Last weekend, from May 28 to May 31, thousands upon thousands of Barcelona locals, short time foreign residents and belligerent visitors descended upon the Parc Forum, on the coast of the Mediterranean metropolis, to witness one of the finest festivals around. Primavera Sound was eclectic, hectic, frenetic, and overall one BIG dance party. Although there were faults on the logistic side of things, the planners of the festival chose an incredible lineup this year, and will be hard pressed to top it in 2015.
Not only were the three main days of the festival delightfully awesome, the concerts surrounding the central festival were worth going to. The Tuesday before featured a concert at a club called Sala Apolo by Antibalas, a Brooklyn afrobeat group with a fluctuating lineup of 12-15 people. Their performance was riveting, mostly due to their energetic front-man wielding a drumstick as a magic wand, as well as a beautifully synchronized horn section, the highlight being an Adrian Brody lookalike trumpet player. Definitely recommended. The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Chromeo bookended the main festival as well.
Highlights of the main festival included Future Islands and Arcade Fire on Thursday, Haim and The National on Friday, and Mogwai, Nine Inch Nails, and Foals on Saturday. There was quite the array of bands, but these performances in particular were quite something to behold. Future Islands’ singer, Samuel T. Herring, threw himself around the stage, adding an oddly fitting grunge/metal discord to an otherwise synth-pop sound. Others would disagree they overshadowed CHVRCHES, but I definitely found them particularly fun (CHVRCHES was really awesome, though). And Arcade Fire was confetti-filled madness. Win Butler is a genius on stage, as well as his wife Régine Chassagne (she played every instrument possible).
Haim was possibly the best surprise of the festival. The sisters proved themselves to be quite veritable rock stars, playing furiously and head-banging all the way through. Their set rivaled some of the heaviest music at the festival. But The National blew everything out of the water. Matt Berninger, the troubled lead singer of the indie rock group, wandered around the stage in a performative rage, standing on monitors, breaking microphones, having the rest of the band restart songs, and screaming “Mr. November” as drunkenly as humanly possible. It was a beautiful sight to behold. In all likelihood, Berninger’s actions, including throwing two drinks at the audience (I got whiskey in my eyes), were most likely staged, but he was truly unpredictable and I felt as if the band was going to dramatically break up right then and there. Quite a show.
Mogwai and NIN were programmed at the same time, but I was able to catch half of each show, and both were monumental. Mogwai whispered and chugged through a collection of their best wall-of-sound style tunes, and NIN was simply legendary. As one of my fellow concert goers remarked, “fucking Trent Reznor!” – along with most of the crowd – as he shed a tear or two during an impassioned, gorgeous performance of “Hurt.” And Foals were surprisingly as well, showing off her rock star chops in an explosive hour of nonstop dance rock.
Honorable mentions included Spoon (still rocking), Chromeo (fun as hell), and Slowdive (also, still rocking, at least for a little while).
The festival was not without its problems, though. One of the main logistical errors was setting up bars behind the massive soundboards of the main stages (the Sony and Heineken stages were located across from each other and featured all the headliners). It created crowd bottlenecks and didn’t really seem to put any more drinks in audience hands than if more bars were put along the periphery. It just meant less room to dance and enjoy the bands. Another problem was scheduling. By putting all the headliners far away from the other bands, it made it hard to enjoy smaller bands and more popular groups without having to completely sacrifice one or the other. But I guess that’s how it goes in a massive concert festival.
Some tips for next year would be:
Arrive early and check out all the smaller acts during the day. Nice weather permitting (there was a fair bit of rain for Barcelona), many of the lesser-known bands are fantastic and enjoyable, and with manageable crowds.
If you want to sneak drinks in, do it later in the evening or very early on. During the mid-evening surge of people, security gets tight and large men pat you down everywhere. I lost two small bottles of vodka and was forced to try and enjoy myself off of expensive plastic cups of beer.
Sacrifice your less favorite bands for your most favorite. For example, Arcade Fire played directly after Queens of the Stone Age, and to get any hope of getting to the front it was necessary to leave before halfway through the Queens set. I had to miss the Pixies completely to get a front row spot for The National. Worth it, but the Pixies are also legendary. It was sad to miss Kendrick Lamar (heralded by some as the best set of the whole thing), but worth it to witness Godspeed You! Black Emperor, arguably my favorite of the festival, and almost a religious experience.
Stay as late as humanly possible. The festival turned into a massive dance party after the headliners gave way to synth-pop groups and DJs, and most of them were amazingly fun (at 4-6am).
Buy your tickets for cheap as soon as they come out, book your flights, and by the time May comes around next year you’ll have a delightful, exhausting, but overall amazing experience awaiting you. See you all at Primavera Sound 2015.