Primavera Sound Barcelona 2024 Provided Lessons, Vibes, and Charli XCX at Her Absolute Best

Parc del Fòrum, May 29–Jun 2

Featuring Charli XCX, Vampire Weekend, Justice, PJ Harvey, Clipse, Mitski, Troye Sivan, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, A. G. Cook, American Football

Photo: Jo Barrow

BY Stephen CarlickPublished Jun 13, 2024

It shouldn't have taken this long, but I think I'm ready to admit it: European festivals have North American festivals beat.

I'm sorry, but it's true. Glastonbury's got untouchable, free-as-you've-ever-been vibes; Primavera Sound Porto has its immaculate curation; and Primavera Sound Barcelona, well, shit — it's got both.

Vibes-wise, Primavera hasn't got the same hippie freak-flag thing going that Glastonbury does, but in Spain, where a European, community-driven mentality still reigns, they seem to have figured out that the best way to enjoy a festival is not to simply cram together as closely to the stage as possible and then face the performing artist; it's to get close enough that the sound is right, and then turn and face your friends — to enjoy music together.

And line-up wise, well – you can't really argue with Vampire Weekend, Lana Del Rey, SZA, Justice, Clipse, Mitski, Jai Paul, Peggy Gou, the National, Charli XCX, Phoenix, Deftones, Bikini Kill, Romy, Disclosure, Arca, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Yeule…

It means that even when a blip happens — insistent rain just a few songs into PJ Harvey's captivating Saturday evening, say, or a pickpocket lurking around during Pulp's headlining set Thursday — there's a feeling of camaraderie during every well-chosen artist's Primavera performance.


First, the city (Bar-theh-lona, for the uninitiated). Good lord, Barcelona is gorgeous. Big but infinitely walkable, you can choose to spend your day at the beach on the city's eastern coast (remember that at Primavera, the music doesn't start until 4:30 p.m.), eating delicious seafood, or visiting the city's incredible cocktail bars — in much of Barcelona, the streets are arranged in a grid, so there are pedestrian-only diamonds, filled with bar and café patios, everywhere.

In Eixample, where my friends and I stayed, we were a stone's throw away from the Sagrada Familia (an absolute non-negotiable in terms of Barcelona's must-sees, I cannot stress how much you simply must look inside it!) and the Girona metro station, which takes you straight to the festival grounds (with a stop in gorgeous El Poblenou, full of cafes and tapas bars, along the way).


Beautifully organized in terms of avoiding sound bleed between stages, and overlooking the Balearic Sea, Barcelona's Parc del Fórum is an ideal space in which to hold the festival — but not ideal enough to get me to Phoenix on Wednesday night, unfortunately. The festival's tradition of a single-stage opening night to whet festivalgoers' appetites is a wonderful custom, but I was too excited to be in Barcelona to make it in time. Big mistake: Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig apparently came on stage to sing "Tonight" with Thomas Mars, a Phoenix favourite of mine, and he stuck around to help perform closer "1901," too. Lesson number one: do your tapas on Tuesday.

My Thursday more than made up for it, though: I stuck around the festival's two main stages, Estrella Damm and Santander, for five back-to-back performances. Ingeniously, the stages are next to each other, facing the crowd like one giant stage split in two: when Gibbs and Madlib finished their amiable set on Estrella Damm — which spliced a huge joint, a handful of Bandana tracks, and not one but two performances of "Thuggin'" (one in their regular set and another as a single-song encore) into their 10th anniversary celebration of Piñata — Amyl and the Sniffers took over on Santander. I wasn't familiar with the Sniffers' songs, but their energy was infectious, and Amyl was the only singer I saw mention the genocide in Palestine.

Back on Estrella Damm, Vampire Weekend drew an enthusiastic crowd that knew the words to new songs like "Classical," "Capricorn" and "Gen-X Cops," but really came to life during classics like "A-Punk," "Unbelievers" and "Harmony Hall" (not to mention a jammy version of SBTRKT's "NEW DORP. NEW YORK," an unsung highlight of the Vampire Weekend universe). Pulp might have trimmed a few of their longer, less beloved songs ("Weeds," particularly, but "Sunrise" too), but the British contingent of festivalgoers ensured the set went off — so much so that I almost fell prey to the pickpocket I mentioned earlier. My friends, who saw him try for someone else's pocket first, told me afterward that he lingered around mine for a moment, casing me — but before either he (or my friends) could act, I had made eye contact with him, assumed he was a fan like me, slung my arm around his shoulder and sang "Disco 2000" with him until, bewildered, he ran for it. Lesson number two: kill them with kindness.

Justice closed the two main stages with a blowout, career-spanning performance that did to their catalogue what A.L.I.V.E. did to Daft Punk's. It finished at 3 a.m., but this being Primavera, the night was hardly over: just as Peggy Gou was wrapping up her set on the Amazon Music stage at 4:15 a.m., A. G. Cook kicked off a DJ set that perfectly balanced deep cuts and crowd-pleasers, including his incredible remix of Caroline Polachek's "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings."

On Friday, Troye Sivan played a breezy, enjoyable set on the Santander stage to start the evening right, performing songs from Something to Give Each Other (though only "Rush" held a candle to his performance of Charli XCX collab "1999"), but I otherwise mostly sat out the headliners in favour of smaller stages. Clipse put on a barnstorming show that featured all their crown jewels: "Momma I'm So Sorry," "Wamp Wamp (What It Do)," "Cot Damn", "Mr. Me Too" and "Grindin," plus a small snippet of Kendrick Lamar's "Not Like Us", as if we needed any clarity about which side of the Drake beef Pusha T was on — while the long-absent Jai Paul, finally performing his legendary Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones), showed surprising charisma as he blazed through his small but spectacular song list on the Cupra stage.


Following Paul was festival highlight Barry Can't Swim; the Scottish producer is likeable enough on his debut LP, When Will We Land?, but his music really came to life in the natural amphitheatre surrounding Cupra, where a balmy Barcelona breeze blew through the dancing crowd during highlights like "Woman" and "Sunsleeper." A wee-hours run including UK dance giants Disclosure and Chilean-Irish DJ Sega Bodega (whose new album Dennis is a dark-pop revelation) closed the night (or morning? It was 5 a.m. when the latter wrapped with "Deer Teeth") perfectly.

Saturday's rain made the evening a slightly subdued affair. It suited PJ Harvey's set just fine, as it added a muted sky palette to her folksy Let England Shake one-two-three "The Glorious Land," "Let England Shake" and "The Word That Maketh Murder." then added drama to her late-set/early-catalogue highlights "Dress" and "Down by the Water," but it made Mitski's elegant (though slightly elegiac) set harder to stand through. I like The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, but even my favourite songs felt slightly saggy: "Star" didn't feel as overwhelmingly beautiful as it does on record, and the sound of both "I Don't Like My Mind" and "Heaven" felt soggy in the wet air (though her admittedly enchanting slow dance with the spotlight during the latter salvaged it somewhat).


The rain dictated set choices for the remainder of my night, whenever set times conflicted: it pointed me to American Football's soft, sparkling emo over Bikini Kill (though I was elated to hear "Rebel Girl" as I passed the Pull&Bear stage later), and tipped the scales in favour of Romy, whose midnight set on the Amazon Music stage conflicted with SZA's on Santander — I prefer SZA's records, but I needed high energy, and Romy provided it with the effervescent dance hymns of her debut record, Mid Air. In the end, dancing in the rain trumps standing in it, and "Weightless" and "Enjoy Your Life" provided more than enough reason to move. Lesson number three, I guess: pick the right music for the weather.

The rain subsided ever so slightly for what turned out to be the set of the festival: Charli XCX, at 2:30 a.m. on the Amazon Music stage, less than a week before her incredible new album BRAT dropped. She's been playing songs like "360," "Club classics" and "Von dutch" recently, but her Primavera set marked the live debut of "Everything is romantic" and "365"; it felt like a moment, seeing an artist at the height of her powers in a setting that worked perfectly for her. As she stormed through career highlights like "Track 10," "Boys", "Vroom Vroom" and, as a finale, a "cover" of "I Love It" — which she wrote before generously bestowing it upon Icona Pop — one couldn't help but feel like the festival was finishing in the right place, at the right time, with the right artist.

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