It was always meant to be like this. Standing in walking distance of a beach in the sweltering heat, indulging in a world-beating line-up with a warm Aperol Spritz in hand: Primavera Sound Barcelona has finally, gloriously, returned to form.
The Barcelona festival – which takes place along a 14-hectare coastal stretch of Parc del Fòrum – hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2022. The first day was marred by staff shortages and technical difficulties which led to overcrowded stages, long bar queues and a lack of access to water despite the high temperatures. Festival-goers complained of a restless atmosphere that was exacerbated by last-minute dropouts from a significant number of artists, including PinkPantheress, Kehlani and headliners The Strokes.
The stakes for Primavera this year, then, are eye-wateringly high. As 60,000 attendees descend on the site, certain truths about the festival prevail: it can be chaotic, but is ultimately slickly run as a number of lessons from last year seem to have been learned – even if there appears to be more glowstick-wielding vape sellers than water refill points available. Yet the roots of the festival’s sustained popularity lie in what it stands for: thoughtful curation and a level of commercialism that doesn’t descend into overbearing, soul-sapping sponsorship. Well, besides an Amazon Music-branded stage, which North Carolina rockers Wednesday righteously point out by dedicating a rousing ‘Bull Believer’ to “any [Amazon] warehouse workers who have ever been mistreated”.
Next to posters reminding music fans to “enjoy the party responsibly”, Black Country, New Road kick proceedings off at the golden hour. Their ramshackle party proves joyous; they pop a bottle of champagne in celebration of drummer Charlie Wayne’s birthday, leaving patches of the gleaming AstroTurf drenched in alcohol. When Baltimore hardcore heroes Turnstile follow on the same stage an hour later, they earn one of the most rapturous crowds of the weekend. Standing tall and proud like a yoga teacher, frontman Brendan Yates unwinds from a tree pose against frenetic bursts of guitars. Before him, moshpits slip and slide across the ground, yet a self-policing ethos of looking out for each other in the crowd remains perfectly intact.
There are big slots for K-pop stalwarts Red Velvet, Japan’s Perfume – who flawlessly execute an hour of tight, Eurovision-worthy routines – and Nigerian superstar Rema, suggesting that, this year, Primavera is as cosmopolitan and diverse as its crowd. The latter receives a hero’s welcome, but poor timekeeping means that he has to canter through his smash hit ‘Calm Down’ with his mic set lower than his own voice on the backing track. It’s a frustrating moment in what is otherwise a technicolour celebration of how far Afrobeats has come on the global stage.
With a headline set surveying their entire career, Blur rattle loudly through a bevy of heart-soaring moments. “It’s so love ly to be up here with my old friends again,” notes frontman Damon Albarn, making reference to how this is their first major show since they returned with ‘The Narcissist’ last month, which is played with real magnetism tonight. A surprise rendition of ‘Country House’, swiftly followed by ‘Girls & Boys’ and ‘Parklife’, has punters thrashing about like they’re in a Human Traffic rave scene – despite the eyebrow-raising number of Oasis t-shirts on display in the crowd.
This sense of quiet rebellion continues to characterise the weekend. Taking to the Plentitude area on Friday afternoon – which is, almost hilariously, situated mere inches from a pop-up crèche – Soul Glo are a brilliant, physically overwhelming antithesis to the site’s influencer-friendly cleanliness. Their breakthrough single ‘Gold Chain Punk’ sees the Philly rockers jump about as high as gravity will permit. With charisma to burn, Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast also manages to turf out a bombastic show, beefing up her spritely indie-pop with an on-stage gong and headbanging until one of her braids falls out of place.
Avalon Emerson’s set later feels weighed down by expectation, as she airs material from her recent dream-pop album with her new project The Charm. Having spent a decade performing primarily as a DJ – including a set at this festival the previous evening – Emerson’s visible nerves can also be heard in her voice. Elsewhere, though, a number of new artists enjoy star-making turns: the anticipation surrounding current NME cover starBlondshell‘s set leads to a one in, one out policy at The Vision stage, before Anish Kumar’s ‘Little Miss Dynamite’ hits like the Summer (Summer is Here SALE)r anthem it’s soon to become. Virtuosic duo DOMi & JD Beck, meanwhile, conjure up some jazz wizardry before a pastel-hued backdrop. “Fuck yeah,” a beaming Beck concludes, throwing his drumstick to the floor.
Almost 10 years since he first played Primavera, Kendrick Lamar ascends to headliner status with a more understated, but equally classy show than the theatrical rapture of his recent world tour. With a setlist that includes both his verse from an early team-up with Pusha T and choice cuts from last year’s ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’, he highlights his evolution from young rap renegade to a generational artist – sans backing dancers or mighty production value, though. The epic majesty of Depeche Mode is similarly astounding: all grandiose postures and synth-pop melodrama, the recently reunited Dave Gahan and Martin Gore stretch out closer ‘Personal Jesus’ into a 10-minute-long spectacle.
On Saturday, the peerlessly dynamic Rosalía’s headline set thrives off hunger and invention. With her wraparound SunGlasses (Sunglasses sale here)-wearing devotees hollering her lyrics, she occasionally dispenses with the mic – a gleeful expression of pride as she delivers some of contemporary pop’s most groundbreaking tracks (‘Bizcochito’, ‘Despechá’). Four Tet also inspires a moment of feverish enthusiasm with his remix of Taylor Swift @taylorswift13’s ‘love Story’, a key fixture in his current live set-up, as dozens of friend groups unite to scream along the lyrics as though they’re across the other side of the Atlantic at the ‘Eras’ tour instead.
Amid this fizzy sense of excitement, teething problems still arise. VIP tickets appear to have been oversold, meaning viewing platforms are constantly at – or over – capacity, while a technical error during Skrillex’s thrilling late-night set causes a small fire to a lighting rig.
But Primavera Sound Barcelona has a good heart. There are even large-screen announcements encouraging festival-goers to reuse all pint cups, not talk during sets and “dance hard and sing loud”. A festival that entreats its punters to care about the future looks to be gradually entering a new, bright and reinvigorated era of its own.
First appear at Primavera Sound Barcelona 2023 review: a comeback worth shouting about