Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Is A True Music Lover’s Festival

It’s pretty rare for a festival lineup to genuinely have something for everyone. You’ll have your hot pop headliners, your buzzy R&B/hip-hop/dance acts a few lines below, a few indie acts in the undercard, maybe a smattering of punk and metal, and probably a couple of big rock legacy names. But for those who want to dig deep into any facet of the music world at a major festival, it’s pretty lean out there.

This is where the Barcelona institution Primavera Sound comes in. When they say they have something for everyone, they really mean it. The first thing that’ll strike you about its lineup is how much of it there is — there are two stacked weekends at the actual festival ground, Parc del Fòrum, plus the full week in between featuring venue shows around the city. And from the big fonts to the small, you can find both the most relevant current artists and some genuinely legendary legacy acts from all over the spectrum: pop, indie, hip-hop, dance, R&B, punk.

Headliners for 2022 range from The Strokes, Pavement and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, to Megan Thee Stallion, Tyler, The Creator, and Dua Lipa. Elsewhere, you can find Bikini Kill, 100 Gecs, Kacey Musgraves, Charli XCX, Big Thief, Run The Jewels, Sky Ferreira, Little Simz, The Jesus & Mary Chain, and still more exciting names than could comfortably fit in a list. It’s the kind of festival lineup that makes your jaw drop.

This year the festival celebrates its 20th edition, which was of course supposed to be in 2020. (And while this feature focuses on the Barcelona iteration, there are also set to be spin-offs this year in Porto, LA, Santiago, Buenos Aires and São Paulo.) For a long time it was a purely indie and alt festival, but beginning with a 2014 headline set from Kendrick Lamar, its genre net has widened considerably.

“Some of the people who started back on the first edition are still working here. But our booking department has grown a lot, and [now] it includes younger people, and way, way more female bookers,” says Head of International Press Marta Pallarès. “So we keep some of the roots and the origins of those lineups, but with our tastes evolving and new people coming to the festival, the lineups became more diverse. [But] the festival grew with a very clear philosophy about what is Primavera and what isn’t. We start thinking as a whole, and at some point we say yes, of course Megan Thee Stallion makes sense with Phoenix, or Jorja Smith with Interpol.”

“The way we decide is — do we really like this artist, would we go to see this artist if we were part of the audience? It’s sort of a commitment never to do a festival that we don’t believe in,” adds Comms Director Joan Pons. “And all the people that have spent all of their lives listening to music such as me or Marta, our criteria change. It’s like okay, maybe twelve years ago, Lorde was a pop artist that doesn’t belong to Primavera. But now it makes sense for her to be in our festival, because it makes sense for the playlist that someone in our audience is listening to every day to also have a Lorde song.”

He adds, “We remember one day [during the 2017 festival], Justin Vernon from Bon Iver looked at the running order of the stage that he played, and on the main stage it was Solange, Bon Iver, Slayer, and Aphex Twin. And he goes, ‘Wow, who’s the genius that made this running order?’ Because they’re such different artists, but it makes a lot of sense to have them all in the same day, because they are leading their genres to new expressions of music.”

It’s a true music lovers’ festival, and as such when its organizers talk about the Primavera experience, music is at the forefront. (That said, Barcelona in June at the oceanside Parc del Fòrum should be pretty spectacular in itself.) The ideal festival experience, explain Pallarès and Pons, would tick four boxes. The first, catching an artist you’ve always wanted to see but never gotten to; this year, that might be Pavement, Bikini Kill, or M.I.A., for example. The second, finding an artist you haven’t heard yet who becomes your new favorite; maybe that could be the fun-loving indie-poppers Beach Bunny, the pop-punk newcomers Meet Me @ The Altar, or the poet-slash-soul innovator Jamila Woods. The third, watching a set that’s a lot of fun; you could pick out eccentric hardcore crew The Armed, the intense hyperpop duo 100 Gecs, or the maverick rap of Tyler The Creator. And finally, checking out something that will challenge you; maybe that could be the extreme sounds of Lingua Ignota or Napalm Death, or else diving into any of the genres on display that aren’t usually your speed. And then, of course, there’s the climactic headliner Megan Thee Stallion, who could embody any one of those four categories, and is sure to be a highlight of the sprawling twelve days.

The platform of the festival comes with its responsibilities. Pallarès explains, “We always say that the festival has four big pillars. One of them being commitment to music. One being sustainability. The third one is everything related to social responsibility, with gender equality being the biggest one. And the fourth one is the commitment to the city.” Illustrating the third point, in 2019 Primavera became the first major festival to honor a 50/50 split of male and female artists. And to speak to the fourth, the Primavera a la Ciutat section of the festival — in between the two weekends — is aimed at supporting city venues that have suffered over the pandemic.

If this all sounds like a music fan’s dream, you wouldn’t be the first to say so. As Pallarès recalls: “The singer of Deerhunter said that he doesn’t know what heaven looks like, but he thinks that maybe St Peter is someone like the guy who every year delivers the keys to his room here. It is really, really nice to see that this could be a little paradise, at least for three or in this case twelve days — for artists, for audience, and also for the people who work here.”

Some of the artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.