Primavera Sound Festival
Rockin’ out at Barcelona’s hippest music fest
By Duncan Rhodes
Heralding the start of summer, indie-kids, music heads and hipsters congregate from around Europe and beyond to listen to some of the world’s best bands play Barcelona. We reveal the festival’s vibe, the line up, how to get there, buying tickets, tips on what to bring and where to stay during this carnival of concerts and culture.
Starting life in 2001, the Primavera Sound Festival has grown over the last fifteen or so years to become one of the largest and most prestigious festivals in Europe, let alone Spain and Barcelona. A city festival that takes place in late May of each year, Primavera has several things going for it, that many other similar events worldwide can’t compete with. First of all there’s the arena: a vast and surreal urban landscape in the form of Parc del Forum, that seems almost purpose-built for the job of hosting the party. Secondly there’s the almost-guaranteed great weather (take that Glastonbury!). And thirdly, call us biased, but there’s the fact that the PSF takes place in none other than Barcelona…
Unlike Barcelona’s other renowned modern music fest, Sonar, which concentrates almost solely on electronic beats, Primavera Sound boasts a diverse line up year after year of artists that cover genres such as alternative, indie, pop, rap/hip hop, electro/dance, folk/world music, jazz and pretty much anything else you can think of. To name all the greats that have taken centre stage over the years would take more space than is allowed here, but just a few names you’ve missed would be Arcade Fire, Orbital, Pulp, Smashing Pumpkins, Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Blur, NIN, White Stripes, Motorhead and Primal Scream.
The one thing all the artists have in common is that they are pioneers and experimenters, and the festival takes pride in promoting new sounds and up and coming bands…
And whilst the headliners every year may be household names, the real strength of the festival is the depth of great music provided by the bands that you love, but your mother has never heard of. Think Caribou, Warpaint, Of Montreal, Kings of Convenience, Disclosure, Battles and Death Cab for Cutie for starters. The one thing all the artists have in common is that they are pioneers and experimenters, and the festival takes pride in promoting new sounds and up and coming bands, as well as celebrating those legends that have broken through into the mainstream.
The dates of the festival can be a little confusing for the first time visitor, as they are often quoted as an entire week. However the vast bulk of the event takes place at the main venue, the Parc del Forum, over a three-day weekend of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The extra dates include the annual additional programme, which sandwiches the main three-day roster. In recent years there have been extra gigs on either side of the main event, taking place at cultural icons like Poble Espanyol, or on Passeig de Lluis Companys, a beautiful pedestrianised street under the Arc de Triomf near Citadel Park, as well as at Parc del Forum and Sala Apolo nightclub. These gigs are usually free for ticket holders, and in fact there are usually some concerts that are free for the general public too.
Getting to Primavera Sound
The huge concrete Parc del Forum is on a small hill by the coast on the Northern border of the city and easily accessible by the yellow line of the metro. Just alight at Maresme el Forum, which is a few minutes away from the venue. After that you can follow the crowds (you can’t miss them!). A one journey ticket costs 2 euros, or you can buy a T10 card which gives you 10 journeys for just over 10 euros.
On the way back, the metro is also the best bet… as long as it’s still running. The last metro leaves at midnight on Thursdays, 2am on Fridays and runs all night on Saturdays through to Sunday morning.
Otherwise you could try fighting the crowds for taxis, which are pretty cheap in Barcelona, or look out for a special Primavera Sound shuttle bus which zips between Forum and Plaza Catalunya every 10-15 mins and costs 2 euros per leg (as in journey leg, not per leg you want to bring on board… just in case that wasn’t clear!).
The clever festival-goer might want to put a bit of thought behind the location of their PSF accommodation. Essentially you want to be on a metro stop near the yellow line for easy access to and from the Parc del Forum. El Borne is a cool, albeit slightly touristic district, where you can hop onto Jaume I, and depending where you stay in the Gothic District that same metro stop could be close by. Either the Vila Olimpica area or Poblenou is perfect, especially if you fancy staying by the beach. Whilst if you are literally coming to Barcelona for the festival and the festival alone, then you could opt for one of the big high rise hotels around Diagonal Mar… within easy walking distance of the entrance gates, and miles away from the rest of the city’s attractions.
It’s the little things that make a difference between enjoying a festival and spending half of it in a queue, or shivering from cold for 10 hours on the first day. Our memories from last year are already a bit hazy, but we do encourage any readers to post any helpful information on making the most of Primavera in the comments section.
One thing that’s well worth doing is getting there early on the first day when everyone is collecting their tickets and exchanging them for wrist bands. Time this wrong and you could spend well over an hour with a close up view of the back of someone’s neck.
In terms of what to bring an extra layer is definitely helpful come the evenings, and a sea breeze means things can get pretty cool at nights.
A festival bag with survival snacks (cereal bars and bananas are always good!) and, depending on the weather forecast, small umbrella, might be handy too.
Large cameras and drinks are forbidden… although if your alcohol budget is tight you can sink a few cheap cans before entering. There are some cornershops near the metro station and hordes of party-goers will be sitting in circles drinking cut price booze before making their way into the official grounds.
The Parc del Forum is pretty massive and it can be a five or ten minute walk between stages, so we’d definitely advise comfort about style when it comes to footwear.
Where can you buy tickets? Start by checking out the official website, click on English version and look for the tickets section. It will give you a tonne of options to buy via Ticketmaster, Atrapalo etc., but the cheapest – and therefore best – option is via the official Primavera Ticket Portal. The earlier you get your hands on tickets the cheaper they are, and in the weeks / months leading up to the event they will almost certainly sell out, so don’t mess around basically.
2019 Line Up & Dates
The main festival starts on the 30th May and continues until the 1st June, with some free concerts in the days leading up to the party. As for the line up, there’s a distinct feminine feel to proceedings with half of the 226 acts booked being female artists… so congratulations Primavera Sound for championing women musicians in what they have dubbed to be “The New Normal”.
Headliners include Solange, Tame Impala, J Balvin, Erykah Badu, Future, Janelle Monáe, Nas, Rosalía, Deerhunter, Big Red Machine, Mac DeMarco, FKA twigs, Liz Phair, Robyn, Carly Rae Jepsen, 070 Shake, James Blake, Danny Brown, Slowthai, Clairo, Jarvis Cocker’s JARV IS, Snail Mail, Interpol, Suede, Kali Uchis, and Stereolab, back together for their first performance since 2009. Cardi B was scheduled to play but has been replaced by Miley Cyrus.
Aside from visiting the festival, we recommend you try to find some time to explore the rest of Barcelona. Here is our list of things to do in May.
Wanna know who played in previous editions? Check below for some sweet nostalgia…
2018 Line Up & Dates
Another year, another cornucopia of music talent descending on Barcelona. Th year 2018 will see the Arctic Monkeys, Bjork, The National, Belle and Sebastian, Spiritualized, Chvrches, Beach House, Lykke Li, Four Tet, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Sparks, The War on Drugs, The Breeders, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chromeo, Haim, Mogwai, Mike D, Thundercat A$AP Rocky, Ariel Pink, Deerhunter, Grizzly Bear, Lorde and Slowdive all come to town. The party kicks off on the 30th May to the 3rd June.
2017 Line Up & Dates
Music lovers have plenty to look forward to (as usual!) in 2017, with some of the decade’s most exciting talents returning to Barcelona to caress (and occasionally assault) our ears with their audio-creativity during this year’s edition of Primavera Sound. Some Barcelona Life favourites include Arcade Fire, Flying Lotus, !!!, Aphex Twin, John Talabot, Kate Tempest, Metronomy, Seu Jorge, Saint Etienne, Skepta, Solange, Swans and the XX. As usual half of the joy of the festival lies in discovering your new favourite band… will it be Cymbals Eat Guitars, Her Little Donkey or Mannequin Pussy? These are just a few of the less known bands, that so often step out of the shadows of giants to put on some of the event’s best shows.
2016 Line Up & Dates
I know we say this nearly every year, but this time the good folk at Primavera have outdone themselves bringing what is surely the most musically star-studded line up to Barcelona of all time… with headliners including none other than Radiohead, Air, Sigur Ros, LCD Soundsystem and PJ Harvey and sterling support arriving in the forms of Tame Impala, Beach House, The Last Shadow Puppets, Beirut, Floating Points, Moderat, Suede, Dinosaur Jnr, Animal Collective, Black Lips, Hudson Mohawke and John Carpenter – and many many more. Tickets are selling like delicious chocolate-chipped hot cakes for this one, so move fast if you want to be going crazy in Parc del Forum this June (the dates at the 1st to the 6th). As always the official site has more info including complete line up and ticket purchase options.
2015 Line Up & Dates
Who’s coming this year? Well it’s another stellar rostra of talent, in the form of The Strokes, Interpol, Caribou, Belle & Sebastian, Patti Smith, Underworld, Tori Amos, Antony and the Johnsons, James Blake, Swans, alt-J and an editorial favourite from the early 90s (yes we’re old)… Babes in Toyland! That’s just the tip of the iceberg so check the list of artists on the official website or full line up. The dates are 28th to 30th May 2015, with bonus gigs from the 25th May.
2014 Line Up & Dates
Another seriously exciting year in terms of line ups, the 2014 edition of PSF includes: Arcade Fire, The Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, !!!, Chromeo, Cut Copy, Dum Dum Girls, Foals, Disclosure, Haim, Jamie xx, Metronomy, Mogwai, St. Vincent, Warpaint, Laurent Garnier, SBTRKT, Moderat, Pional, The War on Drugs and many many more. The dates are 28th to 31st May.
2013 Line Up & Dates
The big news for 2013 is that Brit-pop legends Blur will be headlining the festival, which is something to excite indie kids and ageing musos who remember them first time around alike! However as always with Primavera Sound there’s no shortage of big names and exciting newcomers to rock the mics… some bands that Barcelona Life are particularly excited about are Hot Chip, The Knife, Crystal Castles, Deerhunter, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Four Tet, Foxygen, Simian Mobile Disco, My Bloody Valentine, Wu-Tang Clan, The Knife, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Phoenix, The Postal Service, Fiona Apple, The Breeders, Swans, Band of Horses, James Blake, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, John Talabot, Disclosure, Dead Can Dance, Titus Andronicus, and Fuck Buttons. For a full list of acts check out the line up on the official site, where they also have an awesome video introducing the bands (embedded above)! The dates are 22nd to 26th May 2013.
2012 Line Up & Dates
Right so who’s coming to Barcelona this spring? Here’s a little teaser of headliners and highlights of the line up for 2012: Bjork, The Cure, Death Cab For Cutie, Saint Etienne, Death in Vegas, Erol Alkan, The Field, Justice Live, Kings of Convenience, Mazzy Star, Mudhoney, The Rapture, Spiritualised, Franz Ferdinand, The XX, Yann Tiersen, Yo La Tengo. For the full monte head to the official website, innit. The dates for the diary are May 30th to June 3rd.
About the Author
Duncan established Barcelona Life in 2009, whilst freelancing for the likes of Conde Nast, The Guardian, Easyjet Magazine, CNN Traveller and many more. From interviews with Ferran Adria to revealing the secrets of the city’s poetry brothels, he knows the city inside out… and shares all his best tips right here.