Although perhaps best known as a rock-centric music festival, Barcelona's Primavera Sound is also a full-scale conference with presentations, panels, lectures on the state of the music industry, music film screenings and much more. Its events are diverse and wide-ranging. From April to June, Primavera spans the city's various plazas, clubs and bars, recently expanding to concerts in nearby Madrid, and smaller festivals in Portugal and Brazil.
The lineup is similarly varied. This year's program at the Parc del Fòrum featured some of the biggest names on the festival circuit; Arcade Fire, Nine Inch Nails, and Queens of the Stone Age, alongside surprises like reunited shoegazers Slowdive, tropicália pioneer Caetano Veloso, and the "Screaming Eagle of Soul," Charles Bradley.
As Primavera 2014 drew to a close, a nice parting snapshot of the weekend was the Boiler Room stage on Saturday night (May 31), where attendees gathered to dance, reflect and wind down well into the next day. Festivalgoers and staff to artists, A&Rs, publicists and label heads collected loosely, refusing to let the festival end, as DJs continued to play, and the sun hung high in the sky.
The stage, curated by live-streaming DJ broadcast Boiler Room, offered a system built specifically for the event by British audio company Bowers & Wilkins, capable of producing enough sound to power many of the festival's stages. Instead, it was contained to a small tent by the water, packed with dancers and some of the world's best, and most eclectic producers and DJs.
Throughout the weekend, the Boiler Room stage featured special performances by Jamie xx, Madrid's Pional and local hero John Talabot, alongside everyone from Andy Stott, The Haxan Cloak, Demdike Stare and Vatican Shadow to Fort Romeau, Genius of Time and Lunice.
At the height of that last night at the Boiler Room stage, following an absolutely torrential set by young Norwegian Mattis With, I saw Talabot shaking his head at the sound and the turnout. He had selected the night's performers, as a showcase for the label he owns, Hivern Discs, but he had also opened up the night at 9PM, playing to a crowd so thick he needed a security detail to escort him to the decks.
"That was one of the best systems I've ever played on," he announced at the end of the evening. "I hope I get to do that every year."
Speaking with Talabot a few days later at a small café in the gothic part of the city, I reminded him of his statement, though we were both a bit fuzzy about the night's events.
"It was a really amazing night. I would love to do that every year," Talabot repeated, albeit perhaps for the first time. "The vibe was great. I thought 'Wow, I would love to have the chance to maybe curate one night there, in a festival lineup, just in a small tent."
Talabot, a longtime attendee and Barcelona local, confirmed my thoughts about the festival. The mystique surrounding European festivals is heavy. Talabot spoke about the diversity of the festival's lineup, singing the praises of a festival where the only discernable similarity amongst its lineup is the quality of its performers.
"If you see the lineup and the main headliners of the festival, they don't have anything to do with each other. I think that is something that other festivals copy," Talabot explained. "There are some similar festivals, but [Primavera] is really special. It's in front of the sea, it's Barcelona, it doesn't get too cold, it doesn't get too wet. They do it really right. I've known them for a long time, and every time I just can tell them, 'Hey, congratulations, you did it again,'" he said. "You can't tell them anything else, they do a great job. That's not because they are from Barcelona or I know them, it's just how it is."
Still wearing my wristband several days after the fact, we drank Nesteas and recapped in a small plaza, as thieves in the guise of tourists attempted to rob the café's patrons. Talabot urged them to be vigilant, an impulse most locals have abandoned at birth.
Meanwhile, we had much to discuss. The sound system. I've developed Tinnitus thanks to decades of metal shows, nights in clubs, evenings at festivals, train rides with headphones and a lifetime of varied eardrum abuse. Sometimes I have to wear earplugs in bars. However, the sound in the Boiler Room tent that Talabot played in was clear. It was crisp. It sounded like it was filtered through glass.
I had heard rumors about the system, that it was too much sound, that it was going to be a disaster, and that it was "an exercise in pushing sound and capacity."
"That system was a big mystery for us too, because they told us, 'We're gonna build that tent with an amazing sound system and 360 visuals,' but they never sent us what the sound system was going through," Talabot explained, revealing that Bowers & Wilkins, who don't currently sell PA systems, built a custom PA for the show.
Contrary to popular belief, dance music is about sound rather than lights and visuals, and it is both rare and worth noting (NYC club Output, with its Berghain-inspired, true Funktion One system immediately comes to mind) when proper attention is paid to making sure a system is perfectly tweaked for the music that is being pushed through it.
What use is a sleek engine if the vehicle is being used off road?
"The volume was great all night. It wasn't too loud, you could speak there, and the frequencies, I was really impressed by the mid, high frequencies," Talabot revealed.
"When I was playing the disco set, for one hour, the claps, the snares and the guitars were just so clear that I was really impressed. All the DJs that played there said the same. Genius of Time are really picky people with the sound. They told us it was one of the best sound systems they'd ever played."
Talabot expressed equal excitement about the concluding moments of the festival. Standing in the sun the next morning, system still bumping, surrounded by old and new friends, fellow artists, fans and members of the industry, from Singapore to Mexico and further still.
"I was just like 'Wow here there is a lot of people with potential that you can link, that you can know. Primavera Sound, they give a chance to local bands to have nice slots and to be known to other people," the longtime DJ and producer, who achieved fame overseas long before he gained equivalent recognition in his home town, paused, thinking.
"It was that kind of moment where you say 'Wow, I'm really happy, because it looks like everybody is here and everybody is having fun.' It's a moment that I'm really thankful for."