“Have you got any energy left?” James Blake asks a captivated audience from the Seat stage on day three of Primavera Sound circa 2am. While I believe these sort of questions from artists mid-gig are largely rhetorical, had there been genuine interest in the answer, from me it would have been an emphatic no.
By this point, my legs had virtually given way and Blake’s undoubtedly atmospheric and moving renditions of 'Mile High' and 'Retrograde' were forming little short of lullabies. Of course, as a dedicated music fan with chronic FOMO, there was no way I was going to give in to my exhaustion - yet another 4 hours of blistering lineup was still stretched out in front of us for the taking.
Set in one of Europe’s most indisputably beautiful cities, Barcelona’s Primavera Sound has a long history of being at the top of most international music festival must-go lists. 2019, its 19th edition, was no exception: in addition to an impeccable site sprawling out across the city’s enviable coastline below cloudless skies, this year’s Primavera demonstrated itself to be leading the charge in terms of genre diversity and gender equality, breaking the pale, male and stale indie rock mould that has long defined many such projects.
While other programmers seem to be endlessly fiddling hopelessly at the margins, the eclecticism and fierce female energy projecting from Barcelona’s shores night after night was a pleasure to behold.
Opening night saw a standout performance of Christine & the Queens, who perfectly embodied the concept of 'The New Normal' touted by Primavera this year, speaking openly with the crowd about the freedom of coming out, her recent name change simply to Chris and announcing now as the time for “no fucks given anymore.” Stunning free movement dance choreography of her and her diverse dance troupe punctuated renditions of 'Girlfriend', '5 dollars', an emotive 'Tilted' and even a cover of David Bowie’s 'Heroes', leaving her beguiled audience with: “Do you want to know me more? I’m tiny, French and angry.”
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Over on the main stages Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett was rocking out between her deadpan lyrical witticisms such 'Nameless, Faceless' from 2018’s 'Tell Me How You Really Feel' to 'Pedestrian At Best' from 2015’s 'Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit'.
By contrast New York indie rockers Interpol brought a breath of the old school, lead vocalist Paul Banks near motionless in aviators and projected onto giant screens in monochrome delivering a smattering of tracks from their 17 year history, from 2014’s 'All The Rage Back Home' to 2010’s 'Lights', 2004’s 'Slow Hands' to 'Evil' with its anthemic refrain: “Sandy, why can't we look the other way?” and closing on 'Obstacle 1' and 'Roland' from 2002 debut 'Turn on the Bright Lights'.
R&B queen Erykah Badu brought soulful classics in an impressively tall hat from 1997’s 'Baduizm' such as 'On & On' to 2000’s 'Bag Lady' and 'Green Eyes' and 2015’s 'Caint Use My Phone'. Electropop star Charli XCX had hits from 'Boys' to '1999', her reworking of the Spice Girls 'Wannabe' with Diplo, 'Spicy', and unleashed a new collaboration with Christine and the Queens, 'Gone'. The wonderfully weird, sword-fighting, pole-dancing FKA Twigs brought 'Two Weeks' and 'Cellophane' and Russian underground DJ, the inimitable Nina Kraviz, carried day one onto the early hours.
Friday saw the eminently charming Janelle Monae’s explosive performance of massive tracks from 2010’s 'The ArchAndroid' such 'Tightrope' to last year’s 'Dirty Computer' such as 'Make Me Feel' and 'I Like That', closing with an all-in crowd surf. Love her or loathe her, Miley Cyrus knew how to play the thronging crowd, with even her opening visuals causing provocation with the most deliciously filthy content I have ever seen involving fruit to her consistent chat about how much she loves her pussy, and in between belting out tracks from Mark Ronson collaboration 'Nothing Breaks Like a Heart' to 'We Can’t Stop', and getting every hipster, Spaniard and foreigner joining in on each word of 'Party in the U.S.A' and her encore 'Wrecking Ball'.
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Australian psychedelic rockers and masters of visuals, Tame Impala were reliably brilliant, with 2015’s 'Let it Happen' to 2012’s 'Feels Like We Only Go Backwards' and 2019’s comeback singles 'Patience' and 'Borderline'. British spoken word artist Kate Tempest’s set on the Ray-Ban stage felt urgent and poignant on the likes of 'Europe is Lost' and 'Ketamine for Breakfast'.
After dropping her album 'Honey' to rapturous critical acclaim last year, the Swedish artist Robyn was on a contagious, uninhibited high, with a slow-building set that began with billowing cloth all aflutter around the singer clad in white with cheekily placed embroidered red flowers. Kicking off with her latest material 'Send to Robyn Immediately' and album title track 'Honey', the singer’s performance climaxed with her revealing a red sequined outfit and spinning wildly about the stage. There wasn’t a single attendee standing still to 2010 classic 'Dancing on my Own' and closing track 'With Every Heartbeat' heard all repeat in unison: “And it hurts with every heartbeat.” For those still party left in them, Dr. Rubenstein and Helena Hauff provided the beats till sunrise.
On the final day, Liverpool FC fan Loyle Carner sacrificed watching the first half of the Champion’s League final to bring us his unique brand of confessional hip hop, including the beautiful 'Ottolenghi' from recent release Not Waving, But Drowning and 'Ain’t Nothing Changed' from 2017’s 'Yesterday’s Gone'.
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Solange’s spoke candidly about pulling through challenging times with her health and shared her take on spirituality in a retro-edged set covering standout track 'Almeda' and 'Stay Flo' from her fourth and most recent studio album 'When I Get Home' plus the breathtaking 'Cranes in the Sky' from 2016’s seminal 'A Seat at the Table'.
Róisín Murphy was having the time of her life - and therefore so was everyone else - with the most brilliantly bizarre onstage antics, including a backward rolly-polly over a speaker, in her trademark flamboyant outfits, performing 'You know Me Better' and 'Overpowered'.
British rockers Primal Scream took us back through their 30-year back catalogue, leaving us with a party-starting 'Country Girl' and 'Rocks'. German electronic duo Modeselektor riled up a frenzy while minimal techno veteran Richie Hawtin had a full on rave underway in the sand down at the Primavera Bits beachside stage.
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But if there was one artist Primavera 2019 really belonged to though it was Rosalía - Catalonia’s answer to Beyonce seized her moment to headline on home turf with both hands, taking the Pull & Bear stage by storm with her contemporary take on flamenco. Donning a long-sleeved, high-legged, baby pink get up, involving many sequins and PVC chaps, signature high ponytail and statement bling nails, the 25-year-old’s soaring set spanned her high energy smash hit collaboration with Colombian singer J Balvin (who also played later that night) 'Con Altura', and had the 1000s strong crowd hushed to a silence to catch every last note of her phenomenal vocal abilities in 'De madrugá'.
Her and her posse of dancers killed it in urban-latin-flamenco-mash-up dance routines and James Blake joined her on stage for 'Barefoot in the Park'. Where festivals (rightly) come under fire for being seemingly removed from the locations they’re based in, this Catalan artist brought her international audience firmly onto Spanish soil and cemented her status as tour de force of contemporary genre-spanning pop.
From Christine and the Queens to Robyn, Solange to Róisín Murphy, Janelle Monáe to Rosalía, Primavera Sound sent a loud and clear message to the music world that achieving diversity on our stages is no longer something to only aspire to. The bar has been set here at Parc del Forum and it’s been set high. And with the 20th anniversary on the horizon, to be marked with a weekender in Benidorm in November and a 2020 edition in LA, the Primavera Sound project looks as if it will continue to hold its place at the forefront of festival experiences.
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My lessons learnt? Sleep for a week in prep and be prepared to sleep the week after, get into the Iberian rhythm by using your downtime offsite to fuel up on a delicious menu del dia from one of the Catalan city’s many incredible eateries, grab a siesta in the shade on the sand, and loosen up over a few beers botellón-style before you head in late afternoon to watch the sun go down over the opening acts.
Despite best efforts, there is no physical way to see everything across the vast number of stages: so after picking your must-sees from the schedule, toss it aside and let the balmy Mediterranean air and stamina-testing party vibes carry you where they may from headline stage to dawn-welcoming rave, with a little bit of every genre and crowd to capture your music-loving spirit in-between.
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Primavera Sound took place in Barcelona from 30th May to 1st June. For more information visit https://www.primaverasound.es
Words: Sarah Bradbury
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