Primavera Sound Festival 2011

Primavera Sound Festival in 2011.

Eric Pamies

As Primavera Sound enters its 15th year, the Barcelona-based festival has grown from a modest, pioneering indie music happening in Spain to a full-on extravaganza with an 11 million Euro budget supporting line-ups that typically include high-profile reunions and epic, extended sets. 

"For one week, Barcelona sounds the way we want it to sound," says Primavera Sound festival co-director Alfonso Lanza, who heads a relatively small team that oversees the event's production. 

Though the focus festival runs Thursday, May 28, to Saturday, May 30, at Barcelona's Parc del Forum, Primavera Sound programming technically started at the end of April with outdoor and indoor shows around the city, including free concerts and a business conference, presenting a total of 217 bands. The StrokesDamien RiceAntony and the Johnsonsthe ReplacementsInterpolthe Black Keys and Run the Jewels are among the acts in a packed line-up expected to draw a crowd to match last year’s record 190,000 attendance.

The Black Keys, Patti Smith, Antony and the Johnsons, James Blake, Interpol to Play Primavera Sound

"We are very aware that when we are selling a ticket for Primavera Sound we are selling Barcelona as well," says Lanza, who puts the number of attendees who come from outside Spain at almost 50 percent. The festival has an impact on the Catalan economy of 90 million Euros, according to figures supplied by festival organizers.

Billboard spoke to Lanza and festival programmer Abel González at Primavera's offices in Barcelona's Poblenou neighborhood, a former factory district that has evolved from the industrial "Catalan Manchester" to what is now known as the Williamsburg of Barcelona.

Billboard: Primavera Sound has gained a reputation as one of the world’s best music festivals. What makes it stand out?

Alfonso Lanza: Primavera Sound was born with the idea of being different and we like to think that it is still different. Ninety-five percent of festivals around Europe are in the countryside, on a camping site and that kind of thing. We felt that there was a need to do something 100 [percent] urban and in a city like Barcelona, which in the last 15 years has changed a lot.

Abel González: The ground zero is the content, which makes us what we are. Back in the '90s in Spain, if you listened to hardcore punk-rock and anything that was not the mainstream, that was sort of a lifestyle, and you had to find out how you could see the bands that you listened to, because they were not going to come here. Many of the people who starting listening  to this kind of music ended up making a festival or playing in new bands, or writing in a fanzine.... The first Primavera Sound was in a 350-person capacity venue.

How has the audience evolved over the years?

Lanza: In the first five or six editions there were not many foreign people at the festival. I would say the boom abroad happened in 2009. That year many people came from the U.K. mainly. Three years ago it was 32 percent foreign people; now we are at almost 50 percent. The last four to five years there has been huge growth.

Has the growth of Primavera Sound mirrored the growth of tourism here in Barcelona?

Lanza: We always say that Primavera Sound and Barcelona feed each other. Primavera Sound and also Sonar, they do a lot of things for the city, for this image of modernity and being a cool city for young people and so on. We are very aware that when we are selling a ticket for Primavera Sound we are selling Barcelona as well.

Does the festival count on public funding?

Lanza: We do have public support, but the figure is 250,000 Euros... It costs more than 11 million euros to do the whole thing. We’ve got 2 percent public support, 15 percent private support and the rest is ticketing and bars. 

And this money that we receive, we basically use it for the Primavera Pro activity, which allows the local music industry to be in touch with the international music industry. In the main park in the city, which is Ciutadella Park, we have free concerts during the day and on the opening festival day, on Wednesday, for everybody it’s free. So if we have public support, which we do, we try to use it for the public.

González: [The city] will charge you more for the park then they give you in funding.

Lanza: It’s our obsession right now to get more and more involved with the city, to make it more accessible for people from Spain and from Barcelona. We know that many people can’t afford to come to Primavera Sound, but we think it’s fair that they have a taste of what Primavera Sound is. We do this prior to the festival and we go into the city, so it doesn't only happen at the Forum park, which is the festival venue, but at many spaces in the city.

Primavera Sound was named Artists Favorite Festival of 2014 at the European Festival Awards. That’s really an achievement.

González: I think that this is a festival where the other bands see the bands that they are going to be playing with and those are the bands they love the most. Plus, we establish a relationship with most of them. It’s usual to have bands playing every time they release a new record and we get to know them pretty well.

Lanza: I feel very proud of this award because it’s given by the artists themselves and the agents, who know the scope of festivals all around the world. We try for the artists to feel comfortable at the festival. I deal a lot with the sponsors, and they say we would like to do this or that with the artists, and we say no, we want the artists to be comfortable, we don’t want to bother them.

The sponsors are interested in the artists of Primavera Sound because the audience is who the brands are always looking for; they’re cool people. We always try to guide the brands when they activate their sponsorship in the festival to give it more musical content. People come to the festival because it is a must for them to see these artists.

González: These people are not coming here for [branded] balloons. They are coming for music.

Lanza: So we try to educate somehow these brands to be very music minded in the festival, because it is the only way that they can get the attention of the people. A good example is Ray Ban, our oldest sponsor. Artists who are playing on the bigger stages come into the Ray Ban area and they play acoustic sets. Heineken is our main sponsor… new coming in this year is H&M. And then we’ve got Bacardi, Martin, Coke, Red Bull, the beverages. They respect the artists and they respect the audience.

What is the profile of the Primavera Sound festival goer?

González: The average attendant at the festival is a guy or girl 30-35…

Lanza: That’s not to say there are not people in their twenties and people in their forties. But it’s older than any other festival in Europe. At the average festival in Europe I’d say people are in their twenties.

And it’s a kid and parent-friendly festival…

We are 15 years old, and we have many people who came in their twenties, and now they are 35 with their first kid. They say I have to quit going to Primavera Sound, and we say no just come with your kid. Last year we had about 400 kids over the three days. I think being kid-friendly explains what the mood of the festival is. It’s much more relaxed, it’s not this party thing.

González: There is not a lot of pissing in glasses and things like that gong on.

The NOS Primavera Sound festival in Oporto, Portugal takes place the weekend after the festival in Barcelona. Are you planning on expanding further?

We have a lot of people asking us to do more things, mainly in North and South America. There is a lot of interest, but nothing real at the moment. To be honest, it is not a goal for us to go there. But you never know.

Do you plan to remain an independently run festival?

Lanza: It is not our plan to sell the business. It was a tough road to get here, so right now we want to enjoy this moment. You can see that this is very much a music passion project. It never was thought to be like a huge business and it’s not a huge business at the moment, I can assure you that.

And when you do over 200 bands with eight stages in Barcelona, it is not cheap at all. If we get in touch with these big companies that are looking to acquire festivals, they will probably question some of the decisions that we make, because we are not about being profitable. I’m sure that we can sell the same amount of tickets doing 50-60 bands less and it would be much more profitable. But then it wouldn’t be Primavera Sound. It would be similar to a lot of other festivals. 

We never thought we would get to this point, because this festival was created for a minority of people and it still is. But I think that this minority is becoming bigger and bigger.