Entertainment » Music

Primavera Sound, Barcelona, Spain. June 1 to June 3

by James Nadeau
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jun 16, 2017

The day after the Boston Calling festival finished I hopped a plane to Barcelona for one of the largest music festivals in the world: Primavera Sound. Founded in 2001 with an audience of 8,000 people, as of last year's festival they have reached almost 200,000 people in the audience. And it showed at some of the more popular bands but it didn't seem to manifest in long lines at the beer, food, or at some of the smaller stages. Speaking of the stages, there were 11 in the main festival area with a couple small ones scattered around for "one-off" performances. This was not counting the stages that were set up around Barcelona for additional performances. On paper, it was seriously overwhelming. It was thankfully much more manageable in person.

The festival officially started on Wednesday, May 31st with free performances by several bands, the highlight being Saint Etienne. I skipped this but friends who attended raved about it. With several hundred bands scattered over three days, I really needed to get my schedule straight to maximize my time at Primavera. It is one of those festivals where you need to constantly move or else you will miss something. One of the really great things about Primavera Sound is how well curated it is. Given the space and the number of stages you really do have a little bit of everything. This year seemed to lean heavy on older acts (The Descendants, The Damned, Skinny Puppy, etc) but I think that had more to do with the preponderance of reunions and new releases by these acts.

As the festival is so large and a number of bands overwhelming, I'm going to stick to the top three or four bands I saw each day. That is leaving out a whole lot of great music but, well, time and space are short. So here goes!

Day 1. Thursday, June 1

Day one is a tough call. I saw some seriously fantastic performances but here you are in no particular order simply because each band is a different genre and played to completely different audiences. Solange killed it. She sadly canceled Boston Calling but did appear in Barcelona. There was some trepidation as she took the stage about a half hour late. But once she appeared it was magic. It was the perfect combination of a skilled performer and a rapturous audience. This was her crowd for sure. Frank Ocean might have canceled but we got Solange. Taking the stage under orange lights and all decked out in an orange ensemble, she looked amazing and sounded even better. Sound can be an iffy thing at a festival (see Boston Calling) but this was spot on. Great band. Great backup singers/dancers. She was definitely the superstar here.

I am torn about the next one because I love me some Gojira, the French metal band, but Death Grips was really outstanding. The experimental hip-hop group from California was simply mind-blowing. I was encouraged by friends to check them out and they didn't disappoint. They were brutal in the best of ways. The band is a combination of hip-hop, punk, metal, industrial styles. Very aggressive and completely wild live. If you can see them, I highly recommend.

And finally, while I love Slayer I have seen them so many times. They were consistent and spot on (and something to behold given their slot on one of the giant stages. The sound of many thousands of people screaming to "Hell Awaits" was intense) but...the third best performance of the night had to be Aphex Twin. The electronic artist (Richard David James) pulled in one of the larger crowds of the night. Mostly because the man almost never tours and is incredible to see live. He upset some people by not playing his "hits" such as they are. If you expected to hear "Come to Daddy," you were bummed. The highlight of his show was, of course, the light and projections. One very amusing aspect was when he would focus the camera on an audience member and then proceed to distort their face. If you've seen any of his videos or imagery, then you can imagine the monstrous faces he was creating. It was disturbing and delightful at the same time. It was an insane ninety minutes for which I happily stood on concrete. All-in-all a fun first day. And it was my early night. I was back in the hotel by 3:30 a.m.

Day 2. Friday, June 2

Day two was tough. There were a lot of good bands but I kinda floated around. It was the day I couldn't stand still. It was probably all the Red Bull I had to drink because I know I'd be there till at least 4 a.m. when Flying Lotus ended their set. Flying Lotus was hands down the best thing on day two. If you aren't familiar with him then google his name and be forewarned. His film directorial debut "Kuso" premiered at Sundance this year and quickly became notorious for making people run from the screening due to its disturbing nature. His live performance wasn't horrific but it was damn interesting. From the insane visuals (in a very different direction than that of Aphex Twin) to his twisted electronic sounds, it was something to behold. He was oddly given one of the smaller stages and it quickly became very annoying as far too many people tried to shove themselves into a very small bowl. He could have (should have) been on one of the main stages. But on the plus side, I had a seat with a great view so I didn't really care.

And while old school punk band The Descendents put on a great show the second great performance of the day was Shellac, the "post-hardcore" band from Chicago (with that super famous guy Steve Albini. You know him. He produced a couple of albums like Nirvana's "In Utero" amongst many others) was pretty stellar. Despite playing in the day light (I don't think it really made a difference to them) and on a stage tucked under what looked like a freeway onramp, they were spectacular.

There were many other great performers on day two but I took a chance on an electronic artist purely based upon the description in the program. Abdulla Rashim hails from Sweden and his music has been described as "dark and cold," which frankly sounded right up my alley. Performing across a bridge in a side area of the festival it was a nice break from the madness of the main Primavera space. And it was the perfect spot for an ambient/electronic chill-out moment. Basically, the Barcardi Live stage was the place for this particular genre and it never failed to entertain. Sometimes ambient/Electronic music can be just plain boring live but even though the stage was small the artists were given a full lighting set-up which made for a pretty great diversion. His set was strong and I have been listening to his stuff on Soundcloud since I returned. Side note: I checked out Korean band The Patients for a couple of songs and their weird surf/punk/rockabilly set was pretty fun. Definitely worth checking out their stuff.

Day 3. Saturday, June 3

Saturday was the last day of the festival and due to the fact I didn't even get back to my hotel till 5 a.m. I eased slowly into the festival. Despite some pretty big bands playing early (Royal Trux, Van Morrison) on, I didn't head over till around 8 p.m. Teenage Fanclub were their usual guitar pop/rock bombast. Entertaining for a bit but then I moved to stake out territory near the main stage where Grace Jones was to perform. Needless to say, she was hands down, the best thing of the entire festival. At 69 the woman tore up the stage. Performing topless and covered in body paint she took the audience by storm and didn't let up for almost 2 hours. It was hard to believe that she's still up there, rocking out in giant stiletto heels doing a set that would exhaust much younger singers.

Changing headdresses and accessories between each song she was a singular vision. One minute a giant Sparta-style helmet complete with horse tail, the next a sparkling version that ricocheted lasers across the field. A highlight was her climbing atop the shoulders of a security guard and having him run her through the audience. The woman was amazing. Her performance alone was worth the entire trip to Barcelona.

I skipped Arcade Fire because zzzzzzzzzzzzzz, oh wait I fell asleep. But their crowd was giant, no surprise. British singer/songwriter King Krule was interesting. I stayed for a couple of songs and then moved on to catch a bit of the Canadian band Japandroids. Both were a nice embodiment of what Primavera was pulling together. A bit of punk. A bit of rock. I ended the night back over at the Barcardi Live stage to check out Gas, the German sound/ambient artist (real name Wolfgang Voig). It was a nice chill way to end three days of tons of music and even more people.

Ultimately Primavera Sound is one of the best music experiences out there. Perhaps more experimental than the American heavyweight festivals of Coachella and Bonnaroo but definitely more varied and international. And you can't beat a festival that is near a subway stop in a city that is as fabulous as Barcelona. Sure, the food was pretty mediocre but not insanely expensive. The beer was all Heineken but that was no surprise given they paid for one of the main stages and honestly, it was cold and plentiful. I was happy. All in all, this was one of the easiest, most well-organized experiences I've had at a large festival, well worth a trip to Spain. And you know, if it had sucky moments, you could leave and still be in Barcelona. Not a bad consolation prize.


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