How Primavera Sound’s Masterminds Chose L.A. For Its U.S. Debut

LAMag took some time to speak with Primavera Sound co-director Alfonso Lanza, who told us a bit about how they create this festival magic
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Over the past decade, the creative minds behind Primavera Sound have pulled off a true feat. Impeccably curated and intimidatingly hip, the flagship Barcelona event each year in early June is now in a class of its own in the now-heavingly crowded music festival space. As such events became destinations for world travelers while luring in long-disbanded acts for can’t-miss reunion gigs, the magic floating around in Barcelona’s Parc del Fòrum each year soon began to seep out—first through word-of-mouth that went global and now across innumerable social feeds. 

With that, Primavera Sound earned its global reputation as the music festival of the tastemaker, the aficionado, and the categorically hip. Now, it makes its American debut—right here in L.A. After an unfortunate two-year pandemic-related delay, Primavera Los Angeles is nearly here, taking place Sept. 16-18 in L.A. State Historic Park. Its curators, of course, have nailed it once again, bringing 65 acts into town, in a lineup of headliners that includes generational pop icon Lorde, industrial-punk legends Nine Inch Nails, and English rock favorites Arctic Monkeys. Also among the lineup are avant-grade boundary-breakers like Arca and Kim Gordon; indie mainstays like Stereolab and Low; up-and-coming acts Boy Harsher and Dry Cleaning; hometown hero Giveon and Belfast DJ duo Bicep.

Ahead of the event, LAMag took some time to speak with Primavera Sound co-director Alfonso Lanza, who told us a bit about how they create this unique festival magic and what brought Primavera Sound to L.A.

LAMag: Please tell us about how the festival initially came together and a bit about how it has expanded internationally—now into the U.S. in Los Angeles.

Alfonso Lanza: Our festival started as an idea of four friends who wanted to bring to Barcelona the bands that other festivals didn’t bring, especially alternative underground rock and electronic artists. The project became a reality in 2001 and gained an identity on its own bringing those bands that a music lover would have booked, and also as an urban festival where the audience didn’t have to leave town to enjoy music (something that wasn’t common back then). 

We’ve been growing until now and the model has proven to be successful and accepted by people all over the world, something that we’ve realized not only because more and more people have been coming to our festival, but also because we’ve received so many offers to bring the festival abroad. 

How long has L.A. been on your radar as a city to host a Primavera Sound festival? So many of the national-draw festivals have been in Chicago, as it’s a central city. What other U.S. cities were or are now under consideration? Where else around the world will or would you like Primavera to expand? 

There have been quite a few cities around the world that have been on our radar and that have approached us, many of them in the U.S., but L.A. was the one that seemed most likely to have a similar vibe if we were planning to achieve the Primavera Sound experience as we do it here in Barcelona. It was obvious to us that the city that most resembled Barcelona (of course on a different scale) was Los Angeles: the character, the vibe, the kind of audience you have. 

It’s not just the bands that are programmed, but the experience of an urban festival, a comfortable and pleasant one, where the city is part of the festival itself and has a music scene that is integrated into the festival. The most important thing to us is that we look for an audience that is a fan of music, for an urban space that allows a festival to take place, for a circuit of venues that guarantees that there is a musical culture in the city and a local scene that can participate and be a part of the lineup.

Tell me about how Primavera L.A. was curated—how does the process work and what were the factors that led to some of the artists we can look forward to seeing over the weekend?

We want to have artists with a great history behind them, other ones who talk about the present, and finally, your headliners of the future. Primavera Sound tries to be a thermometer of the musical scene—in Barcelona and elsewhere.

Primavera Sound was set to debut in L.A. before the pandemic. What has the process been like of having to reschedule this and other Primavera festivals? Did you lose out on bookings, or how did that process work?

These have been some very hard years when not everything depended on us. In the meantime, some bands have dissolved, they have canceled their agendas, or changed status. We have had to adapt to the context at all times, but even due to this we feel that we have achieved a festival level as good as it was intended since the beginning. 

Of course, the pandemic has affected us all, but the final result is that we have done the festival that we wanted to do.

What are some of the lessons learned from previous Primavera Sound festivals in other cities that helped shape the L.A. production? What are the noticeable differences, in your view, between festivals on various continents?

It’s too early to say, but we are certain about the fact that we don’t wanna make a franchised festival and that we always have to take into account the local particularities of each city in terms of schedules and in terms of the public’s habits. What we can guarantee is that our priority is that the public enjoys the music in the best possible way and enjoys the experience by enjoying the concerts first and foremost. 

When a production is good, it’s when you don’t notice it.

Los Angeles is a haven for so many amazing artists, so there is a huge talent pool from which to choose. What drew you to L.A.-based artist Giveon?

After his success as a collaborator with Justin Bieber on “Peaches,” we knew that his talent could shine on its own as a major artist and one of the new voices of global R&B. We saw what he is capable of in Barcelona, with his voice, which is 100 percent the Californian sound. We know that there are imperfect voices that can be very moving and that the non-academic can also triumph, but in Giveon’s case, it is undeniable that he has a privileged talent. From time to time you come across perfect voices like his, and you realize that there are sentiments that never go out of fashion and feelings that you never get tired of reliving. 

Finally, in your words, what can fans expect from a Primavera-sized production? Any surprises up your sleeve?

One of our mottos is to expect the unexpected. Anything can happen! What you can expect though, is that a Primavera Sound festival will always be Primavera—which is saying a lot. 

Tickets are currently on sale for Primavera Sound Los Angeles, with both single-day, 3-day, 2-day, and VIP options still available. Visit www.primaverasound.la for tickets and more information.

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