Live Music + Gig Reviews

Festival Review: Primavera Sound 2024, part 1

29-30 May 2024

Barcelona’s seaside behemoth returns for a 21st edition offering local talents, on-the-cusp stars and bona fide legends

Jarvis Cocker of Pulp at Primavera Sound 2024 (Photo: Eric Pamies)

Jarvis Cocker of Pulp at Primavera Sound 2024 (Photo: Eric Pamies)

To Barcelona then, and as is traditional with the gloriously seaside Primavera Sound festival, there’s an ‘opening’ day ahead of the main three-day run. For €10 towards your drinkies you can enjoy a line-up of otherwise free acts on a single stage in the sprawling concrete site that is Parc del Fòrum, and this year we range from returning headliners Phoenix to one of the oddest spectacles these eyes have ever witnessed on a stage.

Stella Maris, for it is they, have put together their first live show based on the Spanish TV series La Mesías, taking a work of fiction and making it real. The result is part Catholic EDM, part pantomime and entirely like nothing else. At one point a woman/apparition in a white dress, sat in a throne, makes her way to the stage where something like an exorcism is performed. The Spanish crowd absolutely love it; even those of us bemused by the events unfurling before our eyes have to admit that it’s never less than mesmerising. 

Pity Versailles’ finest sons, having to follow that, but Thomas Mars and co do what they can with a set that sets down a marker with opener Lisztomania, ambles amiably through Lasso and If I Ever Feel Better and wheels out special guest Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend (whose band play later in the festival) for Tonight, all with on-cue spotlighting and classically-themed backdrops offering a feast for the eyes. Mars decides all of this deserves the stage dive to end all stage dives, heading out over willing hands from the stage right to the back before standing up on the crowd. It’s (literally) an uplifting end to the preview day.

Thursday sees the rest of the site open for business and the first of the clashes. Counterintuitively we begin our sunny evening by negotiating more steel barriers than would be needed for a king’s coronation to access the indoor Auditori, a vast and always internally very dark place with pounding sound and comfy seats, just in time for the start of William Basinski’s offering of The Disintegration Loops live. Unfortunately it soon becomes apparent that the chamber ensemble assembled for the purpose seem to have started some 15 minutes early – how very experimental of them – and we listen to the same phrase of music loop, loop and loop again with minor variations for another 15 minutes before deciding on the sunshine in the company of Arab Strap after all.

Beth Gibbons at Primavera Sound 2024 (Photo: Clara Orozco)

Beth Gibbons at Primavera Sound 2024 (Photo: Clara Orozco)

Pasty Scotsmen Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton act as solar reflectors from the Cupra stage, offering up spoken-word highlights from new album I’m totally fine with it👍 don’t give a fuck anymore👍and suggesting their work has at least influenced the similarly politically switched-on Sleaford Mods. As well as the sun, they’re also up against a set of Shellac music played on the renamed Steve Albini stage in tribute to that band’s late leader and Primavera favourite to a respectful crowd, who movingly applaud the empty stage at the end. Shellac were (again) due to play here this year. It was a nice touch.

There’s also a new stage this year which takes the form of a big red drum up a hill. The Red Sound Studio offers an evolving programme of additional sets by artists already playing here – from 070 Shake to Arca – but in the form of recording new material. Every time we attempt to gain entry we find an enormous queue, so we’ll just have to assume things happened there. A long walk away at the dual Santander and Estrella Damm main stages, Melbourne’s fantastic racket Amyl And The Sniffers are demonstrating how to connect with a vast crowd with feminine energy and raw talent. The Amy Taylor-fronted punk foursome are two albums into their career and, on the evidence of this performance, they’re ready to take the next step up. 

Peggy Gou at Primavera Sound 2024 (Photo: Sergio Albert)

Peggy Gou at Primavera Sound 2024 (Photo: Sergio Albert)

Back in the main site for something completely different again, the Amazon stage is lit up by Amaarae, and the Ghanaian-American is replete with Spanish questions for the crowd. Balearic guitar and thumpy beats combine to soundtrack summer, and when she asks audience members up for a dance-off the place fizzes with energy. Her set could barely be more removed from the hushed reverence at Cupra as Beth Gibbons takes to the stage with multi-instrumentalists variously bowing guitars, offering parps on tenor sax (was it tenor sax?) and all backing a semi-mystical show from the Portishead legend that was far more rooted in folk music than the Bristol collective’s ‘90s-origined trip-hop. We expected material from her age-reflective and very fine new album Lives Outgrown of course, but maybe not anything from her album with Rustin Man, or from Portishead’s catalogue. We got both, with Mysteries and Tom The Model both fitting the set beautifully and Roads an absolute treat towards the end.

Alas, that end clashed with the start of Pulp, which necessitated a very fast amble back to the main stages. If you’ve seen Jarvis and co on this tour already then the setlist will be very familiar, but these songs never age and the band are never less than sensational, opening with I Spy. Something Changed is again dedicated to late bassist Steve Mackey, but also to Albini this time, which fits the mood. Common People is still the holler-along it has been for 30 years, but most of this crowd know the words to (almost) everything else too. Razzmatazz sends us away into the night at a mere 1:35am, with plenty more to come.

We face another clash between the relatively unknown Lolahol, aka Lourdes, Madonna’s daughter, or Justice and opt for the latter, whose big, bold show involves mechanically moving stage lighting and the proper sound the French duo’s music requires. They open with Genesis, known in some circles as Channel 4’s Formula 1 music these days, and the spectacle doesn’t let up from there. Sets push on through to 6am here, and nobody seems to flag in the way they might in London; maybe it’s the Spanish air. Somehow there’s energy still to dance about at Peggy Gou’s packed-out set for a bit, but with two more nights to go we decide at its end to opt for caution over valour and make our way to bed.

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