Primavera Sound – A Reflection

Art & Culture

Sunny festivals with the promise of Sangria are an easy lure, but it’s not just the promise of sleeping off your hangover on a beach which makes Primavera a winner. The programming is always tight and they draw an impressive range of acts from Patti Smith to James Blake meaning you won’t be bored either.

Because the line-up is so vast, this review would be pretty dull if I tried to squeeze in every band. So here’s a day-by-day highlights edit for you.


Girl group the Sha La La’s kicked things off early on the Unplugged stage, a tiny venue which made for an intimate escape from the main festival melee. Their brand of punchy psych-pop was great start to the festival. Next it was onto the adidas stage for Cheatahs, whose rich soundscapes combined with a sun-baked stage created a heady and mesmerising set. We stepped away to catch a tiny bit of Viet Cong, whose slightly off-kilter math rock felt a little early but nonetheless fun and energetic to witness.

After that, we popped over to see the Thurston Moore band and we have to say he seems super happy these days, the new material feels more crafted than much of his Sonic Youth songwriting too but doesn’t lose the spontaneity which makes him so fun to watch. The Replacements were up next, Paul Westerberg’s shirt spells discontent but his live presence is still as grizzly and striking as ever. There was even a surprise rendition of a Michael Jackson track for good measure. I only caught two songs of The Black Keys but they were on form and the scale of their sound defies their small line-up.

For those more in the mood to dance, there was an oasis in the form of the Bowers &Wilkins Sound System. Earlier we were treated to a test drive of this feat of sound engineering. This was no carnival Channel One-style speaker stack but a range of elements more complicated and technically driven to bring the noise. The first person we saw test it was Rory Phillips, who let’s be honest never disappoints. His set was a mix of the usual floor fillers and a lot of fun to boot.

Bounciest set of the day went to Tyler the Creator who brought it fully from the moment he hit the stage for an electrifying and upbeat set. By contrast, Simian’s set was a little stale, never quite seeming to peak, and by Spanish standards – given they were on at 12.30 – it certainly could have done with being a bit more exciting. We rounded off the night with James Blake I find his vocals a little whiney but my friends are fans so…


Friday started with a treat, the majestic Patti Smith and her band and the epic loveliness which is Horses. She still retains a swagger and air of insouciance in her performance, which is impressive. Some may have found her interludes a little preachy but, hey, it’s Patti Smith, let it be. In keeping with the female first vein of the evening next up was The Julie Ruin and Kathleen Hanna and co were back with a breezy, fun set and a salute to the Barcelona Ladyfest crew – keeping their message front and centre with Hanna inciting the audience to not be “haunted by the ghost of the '90s, it’s 2015, it’s time for something NEW!” Hear hear.

I missed Belle and Sebastian because I think they’re twee and boring and headed off to Sleater Kinney. The girls were on form with a tight, angst-driven and melodic set, mixing in a few classics but mainly showcasing a host of the new material from No Cities to Love to a rapt audience. Run the Jewels were also a bundle of fun! Old school hip-hop melodies, throbbing bass and a heavy on the jumping round the stage set made this a highlight. By contrast Jon Hopkins seemed a little mellow, sonically some of his set was edging toward the tired but he redeemed this with a beautiful film of a guy skating through abandoned landscapes and, contrastingly, some jazzy ladies with light up hula hoops who entranced the crowd.


By this point we were in full swing and sad it was the last day. Though, that said, given Barcelona’s famed gastronomy none of it had made it to the festival site and we had a raw burger and some other food fails we were happy to see the back of too.

Back to the bands though, DIIV on the Pitchfork Stage were a perfect intro to the evening, their hymns to lost love and pretty melancholy are swathed in guitars making for a cocoon of sound which draws you in. Zachary Cole Smith’s scarecrow-style may mark him out as an unlikely frontman but his vulnerability centre stage is apparent and he commands the audience nonetheless. 

Mac de Marco’s set is a non stop party, if it’s ever allowed I’ll happily jump in the tour bus along with him Pierce and Andy because they seem they are never not having a great time. Stage highlights include members of DIIV’s guest appearances as “Anthony Kiedis”, the Coldplay cover courtesy of Pierce and Andy when Mac broke his guitar string and, song-wise, 'Blue Boy' which is a sad song somehow disguised as a happy one – whatever, it really works.

After Mac were Foxygen, I first saw these guys supporting Hole and they’re fun and their quasi-glam rock is interesting but they seem to have very few songs. That said, live, the comedy, shiny dancers and stage dressed to look like your Nan’s cocktail bar were all winners.

Interpol’s strong moody rock went down a treat but their heyday is still apparent with 'Evil' being the first track to get a huge crowd reaction. Nonetheless, they are tight and still a great live draw. The Strokes big rock band set was incredibly popular and I have to concede they have some punchy tracks but I skipped out early to see Babes in Toyland. For their first show back it seemed everything was a struggle with Kat Bjelland battling broken guitar strings. Still, those tracks still have a power when played live and you’ve got to be fair and remember you’re not getting to hear them in their heyday but you’re still getting to hear them live. 

Act of the night and possibly the festival goes to Unknown Mortal Orchestra. There’s no denying that, whatever its inspiration, the new album mixes the best parts of Prince with some psychedelic softness to produce and utterly danceable and entrancing record which loses none of it’s power live. Next, it was time for some disco courtesy of John Talabot. His set was a real winner, euphoric in parts but surprising too and so popular there was a queue to get in and join the fun. The Oh Sees provided a noisy send off on the ATP stage though those more electronically minded could have caught Underworld – I for one have no desire to ever hear 'Born Slippy' again so the guitar fuzz was just what I needed.  

We could also hear anyone out super late was treated to a secret set courtesy of Dave P until the sun showed it’s face and everyone headed to the beach to sleep it all off.