalist, writer, former politician and Billy Bragg mega fan, Antonio Baños.
Bragg displays that rare gift of conveying complex themes and concepts – such as internationalism and patriotism, the birth of the teenager and how culture is now atomized and music is no longer at the vanguard of youth culture, and the pressing need to update our language and adjust the lens through which we frame and discuss modern socialist ideologies – in a simple and uncomplicated manner. With a rallying cry of “death to cynicism” and exclaiming his most enduring political and life motto – “the glass is always half full” – Bragg closed an inspiring hour. He must have been beaming with delight and vindication at the election results as Theresa May’s arrogance preceded her stumble.
Before Clash heads to the brutal concrete expanse that hugs the Mediterranean, we join the scramble to see Cigarettes After Sex at Barcelona’s famous, 1100-capacity Apollo venue. There’s a paradox seen in the frantic clamour to get inside to hear such a tranquil band kick off the Iberian extravaganza. The Brooklyn-based four-piece deliver some soothing ambient pop and we’re off.
The following night David Gedge ambles on stage and states “We’re the semi-legendary band…The Wedding Present” and treated the Apollo crowd to a 50-minute blast of songs spanning a 30-year plus career, with bangers from the ‘George Best’ album sharing the set with new instrumentals from ‘The Home EP’ released in April in time for Record Store Day. All the off-site concerts succeed in making Primavera’s appeal be diffused rather than exclusively focussed out of town. A number of free concerts have also appeased the voices complaining that the festival ticket price prevents some Barcelonians from joining in the fun.
The Parc del Fòrum site is very different to what UK festival-goers are accustomed to. There’s just no grass – anywhere –except for a spattering of astro-turf near one of the food zones. Once you accept the concrete and get over the feeling of watching your favourite bands in a giant car park rather than a field, all is well. It certainly doesn’t put off a massive British contingent that are present and getting involved at all the numerous stages.
Undoubtedly the biggest drawback, besides the lack of grass, is the mild trauma inflicted by missing some pop-up performances and the schedule clashes that force you to choose between must-see artists. Missing Mogwai suddenly appearing to play a world exclusive of latest album, ‘Every Country's Sun’ and Arcade Fire preceding their headline closing set with an impromptu afternoon gig on a 360° stage being cases in point. But you can’t be everywhere at once and there’s always something on in the next half an hour at Primavera Sound to alleviate the FOMO sting.
Standout performances over the four-days include the country rock grooves and croon from Kevin Morby, depth-charged psychedelic irreverence by Australian mob Pond, a vast turnout for Bon Iver playing much of the dark and haunting ‘22, a Million’ album, Teenage Fanclub uplifting a crowd of fans through a set of old classics and new fare, Angel Olsen beguiling several thousand men and women alike with her arresting beauty and haunting gothic country folk, Aldous Harding providing a real festival moment of stunned silence in her performance of ‘Horizon’ – her crispy voice cutting everyone present to the quick – and Seu Jorge invoking the spirit of the dearly departed with his performance of ‘The Life Aquatic: A Tribute to David Bowie’.
Elsewhere, Van Morrison played a sun-down set of obvious hits like 'Gloria' and 'Brown Eyed Girl'. He did nothing to dispel his reputation as being a bit of a misery guts, but the stalwart songs went down like a predictably smooth single malt. Miguel proved to be in thrall to the other lost legend that is Prince, while The xx, who replaced last minute drop-out Frank Ocean, added a cheeky cover of ‘White Ferrari’ that merged into Jamie xx’s 'I Know there’s Gonna Be (Good Times)' into a well-received set.
Grace Jones was a compelling spectacle, her elaborate costumes playing second fiddle to the tractor-beam white of her eyes and teeth and her naked breasts daubed in tribal paint. She is charged up with boundless energy and prowls the stage, closing her set with the triple blow of ‘Love is the Drug', 'Pull up to the Bumper' and 'Slave to the Rhythm'.
Closing proceedings at the Forum site, Arcade Fire set their stall out immediately with explosive opener ‘Wake Up’ and treated one of the event’s biggest crowds to old favourites ‘Power Out’, ‘Neon Bible’, and ‘Rebellion’ alongside new tracks ‘Creature Comfort’ and ‘Everything Now’.
As the debris blew across the emptying site like plastic tumbleweed, those still unsated headed back to the Apollo venue, where US trio Shellac and Canadian guitar heroes Japandroids, joined Nottingham’s ascendant agitators Sleaford Mods in closing the festival in sweaty and riotous style. The first 20 rows were a churning mass of limbs peaking with stage-diving and finally stage-invading, one brave reveller grabbing the mic from Jason Williamson’s camp spasms to shout “Fuck Theresa May” to rapturous applause. Whoever that was I’m sure he’ll be pleased now that his hope has come partially true.
More than 3000 concerts played to date and Primavera Sound remains proudly independent with a whopping €11 million budget used to invite a constantly eclectic blend of world class artists. Thanks to the integrity of the founders – who don’t blindly gun for increased profits but rather let quality be their driving aim – ongoing success is assured. See you down the front.
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Words: Nick Rice
Photo Credit: Eric Pamies