I’ve just jumped off a plane from Spain, following a week in Barcelona for the annual Primavera Sound Festival – which, in its 16th year, is one of Europe’s most iconic and popular events. And there’s a good reason for it – it is unequivocally one of the world’s finest festivals. That’s a matter of opinion of course, but for yours truly and others who attended the event this year and in the past, it’s very much how we see it.
So what makes this the case? Here are just 8 of the reasons why Primavera Sound is one of the best festivals in the world, and why every Australian should make the pilgrimage to Barcelona for the event.
1. A line up full of “Exclusives”
As much as Coachella boasts its exclusives and reunions, Primavera kicks off the European Summer Festival Season with a slew of its own. And it seems very much in its nature not to run around boasting about it. This year, the festival served as Radiohead‘s first festival appearance in almost five years (and the second time they’d played “Creep” in seven years), the first time The Avalanches appeared outside of Australia in some 15 years, Sigur Ros‘ first gig since 2013, alongside the first time they’d played “Starálfur” in a decade (in both instances, not including their intimate warm up show a week or so ago), PJ Harvey‘s first festival appearance since she was in Australia over four years ago, one of Air‘s first shows in 7 years, LCD Soundsystem‘s first show in Europe since the “reunion” and much more…
Suffice it to say, you’re going to have some pretty incredible musical experiences at this event, not to mention some rare and unique ones.
2. A chance to genuinely discover new music
And sitting alongside the exclusives from well-established outfits are a number of stages designed for music discovery. This has especially been true since the festival started running a conference called “Primavera Pro” alongside the event, which attracts a slew of lesser known acts to showcase at the event, much as they would at The Great Escape or SXSW. Aussies like Jack Carty and Gang of Youths were among those who took part in the “Pro” component of the festival, appearing multiple times at both the festival and the conference.
I made a few great discoveries throughout the week, including local outfit Bearoid, a funky Barcelona group with ethereal vocals and 80s synth. Their familiar electronica made them instantly likeable and had their crowds dancing. You can check them out here:
Living in Australia, there are also a lot of acts who play festivals like this who, while maintain a profile internationally, never gain much notoriety in Australia because it’s not a place they’re ever able to tour. But this said, fans of Portishead may crucify me for having never heard of BEAK>, the side project of Geoff Barrow, but alas, Primavera served as my discovery tool for one of the best performances I’d see at the entire festival.
With pulsating beats with 1970s era synth – and some moments of true instrumental rock n’ roll splendour – BEAK> are a phenomenal live experience. And though they acknowledge that only “a few of the weirdos up the front” would have known most of the music they were playing, their reputation preceded them, and they drew a massive crowd in the relative early hours of the festival.
3. Incredible Food
Barcelona is a city that prides itself on its food scene – not just embracing some of the best Tapas you’ll find in all of Spain and Catalonia, but food from all over Europe and the world. The festival makes no effort to disguise its location and embraces the local’s love for food, covering the festival with a mix of food trucks and tents delivering festival staples alongside a unique blend of treats from all around the world.
A sandwich from the food truck Kraken, crammed full of Squid and Prawns, may be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten – and it was only 5 Euros. Nearby were terrific Empanadas, burgers, noodles, meatball sandwiches (the “tex mex” chicken variety was a particular highlight) and much more… You won’t go hungry here.
4. The Aussie Contingency is STRONG
Thanks in part to the support from Sounds Australia, who provide guaranteed performances for Australians through their Aussie BBQ showcases, the level and breadth of Australian talent at the festival is the strongest it’s ever been – and as good as anything we’d even see here at home. This year we saw Tame Impala, The Avalanches (performing outside of Australia for the first time in some 15 years), Robert Forster, Gang of Youths, Oh Pep!, Methyl Ethyl, The Meanies and more… hell, even Mick Harvey was there (performing with PJ Harvey)!
Now we know you don’t go halfway across the world to see a bunch of Australians, but with talent this strong, it’s hard to argue that it’s not an incredible opportunity to see local artists you love playing in front of a foreign crowd.
5. Mild Weather
Starting on the 1st of June this year, Primavera is officially the first festival of the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer, but it sits at a time of year where the weather is quite fantastic. Wait too much longer and you’ll be bearing 30 degree plus days – but here, while the sun was beating down, we were enjoying mild 22-23 degree days, helped no doubt by the festival’s seaside location (and more on that in a moment…), making it an incredibly pleasant experience.
6. The chance to “Choose Your Own Adventure”
To say the festival lineup is eclectic is something of an understatement but when you’re there, there’s enough of each respective genre to keep everyone happy. If you like dance music, there is often a clear path for you to take throughout the day. If you’re into more experimental music, there’s one for that too… as there is for rock music and so on.
The festival always has something to offer its guests. And given it starts at midday and goes until 6am the following morning (with most key acts playing between 8pm and 3am), you also have vast freedom in coming and going as you please. You really can enjoy this festival however you see fit…
7. The opportunity to relax by the sea…
This is a festival which literally sits against the waters of the Balearic Sea (Part of the Mediterranean), which creates the opportunity for some genuine respite from the festival – even if just for a few minutes of gazing into the endless blue.
8. Join an international crowd of Genuine Music Fans
There was a moment during Radiohead when they were playing “Nude”, that I realised you could have heard a pin drop. The same thing hit me during Sigur Ros’ “Starálfur” the following night (which, by the way, I was so surprised to hear live – with them removing it from their live repertoire a decade ago). In both instances, I had a good spot in the crowd, so maybe further back that wouldn’t have been the case, but irrespective, this was the most respectful festival crowd I think I’ve ever been in. And judging by the people around me at any given moment – it’s also one of the most diverse. People travel from far and wide to be here… though few will have travelled as far as someone from the East Coast of Australia – so you’ll have that going for you.
As someone who was going to this festival for these two bands in particular, it was a welcome change from the sort of attitudes prevalent at many other festivals around the world, where people are there for the overall festival experience (e.g. just getting munted, hanging with friends), rather than the music itself. But for those keen to “just get munted”, there were plenty of other areas at the festival to enjoy doing just that, while the rest of us took in the incredible music.
Put all the above together and you can understand why this was has become such a beloved festival by music fans around the world, and why I can happily declare it amongst the best festivals I’ve ever attended.
Primavera Sound is all wrapped up for 2016. The Barcelona based event is expected to return in June 2017, so keep your eyes on http://www.primaverasound.com/ for all the details later in the year. Tickets sold out in a flash this year, so be sure to jump on the ball as soon as they go on sale for 2017…
Photos by the author.