I’ve always wanted to visit Barcelona, so Primavera seemed to give me a good reason to visit. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it, said it was a great festival and over the last few years, they’ve had some pretty decent lineups. So I booked up and decided to opt for the VIP ticket as the price seemed decent.
Arriving a day early and with my hotel room unavailable, I headed down to the main festival site. It was a 30 minute bus ride from my base for the week near the Arc de Triomf. I was expecting to see big hordes queing to get tickets. But I was straight in and out, with my new mini backpack, wristband and access card (think it’s used to get back into the festival). My VIP wristband had a NFC id chip which would be used to gain access to the festival and VIP areas.
Although there was some music on during the evening, I opted to do some sightseeing.
The main programme of music doesn’t start until about 5pm. This was great for me as it allowed me to spend most of the day sightseeing, drop my stuff off at the hotel and then head up to catch the music programming.
The previous day, I’d spent some time gathering my bearings and I found that it was more convienent to catch the quicker tram to the festival. It was only a few blocks away from the Arc de Triomf and there’s a platform right outside the festival site.
With VIP wristbands, access to the festival was really quick. But I never saw long queues for normal access. If you’re visting for the first time, there are bag searches and on the first day they were pretty thorougher.
Just inside the main gate was a big Rough Trade store with some familiar faces. Quiet a nice perk for the (always excellent) Rough Trade staff. There was also a poster area with some amazing illustrations from talented artists and graphic designers. Luckily the logistics of getting an undamaged poster back to the UK stopped me from spending a lot of money. But there was a lot of good work.
Next to this area was the main food hall and bars. I’d read that Primavera was expensive. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m used to London prices but I thought the prices were very good. Half a pint of Heineken cost €3, a pint €5. A bottle of water was €2. Food prices were also decent value when compared to a London venue or UK festival. I discovered later that the prices in the VIP area were even better, with a bottle of water costing €1 and half a pint €2, making a VIP ticket very cost effective. The VIP areas also had their own toilets, which let’s face it, doesn’t really mean much to blokes, as one urinal is very much the same as another. But female toliets appeared to be cleaned regularly.
I didn’t really have any plans for the festival. Although there were a few bands I wanted to see, I thought I’d take the whole thing as it comes. Regularly move around stages and take breaks in the VIP areas if there wasn’t anything that interested me.
Despite some reservations before the festival that the site wouldn’t be laid out well. (Google maps giving me a false idea of scale), the site works really well. At one end of the site are two big stages facing each other that never have music on at the same time. These are the main ‘headline’ stages. At the other end of the site, a number of smaller stages that you can walk between very quickly. The sound at most stages was ‘okay’. But I found that the Pitchfork stage had the worst sound and you really needed to be near the sounddesk for decent sound. Unfortunately, this was also one of the smaller stages without screens. So I found this stage was always a comprimise between listening to a performance and watching a performance.
As I usually do at festivals, I spent most of my time bouncing around between stages.
The Pitchfork stage throughout the festival had the most interesting lineup. So I’d often swing around to see who was playing. The Twerps were the first band that I want to catch. They were quiet a good band for a sunny day with a line in jangly indie pop. Although it was pleasant, there were other bands to see…
After Twerps I headed to the ATP stage where Yasmine Hamdan was playing. She sounded interesting in the guide. Mixing arabic music with indie music. It was pleasant and I wanted to enjoy it more. But it was all too delicate for one of the bigger stages.
Although the site is commercialised, with beer from only one source and stages sponsored by companies such as Ray Ban. There were a few commercial tie-ins. But not in a way that distracted from the music
Heading back to the Pitchfork stage, I caught some of the Viet Cong set. I’d heard they were really good live. They were good. But I think they’re probably a band that play off a crowd in smaller venues and the crowd at this stage were quiet flat. But I think they’re worth catching again in a smaller venue.
As with all festivals, managing clashes is difficult. You either stick with a performance, or you try to move between stages to catch bits of both performances. Up against Viet Cong was Benjamin Booker and his set then ran into Thurston Moore’s. So I decided to ‘slice’ the sets. To try and see all three. So I decided to head off to catch the middle of Benjamin’s set before Viet Cong had finished. I’ve been trying to catch him for ages. I always seem to have another gig when he plays London. But I was really impressed by him. Good old fashioned energetic blues rock and a great voice.
Instead of heading to the front of the ATP stage to see Thurston, one of the VIP areas faced onto the ATP stage and the sound quality wasn’t too bad in there. So I decided to avail myself of the beer tent and sit and watch Thurston’s set. With the sun setting behind the stage, Thurston’s set was fantastic.
The evening for me was now winding down. Little on the bill interested me. So I headed to see Antony and the Johnstons. He really didn’t work for me. Maybe in a venue like the Barbican he might work. But a big stage at a festival. He seemed like an odd choice. Too quiet for a big venue and too arty to a big stage. His theatrics looking rather pathetic when all you’re watching is a tiny person on a stage.
There was only really one more band on the bill who I thought worth catching, the Black Keys. But I’d seen them before at the O2 and although enjoyed them, they aren’t a band I was in a hurry to see again. So after about half an of their set, I decided it was time to head back into Barcelona.
One thing that concerned me before Primavera was the travel and Barcelona’s well-earned poor reputation for muggings (I saw one on my last night). So I was a bit wary about the late evening travel, especially as I was at this festival on my own. After midnight on the Thursday, the only options to get back into town are night buses, taxis or to walk back. However, I shouldn’t have been too concerned about catching a night bus. There was a queue of them outside the venue ready to take us back into town. I think both buses drop you off at Plaça de Catalunya. One follows the beach into town (N6) and then up past La Rambla and the other (N7) takes a more direct route. Opting for N7 to avoid walking through the La Ramblas area, it dropped me about a 15 minute walk away from my hotel. The streets in this part of the town were quieter than I would have liked, but I’d walked them the previous night heading back from La Sagrada Familia. It seemed safe enough.
Day 2 was much the same as Day 1. In the morning I headed off into town doing some sightseeing. Heading back to my hotel for a rest before heading down to around 5pm. Like the previous day, there weren’t any real queues to get in.
I have to admit that I wasn’t overly impressed by this year’s lineup. Previous years seemed to have had more decent up and coming bands on the bill. This year seemed to be lots of old bands that I wasn’t fussed about. But I chose the festival as much for the location as anything else. Yesterday was probably the strongest bill. Today, little interested me. But that’s not necessarily a negative. It gives you more opportunity to be surprised. So like the previous day, I decided to bounce around stages to catch whoever was playing.
As I sung past the Ray Ban unplugged stage, Opatov sounded fun. But the stage is so small, that it’s impossible to see the band. So after a song or two, I headed down to the Primavera stage to catch Ex Hex, a band I’ve seen before and one that play simple rock and roll.
I’m ashamed to say I don’t own any Patti Smith material. In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to Horses, the album she was singing in full. But although this lady may now have a few extra years behind her, she’s clearly lost none of her attitude. I think everyone of us unbelievers was converted to her church today. I think it’s time I investigated her back catalogue.
Next up was White Hill on the Adidas stage but on the way I called in a few other stages. Playing on the Ray Ban stage was The Julie Ruin. They sounded really good so I listened to a few songs before heading off to see White Hills.
There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the White Hills and I would have been happy to listened to them, if I hadn’t just seen the Julie Ruin. But decided I preferred The Julie Ruin, so headed back.
Taking a time out, I headed back to the ATP VIP area and watched some of the Belle and Sebastian set. I’ve never really bought into them. They’ve written some catchy tunes but they always seem twee. Nothing tonight changed my opinion of them. It was ‘nice’. So after I felt sufficiently watered, it was off again to see Sleater-Kinney.
Another old reformed band I don’t get is Ride. The first time round, they had zero impact on me. I really don’t understand why they’re meant to be a big draw. But I gave them a chance. But it was all so bland. Really? Are there no new up and coming bands better than these guys (answer is, yes loads). Were they ever ‘headline’ material? Although the crowd seemed to be enjoying their performance, I decided to head off but failed to find anything interesting, only Ariel Pink and Death from Above 1979 were remotely interesting. So I decided to head back into town to grab some beers before the tram stopped at 2am.
And so the final day. Like the previous days, there wasn’t really anyone I definitely wanted to see. So I continued bouncing around stages. For the first hours or so, nobody really stood out.
Things picked up with Tori Amos. I have to admit, like most, I’d not kept up to date with Tori’s career after her amazing debut. So I was looking forward to seeing what she was like live. Guess what, she’s exactly like you would expect her to be. Good and ever so slightly mad. Playing two pianos (because one just isn’t enough). She kept me entertained for a few songs. It was good. But to be honest, as with a large portion of the programme, should she be featured on a 2015 festival programme? I’m also not sure she’s suited to this type of festival. People round me were talking (I know, it is a festival). But it detracted from the listening experience. So in the end I moved on.
The musical highlight of the festival was undoubtably Torres. I adored her first album and her latest is also an extremely strong album. Here, without her band and only a guitar, she played an fantastic set of mainly new material. I really looks like she feels every emotion she’s singing about. She says she’s not a guitarist, but she manages to wring sounds out of the guitar that are unique that more experienced guitarists would probably never ever think about. I really loved this performance.
Interpol were up next. I’ve never seen them. They’ve never really appealed to me. They were exactly what I thought they’d be. Okay. Nothing to dislike. Some interesting music and enough to keep me interested for a time. But I didn’t see a bright light and convert to the church of Interpol.
A few months ago I was persuaded to see Mourn. A group of Spanish teenagers who put in one of the surprising performances of this year. They play like a much older band. They’re surprisingly ‘well rounded’ for such a new and young band. So I was interested to see how well they performed on the big stage. Unfortunately they were up against the Strokes and Babes in Toyland so the crowd thinned out. I thought they made a reasonable stab at playing a festival set. But I’m not sure they’re quiet ready to be so high up the bill. But they’re still young and it’s all experience. They have so much potential and a few years of ‘stage craft’ should make them a fantastic band.
Another surprising band – and again, yet another reformed band, were Babes In Toyland. They put in a great set. It had so much more ‘punch’ than Sleater-Kinney. This is where I made a mistake. I should have stuck to this stage. But instead decided to head off to see one of the big headliners, The Strokes.
I’ve never been a big fan of the Strokes. But I’ve got a ticket to see them in Hyde Park in June. Mainly because there was a special offer and also the rest of the line-up’s pretty good, but I was also curious as to what they’re like live. Why are they so big? I’m not sure I learnt anything tonight that helps me answer that question.
Their music isn’t particularly interesting. But more concerning for the Hyde Park gigs was that I felt they phoned-in tonight’s performance. Looking at Facebook and twitter after the festival, I wasn’t the only person thinking who felt short changed by their performance. They just appeared to be playing by numbers. There was no real interaction between band members. So I’m still at a loss to why there were so many Strokes t-shirts at this festival. Their fans must be seeing something that I can’t. In the end, even the draw of the cheap beer in the nearby VIP area couldn’t keep me at this stage, so I headed off to see if there was anything else.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything that interested me other than the Hookworms at 2am. Alt-J are fine over a few songs, but not a 1 hour set so I din’t fancy sticking around until 2am to watch a band I could catch back in the UK in a decent venue. I watched the tUnE-yArDs for a brief period, but in the end I decided to catch the metro back into town before it closed and to see if there were any celebrations after Barcelona had won the cup earlier in the evening (there didn’t appear to be – only lots of pissed off Athletic Bilbao fans).
So that was my Primavera over with. I did enjoy the festival as a break. Musically I was disappointed by this year’s lineup. Sadly, there were too many old bands, many of whom I didn’t like the first time round and arguably weren’t ‘as big’ as the promoters seemed to believe they were (Ride). I’d expected there to be lots of 4am hikes back into town. But the headline acts really didn’t appeal to me and the late night programming just kind of faded into electronica. Next year they need to get more new bands on to the bill. It all sounds negative, but it wasn’t. I’d chose this festival because I wanted to visit Barcelona. The festival was simply something to keep me occupied in the evening and I enjoyed the whole experience. The weather was great, there was music playing in the background. Food and drink was pretty cheap and the VIP areas were nice areas to flop into. So would I go again? As a holiday, no. Barcelona’s done. But if the lineup’s right, I’d definitely consider it. But I’m not rushing out to get another ticket. In many ways, this just confirms what in all honest I already know. I know the which festival best suits me, SXSW. Time to start saving.