Live Music + Gig Reviews

Festival Review: Primavera Sound 2024, part 2

31 May - 1 June 2024


The Barcelona behemoth of music’s 2024 edition continues with PJ Harvey, SZA, Lana Del Rey… and rain

PJ Harvey at Primavera Sound 2024

PJ Harvey at Primavera Sound 2024 (Photo: Gisela Jane)

• Read Part 1 of our Primavera Sound 2024 report here

Having stuck with mostly international anglophonic artists on the opening day, it’s surely time to remember that we’re at an international festival. Accordingly, Friday’s start swerves Latin. Andorra’s Julia Amor speaks only in Spanish between her Spanish language songs which are brought to life by a live drummer and two synths/gizmos chaps facing off across her and her own keys, with her final track seeing her throw her pipes up an octave to arresting effect. Her set crosses the intriguing Portuguese artist Rita Vian, who at the Cupra stage combines traditional fado with electronica, and beguiles. Other languages are available. Korea’s Silica Gel are at the Amazon stage. Named hurriedly, after forming, after a bag of silica gel in a bag of sweets, the four-piece make optimistic-sounding rock replete with an eager rhythm section and psych-adjacent guitar solos. They gamely chat away in English and Spanish between songs.

As the evening progresses, the English language again takes over. At the Cupra stage The Last Dinner Party’s singer Abigail Morris wants us to “sing with our chests” as lovely noises from guitars, vocal harmonies and, of course, keytar beguilingly combine amid theatricality. “Two more and then we’re off to the beach,” she quips. “This one’s about going to catholic school…” Their lyrics and phrasing are interesting, with chops and changes abound, even if the melodies don’t immediately stick in the head. She sinks to her knees more than once, and there are shrieks amid the tunefulness. “Just remember: nothing matters,” she tells us, and then there’s a Rocky Horror reference: “antici… pation!” when the keyboards aren’t ready on cue. At last they launch into set closer and big single Nothing Matters, and all is again well.

From break-out stars to Hollywood star is how Primavera rolls, and we amble over to Dogstar at the Plenitude stage, upon which it is revealed that somewhat famous bassist Keanu Reeves has had a haircut. This threesome’s mid-tempo rock exists only because they like to play music together, with no schedules or promo or even expectations to deal with, just the love of giving live music to an audience. What could be more noble, even if most of that audience is paying little attention to the other two, or indeed the songs.

The first schlepp of the night over to the main stages takes us to see Troye Sivan, where it’s immediately clear that a great deal of space en route and in situ is being taken up by people waiting to see the following act. The Australian and his troupe of dancers waste none of the pent-up audience energy, launching into an energetic set structured as an opera of five acts. There are notable moments aplenty. He wears a black basque that reminds of Madonna. His topless drummer has a tremendous workout with his sticks. There’s some cock-level, on-the-knees singing, and some musing on whether this is the biggest crowd he’s yet played for. He tells us that his album is about connection, and that he loves sex and dancing. There’s no denying that he’s found Barcelona’s level as he finishes with the inevitable though no less welcome encore of Rush.

Troye Sivan at Primavera Sound 2024

Troye Sivan at Primavera Sound 2024 (Photo: Christian Bertrand)

Lana Del Rey is, of course, late. Fifteen minutes pass, 20… Finally, amid much audience restlessness, we begin 25 minutes in, and her sound is quiet. But the fans of this particular prom queen are here in devoted multitudes (many apparently only for her) and singing along is de rigueur; fortunate, given that in West Coast she only deigns to sing the chorus. There’s a mermaid in the surf moment which is filmed from above with Lana and her dancers all lying down doing what looks on the screens like synchronised swimming, one of many impressive visual moments which evoke the golden age of Hollywood. She moves slowly, deliberately into a hoop-swing and mithers. Trapezing people swing about. Then she sits at a table to sing something else. She sits a lot; there’s a stillness to her performance that contrasts with other performers here. Yet in Did You Know There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd they all know the words, hollering “when’s it gonna be my turn” into the sky, and there are emotionally tearful couples in our vicinity when she sings Video Games. She seems like a star turn from an earlier era who’s now past her bedtime when she dares the venue to switch her off, after which comes the now customary greeting of fans at the barriers, and you wonder how many had come here hoping against hope to be one of those at the front for this moment.

The rest of the evening is, to say the least, eclectic. The National have for their fifth Primavera appearance a vast post-Lana crowd to entertain and, even though Matt Berninger’s vocals sound clipped, with the last syllables missing, and these sad romantics do nothing especially surprising, they deliver an entirely professional – and, it must be said, very long, as in two hours long – set that sound-wise at least hits the spot. Back at the main area, the music takes a turn to happy house with Barry Can’t Swim. Josh Mannie’s arpeggiated boogies from last year’s album When Will We Land? lever in samples that sound like a tour round the best parties in the world. The Scot’s set unfortunately clashes with Disclosure over at the main stages, but there’s more of an electronic bent straight after with Peckham’s Mount Kimbie, who have expanded from a duo to a full-band four-piece these days and seem to be enjoying exploring their revised dynamic.

All of this takes us to the post 3am arrival of Arca, who tells us she’s happy to play here because she lives in Barcelona. The Venezuelan’s oeuvre is in its clashy, harsh, avant garde sound more of a challenge than that of the dancey acts immediately before, and her lyrics in Spanish delivered through vocals processed a billion times over, are not obviously written for sing-alongs. She is however an undeniable spectacle, strutting about like a diva, her hair flying every which way, toting a bazooka that fires apparently limitless smoke, and with heels to kill with. She’s the festival’s only act to bring a sling on to the stage. Later still is Sega Bodega, but with Arca having blown our collective mind we depart.

*

The third day reminds us that a world beyond this music festival exists, for neither music nor its makers exist in isolation. At the entrance there’s an installation called the Gaza Mirror, showing scenes that at the least would give pause for reflection, and several acts on the third day reference the Israel-Gaza war. The first of these, Ireland’s Lankum, plays in the darkness of the rammed Auditori, with a Palestinian flag adorning the drums. Multi-instrumentalist Ian Lynch notes, to much cheering and applause, that the Spanish, Norwegian and Irish governments have just recognised Palestine. He has time for some extra-curricular Brit bashing too: “They should get out of everywhere forever, even parts of England…,” he offers, before adding mischievously: “They can have Wales.” Organic sounds mix with electronics to creepy and spellbinding effect. They make a righteous racket, by turns life affirming and haunting. They finish on Go Dig My Grave, opening with Radie Peat’s strident voice singing a cappella before the rest of the band row in behind her.

Arca at Primavera Sound 2024

Arca at Primavera Sound 2024 (Photo: Sharon Lopez)

There’s more highlighting of Palestine over at the Cupra, where Spain’s own Lisabö are making an almighty racket with two drumkits, two squally guitars, a thundering bass and a good deal of screaming, with a vast Palestinian flag backdropping the stage unwaveringly throughout. If post-hardcore thumps and walls of wailing fretwork are your thing, this is the thing for you; certainly it’s something to move around and warm up to, as a chill wind and dark clouds make themselves known.

An entirely different energy level pervades at the main stages. In 2022, rapper-turned-singer 070 Shake guested on a retooling of Madonna’s Frozen and on Raye’s single Escapism, and has here an opportunity to take a further step up. She doesn’t. There’s a lot of unearned call and response yelping (“Are you ready? Let’s go!” – and then we don’t really go) where memorable chorus or verse structures, or tunes, or anything, might be. A pulverising bass overwhelms everything. Her presence is one of chippy stillness, barely even moving to the beats. And the vocals sound auto-tuned to oblivion. After much undirected randomness that goes way past her set’s scheduled end time, finally she gets cut off, and is not at all happy about it. Oh well.

If that wasn’t ominous enough, ahead of PJ Harvey’s set the first raindrops begin to fall from the leaden sky and before long we’re standing under what looks and feels like a cold waterfall. In a set that weaves new material into her sizeable catalogue, Polly Jean switches from acoustic to electric for This Glorious Land, and to autoharp for Let England Shake and The Words That Maketh Murder, the musicianship as awesome as the moods she makes. Her first words beyond the songs are to apologise for us getting wet, though clearly she is, too, and to thank us for staying. She moves purposefully about to The Garden, and then pays tribute to Steve Albini solo with acoustic guitar, with The Desperate Kingdom Of Love. To Bring You My Love, with core-shattering vocals, ends a set as fine as any she’s played.

The rain and wind persist, so we huddle under the vast Placa Fotovoltàica del Fòrum, not that it offers much protection, for a slice of Princess Superstar’s set, where it’s immediately clear that Concetta Kirschner’s scantily clad dancers are going to be cold even as they dance like cheerleaders to Perfect (Exceeder). Sporting shimmery sleeves, she tells us about the 20th anniversary of her debut album and then marries Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit with Kelis’s Milkshake to bemusing if not unwelcome effect. There are shades of Peaches here, even if this sounds decidedly like music of its time, and lightning punctuates the darkness above. 

Placa Fotovoltàica del Fòrum

Placa Fotovoltàica del Fòrum (Photo: Gisela Jane)

Scheduling conflicts abound tonight, with few worse than Romy against Mandy, Indiana and upcoming Glastonbury headliner SZA – with none of them under cover. Happily the rain at last abates before SZA comes on. The nautically themed stage is replete with a fishing boat, waves and nets. R&B as pop spectacle is the order of play in a lengthy set that finds space for several covers, with electric guitar and drums mixing it up with backing tracks. Visual moments abound: ODB pops up on a screen during Forgiveless, there’s a guitarist face off as the player slides backwards to the floor while SZA sings at her, a lighthouse spins a beam, and she boards what looks suspiciously like a wrecking ball a la Miley Cyrus. Impressive staging continues as she enters the sea and floats about with jellyfish around an anchor, and you feel these songs are part of a cohesive narrative. There’s even a spot of what might best be described as cutlass choreography. 

Róisín Murphy arrives shortly after, but to a crowd noticeably reduced in number. A close-up projection of her face appears on screens for a split second, like a spectre at the feast, to the stabby sound of a syllable at a time of the chorus “come make me whole, body and soul” from Moloko-era opener Pure Pleasure Seeker. Beefed up band arrangements recast Simulation as a quite different beast from the recording, and Overpowered similarly gets an epic workout of an outro, while the newer CooCool in contrast sounds most like its recording, tropical guitar sounding much warmer than the weather, the combined effect demonstrating textural variety. She comes down to glad-hand her public during The Universe, when the nautical theme is preserved a little longer as she sings about rowing her boat, and there’s the dressing-up box approach to stage costumes we’ve come to expect from her.

We needn’t have worried that everyone had gone home already – they’re all up at the main area waiting for the last big name of the night, Charli XCX. Her new album Brat is out next week, and she’d brought her PARTYGIRL club DJ persona to the seafront earlier, both acting to heighten anticipation for her main set. And here was new material for the doofsome to doof to. Von Dutch is one of the new one’s highlights, and her aggressive flow is impressive. Quickfire lyrics square off to backing tracks, with Charli entirely alone throughout. The hi-NRG tempo extends to the hi-NRG braggadocio: “This is a new song from my new album, the best album of the year, Brat,” she announces to whoops. Club Classics has the audience engaged in frantic arm waving. There’s clever use of simple backdrop flops; 1999 (played by collaborator Troye Sivan last night), with its Britney reference (“hit me baby”) gets a black and white one spelling PARTY. She finishes with her Icona Pop collaboration I Love It, reminding us of how far back her impressive career already goes. By the time she’s done we’ve somehow reached 4am.

Sets continue for another two hours yet but a hot shower awaits. Primavera Sound 2024 begins to wind down, both at Parc del Fòrum and across venues in the city centre as part of the Ciudad strand, with Sunday’s The Blessed Madonna headlined Brunch Electronik acting as a farewell. But already Barcelona’s next big music event, Sónar, is hoving into view. The Chemical Brothers’ visual directors Smith & Lyall have created Music:Response, an audio-visual immersive experience in the basement of Gaudi’s Casa Batlló, as part of it. Over the next couple of months you can enter a cube room covered in digital panels across walls, floor and ceiling and bop to the Chems’ music for 13 minutes while the impressive visuals warp your perspective and take you on a journey. Evidently Barcelona is a city that doesn’t do boring.

• Primavera Sound 2025 takes place at Parc del Fòrum, Barcelona from 5 to 7 June 2025. Tickets and further information can be found at primaverasound.com


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