Much of the appeal of Primavera Sound lies in how laidback it is, with its expanse of stages, soft coastal breezes and lowkey ambience. You know you can easily go fill up on pizza or head to the beach between bands without having to endure queues at every step. But more than this, it’s the genre-spanning diversity of the music which makes this festival special — the line-up is seriously vast.
One early highlight is Vagabon’s Friday set on the Apple stage. There are protracted pauses as Lætitia Tamko tunes up, looking embarrassed as grating whoops ripple through the crowd. But any hesitation is eliminated by the punchy Minneapolis and The Embers with its droll “You’re a shark” refrain. Next, a meander over to the Seat stage for Madrid’s almost admirably sloppy Hinds, who always seem jetlagged and hungover yet can be relied on for fun.
There’s also a lot to be said for dropping by the smaller venues and making accidental discoveries, such as Italian indie-pop act Any Other on the Night Pro stage, peddling lyrics right out of your high school journal while a copper moon hangs overhead. Or having the good fortune to stumble on the irresistible Kelela, who, wryly scoffing at the notion that ballads fall flat at festivals, serves up the kind of spacey, silken R&B that this century needs a whole lot more of.
Later, Vince Staples brings an unexpected volt of energy to the night — to the point that his PA triggers a power cut. It stops him only briefly, and honestly, if you’re new to this artist, you’d be hard-pushed to identify his main hits because every single track seems to inspire people to dance as though their lives depended on it.
Björk pulls out all the stops for her set, and the stage is swimming with stamen masks, dense foliage, an army of flautists and some video clips of flowers ceaselessly blooming and wilting. While it would be hard to deny the soaring power of her vocal, the result is — dare we say it? — a little po-faced.
There’s a lot more fun to be had over at Chvrches on the Seat stage. Lauren Mayberry, in a diaphanous dress and industrial levels of glitter, simply kills it. Modest about the prestigious headline slot, she confesses that she thought the late start time would leave them playing to an empty field. She needn’t have worried, the crowd’s appetite for Gun and The Mother We Share is so rampant that bedtime still seems a long way off.
Friday brings another host of stellar acts, but household names like Father John Misty and The National, while eagerly attended, sound a little bloated compared to the rawer energy of Shellac and Idles over on the Adidas stage. Idles are a real tonic, bracing and invigorating and railing against injustice and defending the NHS and — inexplicably launching into a Christmas singalong.
Perhaps one of the most divisive acts this year are Arctic Monkeys, whose recent transition towards 70s crooning and sleazy facial hair has met with ridicule in some quarters. And yet, for others they’re the pull of Primavera. It’s impossible to get within a mile of the stage for their Saturday set, but the sombre monochrome visuals show a cool and unruffled Alex Turner at the height of his powers, even if he can no longer be easily typecast as the loveable Yorkshire bard of 2006. I’m informed he's had the audacity to wear a pair of tight white jeans tonight, but am standing too far away to verify this.
The hero of the night has to be A$AP Rocky, who has everyone in the palm of his hand from the get go. From the blissed out rapture of L$D to the staccato burst of 'F**kin’ Problems', he’s aflame with energy, warbling and winking into the camera lens like a bona fide boy band member. His winning demeanour triggers whispers of “He IS pretty though, isn’t he?” among the audience, and people are leaping onto each other’s shoulders for a better glimpse.
Then Sunday dawns, and the atmosphere shifts a little. Now that the main site has closed, the remaining acts have been apportioned to venues around the city centre and after days of blistering sunshine, rain has finally begun to descend. Waxahatchee prove a calming influence to the sodden, hungover crowd, however, and there’s a quiet satisfaction in Katie Crutchfield’s eyes as she powers through La Loose and Silver, the kind of songwriting to cement her as an absolute cornerstone of the DIY scene.
The final highlight of the weekend comes in the shape of London’s Kero Kero Bonito, whose brand of party kitsch proves unstoppable. Singer Sarah Midori Perry is knowingly saccharine, brandishing soft toys and whipping out dance routines straight from a school disco, but the cute-as-pie stylings of the songs belie a slightly existential undertone, taking in subjects such as dismal seaside holidays, underwhelming graduations and desperately snoozing your alarm clock. With sound effects as bright and compulsive as a 90s computer game, though, what’s not to love?
And there concludes another incredible year at Primavera. For anyone who may have grown weary of the stadium bombast and six inch sludge of your run-of-the-mill festival, this one can’t be praised highly enough.
Yes, you’ll still have to build up your immunity to late nights and gassy, gassy lager, but there’s plenty of pay-off. With internationally acclaimed giants running parallel to the roster of smaller indie acts ripe for discovery, Primavera is just what you make it.
If you want to drink a gallon of Desperados and pogo up and down to 80s hardcore punk, this is the place. Likewise, if you want to form a circle and lose your mind to Scandinavian pop, do it here. And if you want to snack on sushi watching experimental psychedelia under a starlit sky, then that’s fine too.