If it's the last weekend in May, then it must be time for me to go to Primavera Sound! Barcelona's premier eclectic music festival, or as I like to call it, only semi-jokingly, my annual trip to Spain to watch Shellac. It seems like I've been going forever now, but when I tally up, I think this year is only my sixth visit. Enough for the memories to blur together somewhat; I'm starting to find navigating around the site confusing; each year there is a gradual migration of stage locations, and a subtle shuffling of stage names.
You can buy early-bird VIP passes shortly after they confirm the dates for the festival, which is far in advance of any lineup announcement. These sell for around the same price as the eventual full festival pass, but confer various privileges to reward the faithful. This year, I was finally smart and planned ahead. and I got us a pair back in July. Ah, hubris. Subsequently we fell pregnant, and had a baby just four weeks before the festival, making a mockery of my forward planning, and invalidating our usual routine of attending as part of an extended family holiday. I ended up scaling my visit right back down to a quick in-and-out just across the festival days, and after a couple of potential takers for my second ticket fell through, I ended up attending on my own.
It turns out Barcelona is still pretty much my favourite place on earth. In a break from the usual routine, I was staying in a hotel out close to the festival site, at the far end of the Avinguda Diagonal, rather than an apartment somewhere more central. The facilities nearby are pretty excellent, if a little characterless, with the large modern Mall development el Diagonal Mar providing pretty much every consumer amenity you might need, including free Wi-Fi. It's still easy to reach central Barcelona on transit during the sociable hours of day, and it solves the problems associated with picking a time to leave the Festival, and locating a means of transport home, once you hit the small hours of the morning on the weekdays. Door to door from the festival to my hotel was a leisurely ten minute walk.
Once again I had a really good time. I had a few reservations heading in. Last year was a bit crowded, and occasionally hard work. Being on my own was is a bit weird. I've done stints working away from home, but they aren't like this. Luckily I did find some people to talk to at Festival; I enjoyed the chance to spend some time with Matt and Anne, and I also bumped into a few friendly groups by chance; Mike and the Canadian islanders, and those nice chaps from Leicester from the Jeff Mangum queue. Hello to any of you who find your way to reading this!
The upside of attending on my own, it meant I was able to watch lots of bands. I overdid things a little on the Thusday, watching upwards of twenty acts in a session stretching from 4pm through to 4am. I subsequently found myself flagging a little through the middle of the session on the Friday, and finally found a happy balance for Saturday. Weather was excellent, probably the hottest Primavera I've attended. I even managed a mild sunburning on the elbows on Thursday, and I rarely sunburn. The VIP passes turned out to be a good bet – subsidised bars, segregated rest and food areas, and easy access to the indoor concert hall for the posh gigs.
Shellac completely owned it, once again. Year after year, always different, always the same. My other musical highlights were Kleenex Girl Wonder, Spiritualized pulling "Electric Mainline" out of the back catalogue in the middle of a perfect festival setlist, the pro-celebrity karaoke festival of the Big Star's 3rd tribute ( Mike Mills! Norman Blake! Ira and Georgia! Alexis from Hot Chip! ), and I need to pass out a special mention for the marathon Cure set. A bedrock foundation act from my indie disco days, they played a 30-odd song set of old fanservice and hit singles, and I nodded along from the VIP lounge, surprised by how much of it I recognised, given that I own precisely one Cure LP ( Disintegration, naturally ), and one single ( Inbetween Days, I'm predictable like that)
Here's everything I saw, replete with aribitrary ratings :
Baxter Dury ★★ Afghan Whigs ★★ Wilco ★★ Franz Ferdinand ★★ Death Cab For Cutie ★ The xx ★★ Spiritualized ★★ La Estrella De David ★★ Pegasvs ★★ Iceage ★ Grimes ★★ Danny Brown ★ A$AP Rocky ★★ Peter Wolf Crier ★★ Field Music ★★★ Kleenex Girl Wonder ★★★ Dominant Legs ★★ Bombino ★★ Lovely Bad Things ★★ Other Lives ★★ The Cure ★★ Afrocubism ★★ I break horses ★★ Dirty Beaches ★ Sleigh Bells ★★★ Nick Garrie (plays "The Nightmare of J.B. Stanistlas") ★★ Jeff Mangum ★★ Big Star's Third ★★★ Picore ★ Orthodox ★★ Sharon Van Etten ★ Justice (live) ★★★ Beach House ★★ Neon Indian ★ Demdike Stare ★★★ Shellac ★★★ The Pop Group ★ Atlas Sound ★★ Michael Gira ★★ Milagres ★★ Jenn Grant ★★ Cadence Weapon ★★
There weren't too many low-lights. Occasional bar queues. The subsidy at the VIP bars meant that the occasional drink bought outside of those enclosures had a costly sting. A couple of occasions of queuing; to collect the passes, and to get a ticket for, and then gain access to the limited entry Jeff Mangum show. Aggravating cancellations , Björk, Death Grips, Sleep and Melvins – acts I wanted to see, and in the case of Sleep, probably my ideal of the biggest single draw of the festival. Luckily I'm a veteran, pragmatic festival-goer, I don't place too much weight on being able to see individual acts. If I hadn't already seen Sleep at ATP vs Fans:2, I might perhaps think differently.
Leading up to the festival I had been wondering if it was going to be my last year at Primavera. Logistically it's growing more awkward to arrange, I've been a serial attendee for years, and sooner or later the charm should wear off. The inaugural edition of the Portugese sister festival had been catching my eye, And then everything worked it's usual magic. I plan to head back to Barcelona for 2013 if I can. Maybe I'll see you there.