Primavera Sound 2016: Why Barcelona’s Famed Fest Peaked at 6 A.M.
Barcelona’s Primavera Sound outgrew its original venue in 2004 and hasn’t stopped gaining worldwide notoriety since. This, its 16th year, sold out earlier than ever, partially thanks to boasting the first Radiohead festival appearance in half a decade. Besides headliners like PJ Harvey, Air, Tame Impala and Beach House, there was a high percentage of European artists and more than a dozen Catalan acts gracing the stages of the Fòrum, including a stirring set by local rumba maestros Los Chichos, who, despite their anonymity in the States, have sold over 22 million records across the planet.
Of the headliners, LCD Soundsystem dominated the festival on Thursday night with a nearly two-hour long performance. Not only did they set the tone for the rest of the festival, but they commanded much more energy from their audience than their recent Coachella appearance. Australian sample/plunderphonics virtuosos the Avalanches reunited here as well, and played tracks from their landmark album Since I Left You for the first time in 15 years. And Beach Boy founder Brian Wilson chose Primavera as the first European stop of his Pet Sounds tour, playing the groundbreaking album on its 50th anniversary in its entirety. The sun-kissed melodies played like a cheery antithesis to the quiet somberness of Radiohead — the California optimism washing over the midland England malaise. There was something quite sweet in watching thousands of Spaniards, Brits, Germans, Dutch, Argentinians, Chileans and others spinning and dancing to “California Girls,” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
Vince Staples and Pusha T represented the hip-hop entrees, although the performance trophy was was won hands down by Action Bronson, who stormed onto the stage under a backing track of the Champs’ “Tequila” and didn’t end the party for his entire set. As Bronson freestyled over Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” and other Eighties hits, he was a whirling Tasmanian Devil of water spitting, mic-dropping chaos, rapping “I feel so alive, I think I just shit my pants.”
Other highlights included Holly Herndon, an American composer/electronic producer whose work sounds like the PhD she’s currently studying for. While her sonic patchworks played through the speakers, a live visual artist mirrored the electroacoustics with his own psychedelic visual collages. Moderat — the Berlin union of bass/techno duo Modeselektor and singer Apparat — might have been a scripted argument claiming they’re the electronic band on planet Earth right now. They were handpicked to close out the main stage on Saturday night, and they left the Fòrum resonating as the crowd sang “This is not what you wanted” while they performed “Bad Kingdom”.
Yet despite the great attention spent on curating music, the most moving aspect of Primavera Sound is its location. The Parc del Fòrum is a great venue, with a sprawling 187,000 square meters of walking space, thirteen stages sprinkled throughout, and a new Beach Club venue across a long bridge that looks like a littoral San Tropez villa (and the scene of an epic disco party on Sunday morning courtesy of Barcelona rising producer John Talabot).
Even at 6 a.m., no one wanted to stop. As the hot disc of the sun rose pink and orange over the Mediterranean Sea, the last 10,000 or so attendees converged on the waterfront stage. Unwilling to let the weekend end and committed to furthering the cause, they came to see what has become an annual tradition: a closing set by Barcelona’s DJ Coco.
There must have been one hundred people invited on stage, all organizers, staff and volunteers, while several thousand exhausted but triumphant attendees cheered and danced from below on high up to the top stadium seats. When Coco cued up David Bowie’s “Heroes” as the final ribbon, the festival felt almost as it if were peaking at dawn on a Sunday.