Primavera Sound’s Pablo Soler talks with Pollstar about the annual mega-festival in Barcelona, Spain, and how he and his partners are still presenting the event they themselves would like to attend.
Happening May 28-31 at Parc Del Forum, Primavera Sound began in 2001 with a lineup that included Armand Van Helden, Bent, Carl Craig, DJ Godfather, Elbee Band and others. Maintaining its independent identity throughout the years, Primavera Sound has hosted everyone from Acid House Kings to Big Star to The Smashing Pumpkins and have welcomed Wilco, Gary Numan, Patti Smith, LFO, Band Of Horses, Swans, 808 State, Andrew Bird, Mazzy Star, The New Pornographers, Diplo, Yo La Tengo and many more.
For 201,4 Soler and his associates have put together a program that defies classification. Crossing multiple genres, this year’s lineup includes Arcade Fire, Holy Ghost!, Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, Metronomy, Paus, The National, DJ Zero, Mogwai, Drive-By Truckers, Fopals, Neutral Milk Hotel, Dr. John, and The Growlers
But names on a page hardly present any real depth to the Primavera Sound story. For that Pollstar went to co-founder Soler who provided us with a peek behind the festival’s curtain.
Rocking the masses at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Spain.
May 23, 2013
What festivals, if any, do you consider to be Primavera Sound’s direct competitors, perhaps from a ticket-selling standpoint or from a booking point-of-view?
We noticed that many big festivals are tending to give more slots to independent bands where they used to have mainstream names. So booking wise, the band fee rises for everyone and it’s harder for us to attract bands to our specific dates.
On the ticket-selling side, we try to compose a lineup that always looks someway unique compared to other lineups and I think that’s what helps to attract the discerning audience.
Do many acts ask to play Primavera Sound?
Increasingly over the years. Like any other promoter, the longer you stay in business, the easier it is to build relationships with agencies and bands. No secret here. Then, depending on your success as a festival, bands can get to consider playing in it as an important part of their touring plan and that will help in booking, indeed. I’d say if a band is introducing a new release, a key decision to make is what kind of audience are you looking for at your initial round of shows. Choosing the right festival can make a big difference in promotion terms. Luckily for us it’s not all about who’s got it bigger.
With its international location, is walking backstage at Primavera somewhat similar to walking through the United Nations and hearing different languages spoken?
Mostly you’d hear English, the professional language of choice. Not very different from any international airport. But the mood at Primavera’s backstage is better, indeed; better than at the United Nations as well. I reckon there’s a distinctive feeling when you get to mix all this different talent in one place, with the sun and the good music. … We try very hard to make it comfortable for everyone so they can relax and share experiences and have a good time while they are preparing their shows.
Generally speaking, do you feel Spain sets music trends or follows them?
I’d say Spain is hardly a country that sets trends amongst Anglo-Saxon countries, except for “siesta,” maybe. But this is not very significant nowadays. In this over-connected era, the world has become a small place and traveling is not a barrier anymore but added value to your festival experience.
Spain also has its own cultural inheritance and it’s a very different breed than the countries where most of the bands you can see at Primavera Sound come from. So in a way Spain is a good place for good original things to happen, as you would expect in a place where different cultural roots get mixed.
What other festivals have influenced you when it comes to planning Primavera Sound?
Probably all of the festivals we have visited through the years have been of help in one way or the other. Personally I really like All Tomorrows Parties events in the UK and US, Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, and Coachella – which is at the top regarding production standards. Also Melt in Berlin, Öya in Oslo and Flow festival in Helsinki are very well organized with great selections of music. Also Sonar, that has been taking place in Barcelona for 20 years, is one of the best festivals I’ve been to.
Today’s major music festivals offer more than music, what with midways, attractions such as Ferris wheels and other rides, and elements like morning yoga and late-night discos. Aside from music, what are some of Primavera Sound’s more popular attractions?
We exclusively focus on music so around the main three days of Primavera Sound we have built a week of more shows in venues all over the city. Also, as usual in Spain, there are live acts and DJs up till 6am, but that is a regular part of the program. I’d say the main non-music attraction for us would be the city of Barcelona itself. If the shows at the festival leave you any spare time there’s a lot of art, food and history to discover wandering around in Barcelona.
Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Spain.
May 25, 2013
What factors do you consider when setting ticket prices?
Once you have found a financial balance, the first thing to consider is the core audience you have built over the years. You can’t push up the price too much or you could lose them. And its 10 times more expensive to make a new client than to keep an old one.
You’ve spent 12 months or more planning this year’s Primavera Sound. Can you tell us how your responsibilities shift once the gates open and the festival begins?
When the gates open you go from planning to executing and it doesn’t matter how many years of experience you have, once you are open anything can happen and there are always completely new situations that require a fast answer. Still planning is always the best. Setting the proper protocols and spending resources in training staff for all kind of situations are keys for the proper development of the festival.
How does Primavera Sound handle security and provide fans with a safe festival while at the same time avoid coming across as authoritarian or obtrusive?
We really try to work ahead in security issues and often go much further in planning and presence than Spanish law requires. We have a mature audience and so far we’ve never experienced an emergency situation. Still, the audience has to accept a minimum amount of unavoidable intrusion in order to keep a safe environment for themselves and the artists.
Performing at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Spain, in 2006.
Running any major music festival often involves soothing various egos, juggling acts across multiple stages and making sure the whole operation runs smoothly. Have you ever had an act refuse to go on stage at the last moment?
The truth is that egos get in the way less than one would expect. Through the years we have had very few occasions where voices were raised in anger. Of course, big names have to protect their status and they will. But it’s an accepted prerogative and fair play is the standard.
I remember when Pixies came back in 2004 and Prefuse73 was given a slot at the same time on the second stage. They were warned about the coincidence but decided to get a headliner slot rather than change it for an earlier one. They didn’t see any problem as their audience, they thought, was not the same than Pixies. At show time everyone was watching the Pixies’ show and Prefuse73 refused to go on stage. We were not happy about the fact that they had such a small audience watching them, but there were no other slots available, and they had to accept that it was originally their choice.
The first Primavera Sound was held in 2001. At that time did you ever think it would last this long?
It might sound strange but I still don’t feel like it’s been so long. I still feel like we are a few friends trying to build up the festival we would like to attend as music lovers. We know that our job is to choose what’s best for the festival experience and that’s how we conduct business, as much for the audience as for the artists. I guess that’s the reason why people can now say that we have been running for a long time.
What has 13 years of Primavera Sound taught you about people?
At Primavera Sound I’ve had the chance to meet wonderful people through the years and made some lifelong friendships on the way. I’m very happy about the relationships I’ve developed thanks to my job and I can say many of the people I work with are friends. Sharing our love for music makes every professional challenge a meaningful chance to build together and by doing so, enjoy life. I also went through bitter moments a few times, like anyone else, but I tend to forget them pretty fast.
The French alternative band at Primavera Sound 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.
May 23, 2013
Also my job got me traveling around the world and hosting people from all around. It is true that we are very different people depending on our region of origin, culture, religion or social extraction but surprisingly patterns are all so similar. Most of the differences are irrelevant details compared with the things that bring us together, feelings and ideals that are common throughout the globe and that very often precisely the subject of the musicians’ work that we invite to the festival. I believe that music is the common language for those feelings and ideals, creating emotions to which we all can relate to, no matter the differences between us.
For me, most of the people you run by through the years are going to stay in your life for a very small fraction of time so I try to make the most of them if they are eager to share. If they don’t, I just carry on.
As for the important people, the ones I want to stay more involved with, I take as much care of them as I would want for myself and try not to get too disappointed if they don’t reciprocate. In the very final end we are all individuals with a different approach to the same things.
“I still feel like we are a few friends trying to build up the festival we would like to attend as music lovers.”
Please visit PrimaveraSound.com for more information.