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Primavera Sound 2024 review: Lana Del Rey, Lankum and lightning hit Barcelona

After a few years of post-pandemic tinkering with their formula, Europe’s hippest festival hit its stride again on a weekend of extremes.

By Will Richards

Primavera Sound
Primavera Sound (Picture: Silvia Villar)

In the last few years since a COVID-enforced two-year break, Primavera Sound has aimed to tinker with the formula that made it one of the premier events on the European festival calendar. In 2022, the festival took inspiration from Coachella with a two weekend programme, but was marred with criticism over water shortages and overcrowding. Last year, they then launched a sister event in Madrid the week after the Barcelona festival, but its first day was cancelled due to inclement weather.

For 2024, Primavera scaled things back to their traditional format of just one weekend at the unique and spectacular seafront location of the Parc del Fòrum in northern Barcelona. The streamlining of the format helped make this year’s festival feel more focused and retain the kind of charm and appeal that’s made it a must-attend for fans across Europe and beyond over the last two decades.

This reputation is also helped by their always-excellent programming, with big-name headliners sharing the bill with top-tier DJs and critically acclaimed darlings. Thursday night of this year’s event was defined by Vampire Weekend, who – despite line-up changes in their extended band – kept the brilliantly fun and loose feel that transformed them as a live act for their 2019 Father of the Bride tour. “We wanted to present this big, happy family — which it was!” Ezra Koenig told Rolling Stone UK of the evolution of their live band, and this was a giddy and enthralling performance, epitomised by Koenig strapping on a saxophone during an extended jam of his SBTRKT collaboration ‘New Dorp. New York.’ and sprinkling in the riff from Daft Punk’s ‘Robot Rock’. ‘A-Punk’ and ‘Oxford Comma’ still gained the biggest cheers of the set, but Vampire Weekend feel like an entirely different band now.

Primavera Sound
Lana Del Rey (Picture: Sharon Lopez)

The rest of the headliners across the weekend proved a mixed bag. PJ Harvey and Mitski had to contend with uncharacteristic buckets of rain at the almost-always scorching festival, with a full-on lightning storm during the latter’s set. Of all the headliners across the weekend though, both felt suitably able to channel the elements into dramatic sets, with Mitski especially thriving in the intense circumstances as she continues to become a surprising but worthy festival headliner.

For Lana Del Rey and SZA – the weekend’s two biggest names – things fell a little more flat. “Sorry for being 10 minutes late,” Lana told the crowd on Friday night after emerging what was actually closer to half an hour after her scheduled stage time. What followed was a set that aimed to conjur all the majesty and drama of her music but ended up feeling disconnected. SZA fell to the same fate after the rain and thunder subsided on the festival’s final night, warming up for her imminent Pyramid Stage headline set at Glastonbury this month with a show that failed to translate the excellence of her recent SOS arena tour into outdoor settings.

Primavera Sound
Ethel Cain (Picture: Clara Orozco)

Instead, it was down to the undercard to provide the weekend’s most memorable moments and stake a claim for top billing. First came Ethel Cain on Friday afternoon, feeling every bit the future superstar in front of a crowd so adoring it felt cult-like. It was a marvel that she managed to make downbeat and sombre highlights from debut album Preacher’s Daughter (‘A House in Nebraska’, ‘Thoroughfare’) feel like anthems, but the way they were screamed back at her made it feel possible. Set closer ‘American Teenager’ has always felt anthemic though, and set the main stage alight in the scorching sun as a new star put in the biggest performance of her career so far.

The Cupra stage, set in an amphitheatre on the water, is Primavera’s most striking setting, and both Barry Can’t Swim and Sofia Kourtesis put in late-night sets of thumping, rhythmic house music that solidified their reputations as rising stars in dance music for 2024. Romy would have seemed like a strange addition to this list before kicking off her solo career, but is now fully transformed into a party-starter as shown by her ecstatic Saturday night set on the Amazon Music stage. The show saw her mix in remixes of Ariana Grande and Alice Deejay into a set that also featured euphoric renditions of ‘Enjoy Your Life’ and ‘Strong’, with pure hedonism the name of the game.

Primavera Sound
Lankum (Picture: Sergio Albert)

Another one of Primavera’s gems is the indoor Auditori stage, which allows the festival to programme ambient, jazz and other genres that would lose their bite in an open-air setting. It makes Lankum’s set early on Saturday even more potent and stunning, with the Mercury Prize-nominated Dublin quartet playing a spine-tingling set. The band put a truly unique spin on centuries old folk songs via their unique vocal chemistry and use of booming drones, and furthered their reputation as a must-see live act in 2024.

Also perfect for the Auditori was Shabaka, who brought his new flute-led material to the room on Saturday for some respite from the storm outside, while the weekend kicked off with a one-of-a-kind performance of William Basinski’s ambient masterpiece The Disintegration Loops. The albums – released across 2002 and 2003 – have entered history as a tribute to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, which happened as he was creating the music. They see a single loop slowly fragment as the tape literally disintegrates, and for an orchestra to perform the music (after just two rehearsals, Basinski told the crowd after the performance) with such nuance and delicacy was a genuine triumph. With programming and stages as tailor-made as this for music across the genre spectrum, it’s not a surprise that Basinski chose Primavera as the place to host such a special and unique performance.

Primavera Sound
Troye Sivan (Picture: Christian Bertrand)

If only one name emerged from the festival with the confirmation of imminent superstardom though, it was Troye Sivan. Having always existed on the bridge between cult adoration and household name status, new album Something to Give Each Other confirmed he now has the songs (‘Rush’, ‘Got Me Started’, ‘One of Your Girls’) to make the step up. His Friday night set – the weekend’s best – then proved that he also has the live show to command arenas and beyond. Packed with costume changes and flanked by a superb troupe of dancers, the set was filthy, confident and revelatory. It surely feels like the biggest step yet towards the top table for the Australian singer.

Later this year, Sivan will rightly take this show to arenas in the United States, where he’ll be joined by Charli XCX. The current Rolling Stone UK cover star’s late-night set on Saturday proved that she can also command these type of stages. Leaning into the “rave era” of imminent new album Brat, the singer’s set was hard, relentless and uncompromising as she raced through ‘b2b’, ‘Von Dutch’, her crazed remix of Caroline Polachek’s ‘Welcome to my Island’ and more. These sets proved that she and Sivan both feel on the precipice of transcending their cult pop star statuses.

Primavera Sound
The Steve Albini stage (Picture: Gisela Jane)

One Primavera mainstay missing from the 2024 bill was the late, great Steve Albini, who performed at each of the last 15 editions of the festival with Shellac. His legacy was all over the site though, not least at the newly renamed Steve Albini stage on the waterfront. On Thursday, the stage held a listening party for the new Shellac album during what would have been their set at this year’s festival as somewhat of a wake for the legendary producer

“Steve should have been here for this festival, and it would be nice if we all think of him for this song,” PJ Harvey told the crowd during her set, before performing ‘The Desperate Kingdom of Love’ from her Albini-produced album Rid of Me. He was already in the thoughts of many across the weekend, and part of his legacy will be his enduring love for Primavera, a festival with magic like few others.