Atzur, Farce, and Dorian Concept at Primavera 2023

Photo of Dorian Concept at Primavera (c) Stefan Niederwieser
Dorian Concept at Primavera (c) Stefan Niederwieser

The Primavera Festival, an annual music industry extravaganza taking place in Barcelona, ended on June 4th. Artists at the festival are subject to the luck of the draw as far as time slots and stages are concerned: ATZUR, FARCE, and Dorian Concept each did their best with the cards they were dealt.

The Primavera Festival downsized this year, supposedly because the permits for the three stages beyond the port failed to come through. As a result, the boutique festival seemed compacter, the distances shorter…and the site of the “Night Pro” stage changed two weeks before the festival kicked off. Instead of being at the water’s edge, where the audience is constantly going back and forth between stages, the stage wound up in the entry area at the top of the festival grounds, where people mainly come through early – later, not so much.

Music for the Masses

ATZUR, an Austro-Spanish duo based in Vienna, expanded to a quartet for the occasion – and made the most of their early slot. Their anthemic guitar pop was the perfect accompaniment to the early evening, and a good crowd stuck around to listen to a varied set played by a band that seemed well-rehearsed and ready to engage anyone who happened by. The singer, eye-catchingly clad in lime green, offered compact announcements between songs in Spanish; the songs were mostly in English. Not too many bands these days playing mid-tempo, U2-style guitar rock aimed at a broad audience, but given the right circumstances – management, production, a well-defined profile, clear messages – the sound could fill medium-sized concert halls.

Photo of ATZUR at Primavera Festival (c) Stefan Niederwieser
ATZUR at Primavera Festival (c) Stefan Niederwieser

190,000 people reportedly passed through Primavera’s gates this year. That’s almost twenty percent fewer than last year, and even that number seems high. There was a lot of empty space in front of all the stages on Thursday, June 1st – in stark contrast to Dua Lipa, Charli XCX, and Jessie Ware last year, where post-pandemic crowds stormed the stages, piling up at the narrow points. It did get a little tight at times for instance when someone placed the neoperreo rapper Tokischa on a stage that was too small for her – but the bottlenecks were essentially gone. Lesson learned, apparently.

The leading acts this year included Rosalía, Maggie Rogers, Rema, Kendrick Lamar and Alvvays. As in past years, Primavera managed to program a depth and breadth of music that no other European festival manages: hip-hop, TikTok pop and K-pop shared space with techno, riot-grrrl rock, metal, anti-folk and Afro-pop; future legends opened for present legends, with the latest hot tips filling out the program.

When life gives you lemons…

And so to FARCE: a Vienna underground hero since 2017, occasionally suspected of being a genius, recent winner of the XA Award at last year’s Waves Festival. FARCE played the Night Pro slot immediately after ATZUR: by that time Friday evening was in full swing, with anti-folk heroes Moldy Peaches (touring Europe for the first time in twenty years) already on stage and Depeche Mode about to break the silence with words like violence in ten minutes (FARCE’s cover with Soap&Skin, “Thee Silence”, appears on her latest album, but didn’t make the live set). Instead, FARCE used laptop, guitar, and vocoder to channel the sound of cavernous dance clubs. The melodies were as vulnerable as ever, the production values raw. The lyrics, notably, eschewed late-millenial buzzwords in favor of diffuse coming-of-age stories. FARCE was forced to do without a fog machine, lasers, or summer vibes, but made the most of the situation.

Photo of FARCE at Primavera (c) Stefan Niederwieser
FARCE at Primavera (c) Stefan Niederwieser

When it comes to monster festivals like Primavera Sound – which has spawned satellite events in Porto, Madrid, and a slew of cities in the Americas – the management of a band as big as Depeche Mode might still be able to negotiate about when and where they play; a few years ago, Neil Young’s people managed to arrange for all the other stages to go silent when he played. But mere mortals have to make the best of what they’re given.

Proof of concept

Dorian Concept played on Thursday, on one of the smallest stages. A walkway led out to an island in an ocean basin, with room for about 200 people. New Order was performing not far away, as were the tattooed rapper Central Cee and the J-pop trio Perfume. Dorian Concept came with not much in the way of luggage – he had forgotten one piece at the hotel, and he started his brief set a little out of breath. Nonetheless, he delivered an admirable show, layering synth lines, beats and melodies on top of one another. He taught himself to play, was his friendly response to a fan’s question after the show. The people in the audience seemed to be there specifically to see him play – somewhere, maybe from his many internet videos, they must have found out that each of his shows is different from the last, and always exciting. He moved on to another Primavera Festival show in Madrid this last weekend – if Primavera is a game of roulette, Dorian Concept won big.

Stefan Niederwieser, translated from the German original by Philip Yaeger.


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