It's May 27, and I'm heading back to Barcelona for Primavera again.
I attended the festival for the first time in 2011, at the behest of a close friend, whose band, Holy Ghost!, had a prime slot. I was in the early stages of a year-and-a-half-long breakup, and I knew very little about the Primavera, besides the fact that it was in Barcelona, and also my favorite band, Suicide, was playing a reunion show, so I bought a last minute, surprisingly cheap flight.
In a matter of hours, I was transported from rocky terrain in Los Angeles to the sheer stone steps of the Parc del Forum, by the Mediterranean at 3:30A.M., watching Holy Ghost! play the biggest show of their career, in a vast concrete amphitheater under the stars.
Barcelona had just defeated Manchester United in the Champion's League finals, and I had just been escorted into the backstage, in the guise of being "Jarvis Cocker's best mate," by security, police and Jarvis Cocker's reasonably good mate, or at the very least an acquaintance.
I've returned every year since, and every year since, it's been worth it.
Lauded by Stereogum as "perhaps the best-curated big festival in the entire planet," Primavera is a musician's music festival. In a recent HuffPost blog, Twilight Sad singer James Alexander writes, "I can't wait to play but I'm just as excited to be in the audience watching some of my favorite bands."
Primarily located at the city's stern Parc del Fòrum, Primavera Sound has taken place in Barcelona since 2001, its events sprawling across the city from the end of April to June, popping up in various palm-lined plazas, clubs and bars, and now expanding to nearby Madrid, and as far as Portugal and Brazil.
One of the few major festivals Outkast is not headlining this year, Primavera constantly manages to one-up itself by offering a uniquely selected program of artists we never expected to reunite, never expected to see sharing a bill, or simply never expected to see at all, especially in such an awesome location.
This year's headliners include Arcade Fire, Queens of the Stone Age, The National, Nine Inch Nails and Kendrick Lamar. The lineup also boasts some welcome surprises; reunited cult heroes Slowdive, Slint and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Television (playing Marquee Moon), Caetano Veloso, and up-and-comers The War on Drugs, Jagwar Ma, Darkside, Jamie xx, Future Islands and many more.
In recent years, the festival has bolstered its international reputation both through the strength of its bookings and the appeal of its location -- Barcelona, shortly before tourist season renders the city sweltering and tourist-weary, when people sit outside at cafés just to sit outside at cafés.
The location for the main event, the Fòrum, is an expansive, ultra-modern concrete park by the ocean, marrying the city's gothic beauty and progressive design, crowned by a soaring solar panel installation.
At night, the Fòrum's distant performance spaces, arching cement bridges and crowded walkways take on a labyrinthine quality. Some stages are difficult to reach, while others are simply hard to find. Perhaps, in a sly nod of acknowledgement, there's now a "hidden stage" with The Wedding Present and Peter Hook and The Light (which I likely won't attempt to locate), alongside programs annually curated by Vice, Pitchfork and ATP.
Additionally, and perhaps most exceptionally, the festival offers free musical and cultural offerings to the residents of the city, for whom a music festival is "a luxury, not a right," as one would-be attendee who couldn't afford a ticket told me.
The unemployment rate in Catalonia currently rests at over 22 percent, and while the ticketed event may be too hefty for some, Primavera brings free live shows to twenty venues across the city between April 28 and June 1. Also, Primavera and documentary film festival In-Edit will offer free screenings of four music films, The Punk Singer, Charles Bradley: Soul of America, Lou Reed's Berlin and loudQUIETloud: A film about The Pixies.
For industry professionals, there will be conferences, workshops and receptions about the future of music, live performance and the media. This year, I'll be appearing on a panel about the current state of music criticism, representing HuffPost Live Music, a segment I work on and host. The subject of the panel is interesting to me, because I've actually made a not-entirely-intentional attempt to distance myself from music criticism, which seems to be in a murky place.
The way people consume news has obviously changed -- we just want to know why Solange hit Jay-Z, we want to know what Warpaint said about Beyoncé, in 100 words or less. We don't care why Slowdive is reuniting, or about the recent resurgence in interest in shoegaze, the niche style of music they played, which people pretty much forgot about for the better part of the last two decades.
Controversy trumps content, music journalism has been boiled down to hashtags, and we'll take a summary, or better yet, a GIF, over a direct quote. The lines have, indeed, blurred. I'll be interested to see what people have to say.
I'm sitting on a plane as I type this, having just wrapped a live performance with Los Angeles band Allah-Las, flying straight to the festival to watch my friend's band Holy Ghost! perform again, this time, opening up the festival. I can't wait.
This is the first year I'll be attending without drinking, which should be interesting. Will my favorite festival be "all work" (as, perhaps, it should be -- it is work, after all), as a friend suggested, or will it be mellow and guilt-free? Can one return, time and again, to the same place and be surprised and astounded?
I'll find out when I land.
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