“The benchmark for festivals across the world”: Why Scottish music fans are choosing Primavera Sound to kick off their summer

By Tony Inglis

Imagine this day: you wake up, saunter down the sunny street to a cortado and a freshly baked pastry. Refreshed, you spend the day sightseeing in a city teeming with exuberance, shaded by beautiful buildings, and stepping in and out of some of the best museums and galleries Europe has to offer. As early evening approaches, you make the short subway trip to the coast where, waiting for you, is a custom-built area filled with like-minded music lovers, a place where you can freak out to your favourite band as the sun gets low, and, twelve hours later, maybe even see them again. In between, the time is filled with some of the greatest tent-pole acts modern music has to offer, as well as a diverse and stacked undercard that presents only one problem – who you choose to miss out on. After the last band steps off stage in the early hours of the morning, you can power on well into the next day, or get back for some rest to get up and do it all again.

It sounds almost too blissful to be real, but it actually exists. Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival will have been going strong for 17 years come its next instalment in the summer of 2018, and it’s the description above that means this carefully curated, impeccably organised five-day event in the Catalonian capital is being called the greatest music festival in the world.

The Ray Ban stage at Primavera Sound 2017 / Credit: Laurie Edwardson

The increasingly popular festival attracts revellers from far and wide, and this is no less true of the Scots in that number. Faced with a Scottish festival scene that is lopsided at best, with perhaps the country’s biggest musical celebration catering to radio-friendly populism rather than the critically acclaimed and cult bands that fill up the Barcelona festival’s annual roster.

Passionate fans looking to catch all their favourite bands in one place must either dot around smaller festivals in Scotland and the wider UK trying in vain to catch everyone (for example, Doune the Rabbit Hole’s small but impressive offering); shell out the cash, time and effort to go camp in the muddy, unappealing fields of Glastonbury; or plan a sun-kissed trip to western Spain.

Mitski performs at Primavera Sound 2017 / Credit: Kieran Corrigan

If that wasn’t enough, the damp squib of a 2017 line-up at Glasgow’s TRNSMT, as well as the uninspired and lacking in diversity set of acts already announced for its 2018 instalment, pale in comparison to the hype train that’s been gathering speed for this year’s Primavera almost as soon as the previous one ended.

Only the festival organisers, and ten lucky winners of a seemingly too-good-to-be-true competition to discover the line-up in mid-December, knew who would be gracing the many stages of Primavera’s coastal home, Parc del Forum, before it was revealed this past week. All they had to do was submit a 30 second video explaining why they deserved the all-expenses paid trip to the festival headquarters. They came, they saw, they gasped. And the snappily cut account of what happened caused quite a stir on the eFestivals forum and Primavera sub-reddits, especially as not one of the ten-strong group divulged the secret they were entrusted with, which, in our modern age, seems like a minor miracle.

In fact, not having a reputation for leaks, it was a surprise that, the night before the line-up was finally released, a poster that closely resembled the end result was accidentally leaked on Twitter by Bristol punk rockers Idles, obviously a little too keen to share the news that they were included in the 200 plus bands and acts gracing the roster.

Glasgow’s Lorenzo Pacitti, owner of Park Road record store and label LP Records, and a Primavera veteran after an unbroken four-year stint of attending the festival, was among the lucky winners to make the trip after charming the organisers with a hastily put together entry. He explained what it is about this particular festival that makes it such a worthwhile trip. “I go to Primavera every year for many individual reasons, any of which alone would make it worth the cost of admission and travel.

“It’s consistently got the best lineup of any festival in Europe and it is super eclectic. I can’t speak to the ability to discover great bands here cause the lineup is always so strong there’s always someone I desperately want to catch instead of gambling on a random stage. That speaks volumes. I’ve never tagged along with a pal or been at a loss for something to go see.”

One of Primavera’s smaller stages located away from the festival site in central Barcelona / Credit: Kieran Corrigan

The gushing praise for the Barcelona festival is a common thread amongst its attendees – one interviewee, Scott Booth, succinctly described it as “the benchmark for festivals across the world”. It may seem like an extravagant claim, but the customer loyalty it retains year in, year out, is testament to the faith music lovers have in its lead bookers to produce a five-day event bursting with quality.

Glasgow student Laurie Edwardson, another Primavera devotee, claims that it was love at first sight. “I remember stepping into Primavera for the first time and immediately thinking that it was a festival that I wanted to come to every year. I enjoy it’s chilled out atmosphere, as opposed to the more boisterous British festival scene.

“It goes without saying that the lineup is fantastic every year. The organisers do a great job of building an eclectic lineup that caters to the needs of several different types of music fans.”

The same can be said for first time visitors. Speaking to three of them after their experience of last year’s programme – Scott Booth, Joe McQuade and Debbie Moffett – they were unanimous in their praise.

“Going to Primavera was something I’ve wanted to do since 2014 and was so happy I was finally able to go. Getting to see some of the best acts in the world beside the beautiful Barcelona beaches makes it absolutely a festival worth travelling to,” says Debbie, a support worker now living back home in Northern Ireland after studying in St. Andrews.

Sampha performs at Primavera Sound 2017 / Credit: Kieran Corrigan

Soon-to-be doctor Joe McQuade said it was word of mouth that made him excited to check the festival out. “Primavera was the first time I had gone to a festival outside the UK. I had to go – the line-up is of a consistently high standard and I would hear my friends singing its praises continuously.”

The chance to be around like-minded music appreciators is a quality of the festival that is often spoken about. Student Kieran Corrigan said it was great to experience live music around “people who are there predominantly for the music rather than for a piss-up.”

Joe agrees: “My impressions of the festival that contrasted most with my experience of UK festivals was of the attendees. It was clear that people were there as music fans primarily, instead of using it as an excuse for drugs or drinking too much – I didn’t see a single person whitey all weekend.”

It may seem pretentious – after all its your money, you should be able to do what you want at a music festival for which you’ve paid to go to, right? But, with UK festivals succumbing to what LP Records’ Lorenzo described in a tweet as “the roasterization of music”, people who genuinely love music, and want to see that music played live without a crowd filled with men behaving laddishly, are being driven to festivals like Primavera Sound.

The crowd watch Swet Shop Boys play on the Pitchfork stage at Primavera Sound 2017 / Credit: Laurie Edwardson

So, what of this year’s line-up? As usual, it’s a who’s who of the artists making the best of modern music, with a few surprises, actual diversity of genre and gender (something which Primavera regularly receives praise for), and an unprecedented strength in depth.

It is led by the return of British rockers, Arctic Monkeys, who straddle the cusp of what Primavera usually books as they represent perhaps the most mainstream, populist act booked in recent years. They headline proceedings alongside The National, who delivered a barnstorming, bottle-smashing set on one of its two main stages four years ago, as well as Bjork and Nick Cave, who have both released some of their best work in recent years.

Perhaps more surprisingly, they are joined by the ascendant Migos, in a rare live appearance outside the US. This is a big get for Primavera, and may not appeal widely to their usual audience, but the zeitgeisty nature of the rap trio’s rise seems like a weirdly perfect way for the festival to likely close out its second night.

Beneath them all on the poster you can take your pick; once again it is likely that audience members are going to be faced with the enviable problem of picking and choosing from the multitude of great acts. Primavera very rarely avoid at least one horrible timetable clash.

There are the bands and acts who have released stellar albums in the last year such as Father John Misty, Arca, The War on Drugs and Fever Ray; legends of indie music such as The Breeders and, Scotland’s own, Belle and Sebastian; rap titans like Tyler, the Creator and Vince Staples; returning mainstays Slowdive and Beach House; pop behemoths Lorde and Kelela; electronic maestros Four Tet, Oneohtrix Point Never and The Black Madonna; classical experimentalist Nils Frahm, who has already released one of the year’s best albums; and cult favourites from Ty Segall and Car Seat Headrest, to Vagabon, Jay Som, John Maus and Deerhunter. There is even an appearance from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, otherwise known as S U R V I V E, performing music from smash Netflix show Stranger Things. That’s barely a fraction of the line-up.

Of course, all this praise should not go unbalanced. Despite the quality Primavera Sound 2018 promises, it still could be justifiably claimed that this is the least great it’s been for several years. There are plenty of touring musicians who would have fit right in to the Primavera family that have failed to be booked: St. Vincent, David Byrne, Japanese Breakfast, SZA, Kendrick Lamar. That may be due to factors outside the bookers’ control, but that list could go on.

Arcade Fire’s Win Butler performs as part of Unexpected Primavera – a series of surprise sets announced during the festival / Credit: Laurie Edwardson

And, perhaps most importantly, it lacks the one or two names that truly set the Primavera line-up, from year to year, apart from the opposition. There’s no giant, unexpected reunion, such as Slowdive’s in 2014. There’s no show-stopping act in the legends slot, this year occupied by the rather underwhelming Jane Birkin when compared with its previous residents – Television, Patti Smith, Brian Wilson. There’s no act making their live return at the festival, with the LCD Soundsystem and Radiohead sets in recent years being some of the first times they had appeared on stage in many years. Finally, there’s no one that truly makes your jaw drop – such as Frank Ocean (who, in fairness, cancelled last minute on the festival last year).

Despite receiving as big a challenge as ever to its crown as the best festival line-up going, by the eerily Primavera-esque bill of London’s All Points East, everything suggests that this year’s Primavera Sound will be as good as any. I definitely wouldn’t miss it.

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