Bolachas Now Playing

Primavera Sound Porto 2024

_ © Hugo Lima | |

And it’s gone. Our tenth trip to the Parque da Cidade is over, and despite our usual (and some new) gripes, our eyes are already on next year’s edition: 12, 13, and 14 June 2025. Let’s start with the pros: the three ‘green’ stages of Primavera Sound Porto (the original Vodafone and Super Bock side-by-side stages, plus the new Plenitude stage by the meadow) are unrivalled. You’ll struggle to find any other festival this size where it’s so easy to see most shows from a good spot without having to show up half an hour in advance, no matter how tall you aren’t.

Sadly, the fourth one, the new main stage, is nothing of the sort. A massive stage is necessary for the festival to grow, be able to pull big headliners like SZA and Lana del Rey, accommodate 40k+ visitors, and keep the lights on by selling thousands of daily tickets to people who may or may not care about anything else on the lineup that day. It also helps keeping the festival somewhat affordable – although increasingly expensive – for its core (is it really still the core?) audience who comes to Porto for three days of music. But, after two years, the organisation should now decide, before it’s too late to reverse course: is this kind of growth desirable at all?

What we’ve seen on Friday might have been just a very special case of a specific fanbase that acts a certain way, although we can easily see this happen again with other hot, very desirable festival acts like Boygenius and Billie Eilish, or fast-rising stars like Chappell Roan or Ethel Cain (who last-minute canceled her Saturday show). Most fans with daily tickets went straight to the main stage, from doors time (4 PM – or whenever they were able to get in due to huge queues) to the end of the show (around 1 AM). These are thousands of attendees who barely spent any money at the many bars and (great) restaurants of the vast festival ground. And, by the time they left en masse after the only show they wanted to attend, exposed how unprepared the festival site and its surroundings were for an event of this magnitude, with dozens of thousands of people waiting for hours for a way back to their homes/hotels. Something that was amplified by Justice’s cancellation and an exceptionally early curfew.

But we know that in the current landscape, the alternative to big headliners – if there is one – is a conscious downsizing of the maximum capacity of the festival that can only be coupled with even higher ticket prices, catering for an ageing core crowd that values variety and a strong undercard, but might or not come back the following year depending on the lineup. It’s a gamble that could easily backfire, and I’m sure the vastly experienced organisation knows that better than any of us.

The festival also felt quite empty at times, with vast periods of time where there simply was no music playing whatsoever. Here, they could take some notes from the Dutch, who are great at keeping people entertained at all times. See, for example, the Best Kept Secret timetable for this year where there is not one, but two areas with DJs providing non-stop entertainment. You don’t even need a Dekmantel-level DJ programme with loud volume bleeding into other stages to achieve this – there are plenty of local artists who are more than capable of livening up a small crowd that might be uninterested in both acts playing at a given time. Hopefully, the Bits stage is back next year, and it wouldn’t hurt to have it running during the day, too.

_ © Hugo Lima | |

Rant over, I guess. Before all the negativity sprouted on social media surrounding the second day’s Vodafone stage debacle, there was an excellent opening round. Alone on stage, building and layering every song bit by bit, Ana Lua Caiano presented her debut LP on home soil in what was one of the best opening shows of Primavera Sound Porto’s history. She was followed by Royel Otis, a lukewarm but still kinda entertaining (nothing wrong with an entire band singing their big choruses in basically every song) show where the highlight ended up being their version of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dancefloor”. Blonde Redhead looked in better form late last year when we saw them presenting Sit Down for Dinner at the Paradiso, but it’s always a pleasure to hear absolute mid-00s classics like opener Melody is a Butterfly‘s “Falling Man” and the title track off 2007’s 23. Closer to dinner time, time for some good old reverence: PJ Harvey is on stage, shut up, lads! Backed by a John Parish-led band, the part of the show we were able to see was focused on her latest records, last year’s I Inside the Old Year Dying and 2011’s Let England Shake, but a quick lookup into the setlist tells us Harvey revisited vast swathes of her early discography, too.

American Football. PRIMAVERA SOUND PORTO 2024
_ © Hugo Lima | |

Later on, with a bit of Eartheater’s and SZA’s seemingly astonishing show (“seemingly” because all we could do in such a large stage was to watch it through the screens) in between, time for two of the big highlights of the entire festival. Mitski‘s triumphant return to Portugal as a headliner, complete with a seven-piece band (thumbs up for bringing a pedal steel guitar to the big stage of a summer festival headline show), played a show that sounded as amazing at an outdoors festival as it did, two weeks before, in the magnificent Carré theatre in Amsterdam. At close to 1 AM, American Football, the iconic second-wave emo band, had the hard task of bringing back to Earth all the 30- and 40-somethings in the crowd with a meticulous full performance of their cult classic debut album. Mission accomplished: there was no chatter, there were no drunken antics, only a few thousand delighted, respectful nerds being nostalgic about their peak years that won’t come back, or something along those lines. The Unwound show of 2024’s edition of the festival: late night guitar music perfection.

The threat of a monumental storm loomed over the first few hours of Friday, as thousands of Lana del Rey fans queued at the festival site way before doors time under 30C+ temperatures. At our city center apartment, listening to copious amounts of rain and hail fall outside the window, and thanks to Portuguese public station RTP’s stellar coverage of the festival, we watched a powerful Máquina show that deserved a late night time slot. Simultaneously, rumours that there was a problem with the same Vodafone stage where we saw Mitski the night before, started to circulate; shows by Mutu, Classe Crua, and The Legendary Tigerman were canceled, with Justice’s late night show hanging by a thread. Their show, too, was canceled when it became apparent that the stage could not cope with the French duo’s stage structure, a rude blow that cast a huge shadow on a festival already marred by other last-minute and last-month cancellations (Lankum, Ethel Cain, Julie Byrne, Scowl, and, of course, the painful loss of Shellac). Portuguese band Mutu would later close the night at the Super Bock stage; The Legendary Tigerman would end up replacing Ethel Cain at the main stage the following day.

_ © Hugo Lima | |

But after the initial part of the storm – some attendees who did not leave early during del Rey’s show probably regretted it soon after as it poured mercilessly around 2am… – came one of those moments that serve as a reminder of why we still care, and why do people like me still travel to Portugal every single year to do this. At the main stage, the young, wild, and free population of Primavera Sound Porto was witnessing the debut Portuguese show of next big thing The Last Dinner Party, after they last-minute cancelled last year’s show at the Vodafone Paredes de Coura festival. Meanwhile, the section of the crowd that could use a trip to Turkey was treated to an intimate piano show by Lambchop figurehead Kurt Wagner.

This isn’t really what you’re expecting from an outdoors “summer” (technically, still spring) festival boasting 100 thousand visitors over three days. Try this anywhere else and you’ll get endless crowd chatter, people taking phone calls in the middle of the crowd, sound bleeding from another stage. Instead, (almost) complete silence as Wagner and Andrew Broder first showed how a few songs off The Bible actually sound without a vocoder (like the gorgeous opener “His Song is Sung”, which may feel over processed in the studio version). Every now and then, Wagner steps back, sits back to smoke a cigarette while Broder keeps playing. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like we’re in a festival – we’re in Wagner’s living room or home studio, and this is his way of hosting. Halfway in, there came some 90/early 00s classics (“The New Cobweb Summer”, “The Man Who Loved Beer”), with a humorous meta moment in between. The excellent Austin band Sun June (which we shared consistently over the past couple years) wrote a song called “Listening (to Lambchop by myself again)” for a Little Mazarn-curated compilation, and Wagner got a few chuckles out of the audience for pulling out a melancholic self-referencing song, before delving into the total crowdpleaser “Up with People”, off Nixon. What a show.

Earlier, psychedelic pop Crumb were jamming at the main stage, but we got the feeling the massive stage was too big to properly appreciate their music; the same can’t be said about the enthralling This is the Kit at the Plenitude stage. Kate Stables – candidate for the nicest person on stage in the 2024 edition – and her expansive folk-rock-ish quartet play perfect early evening music, sometimes ripped apart by crunchy riffs.

Tropical Fuck Storm. PRIMAVERA SOUND PORTO 2024
_ © Hugo Lima | |

The other big highlight of Friday was the Portuguese debut of Tropical Fuck Storm, the Gareth Liddiard-led band risen from the ashes of garage rock legends The Drones (who played here in 2013 before going on a hiatus). We’re talking about a band where all members are legit rock stars, in the good sense of an expression thrown around way too much. They played mostly songs from their debut A Laughing Death in Meatspace, including the monumental banger “Chameleon Paint”, with its sing-alongable, caustic chorus delivered together by Liddiard, Dunn, and Kitschin. Those were sandwiched between two of the best songs off Braindrops (the title track, and set closer “Paradise”), and there was still time for a Stooges version (“Ann”). In a somewhat lethargic day tarnished by the weather and the many cancellations, Tropical Fuck Storm were the balm the guitar-minded people needed.

Picturing a big Lana del Rey delay that, in the end, did not happen, time for the noise show. At midnight, Wolf Eyes were playing for probably the smallest crowd I’ve seen at the Super Bock stage, and it’s easy to understand why: their sonic explorations are the complete opposite of del Rey’s easily palatable, dreamy pop. Still, Nate Young and John Olson and their paraphernalia – at one point, they both pull their flutes out like we’re in 5th grade music class – manage to successfully entrance the brave few without a single shard of interest in watching popular shows 300 meters from the stage. But they missed out.

There are many reasons why Lana del Rey is so popular, and the top one is really that she’s an absurdly talented and prolific singer-songwriter. Too bad her best song gets delivered by her hologram while she’s backstage changing her outfit, but even this shows a certain boldness that most artists wouldn’t even think of. The rest of the show was a sequence of hits – some of them shortened – intertwined by way too many video-filled interludes for a traditional concertgoer. This included a bizarre five-minute break after singing “Born to Die” at the barricades spent meeting her fans, including one idiot who ruined his own night by jumping the barricade and being promptly tackled by security. We couldn’t help but wonder if the phenomenon of queueing half a day earlier so they can hold their places at the barricade for a 11pm festival show, ignoring any other artist in the lineup, drinking, eating, and using the bathroom started because there’s a chance she comes to greet them, or if she greets them because she knows the perils her fans go through to be up front. What a world. Leaving the premises after “hope is a dangerous thing…” was a wise decision, though: the traffic outside Parque da Cidade was already insane, and we had to meet our Bolt driver hundreds of meters away from the horror scenes. I hope everyone else enjoyed the late night Hunger Games.

PRIMAVERA SOUND PORTO 2024 _ © Hugo Lima | |

Saturday. Just what we needed. A Primavera classic: three straight hours of rain that not a single weather website were predicting. Felt terrible for the excellent folk singer-songwriter Joanna Sternberg, who had around ten people waiting for them when they walked up to the stage and jumped straight for the fitting “I’ve Got Me” as dozens and dozens of people collectively said “screw it” and decided their non-waterproof shoes would be trashed the next day anyways. One of my most expected moments of the entire festival was about to happen right after. It was a nice gesture to not replace the unreplaceable Shellac, presenting a listening party for their last album, To All Trains. But we felt like Albini’s legacy and Shellac’s history at Primavera deserved a bit more than just having the album (plus a few songs, including cult classic “The End of Radio”) playing in the background. There was so much more that could have been done: the organisation must have raw footage from the 10 shows (11, if we count the unexpected 2019 show at the entrance) they played at Porto alone, which was nowhere to be seen; hardcore fans who gathered at the same show ever year could have participated in the celebration somehow; at the very least, it would have been nice to have someone from the organisation, either from Porto or Barcelona, show up on stage and say a few words about Albini. Despite the presence of a few dozen fans, this time slot ended up being a wasted opportunity for a proper homage and more of some background music for Pulp fans waiting in the barricades for their headline show more than two hours later.

_ © Hugo Lima | |

Which leads us to the real highlight of the festival. At 60, Jarvis Cocker is still the most likeable and charismatic frontman in pop rock and he’s got to keep his voice completely intact from their heyday. I have no idea how he does it, hats off. Thirteen years after the comeback show at Paredes de Coura and 26 after the last (and only) time they played in Porto, the britpop legends seamlessly picked up where they stopped. It was a parade of hits after hits, including most Different Class bangers: the theatrical “I Spy” opened the show, followed by the first proper electrifying moment with “Disco 2000”; a couple of songs later, Cocker dedicates “Something Changed” to Steve Albini and Steve Mackey, the former bassist who passed away last year. Both parts of “Weeds” come out at the right time for a bathroom/bar break, and then it’s back to classics: “Sorted for E’s and Wizz”, “This Is Hardcore”, “Do You Remember the First Time?” (I do not, in fact, remember the first time, but I remember them opening with that one thirteen years ago after the funny intro), and “Babies”.

But, of course, the most celebrated moment had to be set closer “Common People”, where friends and strangers decide it’s time for some hugging, jumping around, singing their hearts out, etc. Suddenly traveling all the way to a festival and enduring terrible weather, standing in a field with barely any rest for a bunch of hours for 3 days in a row, paying for overpriced drinks and food, being disappointed when you realise the WC still has no soap, etc., becomes, again, a great idea.

Mandy, Indiana. PRIMAVERA SOUND PORTO 2024
_ © Hugo Lima | |

The other visible homage to Steve Albini came during the Lisabö show, where a very well dressed member of the band was sporting the same orange Shellac t-shirt yours truly had on. If there was an artist at the festival who carried the spirit of the Chicago trio, it was the Basque post-hardcore band, even when they carried on playing for a bit despite a mid-set power out. Later on, at the same Super Bock stage, local (technically, not the same municipality…) heroes Conjunto Corona get the party started for those too happy to endure another two-hour long The National show (apparently, according to someone who still bothers counting, it was their 22nd concert in the country). It set the perfect mood for festival closer Mandy, Indiana at the Plenitude stage. Nice to hear a language that isn’t English (or Iberian, since there’s a fair bit of Portuguese and Spanish acts at every Primavera) every once in a while at an indie-focused festival. Courtesy, of course, of the electrifying French vocalist Valentine Caulfield, who ended the show in the middle of the audience under the martial beats of a new, unreleased song (apparently called “Magazine”). Their hypnotising mix of dark techno punches and screeching guitars did more than its intended effect: it reminded us of what the past ten editions of the festival has given us, and made us hopeful that those two missing elements will be back next year.