By Álvaro García Montoliu
Last year, San Miguel Primavera Sound celebrated its tenth year of setting the Barcelona music scene on fire. It was a point of inflection, an edition many defined not only as the best ever, but also as the one with one of the best line-ups ever in Spain. After so many compliments, the organisation hasn’t rested on its laurels, far from it. This year, the line-up is even more attractive, with two big stages featuring heavyweights like Grinderman, Mogwai, The Flaming Lips and The National. Added to this are a series of non-musical improvements, which make the festival one globally well-known. But how did it get to this?
We have to go back to the year 2001 to find the first Primavera Sound. The people behind it had already been doing parties and events –concerts until midnight and DJs afterwards– under the name Primavera Sound since the nineties, under the wings of the Nitsa club, but they had little to do with what we now consider a festival. The debut year was more than discreet, as if it were an extension of the nineties nights. But in 2002, things changed. The line-up featured Bis, electronica stars like Aphex Twin, Andrew Weatherall and Dave Clarke and big names of indie pop like Pulp (their performance was key for this Friday’s reappearance of Jarvis Cocker and the reunited band), Cat Power and Echo & The Bunnymen. In the following years, the capacity doubled and in 2004, the festival outgrew the area of Poble Espanyol, which had become too small, with gigs by Pixies, PJ Harvey, Franz Ferdinand and Wilco.
The move only improved things, but it also had a symbolic value: they went from the Poble Espanyol, one of the symbols of the Barcelona of the Olympics, to the Fòrum, an unmistakable symbol of the new times. From then on, the line-ups became bigger and bigger, and the organisation has been able to get names that were unimaginable before, such as Neil Young, Patti Smith, Yo La Tengo, Violent Femmes, My Bloody Valentine, Pavement, Public Enemy, The Smashing Pumpkins, Motörhead and The White Stripes.
Thanks to the move to the Fòrum and the big names, Primavera Sound slowly but surely started to attract an audience from outside Spain, one of the keys for an event of this nature to be considered globally. Today, PS attracts about 10,000 foreigners, a very significant part of the total audience. All in all, since then, the line-ups have been balanced, with big names, lesser known artists and virtually unknown cutting edge bands. That’s is a key feature for the festival. What the people are going to see here, they probably won’t see in an area up to 1,500 km. from Barcelona, a fact of which the organisers are quite proud.
With regards to the programming of new artists, co-director Alberto Guijarro said a few years ago in an interview that they’re a bit like a sub-top football club: they sign cheap but good players, so that the year after some other club comes and takes the same name for double or triple the money paid originally. For a better understanding: Vampire Weekend played in 2008 as the promise of the indie scene. Two years later, they were headlining many other festivals.
Another key thing to understand the growth and importance of the festival outside Spain are the collaborations with ATP, one of the most respectable music promoters in the indie world, and Pitchfork, the most influential online music magazine in the sector. Both have a stage with a line-up chosen almost exclusively by them. The first usually focus on the more cutting-edge artists, while the second base their line-up mostly on debuting bands. To see the brand San Miguel Primavera Sound associated with these two big names is another reason for the event’s prestige.
And so we arrive in 2011, the year when there’s going to be a record number of stages: eight. The most recent one is the Llevant stage, located beyond where the old Vice stage is, featuring performances by several headliners like Interpol, P.I.L. and DJ Shadow. But the most important thing is the re-distribution of the available space. For starters, instead of 48,000 m2, now there will be 74,000, all for the audience’s comfort. Furthermore, the access to the stages is improved. The San Miguel stage will have an entrance on each side. Pitchfork leaves its usual spot and moves to underneath the photovoltaic plate of the Fòrum (a decision that was received better than expected). In its place, there will be more room for dining zones. The Vice stage, now called Jägermeister Vice, also moves, and will be located behind the Ray-Ban stage. The idea is to bring all stages closer to the sea, creating a kind of promenade connecting them.
But there are also nods to the more nostalgic ones: the recovery of the Poble Espanyol. On Wednesday and Sunday, the festival will be held there, with a great line-up. All that, so that nobody has to be left out, like previous years at the pre- and post-festival parties at the Apolo venue. The first evening will feature Echo & The Bunnymen playing their first two albums, Caribou, Comet Gain, Nisennenmondai and Las Robertas. The final day is reserved for Mercury Rev playing their “Deserter’s Songs” entirely, BMX Bandits, Deakin (one of the members of Animal Collective), Me And The Bees and My Teenage Stride.
And what about the novelty they started last year: before the tenth edition of San Miguel Primavera Sound, the organisers offered the users of the event’s official forum an official stage called “Primavera Sound vs Foro”, where the fans would be the one picking the bands. Because of logistic reasons, there won’t be a proper separate stage, but the requests have been heard. The most voted band, Comet Gain, was one of the first confirmed, but there are also surprises, such as the return of Spanish band Nosoträsh and Papas Fritas.
Primavera Sound also looks at other aspects of popular culture. While last year, the pyschotropic Animal Collective film “ODDSAC” was shown, this year there will be six music documentaries shown under the name Beefeater In-Edit. Some will be about musicians, such as Nina Simone and Bob Dylan, others will be more cinematic, like “An Island”, a film directed by reputed director Vincent Moon in collaboration with Efterklang, and there will be stories about essential labels, too, like “Upside Down: The Creation Records Story”. And who knows, after the frustrated attempt of 2009, maybe this Saturday the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United will be shown on the big screen. If they do, Mogwai will be there to see it, with their ManU flags draped around their necks.
Every edition is better than the previous one, new features are added each year (in the latest, San Miguel Primavera Sound will be the first festival to get rid of the horrible drink tickets, using a special credit card) and you always end up asking yourself “what’s next?” A lot of things, because who would have said Pulp would return this year? Will The Smiths reunite? Will Boards Of Canada come out an play live? Will the David Bowie rumour ever come true? Will Bob Dylan’s cancellation of last year be compensated for somehow? The Sex Pistols were wrong. There is a future. And we’ll tell you about it here, starting this week, as the festival begins. San Miguel Primavera Sound 2011 takes place on 25 and 29 May at Poble Español, and from 26 to 28 May at Parc del Forum in Barcelona. Tickets are on sale here. PlayGround is a media partner of San Miguel Primavera Sound
An overview of the past of one of Spain’s main musical events, from the early parties organised at the Nitsa club in the nineties to the huge 74,000 m2 festival we have now. Indie’s big week starts now.