PRIMAVERA: THE BLAG
It’s a massive understatement to say a lot has changed since we bought our ‘early bird’ tickets for Barcelona Primavera 2020 within a couple of weeks of arriving home from Primavera 2019. Before a band had been confirmed, past glorious experiences at every Primavera since 2015 made securing tickets for what would be the festivals 20th anniversary an absolute must. ‘Course, we all know what happened next.
As we’ve ticked down the months and weeks, then started counting down all over again – twice – the festivals organisers have expanded the festival from 4 days to 12, two weekends and gigs across Barcelona sandwiched in between. Tickets purchased before the 2020 and 2021 cancellations could be ‘upgraded’ to access both weekends, or we could choose which weekend we wished to attend. With hotels and flights booked way back in 2019, we opted for Weekend One.
Context, is everything.
We arrived in Barcelona on Sunday night, giving us a few days to enjoy the city we love so much. The Wife spends a day relaxing on the roof terrace, enjoying the sun and the swimming pool. I mooch the labyrinthine streets hunting down record shops. We visit the beach. We visit our favourite bars; most – but not all – have survived two years of lockdowns.
PUNKS ARE GO, CURDLED MILK, & THE EYE OF SAURON
On Wednesday night we go to Poble Espanyol, where the Primavera opening party will take place. Poble Espanyol is a recreation of selected buildings drawn from across the regions of Spain, with a modern art museum and artisans and crafts people working around a huge central plaza. In the evening it’s a venue for performances. It is where the carnage of Primavera will begin.
THE LINDA LINDAS kick off Primavera 2022 and THEY ARE A BLAST; exuberant and punky, ‘that-was-then-this-is-now’ attitude; everyone is giddy and pogoing. Sure, the choreographed guitar shapes and Monkees/Ramones treacle power-pop bears more than a passing resemblance to Japanese girl band Chai, and sure, the fact the drummer grins throughout their entire set is slightly unnerving, but that is only because I’m from Wolverhampton where no one with a pulse ever grins for longer than two seconds. 8/10
WET LEG are on next. The crowd thickens like curdled milk, and when the band launch into ‘THE HITS’ it’s a curdled milk mosh pit. I tut a bit. I like Wet Leg and I like their music. It’s Wet Leg THE PHENOMENON that I’m uneasy with. Their record is the 2005 Cansei de Ser Sexy album modded with Phantastic Ferniture cribbing and it came out during one of the most horrendous periods of recent history. Context is everything. Or maybe I’m just being a dick. 6/10
When the curdled milk evaporates, I suggest to The Wife that we get the metro back into the City and get well oiled. Fortunately for me The Wife insists we stay for the next band, a Brazilian group called TETO PRETO. The festival organisers have created an app which lists the bands appearing at Primavera, but because the app keeps crashing, and because I need bifocal glasses, I haven’t bothered researching any of the bands this year. This is the only time in 6 Primaveras (Primaveri?) where I haven’t researched (aka ‘DEEP DIVED’ – Kids Everywhere) the foreign bands on the bill. Teto Preto appear – one at a time – and then proceed to BLOW MY MIND.
The percussionist arrives first, an 80s He-Man character in S&M gear. A stick thin peroxide guitarist War Boy in a leather mini skirt. Cosey Fanni Tutti or one of the girls from Rita, Sue & Bob Too wearing tasty red lingerie does stuff with a table of machinery. And then the singer appears. I exchange glances with everyone around me. Yes, they’re seeing what I am seeing. The singer is almost naked and executes gladiatorial poses and uses a mirrored shield to reflect a spotlight beam – Eye of Sauron style – into the crowd, which is swelling by the minute. And then they start making a (glorious) RACKET.
The Eye of Sauron must have fried my head pan, because sifting through the notes in my dumped hard drive I find: Throbbing Gristle>squalling Diamanda Galás>Scalping>Dire Straits Right Across The River>NIN>Weird Jenny Hval>PURE GONZO>Spandau Ballet Chant No.1>VDGG>imperious Goat>ACR>Madonna>Trombone!!!>Captain Marvel>Wagner>Satoshi Tomiie>Heaven 17>YOU MUST FIND THEIR RECORDS…and as Teto Preto retreat from the stage to the decay and feedback of their various machines, I gabble insanely at my companions, who CAN believe I’m scoring such a spectacle… 9/10
FEAR & OVERCROWDING IN PRIMAVERA '22, OH NO HERE COMES THE HEXX, & YOMPERS AND YOMPING
On Thursday the festival starts proper and as we arrive at the site in the late afternoon it becomes obvious that there are tens of thousands more people here than in previous years. More than once among the huge crowds making their way to see FAYE WEBSTER we hear someone say, ‘they’ve sold waaay too many tickets’.
Faye Webster delivers some pleasantly appealing alt-country on the CUPRA amphitheatre stage, but my noggin is still toasted by the previous evenings gonzoid Tropicalia, and we only stick around for half the set. 6/10
From there we march over to another stage (this year called the OUIGO stage but regardless of its name, it’s always the best stage) which normally takes about 2 minutes to get to from Cupra, but because of the crowds and the huge queue at the drinks tent it takes much longer. Now here’s the great thing about past Primaveras (Primaveri?) - although the site is huge, it doesn’t take long to get from one stage to another (unless you’re at the two ‘main’ stages which are located at the far end of the seaboard side of the site), which means that typically, even if two bands overlap, you can pretty much guarantee catching at least half a set. In this way, you can check out at least half the bands on the bill.
But this year, because there are WALKING DEAD mega-herds attracted to anything making amplified noise, and because the programming means sometimes there are only two bands playing across the 5 principle stages at any one time, navigating the site against the migrating tide of bodies becomes a major issue. And because the queues for EVERYTHING are so long, bottlenecks are created jamming the spaces between the stages.
We arrive at the Ouigo in time to catch a bit of Spanish group AIKO EL GRUPO, who make a spiky punk racket. They’re fun. 7/10
We’re distracted trying to use the complimentary drinks credits preloaded onto our e-tickets that the Primavera organisers have given to everyone who kept their 2020 tickets rolling over. Which is great, except the average waiting time at the bars is an hour, where none of the (too few) bar staff appear to have any experience pouring drinks, where drinks aren’t pre-poured (which would save loads of time) and where there appears to be only one card machine between 5 staff. We give up and go and watch RICHARD DAWOSN & CIRCLE on the PLENITUDE stage around the corner.
Dawson is in splendid Viking cos playing form, Black Mountain meets The Northman heavy riffage. At the end of the set they arrange themselves in a riffing pyramid of chugging guitars. 9/10
We try and head over to the Cupra again for Dinosaur Jr., but the crowd is huge, and I justify my decision to forego seeing them on the grounds that 1) The crowd is just too big to wade through 2) I’ve seen them before and 3) Mascis is even more miserable than I am. He doesn’t need me. Instead, we try and go to the bar. Again.
SHARON VAN ETTEN plays the BINANCE stage, which is the next big stage after the two main stages further along the coast. We join the crowd somewhere like 40 or 50 people from the front. Behind us, the crowd swells to overspill the entire space allotted for the Binance. If the bands we’ve seen so far are newly-promoted-to-the-Prem teams or plucky Europa League qualifiers, Sharon Van Etten is the first bonafide ‘Top Six’ act we’ve seen, oozing class, charisma and World Class chops in a set dominated by her new record. 9/10
We watch most of her set but need to get away to catch a bit of LFD faves GUSTAF. Trying to leave Van Etten (sob!) we see that security have cordoned off the Binance stage kettling-style, an indication that the organisers have realised that there are too many people crammed into the space in front of the stage and it is now too dangerous to allow people to continue flowing towards the Binance. I’ve never seen this before at Primavera. It’s quite scary and later social media will speculate that it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.
We arrive in time to catch the last 20 minutes of the Gustaf set. Which is OK because we caught their Birmingham show a month ago. Their Bush Tetras/Tom Tom Club inspired art punk goes down a storm and I blow the cobwebs off some dance moves and hurt my back. 8/10
We then head over to see YO LA TENGO and once again are confronted by some massive crowds. I doubt if more than a tenth of the horde arrayed in front of the Cupra stage are aware of the repetitious art rock noise that Yo La Tengo are playing; it looks like people are just waiting in the safest place before tramping over to the main stage to see Tame Impala. Sure enough, the horde starts thinning out and I indulge in some chin stroking/head nodding as Yo La Tengo noodle away one cyclical riff after another. 7/10
It's now 23.30 and we think we’re clever by heading in the opposite direction to everyone else, aiming to get some beers at the Ouigo stage where Spanish punk band CAROLINA DURANTE are playing. We send a scout to the bar to queue for drinks, which he does for the entire 50 minutes of the band’s set and he comes back empty handed because it’s so busy. The bar has also run out of red wine and gluten free beer. Carolina Durante by the way are good. Old school no-frills punk. 7/10
PAVEMENT are a bucket-list band on the PULL & BEAR main stage. It takes us an age to get there but I’m cheered by the sight of more people leaving the field than arriving. Malkmus & co start at 00.40 and play until 02.20, a ‘greatest hits’ package that includes The Hexx*, which has me cowering beneath an unseen incoming Boeing crash landing or a falling speaker tower. Pavement are brilliant, and I’m in slacker heaven. 10/10
<*The Hexx was playing on my car stereo in 2005 when I hit black ice and had an 80mph head-on collision with a crash barrier on the M48. I walked from the wreckage with only a scratch. And shock, which is why I immediately phoned my boss to explain I would be late for work and that I was wearing my girlfriend’s underwear.>
Basking in the post-coital fuzziness of Shady Lane, we give up on getting anywhere near Black Midi and instead amble to the food court. Which is in near darkness, except for the myriad food vans around the perimeter. Presumably this is part of the drive by the festival organisers to make the festival as green and carbon neutral as possible. By the third evening, the food court will be lit up as per previous years, presumably because the area has a lot of tripping hazards and people who buy stuff from food vans at festivals like to know what they’re about to put in their gob. The organisers have made a big deal about the number and variety of menus on offer. I plump for an African veggie rice dish, which is very good.
DJ SHADOW is on at 03.15 so we grab some seats on the steps of the Cupra amphitheatre and settle in for some head noddin’ heavy beats. It’s still packed but Shadow is flat as f*ck. The visuals are lame too 5/10
We decide to call it a night. Free shuttle buses run from outside the festival site to the Placa de Catalunya but after queueing for ages and with no sign of us ever boarding a bus, we decide to walk back to our hotels. The yomp across the city gives us plenty of time and opportunity to argue about bands, analyse what the organisers have got wrong and moan about our various aching body parts. At one point I give the gang permission to leave me to die like a lame dog at the side of the road. To be fair, only The Wife thinks that this is a good idea. We finally reach our hotels and crawl into our beds at 05.30, just as the Barcelona bin men start their morning shift.
“WHERE IT WENT WRONG”:
- It’s obvious that this year there are tens of thousands more people on site than in previous years. Either the event has been dangerously oversold, or thousands of people have gained entry with fake tickets. Given that entry is via e-ticket on an app, it’s not the latter. The Corporate Sponsor ‘mission creep’ that begun in earnest at Primavera 2019 has clearly taken priority above the safety of the people buying the tickets.
- The programming of bands means that certain stages are ‘overloaded’ while others are not. In previous years, it has been easy to navigate between most of the stages, but this year that simply isn’t possible. Punters wanting to guarantee their spot close to the stage are forced to stake an early spot and remain there until showtime. At a one-day only, one-stage only festival like the old Monsters of Rock, this is OK. At a 21st century multi-stage riot of choices celebration like Primavera it is not.
- The policy of banning drinks receptacles with tops and limiting drinks to 33cl is not only nonsensical in the hot conditions of Primavera it’s also dangerous, especially when the number of water fountains has been cut to 3 (increased to 6 on the second day after the flood of complaints about queuing and basic Human rights on social media) and the unavailability of water at the food vans. The queues for the water fountains remained huge throughout our 3 visits to the site. And considering the blatant mountains of drugs being smuggled into the site, it seems odd that drinking water is at a premium.
- Primavera has always been about inclusivity and equality, and while this is deservedly celebrated, whoever decided to remove the men’s urinals from every part of the site except the food court clearly dropped a bollock. Replacing urinal blocks with a couple of portaloos isn’t doing anything for gender or non-gender equality. It simply quadruples the size of the queues. A better idea would have been to keep the urinal blocks AND the portaloos give people the freedom to choose and place screens at intervals between the troughs and give a free Shewee to every woman who wants one. I couldn’t wait half an hour for a portaloo, I pissed in the sea.
- Talking of inclusivity, this year the ‘sky bridge’ across the harbour is reserved for VIPs only; everyone else is redirected around the harbour, a 30 min round trip to the smaller stages and dance areas. Which idiot thought this one up?
And so much for all that…
APARTMENT ENVY, THE TROPICAL FUCK STORM, & AUSSIE PSYCHONAUTS ARE GO!
The following day we go to a friend’s apartment for a barbecue where we coo over his fantastic homegrown vegetables, which means we arrive late for POND on the Ouigo. This is the umpteenth time we’ve seen them but only catch a few songs. It’s OK, but it feels like me and Pond, with their prevaricating Hot Chip-iness, are drifting apart. 6/10
We have almost two hours until TROPICAL FUCK STORM on the Ouigo so we have a mooch over to the merch stands and then camp out right down the front and await TFS. This new tactic assures us of a good spot, but means we miss loads of bands we could be watching. Even so, the ‘sacrifice’ is worth it:The band are blistering, delivering the stand-out performance of the festival so far. This is the third and BEST time I’ve seen them and it’s on a festival stage. There’s even a surreal moment when a sail yacht drifts into the harbour opposite the stage and Gareth starts singing the Sutherland Brothers’ ‘Sailing’. Hyperventilating fanboy. 11/10
‘Where can you go from there?’ asked Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap. Well, we go and see SHELLAC, who are Primavera perennials. It’s a decent racket but my ears are still ringing from TFS. 7/10
LITTLE SIMZ in on the Cupra at 22.00, someone we’re been really excited about; last year’s record is a favourite. We grab some seats early because we know it will be packed out. When Simz comments that the crowd is massive compared to when she last played Primavera I mutter, ‘because the greedy bastards have sold too many tickets’ as she raps over backing tracks and some live drums, bass and minimal guitar. The horde is lapping it up, but I find it a bit underwhelming, the vocals are too loud in the mix and if you close your eyes it sounds like a next door neighbour toasting in the shower. 7/10
I convince The Wife to leave Simz early by moaning – A LOT - and we barge over to see PARQUET COURTS, who also draw a huge crowd. PC deliver a set featuring several extended instrumental jams. Andrew Savage’s vox sound a bit ragged so maybe the band are protecting his voice. It might not be TOTAL FOOTBALL but they still play a blinder. 8/10
We watch a bit of JEHNNY BETH (very NIN). 7/10
Then we head over to the Binance stage again (scene of the Sharon van Etten KETTLING) for KING GIZZARD & THE WIZARD LIZZARD. We lounge around on the grassy slope opposite the stage for ages while the hillside fills up. By the time the ‘Gizz are mesmerizing/bludgeoning the crowd there’s no room to swing a dead cat. But who needs a cat when you’ve got a flute? The psychedelic visuals are seriously messing with the droogs around us. One bloke is convinced his head is on fire and he removes his sunglasses then puts them on again with such frequency I become concerned he’ll induce an epileptic fit. Speaking of fits, we decide to call time on King Gizz with two songs to go so we can get on the bus and don’t have to walk home again.
On Saturday, The BEST RECORD SHOP in Barcelona, ULTRA-LOCAL RECORDS, is having a mini festival. Everyone else stays in bed while I get on the metro to check it out. Local label BEAUTY FOOL curate a line-up of instore performances, and the owner introduces me to BF and we have a natter in broken English. I realise that in 2019 I bought a Beauty Fool release on the recommendation of a record stall at Primavera – the Ultra-Local merch tent? - and I’m told that one of the guys from the band who made that cool record is playing in the shop later. It’s the kind of serendipitous moment that occurs when you seek out and hang with THE GOOD PEOPLE and I ruminate on the fact that I probably would have caught a flight to Barcelona just for this moment…
Ultra-Local is roughly the same shape and size as LFD, so there’s around 20 people eagerly listening to first band HEARTWORMS (well, half of Heartworms, the rest are back in the US) who are from Pomona, California. I don’t find this out until later but it makes sense with their hook-heavy lo-fi vibe that recalls The Lemonheads, Elliott Smith, Pavement, Ex Hex, Quasi and Viva Voce. It’s fun, it’s laid back but most importantly, there’s the HUMAN CONNECTION and intimacy of close-up live music that I’ve missed these past two years. 8/10
The second act on the ‘Primavera parody’ festival is QUIM FEDERAL – the Spanish guy who made the great Pren La Matinada record I bought in 2019 – and midway through his set I start crying, the combination of EVERYTHING going off in the room – the positive vibes, the Ultra-Local family proudly loving every minute, the BF dude, the lovely folks who have come to see some local live music, the past two years of weirdness and horror, the ghastliness back in England thrown into such sharp relief – it’s all briefly overpowering and I send the Beauty Fool insta a message that reads: ‘THANK YOU!!! You and your friends have rescued my soul!’. Mawkish AF but I hope that they understand the SENTIMENT. Quim Federal’s acoustic set over, he raps over some beats. I don’t speak Spanish or Catalan, so I haven’t understood a word he’s said or sung the entire time, but it’s magical anyway. 8/10
The final act of the afternoon is also an American. THANKS FOR COMING is clearly a big draw for the locals and between the self-deprecating and ‘goofy’ interludes, Thanks For Coming aka Rachel Brown, delivers an amazing set that suggests they’re destined for big things. There’s a bit of Courtney Barnett, some Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, Moldy Peaches, Grandaddy, Soccer Mommy, early Angel Olsen, Avril Lavigne, Elliott Smith…a song about a COFFIN floors me. 8/10
Later, Rachel tells me they’re one half of electro pop Water From Your Eyes, whose record ‘Structure’ I bought earlier this year. DUMBFOUNDED #1.
We arrange for me to pick up some signed records to take back to LFD. Ultra-Local closes it’s doors around 4 and start setting up tables for an al fresco dinner. I’m invited to stay and break bread with the gang. DUMBFOUNDED #2.
<END OF INTERLUDE>
CAPTAIN PANTO METAL GRINDCORE SAVES THE WEEKEND, & THE PRIMAVERA AUTOPSY
Plans to have kerbside beers with my new favourite people are cut short by Primavera calling, and we eventually get to the site to catch AUTOMATIC’s Las Kellies/ESG-ish Kraut-pop-motorik, who don’t disappoint. 7/10
After the highs of the afternoon at Ultra-Local I really cannot be arsed with the overcrowding at Primavera. It’s a huge disappointment to avoid bands like Nick Cave, Idles, Black Country New Road, King Krule, Caroline Polachek, but as we make our way around the harbour to check out the smaller stages, we’re reminded that across the water, there’s a slice of how Primavera USED to be.
Which is why we find ourselves watching Norwegian black metal band ABBATH on the Ouigo instead of all those bands namechecked earlier. And heck is it worth it, Abbath’s pantomime metal and old skool riffage does the business. Primavera feels like Primavera. I love it. 8/10
And of course we gotta stick around for the next band, the legendary NAPALM DEATH. Like Tropical Fuck Storm on Friday night, it’s a brutal and lean full frontal assault, an economy of rage, a singular vision. But whereas TFS sugarcoat their punk bludgeon with the vocals of Fiona and Erica, Napalm Death have Barney Greenway, segueing effortlessly from searing political polemic - delivered in his close-to-my-heart Brummie accent - into the ferocious grindcore that is uniquely theirs. TFS aside, it’s the best performance of the festival. 10/10
After Napalm, I steadfastly refuse to see another band. Nothing could come close. How on earth could I endure Beach House (nice band, nice records) after witnessing Napalm tear the face off the festival?
We leave Primavera contemplating an attempt to see TFS on Sunday night in the tiny 200 cap Sidecar venue, but figure that killing entirely our last day in Barcelona by queuing up early is a waste of time, and we’ve just seen them deliver an 11/10 performance. Why be greedy?
As I write this, Primavera 2022 enters its second weekend. I don’t doubt that they’ve learned some lessons from last weekend, but it will be the autopsy on social media when the festival is over that will make for interesting reading, and the continually trending topic even now is that the festival has been oversold to such a degree, it’s almost impossible for fans to enjoy seeing more than a handful of bands.
Why do I get the feeling this may be my last Primavera?