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What went down at Primavera Sound in Barcelona this year?

The Primavera sign calls out to music lovers
The Primavera sign calls out to music lovers Copyright Silvia Villar
Copyright Silvia Villar
By Jonny Walfisz
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Lana Del Rey disappoints, PJ Harvey heralds the rain, and Lankum astonishes: here's everything we learned at Primavera Sound in Barcelona this year

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Primavera Sound is fast becoming the traditional start of an intense summer of musical festivities in Spain and beyond so what did we learn from this year's edition?

Getting there is a doddle

Watching London's six-storey metropolis recede and be replaced by France’s rolling hills, in turn replaced by the arid lands of southern France as we passed through the ancient Roman city Nîmes, arriving in Barcelona brought sunshine and the promise of fun. 

The glory of Primavera’s Barcelona location at the Parc del Fòrum just north of the city centre meant arriving in the city centre itself was a breeze, after booking a last-minute train through Omio to take me direct from Paris to Barcelona.

Within the city itself, Primavera’s late sets mean you get to spend time in the day hanging out in Barcelona’s best haunts. After sampling endless wafer-thin slices of jamón ibérico at the Mercat de la Boqueria and gawping at Gaudí’s architecture, it’s a short metro ride to the Parc del Fòrum where the fun can continue. 

A Korean wave on the coast of Spain

Balming Tiger were the first of a handful of K-pop bands to make an impression on the Iberian Peninsula at the festival. Spanish crowds are renowned for their proclivity to have a little dance, and Balming Tiger made the most of this with a loosely choreographed set that was the first to galvanise the festival as it opened on Thursday. 

Spanning genres as widely as their arm-flapping bum-shaking dance moves, Balming Tiger are a semi-supergroup collective of talented Korean singers, rappers and songwriters. Their ascent has been gaining momentum since first single ‘I’m Sick’ in 2018, and while they’re still on the smaller side of the colossal genre, recent-ish single ‘Sexy Nukim’ featuring BTS’s RM shows they’re a formidable force to keep an eye on. 

Balming Tiger
Balming TigerChristian Bertrand

Noughties bands with new albums

Turn back the clock to the summer of 2008 and – among the many interminable indie bands of the era – two new artists stood out ahead of the crowd. Vampire Weekend and Justice’s debut albums made distinctive in-roads with the former’s intelligent lyrics and twangling instrumentation alongside the latter’s aggressively thumping French disco. 

Fast-forward to 2024, and thankfully most of the twaddle NME were banging on about 16 years ago is long gone. But the year has also brought new albums from Vampire Weekend and Justice, and live, both groups prove they’re still forces to be reckoned with. Vampire Weekend’s ‘Only God Was Above Us’ returns the band to their earlier sound with intricately orchestrated pieces that translate seamlessly into their greatest hits setlist, while still feeling like a step forward with Ezra Koenig’s arch lyricism on songs like ‘Gen-X Cops’ and ‘Classical’. 

Vampire Weekend
Vampire WeekendSergio Bertrand

Rounding out the evening on the first night was a triumphant set from French electro duo Justice. Starting off with first album classic ‘Genesis’ – when you’ve written a song like that, how could you not start every set with it? – they ripped through highlights of their back catalogue. All told, the crowd was somewhat tame given the deeply bass rich sounds of ‘We Are Your Friends’, ‘D.A.N.C.E’ and ‘Audio, Video, Disco’, but no matter – the true success of the evening was how seamlessly new album tracks like ‘Neverender’ featuring Tame Impala fit into overall soundscape. 

Bonafide Britpop legend stuns

Svelte, lithe and writhing, Sheffield’s own Jarvis Cocker brought with his expansive band Pulp to remind the Catalonian capital that Britpop never died. In heels, a perfectly tailored suit and his distinctive boxy glasses, Jarvis is still a law-unto-himself, traipsing round the stage with stereotypical candour, whispering sweet nothings to the local crowd about his fondness of the festival between the band’s array of 90s classics. 

Every reliable... the Jarv
Every reliable... the JarvEric Pamies

Starting off with the somewhat lesser-known ‘I Spy’, Jarvis coaxed the crowd into believing in magic with their handclaps before thrusting into massive hit ‘Disco 2000’. They first played in Barcelona in the 90s and haven’t been back to Primavera since they reformed in 2011, so they took every opportunity to remind people why they are so beloved through a hit-laden set that spanned their catalogue while focusing on favourite album ‘Different Class’. Never retire again Jarvis. 

Big crowds for new names

British band The Last Dinner Party burst onto the scene with their hit single ‘Nothing Matters’ last year, and since releasing their first full album, have proven that indie rock still very much matters to a large audience of young music fans. They were out in their droves at the atmospheric amphitheatre Cupra stage on Friday as the frontwoman Abigail Morris swept through a packed set of indie bangers. An all-woman rock band isn’t that radical but it’s still a refreshing sight to see the empowering effect on female fans in the audience. 

Newbies on the block: the Last Dinner Party
Newbies on the block: the Last Dinner PartyEric Pamies

Toying with gender norms on the main stage, Australian singer-songwriter Troye Sivan brought his 00s revivalist pop with his trademark sultry flare. Sivan has been on the scene for a while as an actor and musician, but last year broke through musically with ‘Rush’. Although still nascent into a career as a main-stage pop icon, a confidently choreographed and sexy show was the biggest draw of the late afternoon. 

Lana Del Rey draws but disappoints

This year’s Primavera was all about Lana Del Rey. By far the artist featured on the most T-shirts, merchandise, and even the odd Catholic prayer candle. Friday’s crowd was notably more densely packed with day-ticket holders dedicated to the American singer-songwriter. Images of the “Lana-stans” queuing up to get into the festival at doors, hours before her slot, set the tone for the evening, and by the time she was due on stage, it felt like everywhere else at the festival site was deserted. 

Everyone came down for Lana's set
Everyone came down for Lana's setSharon Lopez

And then… it was alright, I guess? In typical Lana style she came on a good 25 minutes late, forcing her to cut her set short as Primavera is vigilant about timings given its double mainstage set-up. Visually the show was stunning with Lana performing among beautifully choreographed jazz-inflected ballet dancers and her intricately detailed art-deco stage dressing. The dedicated fans heaved and made the atmosphere somewhat unpleasant while you strained to hear Lana’s hushed vocals. Immaculate to a tee, yet the suddenly underpowered mainstage speakers kicked in for her backing singers every time. Lana Del Rey has perfected her sonic aesthetic on record, and visual one live, but can’t seem to ever make the two come together at a festival. 

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And it disappointed
And it disappointedSharon Lopez

By comparison, American indie rockers The National – who played the longest set of the weekend straight after Lana Del Rey – proved why they’re so reliably booked at big festivals. Matt Berninger and his gang of sad dads didn’t do anything out of the ordinary for them, but their well-oiled machine of textured guitars, thundering drums and earnestly delivered – if croaky – baritone vocals works for their legions of fans. You know what you’re getting with The National at this point, but after a semi-disappointing set from Lana Del Rey, they delivered. 

What did Harvard teach you? The National on stage
What did Harvard teach you? The National on stageClara Orozco

Primavera is now a tightly run ship

In 2022, after years off for the pandemic, Primavera’s Barcelona weekend was criticised for its slapshot organisation. Festival organiser Joan Pons accepted that there was work to do to fix the overcrowding that beleaguered that first year back. Clearly, that work has paid dividends. Bars are always well-stocked and quick to navigate and the rest-facilities on the site are reliably clean. It’s still a mission to queue up for the few public water taps that offer free hydration, but that’s the only major snag still in the well-organised festival’s layout. 

Another touching detail is the Gaza Mirror installation by the entrance of the festival. The art piece, by Jofre Oliveras, plays on the recent New York-Dublin installation and gives the hedonistic music fans in Barcelona a moment of reflection. It’s a far cry from the chaos last month when the Great Escape Festival in Brighton was almost brought to a stand-still when around 200 acts pulled out last minute over the sponsor Barclays’s ties with munitions manufacturers supplying arms to Israel. 

Lankum is like nothing else

Also not ones to shy away from the horrors in Gaza, Irish folk musicians Lankum made the point of draping a Palestinian flag over their instruments and commended Spain and their country’s (and Norway’s) recognition of the Palestinian state. The discussion received a huge applause before the band launched into their unique brand of folk-inflected post rock. 

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Eerie and ethereal from the depths, Lankum
Eerie and ethereal from the depths, LankumSergio Albert

While the rest of the festival danced about in the sunshine, Lankum were set apart, performing in the bowels of the indoor arena of the Auditori Rockdelux. In the packed-out auditorium, silence pervaded the audience as they went through their catalogue of eerie, hypnotic melodies that feel ancient and brand new all at once. If you have an opportunity to see ‘Go Dig My Grave’ live, it’s imperative you take it. 

The waters finally came

The nearly four-year-long drought that has crippled Barcelona’s reservoirs came to an end in time for Primavera. 070 Shake was busy on the main stage, drawing out her dull low-energy performance way beyond her set-time to the point she was cut off by the sound engineers, and as her almost immediate follow-up act, PJ Harvey came to the stage, the shapeshifting English songwriter brought the rains with her. 

Harvey ran through her eclectic catalogue, replicating her multisensory spectrum of genres for a rapt audience that braved through the rain, which seemed to only keep on lashing. In other circumstances, it might have been miserable, but during ‘Let England Shake’, there was something fitting about it. 

Finally bucking under the rain and my complete lack of suitable clothing, I retreated to check out some of the acts on the smaller stages. Riot Grrrl legends Bikini Kill were a revitalising presence to help thrash out any memories of damp. The queens of feminist hardcore rocketed through a fast-paced set as lightning forks struck down on either side of their stage. 

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Romy commands the late-night dancefloor

One of the biggest clashes of the festival was last night headliner SZA and Romy. We’ll be covering Glastonbury later this month, so you’ll get the lowdown on SZA’s headline set then. For now, it was time to dance in euphoric awe to the XX singer’s new album. 

Behind bright lights, Romy is almost always cast in silhouette, but she is no cipher. Her pulsing beats never obscure the personal and self-energising content of her lyrics. Her debut solo album ‘Mid Air’ has translated perfectly to the big stages and as the rain abated, received of the most ecstatic atmosphere’s of the entire weekend. 

Primavera at night
Primavera at nightSilvia Villar

Back on the main stages and the huge crowds filtered out after SZA to leave a comparatively paltry group for Irish electropop musician Róisín Murphy. Primavera prides itself on its LGBTQ+ inclusive atmosphere and line-up, and while Murphy was once considered a proud ally, she’s fallen out of favour in the last year with many people in the Queer community for her comments on puberty blockers. Was her small crowd a reflection on that or do Spanish fans simply not know her that well? Murphy still put on an excellent show with costume changes and high energy renditions of her expansive repertoire. But perhaps the reason so few people saw it was of her own making. 

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