21 Useful Things I Learned About Primavera Sound

So the lineup to Primavera Sound 2018 has been announced and it is a big one. Arctic Monkeys, Bjork and The National headline a huge collection of acts which include Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The War On Drugs, Chvrches and many, many more.

The Barcelona based music festival tends to be on every music fan’s bucket list for several reasons; the lineup is always incredible, the coastal location in sun soaked Parc Del Forum is enticing, and it is extremely organised and well run (no queuing for an hour for a warm pint and greasy burger at Primavera).

Primavera Sound Ray Ban Stage

Paul had always wanted to go to Primavera Sound and last year (2017) we finally made it. Here’s 21 things I learned when we attended that will hopefully be of use to anyone going this year (or in future years).

Flights and accommodation book up fast

As soon as you buy your Primavera Sound ticket, book your accommodation. When we went in 2017 the lineup was announced in November and we booked our tickets in January which seemed like plenty of time ahead of the May festival. 

It wasn’t. Barely anywhere was left and we ended up paying £74 a night to stay in a really grotty hotel. This year the lineup wasn’t announced until late January which I believe is the case for most years but I would still book your accommodation as soon as you know you are going.

I would recommend staying in a hotel or airbnb close to the festival so you don’t have too far to travel home in the early hours but Primavera does put on buses through the night to central Barcelona which friends of ours took and said were fine.

My advice also applies to booking flights. Flights to Barcelona the weekend of Primavera, particularly from the UK, fill up fast so book as early as you can.

You shouldn’t go purely for the acts on the main stages (The Mango and Heineken stages)

What enticed me to go to Primavera Sound in 2017 was Arcade Fire being announced as one of the headliners. They are among my favourite bands, I’d seen them live several times, and they’d been fantastic every time. I realise now this was the wrong motivation for attending.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed their headline show. But this is mainly to do with the fact we got to the main stage early to secure a good spot, along with the fact Arcade Fire are excellent at playing large venues. In most cases I believe watching a band on a main stage at Primavera is never the best conditions in which to see them.

The field with the main stages in it is absolutely huge and you are likely to end up miles away. We also saw The XX and Aphex Twin on the main stages of Primavera, two acts I think would have been great in a smaller venue but whose impacts were lost in the massive space.

But outwith the main stage there are some really cool stages

Primavera Sound

Outwith the main stages I thought every other stage at Primavera Sound was fantastic.

The largest after the Mango and Heineken stages is the Primavera stage which is situated in front of a large hill perfect for lazing around on if it’s a band you’re not too bothered about seeing and are happy to watch from a distance. However, we did stand at the front to see Teenage Fanclub play a brilliant set there.

The, also large, Ray-Ban stage is in front of a steep flight of steps which you can sit on for a brilliant view of the act and the sea directly behind. We sat on the steps to watch Arab Strap play a late set there, they had a fantastic light show illuminating the night sky.

One of my favourite stages is the Nightpro which is a small stage right at the edge of the water hosting lesser known bands. I really enjoyed sitting on the steps down there and watching them perform beside the bright blue Mediterranean.

The Adidas stage to the far front left of the entrance is great too, we saw Kate Tempest and Mitski there. Honestly, all stages outside the big two are excellent, and there’s also lots of gigs that happen on tiny stages dotted around the festival site as you wander around.

Secret gigs are announced – keep an eye out

Primavera Sound

While you’re at Primavera Sound keep an eye on Twitter and the official website as surprise gigs will be announced throughout the festival. We didn’t realise this and on the first day missed a secret gig by Arcade Fire! By the second day we were clued up and on the ball when it was announced Mogwai had arrived to play a surprise show.

On the third night the festival organisers kept us waiting, announcing there was to be a secret show on the Ray Ban Stage at 3am. I did a bit of detective work, scanning my brain for bands who had new albums out and who could be expected to make an appearance. One of these bands was Haim and when I checked their Instagram account to see them posing outside Barcelona’s Sagrada Família I knew I had hit the jackpot. Sure enough, they arrived on the Ray Ban stage at 3am to play their secret gig.

Really cool gigs happen in Barcelona the night before

Try to get to the city the day before the festival starts as there are pre shows gigs in central Barcelona on the Wednesday night. We managed to catch Kate Tempest at the Sala Apolo and it was absolutely phenomenal – it was actually the best performance we saw of the entire festival. Her performance was so passionate and powerful and she had the entire venue watching her spellbound. Sala Apolo is a really cool venue too.

If possible, collect your ticket on the Wednesday

Paul and I went along to the festival site on the Wednesday, the day before Primavera Sound started, to collect our tickets. This turned out to be a wise move as it meant we avoided the queue for tickets and saw some of the bands soundcheck before the festival began.

Go to see something in the auditorium – it’s really cool

The auditorium at Primavera Sound is situated at the entrance of the main festival site. It hosts shows on each day and you have to collect separate tickets from a tent outside.  

It’s a completely different experience from the other stages;  it’s indoors, the seats are big and comfortable (if you’ve been up partying all night the night before there’s a chance you could fall asleep), and you sit to watch a show like you would at a theatre instead of standing up and dancing around.

We saw The Magnetic Fields perform in the auditorium and he was excellent. It was almost like a play instead of a gig; Stephin Merritt (AKA The Magnetic Fields) sat onstage surrounded by props set up up to look like a bedroom with a screen above telling the stories of the songs. It was a far more intimate show than it would have been if we’d seen him on one of the outdoor stages.

There will be schedule conflicts

Primavera Sound

It is the announcement everyone attending Primavera Sound waits for anxiously – the schedule. Conflicts are inevitable and difficult decisions must be made between two bands playing two different stages at the same time.

The schedules didn’t work out too badly for the bands we wanted to see when we attended Primavera; Paul missed Mitski to see Mogwai and I went to the Heineken stage early get a spot near the front for the Arcade Fire which meant I missed Grace Jones, but nothing we were too devastated about.

If you are going to see a popular band on the Bacardi Live stage go over early

Primavera Sound

The Bacardi Live stage and Desparados Club area is connected to the main festival site by a bridge. If a popular band is playing on either of those stages you may want to get there early because if there is a crowd trying to cross the bridge security at the festival might only let a certain number of people cross at a time.

This happened to us when Mogwai played a surprise gig on the Bacardi Live stage. Paul went over very early but I finished watching another gig and went over later only to be met by a massive queue of people waiting to cross the bridge. It took quite a while to get over and some people in the queue will definitely have missed the gig.

It is a very organised festival

Primavera Sound

We found Primavera Sound to be a very well run festival: you don’t have to queue long to get in or for food and drink, it is easy to get from place to place, there is lots of space to move around and everything feels like it’s running smoothly. It feels very slick and well organised.

You’ll be sorted for food and drink

Primavera Sound drink

Primavera Sound is not like the music festivals I’ve experienced in Scotland, at which you queue for ages to be handed a warm pint and greasy burger. The food court has lots of genuinely delicious options, including Mexican, Thai, Spanish and lots more.

All the bars will sell Heineken and Bacardi as they are the sponsors and cocktails made using Bacardi are served over at the Desperados Club area. There is one wine bar near the food court which serves genuinely yummy red, white and rose wine – when we were there it was run by a company called The Wine Tour by Torres .

The drinks cost around 5 euros. The wine stand has a bit of a queue as it’s the only one that serves wine but at the other bars you shouldn’t have to wait long to get served at all.

You probably could sneak alcohol in

Not that I’m encouraging sneaking alcohol into Primavera Sound you understand… but if you wanted to you probably could. You do get your bag searched and a bit of a pat down by the security guards when you go in but it’s not too stringent. We opted not to sneak alcohol in because we thought the bars were convenient and not too expensive but I know someone who went in with a mini bottle of Jagermeister lodged in one of their socks.

It’s more hipster than I thought

Primavera Sound

We know two men in their 50s who go to Primavera Sound every year and have been doing so for over the last ten years. They go because they are genuinely passionate about live music, not for FOMO or because it’s a cool festival to be seen at.

I guess, because of this, I expected more of a mix of ages and down to earth types so I was surprised to see the largest audience group was definitely massive hipster (I learned the hipster fashion in 2017 was Hawaiian shirts and man buns). “I still love Primavera but I remember when it used to be for music lovers, not a fashion show” lamented another friend of mine who has gone for years.

Don’t get me wrong, when we visited Primavera it was still a fantastic festival aimed at music lovers but I do wonder when it will jump the shark and mostly become populated by people whose main motivation for attending is because it is cool.

You will need to be a night owl

I rarely stay up too late – I’m usually in bed not long after midnight both when I’m travelling and at home in Glasgow. So when I saw the set times for Primavera Sound, I was slightly apprehensive; some of the bands don’t even come on stage until 4am!

I thought I might be really tired by that time but I was fine; I quickly adjusted my sleeping pattern to sleeping in late so I could stay up late. Spain/Catalonia is known for its late lifestyle, they famously eat around 10pm then stay up well into the wee hours (aided by a siesta in the afternoon), so I was pleased I was able to take part in that local culture for a few days.

Summer clothing should be warm enough

Primavera Sound

On a practical note, before I went to Primavera Sound I wasn’t sure what to wear. As it is held in Barcelona in May/June I thought summer clothes would be enough. But then I read a few people online say it gets very cold at night due to its location right by the coast so you should wear warmer clothes of jeans and jumpers. 

I ended up going along in light clothes of shorts and t shirt and bringing a jumper in case I needed it. I never even ended up putting it on as I was still warm enough in light summer clothes, even outside at 3am.

If Primavera Sound clashes with a big football game there’s every chance they will show it

Watching the Champions League Final 2017 Juventus vs Real Madrid at Primavera Sound 2017
Watching the Champions League final on a big screen at Primavera Sound

Paul asked me to include this point! In 2017 Primavera Sound clashed with the Champions League final between Juventus and Real Madrid. The game was shown on a big screen in the food court (Real Madrid won). However, I’m not sure if they made showing the game a priority because there was a Spanish team in the final.

Card is accepted at Primavera Sound

Credit card and debit cards can easily be used at bars and shops in Primavera Sound with no charge. Welcome to the future.

There’s some great shopping opportunities 

Make sure you have plenty of money in those debit and credit cards or cash in your wallet because there’s some great shopping opportunities at Primavera Sound. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a music festival with such slick branding the products sold at the festival are very stylish, including posters and t shirts designed by talented artists and graphic designers. There’s also an abundance of record shopping opportunities.

There’s a place that lets you borrow phone chargers (for a cost)

To ensure you have enough battery in your phone to keep up to date with the surprise gig announcements I mentioned above, portable chargers are available to borrow for a few hours from a shop near the entrance (at a cost). But please don’t be one of those people who takes photos and videos during the actual gigs!

You can take a point and shoot camera into Primavera Sound but not a DSLR

We brought our Canon Powershot x60 into Primavera Sound (it has a long lens but is not a DSLR) and had no problems getting in with it, even when we were searched at the gate. However, Primavera’s official website states you will not be allowed into the festival with a professional camera which I assume means a DSLR. It also states, unsurprisingly, you will not get into the festival with a video camera.

The toilets, by festival standards, aren’t too bad

Music festival toilets can be absolutely horrendous but the ones at Primavara Sound aren’t too bad. Try to use one that is in a big block of portaloos; the biggest collection is behind the food court and they are absolutely fine. There is another big block near the Mango and Heineken stages.

On the third day of the festival I used a portaloo that was in a block of only threenear the Adidas stage and it wasn’t very nice at all. I won’t go into detail but there was evidence of several bodily functions inside and a nice pile of vomit outside.

So I think that’s all the information I would like to pass on about Primavera sound. Do you have any tips I haven’t mentioned above?

P.S. This Is How Much It Costs To Travel Round Spain and My Barcelona Photography Prints Shop

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