Photography by Melissa Vega unless otherwise noted, feature image Eric Pamies.
If someone sat me down and asked me to create a line-up for my dream festival, it would have come eerily close to that of Primavera Sound 2016.
With some of my favorite bands like Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Animal Collective, and one of the albums I hold so near and dear to my heart, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (being performed in full), I told myself I had to go to this festival. One way or another I would make my way to Barcelona and attend what I believe would be the best festival in the world. I did and it was. Here’s my experience.
Primavera Sound took place at the Parc del Fórum, a giant event space near the Mediterranean in the Diagonal Mar neighborhood that lies along the coast of Barcelona. The festival featured 13 stages altogether, including small stages for local acts as well as a hidden stage festgoers had to get special tickets for each day. Opening day of Primavera Sound took place on the first day of June, when anyone could enjoy the lineup at the park and at various venues around town. This gave the general public an opportunity to see several bands, including Suede and Goat, live and totally free of charge. Primavera Sound shows appreciation to the city of Barcelona through this customary act each year, making it a festival of the city, even for those who can’t purchase a full festival ticket.
When my experience began on Thursday, I walked on to the festival grounds that afternoon excited and eager to check out the park. My first stop was at the Bowers & Wilkins Sound System stage in the Beach Club area. Todd Terje, a Norwegian DJ whose 2014 release It’s Album Time made him an easy choice for my first official Primavera Sound stop. By the time I arrived to the stage, Terje had turned the area in front of the small stage into a daytime club. Light and smoke cut through the bright sunlight shining across the festgoers who bounced on the dry grass with vodka drinks in hand. Terje’s party vibes drifted through the crowd gathered on the beach and over to me where I danced and celebrated my first day of what would be one of the best musical experiences of my life.
I left the party early to head over to the hidden stage ticket booth in hopes of snagging a coveted spot to see Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo. Once I got to the silver camper parked at the center of the fest I discovered the tickets, which were given out free to festival attendees each day, had already sold out. I walked over to the hidden stage anyway to find out if my press credentials could get me in, they couldn’t. I was justifiably bummed.
My disappointment dwindled slightly as I made my way to the nearby stage where Julien Baker’s set was about to start. The singer-songwriter from Tennessee tells such somber stories through her music, pulling on my heartstrings in a way that only singers like Conor Oberst and Ben Gibbard have before her. Baker took the stage and immediately started a loop of guitar plucks that back the title track from last year’s Sprained Ankle. She joked to the audience about getting our sadness out of the way now before we danced our asses off to LCD Soundsystem’s set later that day.
I stood there, as a fairly new fan, completely captivated by Julien Baker.
Her words mixing with the salty, breezy air gave me goosebumps, her voice clear and passionate. One might suppose it wouldn’t feel right to be so sad at Primavera Sound, but somehow it felt right in that moment. My favorite thing about Baker is that she accepts sadness and self-deprecation as a way of life, that at times it can even be charming. And that’s really the best way I can describe her, charming.
She took time between songs to tune her guitar and told a joke about knowing the difference between “tanto” and “tonto”, meaning “idiot” and “so much” respectively, for fear of offending someone when you say “thank you so much” in Spanish. The crowd stood hushed, no one sung along to these deeply personal songs and yet there was still an intense connection between Baker and her audience.
She performed “Everybody Does” and “Something”, my two favorite tracks on her debut record, with both precision and fervor. I would have been content to listen to her for the rest of the evening, but the seemingly short set finished despite me silently willing it to go on. With the “but the pavement won’t answer me” stuck in my head, I forced myself to head to across the park to the next band.
At one of the two large stages on the opposite side of the park, I squirmed my way to the front of the crowd and waited for Air to arrive. The French electronica duo took the stage just as the sun started to set in the sky. Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel in all white, jumped right into their set after a brief hello.
The air grew crisp as their bouncy synths floated across the park. Pink and purple fog hovered around the stoic twosome as they played their most popular songs including “Playground Love” and “Sexy Boy”. I saw Kevin Parker and a couple of other guys from Tame Impala enter the photo pit to sneak a better look at Air during a few songs.
Explosions in Sky took the stage directly across the huge space from where Air had just wrapped up their set. The dark night had settled in, ushering away any sunlight that remained. The prickling guitar and buoyant drum beats created a wall of sound that seemed to levitate above the crowd.
Staring at the giant screens on either side of the set, I could see the band from Austin, Texas bent over their instruments as they constructed an orchestral cacophony of music that turned everything I saw into a movie scene. It was my soundtrack to getting lost in the sound and the crowd as I swerved my way through thousands of people in attempt to get closer to the stage. The sound was giant, each guitar riff sliced through the cool night air. They played “Disintegration Anxiety” so loud it filled my chest, making my heart synch to the beat, the crunchy distortion pressed against my ears. And then suddenly a piano melody swooped in and quieted the crowd, an ethereal hymn that made my chest swell. I couldn’t help but close my eyes and let the music wash over me.
Ping ponging back to the stage where Air played, Tame Impala greeted Barcelona and started their set. Making my way back, I shook my head in disbelief at how amazing it was to be able to walk the distance of a two football fields and watch another great band perform. This was my third time seeing Tame Impala at a music festival and I was still as excited as I had been the first time around. My giddiness took over me as I heard the beginning of “Let it Happen” and started dancing.
The screens on each side of the Australian band showed psychedelic swirls that were hypnotic, the crowd sung “let it happen” in unison, and not a single body stood still. The dancing continued as they played through most of last year’s Currents, although not forgetting the Beatles-esque hit “Elephant” from Lonerism.
After a quick break at the press area to charge my phone and get a much needed coffee, I made the trek over to the smaller stage on the opposite side of the park where Beach Slang would perform for the third time that day. Despite the band’s record The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us being on BGM’s very own Top 10 Albums of 2015 list, I admit, I was not a fan of Beach Slang prior to seeing them at Primavera Sound. I thought I’d give them a shot, and I’m glad I did.
Beach Slang’s lead singer, James Alex, stood on stage in what looked like a tuxedo shirt he got at a thrift shop in exchange for a couple of presidents.
He reminded me of some mix between a young Christopher Walken and Doug Hutchison, although his personality was much more endearing than either actor. After a sip of his drink and a thrash of guitars he shouted, “Hey we’re Beach Slang and we’re here to punch you right in the heart”, into the mic. The band started playing what began as a chaos of sound before an abrupt stop as Alex realized his bandmates were each performing a different song. Assuming it was just a one-off mistake Alex told the crowd “pretend you didn’t see that” and they started again. Another abrupt stop, a quick glance at setlists and bassist Ed McNulty admitted to fucking them up and giving a different one to Alex, then he had to guitarist Ruben Gallego and drummer JP Flexner. After sorting it out, the band gave it a third shot and finally got it right.
Their flavor of punk has a romanticism to it that made it magnetic for a softy like me. With heart-on-sleeve lyrics like “baby, turn your heart up” and “I blur all this hurt into sound” the music radiates a youthful and vibrant energy that takes me back to high school, a time when I felt things more earnestly. Alex stopped between songs to offer his phone number to the crowd, telling us if anyone ever felt like life was too hard or too much that we should call him and he’d “talk you down from the ledge”. Alex is the kind of person you instantly like. He is a bear hug, a person who you feel like you’ve known for years. The music he creates with his band is an extension of that, lacking any pretension, it is simple and heartfelt punk rock that you want to sing at the top of your lungs on a night just like this one.
I climbed back up to the main area of the park to see San Francisco psych band Thee Oh Sees. A large section of the crowd were already pummeling each other, hurling their bodies towards one another as I walked up. Lead singer John Dwyer maniacally shouted into the microphone, the cameras gliding across the front of the stage caught the spit flying from his mouth and displayed it on the large screens overhead. Dwyer’s shrill vocals reverberated across the park as bodies around me shook, letting the crashing drums and tumultuous wall of noise overtake them. A guy standing in front of me let his long hair fall all around him in a waterfall as he jerked his body to and fro.
After headbanging my hair into a mess of tangles, I decided to head over to the center stage of the fest and get ready for Battles.
I had only seen the band live for the first time last December and even though it was nearly 3 in the morning, I was still super hyped to watch them perform again. Keyboardist/guitarist Ian Williams and bassist Dave Konopka took the stage first, jumping right into the first song. Drummer John Stanier joined them just before his part began, he sat center stage with a cymbal raised high above his drumset, hair perfectly coiffed. I was eager to see it become a hot and sweaty mess by the end of the set. I danced to the band’s beeps and boops, driving guitar riffs and crashing cymbals until I felt barely alive.
People came and went, pushing close to the stage to catch a peek and then retreating. It was hard for me to understand anyone that wasn’t dancing, when my body hears Battles it’s like it decides to move on it’s own, no matter how exhausted I am. The band performed their singles from last year’s La Di Da Di as well as their most popular songs like “Atlas” and “Ice Cream”. It’s simple, their wacky, brainy math rock just makes me happy and I wanted every song to go on forever. Finally at around 4 AM it stopped and I had to force myself to walk away from the stage and make my way back home.
With the daylight peeking through the trees I reflected on my first day of Primavera Sound. It felt like a dream and I was eager to get to sleep and relive it all again the next day.
Check out the Official B.G.M. Primavera Sound 2016 Playlist on Spotify below: