2024 Primavera Sound Barcelona – Music Festival Review

Primavera Sound Barcelona was my first solo international travel experience and my first international festival – and what a momentous, once-in-a-lifetime experience it was. Two birds with one stone, and what a way to start things off when it’s a 6-6 festival, with the music sometimes starting as early as 5 pm and headliners ranging from Pulp to Charli XCX and Beth Gibbons; it has something for everyone. It’s quite the lineup, to say the least – the final day headline slot on Sunday had the straight run of PJ HarveyMitski SZA Charli XCX, and although my flight left the following morning meaning I couldn’t make it to Charli’s set-list, much to my disappointment, there was more than enough big names from the Thursday to the Saturday, even with FKA Twigs dropping out spectacularly late in the game in the most inevitable cancellation ever, to justify the admission price. It’s a festival to remember – largely for the good – and ensures that you’ll be swept under its spell just about long enough to go next year.

After checking in at my hotel, I made my way to Primavera Sound the following evening – it’s a multi-day festival with separate acts at nearby clubs enough to make up their own festival in their own right – The National, Fat Dog and Desire were among the names playing in the smaller clubs with The National playing multiple times across the festival week. It’s a full experience where the nightlife of Barcelona truly comes alive.

Thursday kicked off the official festival activities

Thursday was when the festival started proper – I got there early for Arab Strap, and got a chance to explore the various stages – Cupra was a Roman Colosseum experience, one of the few chances that you would get to sit down at such a stage, whilst the Auditori provided a sit-down, closed theatre experience where it was fantastic to see Lankum perform to a respectable audience their unique brand of folky music. Their condemnation of the British and their professed cheering for Palestine and Catalan independence brought the house down.

Primavera Sound’s unique musical programming

Primavera Sound is a festival like no other – you can go from watching Lankum at the start of the evening to SZA launching her European tour the next – gargantuan stage presence unrivaled by most of the pop genre; the sheer production values put into wowing her packed fans really showed she’s ready for the stadium tours ahead.

The run that followed before here was magnetic, hypnotic almost, capping off a Sunday in style – it rained during a majestic PJ Harvey, but that didn’t stop her – Words Maketh Murder and Down by the Water showcased a free-flowing artist at the top of her game; and neither did it stop the crowd, who stayed after, for Mitski’s ethereal set where she told the audience at the end of the music, that all things must end, and we must be prepared to embrace things anew. With lightning in the background because, of course – you can’t have a festival without the rain.

But Mitski’s message and the chaos of the lightning perfectly sums up Primavera’s ability to entertain. There were disappointments, but they were few and far between – 070 Shake let down the crowd in the run-up to PJ Harvey – and stayed longer than they should have, shortening Harvey’s set as a result, and had to be cut off after 15 minutes. That said – Shake made me a fan of their music all the same.

It’s a festival that refreshingly prides itself on the queerness and inclusivity of its crowd – after racing from an excellent Faye Webster to catch a bit of equally-talented Troye Sivan, audiences got to witness his full-on make-out session sporting a host of backup dancers who each looked like they could be straight out of Magic Mike. The festival itself is different from what a lot of UK festival goers will be used to; there are no Glastonbury-based bells-and-whistles or Boomtown’s story-driven roleplay. It’s stripped down, music only, artists frequently played their entire latest albums in conjunction with their greatest with an hour set each, massive for festivals.

This festival is geared towards the individual

The whole experience was something geared much more towards the individual, without putting in the effort to go with friends or make them before, as I did, where Discord and Facebook groups exist to create a community of solo travelers, but most people didn’t tend to venture outside of their communities. It not being a camping festival prevents the bond of strangers at a campsite at an unholy hour in the morning but gives you the chance to explore Barcelona in full – sink in the majesty of the city, which has an easy-to-use metro network that runs all night on the Friday and the Saturday and catered for those of us too ignorant to learn Spanish in full.

Venture into the punk scene, and there is plenty to enjoy at Primavera Sound. Amyl and the Sniffers, who I saw at a smaller London gig in Scala on Monday, gave a thunderous performance that showcased the raw stage presence of Amy Taylor, Freaks to the Front, Security, and all the best tracks. Militaire Gun did a secret set on the same day after their main performance – Ian Shelton’s restlessness and chaotic energy sent the small but passionate crowd at Pull & Bear – the smaller, under-the-radar artists did a lot of the heavy lifting at this festival.

Ethel Cain delivered on a Friday afternoon, a superstar in the making, bringing life to Preacher’s Daughter, and Faye Webster excelled. In such a stacked list of supporting names, it’s easy to miss them in favor of the big ones, but with late-night shows from Barry Can’t Swim and Sofia Kourtesis, those calling it a night early missed out on something special. I am deeply regretting not being able to stay awake for Arca at 2 pm, who also had her own boiler room DJ set the next day. What I did see, however, was Dogstar, Keanu Reeves’ 90s grunge rock band, where he selflessly played bass for the whole set and did not take the spotlight from lead singer Bret Domrose at all

Saturday at Primavera Sound with Lana del Rey

The Saturday was all about Lana del Rey – a pop megastar who some had traveled all the way from Australia just to see.  But arguably – the weakest performance of the festival.  People ran to get the barricade and camped there all day on the Saturday from the second the festival opened its doors to the public; such is the pull of Lana stans, and as part of her shtick, which she has repeated at multiple festivals, including Glastonbury in the past, showed up near thirty minutes late to her set despite claiming she was only ten and despite fully getting going by the time Video Games sent the crowd into raptures; provided a largely underwhelming experience.

But the crowd did her no favors – boyfriends dragged there by girlfriends ruined the music for everyone else by talking loudly through her set, and the pushing and shoving for those eager to get to the front was the worst. A friend I made there was 5’2, and she could barely see over the heads of the people in front of her, plus everyone had their phones out recording the entire set.  SZA’s SOS tour almost succeeded in translating away from stadiums into festivals, but felt a tad disconnected however, it was hard not to get swept up in an epic choreographed set that made staying through the rain completely worth it.

To say it was a weaker performance of the festival almost feels sacrilegious given the devout fanbase present, but that was much of the crowd’s fault as Lana’s. Pulp outshone her the day before – thanks in no small part due to Jarvis Cocker’s incredible charisma, opening with Disco 2000 before wrapping up with, of course, Common People, goading the crowd into thinking they’d played all the hits before delivering the legendary Britpop classic with the best charisma of the festival. Just before his set, the news broke that Donald Trump had been found guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records in the Hush Money trial in Manhattan’s criminal court – so it was great to see Cocker appropriately lead the celebrations.

Cupra was a fascinating, intimate experience, especially up close, and allowed the rare opportunity to sit down alongside the Auditori. Beth Gibbons played here, freed from her role as Portishead lead singer, performing nothing but her solo tracks, and proved to be a real highlight of the festival for all of those getting used to the chaotic sleeping patterns brought about by music that starts at 6pm and won’t stop until the sun rises. Only in Barcelona. The genre variety was truly liberating – punk, indie, electronic – Thursday, having an experience of Justice at 2 am into AG Cook was something that meant I was knackered for the rest of the festival but gave me one of my all-time favorite experiences, rendering the Thursday my favorite of the three days.

On the growing pains of becoming a large festival

The problem with going too big and too early is that it can be a lot to live up to the expectations. The festival has truly reached its zeitgeist; no longer a niche festival, it’s attracted people from all over the world, feeling truly international. It can be accommodating with mixed degrees of success – vital power banks allow users to borrow them and return them anywhere across the city, but the water supplies were lacking, and the decision to remove bottle caps frustrating, and with the Auditori having its own separate bag search it was frequently common to find yourself making it through the main entrance, only to get pulled up by a bottle-cap that you’ve smuggled in and put back on afterwards.

Especially when individual water prices were €3 and alcohol was around the €5-6 range, so it was reasonably priced and little in the way of queues for either toilets or drinks. There was a variety of food available for all tastes – I could’ve used more Spanish dishes rather than your usual burgers and chips that are commonplace at festivals, and underwhelming tacos and kebabs. Prices ranged between €10 and €15, sometimes (but rarely) more.

Final thoughts on Primavera Sound Barcelona

Primavera’s magical experience, complete with a flight back at 7 am in the morning made sure that it was one that I’ll never forget, and disappointments from some of the headliners showed just how good its lineup was that I didn’t really care by the end; because the undercards were incredible. Discoveries of the festival included AG Cook at near enough sunrise in the morning, Dogstar – because, of course, Keanu – and having never listened to much of Billy Woods, his stage presence was fantastic amid the Vampire Weekend clash, playing to a smaller audience than deserved.

Pinpointing my favorite acts to a small number of three or four names would be almost impossible – but the takeaways suggest Amyl and the Sniffers, the best live band around at the moment, Justice, delivering a set that Aphex Twin would be proud of, and the folky trance of Lankum – almost transformative. Mitski is just behind because, of course, she’s Mitski – she’s going to be good – the lightning is an experience I’ll never forget – and then PJ Harvey to round up the top 5. See you again next year. 

Primavera Sound Barcelona 2024 took place from May 29 – June 2nd.

Learn more about the event in Barcelona at the Primavera Sound website.

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