Protests, cock-ups, and emotion at Primavera Sound 2011

So, did I miss much while I was away? Doesn’t look like it. I took myself off to Barcelona to revel in the Primavera Sound festival, and took my time getting back. I stopped off at Salvador Dali’s birthplace Figueras to investigate the museum dedicated to the artist’s honour (but found myself much more charmed by the nearby toy museum). I also spent a night and day in Paris, purely because it was better value to get a cheap hotel than pay Eurostar’s mickey-taking fare to get home immediately.

It’s the sixth time I’ve been to Primavera Sound, and this year’s magical moments will live on. The first Pulp show for nine years had shades of Blur’s reunion a couple of year ago – a merry romp through a a back catalogue that’s deeper and better than many would recall. But there was also stellar performances from Interpol, PJ Harvey, Of Montreal, and a Mercury Rev show on the Sunday night, a day after the festival proper had finished, which blew me away.

But it also felt like the year the festival got too big and struggled to cope. A card system designed to make bar purchases quicker and easier failed to work – it appeared to depend on iPads and wi-fi – leading to massive queues and very little beer at an event whose full title was San Miguel Primavera Sound 2011. Facing a loss that must have run into hundreds of thousands of euros, organisers eventually threw the towel in and decided to accept cash, and money loaded onto the cards was refunded later.

Faced with hundreds of thirsty punters, often ranting in a foreign language, the bar staff coped admirably, but the organisers did less well, releasing a stiffly-worded statement the day afterwards which lost something in translation. Which may have been fine in 2006 when Brits, Irish and Americans were in a tiny minority – but really didn’t work in 2011, with tickets sold across Europe and English speakers making up what felt like about half the audience.

With a host of other little niggles – and a horror story about a photographer attacked by security guards for documenting a stage invasion – Primavera Sound will have to raise its game next year if it is to cope with a festival that is only going to get bigger.

(*cough* If the organisers need help with English-language communications, I’m free and can move to Barcelona at very short notice… *cough*)

Usually, a trip to Barcelona provides an escape, but after that difficult first day of the festival, troubling news on the second day provided a new backdrop – and put some of the organisational issues in perspective.

In the lead-up to the festival, young people had occupied city squares across Spain to protest against cuts being made by prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s government, urging people to spoil their ballots in regional elections. One in five Spaniards is out of work, and there is no sign of a recovery.

In Barcelona, hundreds had camped out in Plaça de Catalunya, a few minutes’ walk from my hotel, with stalls, talks, and posters criticising corruption and greed in government and banking. It reminded me of the Climate Camp that arrived on Blackheath two years ago.

Very early on Friday, I was woken by the sound of helicopters. The roar continued all morning as I tried to sleep. I later discovered police had raided the occupation, beating protesters who refused to move.

The pretext for all this was Saturday’s Champions League final – the square would be a focal point for city celebrations if Barca won, and it needed to be cleared of stalls.

But the police actions were as futile as they were violent. I witnessed the end of the police operation early in the afternoon, with the helicopter hovering low over the square and police vans roaring around it in an attempt to intimidate protesters, who simply declared there should be a new rally at 7pm, and busied themselves re-erecting the stalls.

Back at the festival, banners appeared backing the demonstration. Would any band have the guts to mention the day’s events? Proud Scottish socialists Belle and Sebastian (above) didn’t bother. It was left to Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, responding to a banner reading “SPANISH REVOLUTION – SING ALONG WITH THE COMMON PEOPLE”.

“When police go into a square and put 100 people in hospital, that’s not good,” he told the crowd, dedicating Common People to the protesters.

The Parc del Forum exploded with emotion as a traumatic day came to a close.

By Saturday, the square was busier than ever, and packed with stalls again. The police had merely managed to antagonise and ostracise the protesters further – who were now demanding the sacking of Catalonia’s interior minister for authorising the beatings, with graffiti appearing around the city over the weekend.

The one thing Primavera Sound’s organisers did get right, though, was screening the Champions League final on one of the stages. But that was kept quiet, with a football match-sized gap in the programme the only clue. In 2009, Uefa threatened to sue PS after it advertised a screening at a pre-festival gig – the secrecy was presumably to avoid further action from European football’s joyless guardians.

As everyone knows by now, Barcelona played Manchester United off the park, the place went wild, and the celebrations brought a happy tinge to the festival’s remaining hours. I taught one man the words to We Are The Champions, before heading back to the bands and the mental shift of watching PJ Harvey.

Sunday saw the FC Barcelona victory parade – full of ecstatic families, following the bus to the Nou Camp. The champions will be getting ready for their holidays, the festival has been dismantled for another year. But the demonstrators remain in Plaça de Catalunya. I suspect the consequences of what’s happened over the past week or so will still be felt around the city when the bands next take to the Primavera Sound stages.


  1. Have been watching the “revolution” and listening to what protesters say – sort of anti-this and that but not coherent about what they do want.

    But then what do the voters do in Spain? They vote out the socialist government!!!! Did the ‘revolutionaries’ not bother to vote? Or do they really think rightwing government is the answer. I am aghast.

    Holding the financial sector, the IMF and World Bank to account, is admittedly rather ambitious. But I remember how Thatcher got in to power (and now the Condems) and what’s happening in Spain feels weirdly familiar.

    Rant over.

  2. stonemuse – yes, she did. She seemed to be enjoying it, too. Just about everything she’s done since Sheela-Na-Gig has passed me by, but I was pretty taken by what I saw.

    Sat – it’s not you hiding outside, is it?

  3. Darryl, I think you didn’t understood properly the reason of the demostrations in the squares in Spain. We aren’t complaining just about Zapatero’s cuts, we are complaining in general for a real democracy in our country, were our electoral system is not fair, my vote (as galician) doesn’t have the same value like the one of a person another part of the country (p.e. Catalonia, Madrid, etc…), because there are a lot of corrupted politicians running for mayors in the local elections, because we want a new constitution for our country due the one is ruling now was aproved 36 years ago (I’m 33) and a lot of young people we want to change a lot of things, times changed and we need to change things. I hope you understand better the reason why we protest.

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