They say that once is a mistake but twice is a choice, so while I don't know who 'they' are, they seem to have a point. Last year I had my heart set on going to Primavera, but as the plans fell through I proceeded to whine about not going for the remainder of the year. As a firm believer of learning from my mistakes, I refused to disappoint myself yet again, and on Wednesday 27th May, I boarded a flight to Barcelona on my lonesome and went to go and see what all the fuss was about.
Bolstered by the usual strong lineup, the festival was celebrating it's fifteenth anniversary and I wanted to be a part of the celebrations. I'd never been to a festival by myself, one overseas, or where I hadn't camped (excluding one day festivals), so it was bound to be a weekend of firsts.
Having made it back home to London alive (talk about spoilers...), I've mapped out my adventures and findings after my extensive field study, which I now present to you.
Despite officially starting on Thursday, the Primavera organisers opened up the gates for all comers the day before, and allowed the people of Barcelona to get stuck into some free music, and maybe hint at what they'd be missing out on for the rest of the weekend.
Albert Hammond Jr. got proceedings under way (for myself at least) and as I walked through the gate for the first time as The Strokes guitarist started his first song. He's not the best vocalist in the world, but then again I suppose Julian Casablancas isn't either. He threw in a cover of The Buzzcocks' 'Ever Fallen In Love' early on to try and win the crowd over, and I found the set enjoyable in the moment, but his straight forward songs lacked the staying power to resonate in me for long after he finished.
Orchestral Manouevers In The Dark (OMD) were next up and topped the bill of the free activities. Not quite knowing what to expect, lead singer Andy McCluskey summed it up best when he said "It's a festival, it's late. No art, no culture, it's electro pop ok?". Opening with their biggest hit 'Enola Gay', the crowd responded instantly and I was soon thinking that this could be quite fun. However after a few tracks the fun fell away, and I found my attention waning and the repetitive songs quite tedious. They seemed to enjoy themselves up on stage, so I left them there to try and beat the crowds back to the Metro, and found that a fair few people had had the same idea.
THURSDAY (Day One)
I arrived to the festival site early on Thursday, namely to try and secure my place at the Panda Bear show that was scheduled later that afternoon. Set to be held in the Auditori Rockdelux, it was a ticketed show that had to be purchased in person that day for a fee of €2, on a first come/first serve basis. As much as the premise of paying to go to a festival to then allow me to buy tickets to a concert bothers me, I decided to grin and bear it and took my residence in the queue.
An hour later, with the ticket in hand, I headed over to watch the Arthur Russell Instrumentals, which too were held in the Auditori Rockdelux. It's quite the venue; standing meters from the festival gates it boasts a 3000 person capacity that makes it feel like a grander version of the Barbican Centre, and carries a remarkable sound quality. As I settled in for my residency in the fourth row, 9 musicians took their place on stage. Headed by Peter Gordon, one of Russell's original collaborators, it proved to be a joyous celebration of material that is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Tim Burgess joined to close the set, and despite not making any further appearances across the weekend he sang vocals on 'Is It All Over My Face'. My money was on José González to walk out, given his cover of 'This Is How We Walk On The Moon' but my assumptions only led to my own disappointment.
Due to the frustrating ticketing process, everyone who was in the auditorium already had to be emptied out to then fill the room back up ahead of the Panda Bear show. The whole system was a mess, but moving past that, the show itself was a sensory overload that began with an incredibly violent sample of somebody screaming for help looping over weird visuals of painted women. Intense is the perfect word, and I found the whole ordeal trance inducing. I enjoyed it, but wouldn't want to relive it again too quickly.
After spending several hours indoors, I ventured out to the real action and caught Viet Cong on the Pitchfork stage, which aptly enough had questionable sound quality, and the Canadians put in a decent shift despite of it. Not as strong as when I saw them at their own gig in London, I overheard another crowd member echoing the same sentiment when talking about their pre-festival gig that they'd played at 1am that morning in the city centre. Good band, but not necessarily a great festival band.
Not many bands in the world could keep me from seeing Brand New, and until I recently procured tickets to see them in London later this year, there really might not have been anyone I'd rather see over Jesse Lacey and co, but Antony And The Johnsons proved to be one. I wasn't quite to sure what to expect, so it's safe to say I was blown away by the near 30 piece orchestra that accompanied the ever elusive Antony Hegarty onstage. The whole set was amazing, but finishing with I Am A Bird Now highlights 'You Are My Sister' & 'Hope There's Someone' my decision was entirely vindicated and I found myself truly moved by the beauty of her performance.
With my heart in pieces, I wasn't certain if I was ready to celebrate, but The Black Keys soon had me up and dancing as they took to the stage for their headlining set. I'd seen the boys from Akron, Ohio twice before (at Reading Festival 2012 & Glastonbury 2014) but I felt this performance surpassed all I'd seen from them previously. The extra time onstage that comes with a headlining set allowed the band to delve into pre-Danger Mouse era material, albeit briefly, and they played 'Leavin' Trunk' from their debut album The Big Come Up and 'Your Touch' from Magic Potion, but otherwise focused on tracks from the latter half of their now glistening careers. It was also the band's first show in over five months after drummer Patrick Carney's broken shoulder, but neither he nor the band looked rusty, and they provided hit after hit for the people to savour.
Filling in the late shift on the Ray-Ban stage was Jungle, the London band who recently took the charts by storm with hits such as 'Julia' & 'Busy Earnin''. Despite it being 2:00am when they took to the stage, their brand of Neo Soul has given birth to an irresistible set of tracks on their debut album that are actually harder to remain stationary for. I've been wondering where they might go with their second album, but in the moment, those thoughts were a million miles away.
With the close of their set, I retired for the night, and tried to rest up before I was back and doing it all over again on Day Two. If you've stayed with me so far, there's plenty more to come...