Jay Mitra travels to Barcelona to experience Spain’s long-awaited alternative music festival, and encounters Gorillaz, Nick Cave and Little Simz along the way.
After a two-year delay, Primavera Sound festival returned to the Parc del Forum in Barcelona, dousing the masses in sun-soaked songs and salty sea air. But apparently two years was not enough for the festival organisers to get prepared for the tens of thousands who would be arriving on the 2nd of June.
So, what went wrong?
The first day of the festival was somewhat a shambles, with hundreds taking to social media to complain about the dangerous conditions. For many, the biggest concern was dehydration – queues at the bar could last over an hour and with temperatures soaring and only one free water point, getting a drink seemed almost impossible – especially if you had access needs.
Short-staffed, inexperienced, and relatively clueless about where specific stages and waterpoints were, many of those working struggled to offer assistance to festival-goers, with several reports of some staff becoming aggressive as a result of overcrowding and stress.
But it’s not the staff that were the real issue that weekend. The logistics and general organisation of the festival was appalling.
One worker claims staff had zero training and were neglected and lied to by their employers during the festival:
“We were promised a meal at Primavera after our work, something they then acted as if they didn’t remember, and we didn’t get said meal. Food isn’t allowed inside so we were suddenly left without a dinner. Primavera can get exhausting as any festival does, so most of us left earlier than we wanted to eat at home, whilst some of us just didn’t eat.”
To navigate the festival, you needed not one but TWO apps – both of which needed internet access to function. Since the internet was often down, many attendees were stuck at the entrance on days two and three regardless of the fact they were wearing the festival wristband they’d acquired from day one. The Tous stage and Estrella Damn stages were up to a forty-minute walk apart in peak times because the shortest path was reserved for VIP ticket holders. For many of us, especially those struggling to get water, walking to the opposite side of the festival site was not really an option and several missed out on acts we were looking forward to seeing. Not to mention major acts like The Strokes, Bikini Kill, Girl in Red dropped out for various reasons and left many fans frustrated.
Sanitation at the festival was quite literally a shitshow. No soap/gel disinfectant or loo roll and toilet queues on the first day were so bad that I saw one guy whip his penis out in the middle of the AstroTurf in front of the Pull and Bear stage to take a piss.
But it wasn’t all bad. To be fair to the organisers, the second and third days of the festival were a vast improvement and it was clear the complaints hadn’t been ignored. More water points were added (though not nearly enough), and more staff were hired to alleviate the crowds at the bars. But I’m sure you’re bored of reading the logistics, so let’s get to the good stuff – the music.
Day one highlights
American young punk sensations The Linda Lindas smashed their set on the Ouiga stage, starting strong with their cover of The Blue Heart’s ‘Linda Linda’. Adorned in dresses and drawn on cat whiskers, this youthful punk band are simultaneously cute and intimidatingly cool. Highlights include feel good punk tracks like ‘Remember’ and ‘Monica’, which would fit a nineties teen film soundtrack with ease.
Country-pop star Kacey Musgraves sashayed around the stage in a red two piece, her wavy hair swishing as she sang. The headline stage really did her incredible voice justice. Among the cheesiest moments, the Texan singer encourages the crowd to join her in a “kaceyoke” with the lyrics of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ projected on the screen behind her. Kacey’s voice hits Stevie Nicks high notes with ease, truly showcasing her range and stopping every passer-by in their tracks.
Charlie XCX is the epitome of a pop star – even though her refrain of ‘It’s Charlie Bitch’ not quite capturing the full gravitas of Britney’s iconic slogan. Flanked by two male dancers, she navigates the entirety of the stage with grace, swagger and pure sex appeal. Her setlist highlights the best of her latest album CRASH. Songs like ‘Move Me’, ‘Baby’, ‘Yuck’ and, especially, ‘New Shapes’, flourished on the big stage. ‘Beg for You’, an audience favourite, saw the appearance of Rina Sawayama on stage and ‘Vroom Vroom’ was explosive.
The crowd at Tame Impala was overwhelmingly big and borderline crushing to be in and it’s no surprise why. The Aussie band began with the pulse-raising ‘Let It Happen’, Kevin’s voice swallowed the space around the Estrella Damm Stage. Psychedelic projections, what appeared to be a spaceship prop, and flashing lights induced a trip-like experience as they ripped through their hit album Currents. Best of all was their gorgeous performance of ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ which the crowd sang along with. Despite the relatively low energy of Kevin, the band redeemed themselves with their surprise performance of The Strokes’ ‘Last Nite’ – a slight consolation after the New York band’s cancellation.
In the early hours of the next morning, indie giants Pavement took to the stage. While the crowd had somewhat dispersed compared to Tame, which after an exhausting and badly organised first day was understandable, their set was still very much a highlight of the festival. After a 12-year hiatus, the excitement of their reunion was evident in the eager singing along of the crowd. For their Primavera headline set, Pavement played “Father To A Sister Of Thought,” “Zurich Is Stained,” and “Stereo” for the first time since 2010. For their encore, they performed a cover of ‘Witchi Tai To’: a stunning end to a legendary set.
Day 2 highlights
Irish rockers Fontains DC oozed a snarky confidence at the Estrella Damn stage. Frontman Grian Chatten mirrors Liam Gallagher in his stance and style, donning a Scarface shirt and making a dig at the Jubilee celebrations back in the UK. “Are you not terribly excited for the jubilee,” he says, his face completely deadpan. If his stance wasn’t evident enough, Chatten adds “F**k the queen” for good measure. Their set surges with an electrified intensity that parts the crowd in front of the barrier like Moses. I watch them on the big screen as bodies ram into each other as ‘Too Real’ ignites them into a frenzy.
Little Simz is British Rap’s leading woman and it’s no surprise that her set at the Cupra stage commanded a humungous crowd. You’d never have guessed that the rising star had to cancel her North American tour as it would leave her “in a huge deficit” – her Cheshire cat grin exudes a carefree confidence and ease. Little Simz last performed at Primavera in 2019, at the start of her career with the release of her first album Grey Area. “There definitely weren’t as many people that day as there is tonight,” she says somewhat in awe of her achievement, as if truly taking in the mass of adoring fans in front of her. Her set is relatively stripped back, her name ‘SIMBI’ written large in gold on the screen behind her and her band accompanying her on stage. Following the headbanger ’Venom’, she finishes with the slick track ‘Woman’ which showcases her incredible singing voice in all its magnificence.
Day 3 highlights
Despite the withdrawal of frontman and lyricist Isaac Wood earlier this year, Black Country, New Road command the Binance stage with confidence, playing with a light-heartedness that juxtaposes the angsty, neurotic previous records For The First Time and Ants From Up There. With songs led by bassist Tyler Hyde, saxophonist Lewis Evans, and keyboardist May Kershaw, it seems BC,NR don’t need a singular frontman, the rotation of lead singers works in their favour to capture a wide array of styles. Kershaw’s gentle piano ballad ‘Turbines/Pigs’ arguably stole the show, the rest of the band laying down on the stage watching her serenade the crowd. Evans eventually joins in with the flute but Kershaw’s delicate voice is utterly captivating, the piano melody building to a crescendo that collapses with drummer Charlie Wayne crashing down on the symbols.
The band also mention Charlie’s encounter with rapper Earl Sweatshirt and play a new song apparently written a few hours prior to their set based on the experience. The new track ‘Across the Pond Friend’ is led by Lewis Evans and a lovely indie track that is mildly reminiscent of early Noah and the Whale. Between songs BC,NR members briefly shout out friends, fans and even Daniel Day Lewis. Like a posh hype-man, Lewis shouts out ‘May’s Boyfriend…let’s get a shout out for love!” before quickly adding “F*ck love.”
Chemistry between the members of the band surprisingly seems to have improved since Wood’s departure, long, meaningful looks are shared on stage and it’s clear that this band is going to be alright despite the setback.
The iconic Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds quite literally comes out kicking, his leg slicing up the air as he launches into a high energy set. The maniacal ‘From Her to Eternity’ injects energy into the crowd, with Cave screaming the ‘Cry! Cry! Cry!’ refrain to various audience members and bandmates. But the real showstopper is when he performs the incredibly touching ballad ‘I Need You’ dedicated to his two sons Luke and Earl. Having lost another son less than a year ago, the song is saturated with sadness and poignancy, though Cave attempts to undercut the crowd’s stillness with a self-deprecating joke: “they’re probably over there waiting for Bauhaus to begin”.
He glides across the stage and amongst the crowd in a suit and slicked back hair, as his hands brush those at the barriers. People grasp at him like he is the messiah and for many fervent fans in the crowd, his music saved them. This divinity is no doubt emphasised with the addition of three gospel singers that accentuate Cave’s voice with glorious harmonies.
Warren Ellis’s angelic vocals on ‘Bright Horses’ also deserves an honourable mention, despite Cave’s idol status, Ellis’ contribution does not go amiss. He plays his violin like an electric guitar, throwing it about like Paul Simonon on London Calling’s iconic album cover.
The band closes their set with ‘Ghosteen Speaks’ an eerie yet stunning choice that captures the surrealness of the masses gathering after two tough years of Covid-19: ‘they’ve gathered here for me/ I am within you/ You are within me…I think they’re singing to be free’.
The crowd at Gorillaz is undoubtedly the biggest of the festival, with over 70,000 gathering to in front of the Estrella Damn stage in the early hours of Sunday morning. Damon Albarn at one point disappears offstage and returns wearing a mysterious red hooded robe. But most notable was their fantastic use of special guests including Mos Def (who joined them for a massive Sweepstakes), Fatoumata Diawara (on Broken and Desolé), the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and the iconic De La Soul. Bootsie Brown, Sweet Irie and Slowthai also joined the jubilant Damon Albarn on stage. Gorillaz played most of their ‘big hits’ including ‘Feel Good Inc.’, ‘On Melancholy Hill’, ‘Clint Eastwood’ and ‘Dirty Harry’. They finished their set by redoing ‘Clint Eastwood’ – but this time the noughties-era drum n’ bass remix version. Gorrilaz was the exemplar headliner and their incredibly fun, energetic, and nostalgic set left us all leaving on a high.
Tyler the Creator is well-known for being hilarious live and he certainly lived up to expectations, goading the crowd throughout his set. ‘If you don’t know this song, just pretend you know it’ he says. Later, when trying to get some crowd participation, he says ‘this side!’ and then responds to their weak response with ‘Trash! suck my d*ck bitch’. AstroTurf hills and pyrotechnics surrounds the 31-year-old rapper, the grand set design perfectly emulating his signature eccentricity. His setlist featured tracks from Flower Boy, IGOR, and Call Me If You Get Lost, as well as some of early fan favourites, yetit was ‘New Magic Wand’ that was truly unforgettable. This track was absolute carnage, he split the crowd before letting them collide with head-banging fervour. Despite his set being after 2am, the energy he delivered and extracted from the crowd was impressive; Tyler the Creator was a brilliant end to my experience of Primavera Sound 2022.