Thursday: As you walk the steady incline up to the festival site, chatter sparks from all directions from your fellow festival-goers as you reach the first gate to pass through. Swallowed by the atmosphere, you briefly snap out of your daze and remind yourself that you're surrounded by your friends equally happy to be reunited together.
Todd Terje is on in 20 minutes at the Bowers & Wilkins Sound System stage. Inhaling from my cigarette I look up and see a small stage to my left but more impressively, the Parc Del Forum at large. It's a beautiful structure which dominates the immediate skyline, towering over the site and its weekend habitants with the Mediterranean ocean stretching out behind it. You're at Primavera Sound - and trust me when I say that it's one of the best festivals you can experience on this side of the Atlantic.
We enter the Sound System Stage and I immediately notice that the speakers are ridiculously crisp. With Terje about to start, we queue up for some incredibly boozy mojitos and caipirinhas and head over to the tent which is already packed at 4pm. He is warmly welcomed onto the stage by a happy-go-lucky crowd as he punches into his much loved disco-revivalism, fiddles with classics and modern tracks alike as well as throwing in a couple of his much beloved hits.
After a break my friends and I take the scenic walk along the harbour to the other side of the site to watch Daughter. However, we're all somewhat distracted by sounds we hear coming from the NIGHTPRO Stage, there's a band playing that are best described as a metal attempt of John Carpenter's synth work by way of Nine Inch Nails' industrial sound (backed by a drummer who is as tight as he is relentless). I am now a converted fan of the band named Tiny Fingers who play a short but electrifying set.
We carry on towards the Heineken Stage, where we truly realise the scope and capacity of the festival for the first time. This humongous space is occupied by the Heineken and H&M Stages, which mirror each other with a strip of bars in the middle of the arena. More bars and plenty of toilets sit on the periphery of both sides.
Daughter arrive while the sun slowly sinks, which provided the perfect backdrop for their beautifully textured indie-folk to a hospitable crowd. "We're not really a festival band" comments their guitarist, "this is one of our slower songs, so we hope you like it." They break into 'Smother' which is met with silence and respect as they work their way through the track. Finishing their set with a lovely rendition of 'Youth', a girl near me starts having a fit. We make space around her to give her room to breathe and catch air while my friend pushes to the barrier to get help. The security, for the most part, act indifferently, asking us to carry her over to them which is moronic! It takes up to 5 minutes before staff come to assist, demonstrating that although some may appreciate the lax attitude of security at events like this, it should not compromise their ability to look after the well-being of the public.
The sky achieves a tar-black as Tame Impala hit the stage at 11.30pm. Their set was overall pretty enjoyable, but in comparison to the quality of the line-up and other artists performing, they were a little underwhelming. Although a wonderfully detailed and nuanced performance, I expected them to sound punchier live whereas they sound just as crisp as on record. To make matters worse, during 'Eventually', the sound and lights crash and breakdown for around 10 minutes. This thins the crowd significantly and leaves many fans frustrated. However the band redeem themselves with class as they lunge straight back into the track from where they left it off, yelling "EVENTUALLY!" to a rapturous cheer. They thank the crowd for their patience and the tech crew for getting them back on stage, and finish their set with fan favourite 'Feels Like We Only Go Backwards'.
It's time for LCD Soundsystem to perform their first European show of the year, they emerge from the shadows as an enormous disco ball floats above to a thunderous take on 'Us vs. Them'. The fact we are witnessing one of the most important bands of the modern era play live again creates an unbelievable amount of energy in the crowd. To date, it's one of the only reunion shows I've come across which hasn't felt like a money grab, their sincerity and professionalism is something to behold. Also, it becomes incredibly apparent just how much of an influence Talking Heads are on them, which makes me all the more appreciative as a fan. LCD work their way through a mega-hit set featuring the likes of 'You Wanted A Hit', 'Someone Great', 'Losing My Edge', 'Dance Yrself Clean' and ending of course with 'All My Friends'. The first headliner of Primavera Sound finish their set, and a joyfully tearful crowd sway back holding one another and singing together.
To end the night we catch the back end of Battles on the Ray-Ban Stage. From what I gathered by the short amount of their set that I caught, they definitely deserve to be seen. A particular standout track was 'The Yabba' which is as boisterous as it is technical. We head to the food court which has a seemingly infinite amount of options of food, ranging from paella to pizza, burgers of all varieties, pho and sushi. There's also a wonderfully diverse amount of options for vegetarians, vegans and those with intolerances. This is quite in contrast to the apparent lack of water stations. I manage to fill up my water bottle after quite a long search for the water fountain.
Friday: The first band on our itinerary for the day is Savages who are set to play the Heineken Stage. The lead singer, Jenny Beth, takes a moment to illustrate the political importance of music in relation to communion and self-expression, all as a tirade against boredom. It's refreshing to see a contemporary punk band have such prominence at a festival of this scope, no less on the main stage. Their energy live is unparalleled, with Jenny shouting midway through 'The Answer' that the crowd are too far away. She dives in with purpose and stays there for the better part of three tracks. The band end their set with F**kers, with the opening riffs the crowds energy doubles as they chant back "Don't let them f**kers get you down!"
As we were already in a prime spot to watch Radiohead, I was adamant not to and gathering by the amount of people who also stuck around I was clearly not the only one with that bright idea.
Radiohead grace the stage with the largest and densest crowd of the festival. They open with 'Burn The Witch'. Jonny Greenwood whips out a bow and tilts his guitar to provide strings while Thom Yorke ushers in brooding thoughts of groupthink and the fear it can cause with his hauntingly delicate vocals. There's an immediacy to 'Burn The Witch' live which comes with a guitar riff for the chorus. It's a welcome return to the festival circuit for Radiohead, and the crowd are silent to bathe in every detail. With confidence, they play through the first 5 tracks of their most recent output which are warmly received, however it seems some people feel a bit restless and hoping for some of their better known tracks. This is instantly undermined when the bass-line roars in for 'The National Anthem' followed with a mass sing-a-long to 'Talk Show Host'.
From there Radiohead continue their set with 'No Surprises' which brings a couple of people around me to tears, quickly followed by a phenomenal performance of 'Pyramid Song'. 'Karma Police' causes an explosive chanting from an overwhelmed crowd and an intense performance of Idioteque - brings an energy and communal spirit to the spectacle we are witnessing. They end the bulk of their set with two tracks from Hail To The Thief; '2+2=5' and 'There There' which are blistering renditions soaked up by the crowd. Finally, they venture back onto stage with a surprise performance of Creep. The crowd completely drown out Thom Yorke's vocals. And as subtly as they graced the stage, they blip away like nothing happened. The second headliner of the festival leave the stage and the audience know they just experienced something very special.
After another struggle to find a water fountain we manage to hydrate ourselves. We sit on the bridge overlooking the Ray-Ban Stage to enjoy Animal Collective. The neo-psychedelia by way of a carnival performance that Animal Collective provide is fantastically vibrant and infectious in its grooviness. A specific standout from their set is the 'Lying On The Grass', which is from their most recent album Painting With.
Revitalised, we decide to go over to the Primavera Stage to catch the minimal, experimental techno of the Icelandic duo Kiasmos. They come on stage with an incredibly intricate lighting rig and digital animation behind their decks, depicting light shimmering through clouds and picturesque mountain views with the Northern Lights flickering and waving overhead. They play a set so serene and delicate, which could only be fully realised thanks to the sound technicians who worked at Primavera Sound. Seriously, these unmentioned geniuses are a large part as to what makes this festival so incredible, and Kiasmos' set was testament to that. A whole-heartedly euphoric experience and a surprise highlight on my part.
Although it was intended to be a live band set-up which couldn't be realised due to visa difficulties, The Avalanches DJ set was welcomed by a crowd who were aware of just how brilliant and capable they are as masterful yet equally absurd samplers. As for the set, and I mean this in the most positive way; it was absolutely ridiculous and bombastic as you would expect. Sampling the likes of David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, and Prince all equally with wide grins and a playful arrogance was as entertaining to watch as it was to move to it. Ending their set with their staple 'Frontier Psychiatrist' and 2 new tracks; 'Subways' and 'Frankie Sinatra', their time is called. The party abruptly ends just as they get into their stride. Trust The Avalanches to leave us wanting more just as we get them back.
We make our way over to the Pitchfork Stage, which is a stones throw away and tucked under the Parc's main structure to catch a beautiful 2 hour set courtesy of DJ Koze. It's his cue to end but he carries on nonetheless for another half hour. He leaves with a bow, closing off the second evening in style to a crowd all the more appreciative for his efforts. We leave the site, spellbound by the sight of a glorious blood-red sunrise and finally reach our apartment at around 8.30am where we find our friends sound asleep.
Saturday: We start out slow on Saturday which I think can be forgiven considering the titan night we had prior. However, I am sure to mention to my friends that Brian Wilson is performing Pet Sounds in full at 8pm. We arrive slightly late and hang towards the back of the Heineken Stage to dance and frolic to one of the most important pop records in history. Brian Wilson and his band sound absolutely pristine which genuinely shocked me, as I was very much intending on seeing a legendary act who I assumed would be past his performance prime. Upon finishing Pet Sounds, played a string of hits such as 'Surfer Girl' and to everyone's surprise and glee, 'Monster Mash'. The crowd warmly thank Brian Wilson and co. as he takes a bow and leaves the stage.
It hits 10.30pm, and PJ Harvey is going to be hitting the stage any moment. An all-encompassing drumbeat commands my complete attention as a band with PJ Harvey tucked in the middle walk in formation onto stage. As a fan of PJ Harvey since I was a child and never seeing any live material of her before, I was incredibly nervous as to what to expect from her live. However, with an extended introduction into the first track 'Chain of Keys', I was immediately transfixed with her stage presence as she slowly walked forward, blaring her saxophone in a single note that wailed like an alarm before coming to the centre mic and singing with dominance and grace.
Upon reflection, PJ Harvey's stage presence and singular performance was the most actualised of all the acts we came across over the weekend. Her relatively small stature felt gargantuan in her command and authoritative nature on stage. The chords for the title track of 'Let England Shake' arrive to a greatly appreciative crowd and the lights brighten up into a stark white. Harvey uses the shadows on stage to morph into a new character and floats across the stage like a spectre, all while foreshadowing the downfall of Britain. It's a sensational performance which continues with the war-trodden hit 'The Words That Maketh Murder'. After an extended applause, the band collect themselves for 'The Glorious Land' with its haunting use of bugle trumpets which open and interrupt the track at certain points, making it a stark and formidable moment in her performance.
Towards the end of their set, it breaks into a shrill and intense take on '50ft Queenie' which sets pockets of die hard fans around the crowd into a state of hysteria. It ends with Harvey revealing a slight grin as she takes a deep breath and sings the line "I lost my heart..." which is instantly roared at. Her hit 'Down By The Water' is moody and intense, the shrill violins build up a tension which commands you to watch her every move. She carries on this mood with 'To Bring You My Love' and ends her set with 'River Anacostia'. The final headliner of the festival gracefully bows alongside her band and exits the stage. Although she may not the best overall act of the weekend, PJ Harvey is undoubtedly the greatest solo performance of Primavera Sound I have the chance to witness.
Action Bronson's bravado is incomparable to any other artist we've witnessed over the weekend, although I was sceptical as to whether or not it was deserved. Sure, it fulfils the masculine nature of a hip-hop frontman but there was a lacking in his focus for the beginning of his set. A brief interlude takes place where he mentions his Vice collaboration F**k, That's Delicious, which is met with a large response and the first bit of sincerity from the New York rapper. Action Bronson's intensity and character starts to take form and the crowd respond in equal measure. Unfortunately however, and this is due to the nature of most hip-hop gigs, the bass overpowers the clarity of most tracks to encourage a boisterousness and aggression from the crowd. Although this doesn't wholly undermine his set, it does bring a stark contrast to the quality of sound we have had over the weekend.
Out of all the acts we have seen, Berlin based Pantha Du Prince set can be best compared to Kiasmos', however there is a more abstract edge to Pantha Du Prince's sound (probably due to their confidence to play with unconventional percussion and atonal rhythm patterns) in relation to the ethereal and rich nature of Kiasmos. Although deriving from similar influences of early house and minimalist techno, the results are starkly different which is really lovely to contemplate. Their stage set up is simplistic but effective, various lights strobe and pan over the crowd while three anonymous figures dressed in black robes with shining silver masks shudder and nod behind 3 separate nodes of synths and wires. I'm thoroughly impressed and make a note to grab their music on vinyl upon my return home.
We finish our Primavera Sound experience in cyclical fashion, by returning to the Bowers & Wilkins Sound System Stage by the beach for what is titled on the timetable as Disco Finale. The crowd is open and free-spirited, people and groups alike are joining each other in rounds of drinks and dance while the likes of Daft Punk and Chic play until the sun starts to catch up with us. We gradually head over to the edge of the area by the downward slope towards the beach, grab some chairs and sit in silence as we are bathed in Mediterranean sunlight. It's a romantic and calming end to a packed weekend, which has provided for our entertainment some of the best artists of our generation and generations before us.
Sunday: Although the festival had officially finished, Primavera Sound hasn't completely shut up shop. Instead it ventures out from the sprawling Parc Del Forum site into the city of Barcelona, it occupies a handful of gig venues for some of the weekends artists to perform in for one last hurrah. Not only that, they are free and exclusive to those who have weekend bands for the festival. Considering the frustratingly abrupt end to The Avalanches set, we decide on that as our final send off for Primavera Sound.
We walk up the winding steps of San Apolo and catch glimpses of strobe and hear throttling disco in our ears. The Avalanches are well under way in what is a surprisingly small venue to my excitement. We weave our way into a spacious crowd and initially plot ourselves on the mid-right and begin to have a dance. I gradually wane further into the crowd as The Avalanches launch into one of their new tracks, 'Subways', and realise I've managed to breeze front and centre for one of the most important DJ acts of the 21st century. After a few more songs, a friend bounces beside me and we carry on dancing to what I realise is the same set as the one they performed at Parc Del Forum. Ever with their cheeky stage persona, one of the members beckons a guy to my left to chuck him a cigarette. He catches it with ease and scurries off of stage to grab himself a lighter and takes a swig from his champagne bottle. How Australian... After another bouncy crowd to their hit Frontier Psychiatry, the front rows start to pile onto the stage.
Conclusion: Primavera Sound has a stripped back aesthetic and has the location to rely on when considering natural and architectural beauty, this conscious decision reinforces that the music is the focal point of the festival. There are no fairgrounds or excessive stores except for a series of record, t-shirt and poster pop-ups upon entry, and the facilities in terms of food, lavatories, and help desks are very well thought out and incredibly easy to navigate. The fact that hard copies of the line-up are free is also something so simple yet appreciative at a festival like this. Also, the official Primavera app was intuitive and worked offline which is a fantastic and inspired detail, with acts you had highlighted it would give you a notification 15 minutes before their set was anticipated and was also equipped with a map of the site. However, the lack of water points did concern me on more than one occasion with the most common outcome being to buy another bottle of water for 2 euros. I think considering the heat, more fountains and taps with drinking water ought to be made available for the safety of festival-goers. Also as a quick note for smokers, bring tobacco and smoking paraphernalia in with you as they do not sell anything smoking related on site.
And finally, from the couple of encounters I had with security, my impression is unfortunately nothing but negative. The first - with the collapsed girl during Daughter - they were overly lax in what could have been a dangerous situation. The second was at the San Apolo on the Sunday night where certain members of security acted incredibly violently towards a member of the crowd who really didn't deserve it - this was at a supplementary gig after the main event, but even so, it was part of the festival.
In terms of music, the group highlights were LCD Soundsystem's set which was as playful as it was professional. Savages are another whose set was relentless and energetic every step of the way. Animal Collective's brief but bouncy set was a wonderful experience which has made me listen to their most recent album again with a new perspective and appreciation. And Radiohead's crowd-pleasing set was an exercise in masters at play, simply inspired.
PJ Harvey absolutely dominated. Her professionalism and enigmatic stage presence was in a league of its own, and is a testament as to why she is one of the most important solo artists to come out of England. An utterly entrancing performance. Brian Wilson was a pleasant surprise, I had a wonderful time and was seriously impressed not only at the length of the set, but the consistency of quality.
In terms of DJ performances, The Avalanches playful cockiness on stage was as humorous as it was intriguing, and their left-field sampling with fitting tributes to some of our lost icons of this year were lovingly and tactfully dealt with. However, the beautiful craftsmanship of Kiasmos' set as an aural-visual feast is my most surprising encounter over the weekend. I truly cannot commend the tech team behind this festival, if it wasn't for them all those nuances within their sound-scaping would have been completely lost.
It's safe for me to conclude that I intend on making an annual visit to Primavera Sound, and I hope my account convinces you to join me.