Primavera Sound (Barcelona, Spain): Review

Dick Magnusson June 4, 2018

If you would ask someone to give an example of the FOMO-expression (Fear Of Missing Out), Primavera Sound might be a pretty accurate one. When the line-up for Primavera Sound is released it’s almost like Christmas. I can normally count 50+ artists that I want to see, and still there are still much to discover. The problem is, of course, that it’s impossible for the average man (not me though) to see everything they want. Here’s just too much going on, but that’s part of the fun.

The setting for the festival is a really weird place in the northern part of Barcelona. It was built for the Universal Forum of Cultures in 2004 and combines marinas for yachts with an amphitheatre, the most over-the-top architecture styles you can think of, and along with landmark-style solar panels and the paths leading from one part to another it goes in a meandering pattern through areas with bushes and trees. For every year the festival area is further developed and expanded and there are always new places to discover.

Unfortunately, I could only go for one day, so I had to do a fly-in and carry on to Switzerland the very next day (my life is dope), but on paper I picked the best day, the Thursday, with headliners Björk, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and The War on Drugs, but more on these later.

Another great thing about the festival (don’t worry, I will try to be a bit critical later on) is that it starts in the afternoon, meaning that you can spend the day exploring Barcelona, and the last band stops playing at 5.30 in the morning. On the other hand, if you’ve got out of bed at four in the morning to catch a flight going there, it’s a long day (to some people, I guess).

The first band for me this year was Cameroon-born New Yorker Laetitia Tamko, going under the name Vagabon, playing the third largest stage, one of my new discovers. Vagabon plays a lo-fi indie rock, and on stage she is accompanied by two musicians. The sound is a bit skewed, and live it feels somewhat deliberately untight, but the songs really go through in a direct way. I have to move on to see Spanish Hinds but manage to see a somewhat stripped down “Cold Apartment” before leaving.

Hinds then. Me and editor in charge (Mr. Nilsson as he prefers to be called) had a discussion recently about Spanish bands that have reached international success. Among many bands we discussed Delorean (who also played the festival) and John Talabot, but completely forgot about Hinds (which means that we’re probably not qualified to do this at all). They released their third record “I Don’t Run” earlier this year and have matured even more in their undistorted sound, catchy melodies and the unfinished vocals.

Hinds started out with the great “The Club” from latest record, and “Soberland” comes early on. The setlist is heavy on the latest release but also mixes in songs from earlier records. Between the first songs they ask whether they should talk in Spanish or English, obviously reflecting how international the festival is; it feels like 50 % percent in the audience (more than 200,000 over all days) originate out of Spain.

What is striking about Hinds is the delight surrounding them, they really seem to enjoy themselves – and how could they not? Playing for a large crowd on one of the two main stages on a festival in their home country. The magnificent “Garden” gets a great response from the crowd and I leave the show as a happy camper.

A great new discovery was British Yonaka, playing at one of the smaller stages. I could not see the first part of the show, but the part I saw was terrific. Vocalist Theresa Jarvis is a great frontwoman, resembling Karen O, and really goes all in during “Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya”, expanding it even further compared with the record. The set is super-energetic and combines melodic sounds with heavy guitars in a great mix, and the ending “F.W.T.B.” grows even further. They really took the chance at making an impression when playing Primavera, and I hope to hear more from them soon!

If missing half shows is one problem with festivals due to scheduling issues, going straight from a great show to the next is another issue. This became clear going straight from Yonaka to the Scots in The Twilight Sad. On paper this could potentially be a match made in heaven for me, being heavy into all other bands with that dark, indie rock sound, but it just didn’t work for me this time. I had the same experience a few years back at Primavera, going straight from Nine Inch Nails to Chromeo. I can NOT recommend that to anybody, under any circumstances. I almost got into a fight (not really).

I went straight to Warpaint instead. They have truly grown with every release and have expanded both the sound and show quite a bit. Last time I saw them was at Roskilde 2014, and they felt much more shoegaze and introverted, but it has happened much in these years. The show kicks off during “Love is to die” from their 2013 release.

The audience had been growing steadily up to that point, and the response is fantastic. Despite some technical issues the band sounds great, and it’s just striking that a band like Warpaint is playing on the main stage at Primavera, as a few years back one would expect them to for sure headline shows in respectable-sized venues, but not on main stages at festivals like this one. However, it really shows that putting out great records steadily will pay off and that’s great to see. This is evident when they in the end plays my favourite song, the rather lo-fi “Undertow” from 2010, but it does feel completely natural in this setting. In the penultimate “New Song” the whole audience is dancing and it ends a great show.

Some people might review the food and such at festivals. Not me. I drink beer and chose the food stands with shortest lines, so I could stress down a burger between Warpaint and The War on Drugs. The burger tasted good I think.

Well, now the three main headliners play in a row. The War on Drugs has probably the best time slot, as playing when the sun is setting gives a really cool vibe to shows. Well, I promised some critique earlier, and here it is. I listen quite a bit to The War on Drugs at home and think they’re great. However, they doesn’t really do it for me live. It sounds a bit like Dire Straits and I don’t get anything more out of it compared to listening at home. Show opener “In Chains” is a great song as is “Pain” and “Red Eyes” later on, but something is missing for me. The rest of the crowd seems to like it, so I probably just don’t get it. I end up talking to friends about “Lilla Hästen Plopp” instead.

Same goes for Björk. Fantastic show and visuals, but I’m not in the mood for it and end up too far away from the stage to get drawn in. At least I get reminded of how easy it is to score drugs at Primavera. A guy passes by smiling and tells me I can get cocaine and amphetamines from him; “Just find me in the crowd!” as he says walking by. I go to check out Rostam instead. I really liked “Gwan” from last years release, and he has brought a string quartet with him on stage. It’s quite different to most other shows, but “Bike Dream” sounds great along with the other songs. But it’s clear that most people are at Björk, Rostam does not however seem to mind and deliver an enthusiastic set.

Four years ago I saw The Knife at Primavera at their “Shaking the Habitual” tour. It was a polarising set as some of my friends loved it and others, including myself, were not convinced. I did not really get along with the record either and live it was more confusing than anything else (and to be honest, how many are actually listening to that record rather than “Silent Shout” or “Deep Cuts” today?). However, when Karin Dreijer enters the stage at Primavera as Fever Ray, it’s just obvious how much of an artist she is. She’s not compromising with her vision, no matter how disturbing or weird it might seem. The record “Plunge” from last year received great reviews, well-deservingly, and from the get-go, it’s a visually and musically great show at Primavera. “When I grow Up” comes early on and the show increases in intensity even further during “Mustn’t Hurry”. Despite the competition from Björk, the audience is large and growing but I have to move on to see a bit of Nick Cave.

Well, I only see a bit as I end up resting and waiting for Chvrches instead. They are my main band today and arriving in the middle of the Nick Cave show is not ideal. It deserves full focus, so I can hopefully see the show another time soon.

I did however do the same mistake as I did a few years back at Reading, just after the singles from the first record were released. I expected that the hype surrounding them would draw huge crowds to the Festival Republic stage that time, but surprisingly enough, it was only half-full in the tent. At Primavera they of course draw a large crowd, but not as large as I expected, and it turned out I had overestimated how early I had to be there to get a good spot. It’s difficult to say what this means, it could only be the timing, but Chvrches have struggled a bit live before, and perhaps that’s what makes the crowd a bit smaller than, at least I, expected.

They start out with above-mentioned “Get Out” and the sound and visuals are superb from the start. They have brought a live drummer along with them, giving the show more of a live feeling, which works really well. It is also clear that singer Lauren Mayberry is growing into becoming more comfortable on stage, but the feeling is that much of the choreography is a bit forced, but I might be totally wrong (it has happened twice before). The setlist is a mixture from all three records, but earlier hits like “Gun”, “Never Ending Circles” and “Recover” get the greatest response from the audience. It’s interesting to note that in the crowd, at least where I’m standing, it is mainly the male parts of the audience that is into the show, me included, singing along with every lyric, maybe a bit too much. I did feel like Vince Vaughn at the Bar Mitzvah in Starsky & Hutch at times, which is not a good thing.

The climax of the show was of course during debut single “The Mother We Share” where basically the whole audience is playing air keyboards in the intro (at least I was…) and dancing. It was truly a great end to my Primavera Sound fly-in and I hope, as always, to be back next year.

*Disclaimer by the reviewer: We normally have great photographers, but not this time, only great sangria. Sorry for that.


About The Author

Energy researcher and semi-proud owner of probably the largest collection of Placebo-records in Sweden. Spins wax, or rather clicks MP3s, under the name DJ Pappaledig. Former concert promoter that loves festivals and listens way too much on indie rock (by choice) and children’s music (well, at least by someone’s choice…).