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Primavera Sound Barcelona 2024: 7 Best Things We Saw

Primavera Sound Barcelona has long been renowned for brilliant lineups in an idyllic setting, the setting flanked by the Mediterranean Sea with the Spanish city as its backdrop. This year’s iteration was no exception, drawing an estimated 193,000 people from around the world to witness an eclectic mix of artists that included Lana Del Rey, SZA, Pulp, Troye Sivan, and PJ Harvey.

But Primavera’s appeal goes beyond the music. It serves as a reminder of what drew fans to festivals for decades prior: bonding over music, feeling a sense of community, and enjoying cultural experiences in an unhurried, relaxed setting. From crowd flow to food offerings to later start times, it was all these little things that — as a Primavera first-timer — added up and took the experience of seeing great music in a great venue from fun to fantastic.

Festivals, of course, are big business, and this year’s festivals appear to be seeing diminishing returns. Coachella, for example, historically sells out its first weekend within a few hours, but it didn’t do so for nearly a month, per Billboard. Governors Ball in New York (June 7-9) and Lollapalooza (Aug. 1-4) only recently sold out.

There’s no consensus amid those in the industry on the precipitous lack of ticket sales as we head into summer 2024 summer fest season, but some cite a dearth of headliner talent. Others cite the cost of tickets, which doesn’t even factor in the cost of travel and accommodation for non-locals. There is also the growing push of multiple VIP levels, which even smaller fests like Pitchfork are capitalizing on for the first time, and at some fests the VIP areas take space away from the general ticket holder to get closer to the stage to see their favorite acts.

Primavera Sound did not sell out, either — despite the reasonable ticket price. (Primavera Sound’s final tier full festival ticket cost was around $352 and around $592 for VIP, compared to Coachella’s late-buy Weekend Two passes, which ranged from $499-$599, with VIP starting at $1269.) But if this year’s bill is indicative of those to come, the experience for basic ticketholders is levels up from other festivals and that could be one key to bringing back more fans.

From catching newer groups like the Last Dinner Party and international acts such as Atarashii Gakko! to seeing legends such as PJ Harvey and Pulp all in a chill setting, here are just some of the highlights

You Don’t Even Need a Ticket to Catch Some Primavera Offerings
Seriously. Charli XCX, who performed at the fest, also played a free surprise show in the middle of the day on Saturday for anyone who turned up.

Charli XCX

Courtesy of Primavera Sound

Between the various VIP levels costing mucho dinero, similar acts across festival lineups, attendees more there to chat than listen and “influence” — festivals can often feel less about the music than being seen. Here at Primavera Sound, one of my favorite festival experiences was not even on the venue grounds. A standout was an artist named Surma from Portugal, who played near the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona museum for a Primavera Pro panel, another offering that takes place in conjunction with the fest. There, the artist held court with her guitar and a minimal electric table set up where her mix of Björk-meets-PJ Harvey aesthetics and full-bodied thrashing moves captivated even those wandering through the courtyard for her free set to stick around for more.

Buy the Ticket, Take the (Extra) Ride
Anyone who purchased a full festival ticket also gets free access with a reservation and a 10 Euro refundable deposit to see shows on three nights leading up to the festival at venues around the city, featuring several acts on the main bill. So, if there was a scheduling conflict, it was possible to catch some of the acts offsite and it did not cost extra. Phoenix’s set on opening night was available to anyone who signed up for a reservation, you did not have to have purchase festival passes. These side events along with the main festival drew some 268,000 fans to partake in its many offerings.

Atarashii Gakko!

Clare Orozco

Committing to Equity
In 2018, several festivals pledged to achieve a 50/50 gender balance in its lineups with the goal to achieve it by 2022. Primavera Sound was the first major festival to accomplish it, and they did so beginning in 2019. Its focus on an inclusive lineup — a 42.36 percent equal split of women and male artist ratio, and a 15.28 percent representing non-binary and mixed project musicians — was palpable just strolling between sets at any given moment. And though unfortunately, two major acts pulled out prior to the festival — Kim Petras, who dropped out of her summer fest dates citing “health reasons”; and FKA Twigs, who was also scheduled to perform last year’s installment but did not perform then, either — the intentionality of the festival showcasing diversity was still felt throughout the weekend. Saturday was a standout in this regard, with the topline comprising SZA, PJ Harvey, Mitski, Charli XCX, Bikini Kill, and Romy. Lana Del Rey’s set the night before was also among the most crowded come headliner time. Also shout-out to Japanese girl group Atarashii Gakko!, whose spirited, sassy set showcased quirky, acrobatic choreography and songs that spanned J-pop and J-rock styles with their own playful twists — it was a total delight.

Really Not a Bad “Seat” in the House
The layout of most of Primavera’s stages, including the two headlining spots, was arranged in a way that standing far back could still give you decent sightlines, and the big screens flanking the stages also helped.

Amaarae was originally slated to perform on Saturday but her time slot and performance day was changed. That meant people could catch her packed set on the first day of the fest. The way her stage was situated, you could see her and hear her perfectly perched to the side of the stage’s location. The same kind of vantage came when heading over to see the Last Dinner Party, whose set included the excellent “My Lady of Mercy” and the whirling dervish deliciousness of “Nothing Matters.” Theirs was an early set for the fest, commencing at 6:50 p.m., yet their stage area was crowded. However, sitting way back from the crowd at the stage we could see and hear everything without obstruction.

The Last Dinner Party

Eric Pamies

All Fests Should Start Later
During the official festival days, the first artists do not go on before 4:30 p.m. and that is genius for both artists and attendees. Relatively newer artists, such as the Last Dinner Party, played to a full house. This does also mean that Primavera Sound goes late and hard with the last set ending at 6 a.m., which works well for the jet-lagged set, but it also works well in other ways. Generally, the full-on dance party portions of the lineup begins after 1 a.m. (Justice, Disclosure, Charli XCX all being perfectly scheduled for the late-night post-recharge times) and some fans don’t even arrive until then, or even later (everyone with a fest pass can leave and come back at any time before 3 a.m.). It also means if one is on a budget, one is not stuck inside the venue with no other options but to spend more on food and drink. Speaking of eating, the fest also allows attendees to bring in their own food and an empty water bottle with no cap to refill at water stations. Honestly, this should be the way everywhere.

Fond Farewells
The festival has been celebrating its 20th anniversary for the last couple of years with a series of events that go through the end of this year. Along with celebration, it also marked a tragic loss in the music world, and one that particularly hit home for the festival. Steve Albini, whose band Shellac has played every iteration of the Barcelona fest and was set to perform again this year, died on May 8, just three weeks before the festival. To honor the lauded musician and engineer, the festival named the stage they were to grace after Albini and held a listening party for festivalgoers.

Steve Albini stage

Gisela Jane

PJ Harvey performed in a downpour befitting the solemn and sweet goodbye she bid to her friend. Typically not one to banter much between songs, Harvey took a touching moment to reflect on the loss of Albini, who served as the engineer for Harvey’s trailblazing 1993 album, Rid of Me. “I would like to sing this next song in memory of Steve Albini,” she said before performing a goosebump rendering “The Desperate Kingdom of Love,” a heart-wrenching track from 2004’s Uh Huh Her. “Steve should have been here for this festival. And it would be nice if we all think of him for this song.” As well, she performed songs from the album they worked together on, including “50ft Queenie” and “Man-Size.”

Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker paid tribute to two Steves during their set on Thursday. “So, this tour has been a strange one,” he said. “It started in the U.K. last year… and it’s the first tour we’ve done without Steve Mackey our bass player [who died in March 2023], he passed away. We intend to dedicate this song to him.

“There’s another Steve that passed away recently, Steve Albini. I know that there’s a stage now named after him here at the festival.” Lightening up the mood a little, he added, “If you’re called Steve, don’t get worried,” he said, cracking a small smile. “This is a song about life, really, about when you meet a certain person, they change your life and your life goes in a direction you could never ever think of.”

They performed “Something Changed” from 1995’s Different Class in honor of Mackey and Albini, who Jarvis worked with on his solo album, 2009’s Further Complications.

Making (Unintentional) History
Armed with their first record in five years, Only God Was Above Us, Vampire Weekend took the stage for their only European festival date of the year and their mainstage set had a considerable crowd, delivering a set that included their early material such as “Oxford Comma” with new songs, such as “Gen-X Cops.” But that wasn’t what made it newsworthy. As they were in the midst of performing “Cousins,” news broke that Donald Trump was found guilty on all counts. “You can turn your back on the bitter world” went the band’s refrain during their song — who knew how euphoric those lines would become at a moment like this.

Trending

Vampire Weekend didn’t mention the Trump news, but Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker did during their orchestra-backed set that followed. Ever the legendary, charismatic frontman, who commanded the stage with banter and jokingly asked if the audience minded if he had a little rest on a couch onstage between crowd favorites that included “Disco 2000,” “This Is Hardcore,” and after “Pink Glove” — he wasn’t going to let history slip by without comment. “Maybe things will change. Donald Trump got found guilty on all charges,” he said, raising his arms in the air to loud cheers. “That could be good, see the fucker in prison.”

So, thanks for making history, Vampire Weekend, Pulp, and Primavera Sound, it’s these unforgettable shared musical memories that will long resonate. Hasta la próxima!

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