In conversation with the organisers
Lucy Harbron
14:20 13th December 2022

We see it every single year, with festival seasons dogged with disapointing all-male line ups and a complete lack of diversity from a stream of repeat offended festivals. Bringing up the same points each year, we're used to seeing the tweets, the edited posters where only a scatter of women remain, the same tired names at the top but no action from the organisers. It often feels like it'll never change, but then Primavera announce their lineup and we can relax for once.

As the only festival supported by the UN, Primavera is more than just a great weekend. A pioneering force in fighting for better, more inclusive and all-round more interesting festivals, they've have great policies in place for a long time. This year focusing on the theme 'I'll Be Your Mirror', they're once again dedicated to a solid gender split and a totally genre-less experience.

Doing the work behind the scenes to create an experience that feels safe, prioritises sustainability and is genuninely reflective of current culture - we sat down with Joan Pons, the festival's director of communications and key part of the organising team, to see how it all happens and what their hopes are for the future of live experiences.

GW: How far in advance does the process of curating a line up start? Can you tell us when you started having discussions for 2023 and what that process looks like?

JP: It depends on the artists. During this autumn, when we have just announced the 2023 line-up, we have already started some negotiations for 2024 headliners. But that would be exceptional cases or complicated artists (complicated because they have many suitors, of course.)

It is also common during one year's festival to start to negotiate and sometimes even close artists for the following year. We have to take advantage of the fact that many agents are present at the festival: we are also a great professional meeting point for the industry.

Finally, several artists with less complex bookings, no matter how much we have expressed our desire to have them on the line-up, until the last week before the announcement, and possibly thanks to the pressure of the deadline, the booking is not closed.

When it comes to headliners especially, how do you go about choosing? Or are these names you’ve been trying to secure for a long time?

The choice, pure is simpler than it seems: they are always artists that we like or that we think have a “primaverish”  touch. The first moment is very much like a letter to Santa Claus.

Some of these have been around for years but either the dates didn't coincide, or it wasn't a year in which they toured, or they had another kind of tour planned that didn't involve festivals.

In any case, if it's an artist we're really passionate about and would love to have at the festival, we always make sure they know we're interested. Every year we knock on their door.

As always, it’s a cross-genre affair; do different members of the team pioneer their favourite genres, how do you balance the mix of sounds?

There is no genre, per se, that cannot be present at Primavera. We consider ourselves fans of music, of all music. So if there's a jazz, reggaeton, k-pop, metal, indie, techno, avant-garde or punk-hardcore artist we like - we don't stop to see which genre.

Sometimes a line-up has more of one style than another, but it's usually for the same reason I explained before: because we like that artist regardless of the style.

Our bookers are quite omnivorous: they consume all kinds of music. There are always people in the team who are more specialised in one genre than another, but in general they tend to consume and be passionate about any kind of music.

This year's theme is “I’ll be your mirror”, can you tell us what that means to you?

We always like to have as a claim a song title that explains our spirit that year (in other editions it was "Can't do without u" or "Alegria"). This year, "I'll be your mirror", apart from having John Cale in the line-up, explains many aspects of the 2023 edition with a very significant polysemy:

Madrid will be a mirror edition of Barcelona, each festival will also be a mirror of the music scene of the city that hosts them and, above all, we’ll be the mirror of… our audience.

"If you want to be connected to your must pay attention to your time."

With the declaration of inclusion and representation across gender, race, genre and beyond - it feels like this is something you’ve been working towards for a long time? How long ago was it that Primavera began having conversations about representation?

We always did that naturally, from the very beginning. In fact, pretty soon we started to worry the other way around. If inertia led us to an all-white, straight, middle-aged male festival, we began to worry because, obviously, that can't be a reflection of reality. If you want to be connected to your time (and be a reflection of it, as we say in our claim), you must pay attention to your time.

Our big leap was in the 2019 edition, with the 50% gender balance. It was a commitment we made after realizing how easy it really was (in 2018 we almost accidentally did it). But we wanted it to mean something and underline it. As it was not a one-time campaign, but a commitment forever, we continue to make the lineups according to that criteria. Depending on how, we are opening a third more category in which non-binary identities are represented, which, again, there are more and more in society and it does not make sense to pigeonhole them into a male-female binary boxes if outside the festival they do not.

We believe that the 50% gender balance lineup should be very inspiring and potentially transformative for others. 

And what do those conversations sound like? How do you approach ensuring a truly representative and inclusive lineup?

It's really easy: there are always times when you have to choose between one artist or another for a slot at the festival. Simply by being aware that inertia leads you to the obvious decision, your answer should know that you have to take, at least, the other one into consideration. And that works.

Does that translate to the actual festival experience? Is there any additional training given to staff or processes that go into setting up a safe and inclusive weekend?

We also have a protocol, called "Nobody's Normal", for information, I would even say education, regarding how to treat diversity naturally, especially regarding gender identity. Any professional who works at the festival must undergo training in this regard.

It was very exciting, after the 2019 festival, to receive feedback from the public, or detect it on the networks, expressing how comfortable, safe and happy they had felt in a festival where they could freely express their diversity.

You describe the gender split of the festival as a now non-negotiable thing which is amazing to hear at a time when women are still so lacking across festival lineups world wide - could you share some of the female or non-binary artists you’re most excited about?

We are very proud to have headliners like Rosalía, Halsey, FKA Twigs, but also pioneers like Laurie Anderson or Le Tigre or exciting artists like St Vincent, Caroline Polacheck or Christine & The Queens. Any one of them makes our festival a dream for any music fan, regardless of whether they are female or not, non-binary or not.

"...there's no small print in our lineups. Every name matters."

I love in the event statement where you say that each name has been purposefully chosen to add value to the event. It seems like the lineup curation was really thoughtful and thought-out rather than simply seeing who was free and booking them? 

Primavera Sound lineups always want to be a representation of the musical zeitgeist of their year. And that means being conscious and respectful of artists from the past who are still active, paying attention to the artists who define the present and glimpsing and betting on the proposals that look to the future.That's why we say there's no small print in our lineups. Every name matters.

Finally, we often say that our way of building a lineup is to never lose sight of the fact that each day of the festival should provide each attendee with several possibilities to complete several different experiences: 1) a highly anticipated and desired artist 2) their next favorite artist discovered at the festival 3) a show that will challenge them and 4) a concert where they can have a lot of fun.

As the only festival co-signed by the UN, that's a major responsibility! How do you honour that and build upon your dedication to representation and sustainability each year? What new policies can festival goers expect in 2023?

When the UN contacted us to be a speaker for its program of 17 goals for sustainable development, we felt very proud, because that meant that they had noticed us because we already fulfilled and represented several of them. Working together with them is also very enriching and there is always a lot to learn and improve. This is a process, a path, not a change that is activated from one year to the next with a switch. So, each edition will include new changes. We are precisely working on it.

All these policies and the meaning behind the 2023 lineup really gives us hope in the future of live events, choosing to reflect our current society and culture rather than opting for the same festival regular acts - what are your thoughts on the future of the festival industry? How does it need to keep evolving?

Once again, I return to our claim: “I’ll be your mirror”. If the will of each festival is to be a mirror of its time, its public, the city where it takes place or society or its present, changes will come.

Primavera Sound 2023 tickets are on sale now

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