Parc del Fòrum, Barcelona
30 May - 3 June
There’s a line in Kim Gordon’s book, Girl in a Band, that stuck with me: “People pay money to see others believe in themselves”. The sentiment – that being in the presence of artists who follow their own path can be powerful on a personal level – crept up a lot over the Primavera 2018 weekend. This year’s line-up was a balance of crowd-pulling headliners, indie favourites, rap heavyweights and buzz-worthy dance acts, playing over 11 main stages across a modern tarmac sprawl on Barcelona’s waterfront. But many of the best performances were by artists who carry a radical sort of self belief – cult favourites smuggling a disarming, poetic intensity into music, or perennial outsiders who have made a legacy from crashing the zeitgeist.
This became clear from the first night’s headliners: Björk followed by Nick Cave. Appearing on the two main stages which sit facing each other, they drew the biggest crowds of the night with their resplendent oddities. Björk’s hushed performance brought at once a dose of earthy serenity and cosmic splendour. Performing material largely from Utopia, Björk’s alien-orchid headpiece cut a striking figure against a glowing backdrop of pink and purple hues, decaying flowers and her spirited troupe of Icelandic flute players.
Next up, Nick Cave seized on the emotionally charged atmosphere – made heavier by material from the grief-stricken Skeleton Tree. With himself and the Bad Seeds dressed immaculately in suits, Cave’s typically captivating presence oozed passion and tenderness. He spent as much time writhing around on stage as he did in the front rows for stirring moments with the audience. The set climaxed with a stage invasion, where Cave pulled around 50 doe-eyed crowd-members up to join him for the last three songs, orchestrating a makeshift choir for the chorus of Push the Sky Away. Embracing three emotional young fans at the front of stage for one final chorus, even Cave himself was visibly moved.
Lightening up a little, Friday offered a cross section of future stars. Jorja Smith had her young fan base swooning with stripped back material from Lost & Found. The performance was low-key but she dripped with talent, throwing in some crowd pleasers with covers of No Scrubs, Frank Ocean’s Lost and ending on a banger of her own: On My Mind. The Internet, who played on the Pitchfork stage which sits snugly on the coastline, also brought a low-slung energy to the early evening crowd.
But the night’s most captivating was fellow Odd Future original Tyler, the Creator, who offered a rare glimpse of his immersive post-Flower Boy show – criminally out of reach for much of Primavera’s UK-heavy audience since his travel ban in 2015. Every inch of the stage was bathed in floral-inspired visuals that captured the album’s woodland daydream aesthetic as Tyler bounded around an elevated platform. As his leopard print hair caught the light, he proved he’s an artist in full bloom, offering a strikingly realised vision.
Arca’s show was also a delight – radiating joy as he flitted between DJing, outfit changes, operatic vocals and limb contorting dance moves while his visual artist projected live images as a backdrop. At one point he even dropped Drake’s Nice For What – the whole set was filled with a sense of mischief and glee.
The energy fell only slightly on Saturday, where Car Seat Headrest kicked off the main stages proper – Will Toledo’s oddball commentary and soaring sing-a-longs were the perfect soundtrack to the dipping evening sun. Ariel Pink came through on his slightly grubby reputation with a jarring set made up of metal-inspired howling and greaseball haircuts. Things get a lot more wholesome with Lorde, who pranced across the stage in a billowing blue dress and full-on PJ Harvey make-up. With her magnetic performance mirroring the intensity of the glistening ocean-side setting, her set embodied the elegant anarchy that drove the weekend’s highlights. Moments of grace from musical treasures; lovable misfits who inspire you to fill up on as much self belief as they do.