Primavera Sound 2019: Charli XCX leads the way with a future-facing, bombastic set

By this point surely everyone’s seen the all-but blanked out festival posters, with the names of three female artists suspended in mid-air: most festivals are a total sausage-fest, we get it. But what in the year of our lord 2019 are people actually doing to tackle the issue?

Well, while some festivals tentatively commit to a 50:50 gender split by 2020 – as part of PRS’ excellent Keychange initiative – and others don their tin hats and refute the need for any balance at all, Primavera Sound have stolen a march on their competitors by programming a bill that truly promotes equality. It’s about more than men vs women, too: the 19th edition of the Barcelona festival accurately reflects a post-genre industry in all its fecundity, showcasing reggaeton and post-rock, heritage acts and emerging artists side by side.

And guess what? Equality doesn’t have to be a scary thing, either. You can still invite festival-bill mainstay Mac DeMarco along. On the first full day of Primavera programming, he and his ragtag gang of japesters warm up one of the two main stages with their breezy surf-pop, slacker blues and ramshackle psychedelia. Ever the crowd pleaser, Mac priotises classics tracks ahead of material from recent album ‘Here Comes The Cowboy’, the winsome melodies of ‘Viceroy’ and ‘Salad Days’ mingling pleasingly with the balmy early evening rays.

In direct contrast to Mac’s nonchalant schtick, the ever-excellent Christine and the Queens clearly cares deeply about – and has thought through – every element of her show. There are pyrotechnics and confetti cannons, there’s tough yet expressive choreography, there’s a gorgeous a capella rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. With a rallying cry of, “Fuck the norm”, Chris provides a voice for the outliers and escapism for the festival goer bored of static boys brandishing guitars.

Controlling a beachy outcrop on the far end of the festival site is part-time Essai-Pas singer, full-time techno maven, Marie Davidson. Like ‘Losing My Edge’ for generation gig economy, the brutal beats of ‘Work It’ act as a cattle prod to anyone still lethargic. Back over at the SEAT Village, Brighton-based singer Celeste shimmers in silver sequins to jazz-tinged soul, and makes a compelling claim to Jorja Smith’s throne in the process.

“Barcelona, keep in mind I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit,” Erykah Badu tells the audience assembled at the Pull&Bear Stage, a feather-flecked diamante chain stretched across the bridge of her nose, and bulbous hat perched atop her braids. Any fears that this might be one of the Dallas diva’s more temperamental outings are allayed by a set rich in velvety melisma and cosmic vibes.

Songs from ‘Baduizm’ are dedicated to all the “90s babies”, and 22 years since the record’s release, her renditions are as limber and light as ever. Sure, there’s some pointless drum machine noodling between songs, and for some reason she keeps pulling Usain Bolt’s victory pose, but let’s chalk that up to artistic idiosyncrasies rather than someone losing the plot. All in all, it’s a shamanistic performance from an enduring talent.

Cutting a sharp contrast with the earthiness of Erykah Badu, Charli XCX bounds about in luxe workout gear on a stage decorated with two giant fluorescent perspex cubes, and drops a set of fantastically wonky synth-pop. Songs from ‘Sucker’ and ‘True Romance’ are eschewed entirely, in favour of the PC Music-inspired cuts from her last two mixtapes, with ‘Girls Night Out’ even dedicated to SOPHIE. A blast through Icona Pop co-write ‘I Love It’ is the only concession to the past that Charli makes tonight, and it prompts mass pogoing.

As future focused as ever, it’s the freshest cuts that clearly excite Charli most, be it ‘Blame It On Your Love’ – tonight performed sans Lizzo – or ‘Wannabe’ rewrite ‘Spicy’. Best of all, Christine and the Queens bounds back onto the stage, and the pair perform brand new collaboration ‘Gone’, taken from Charli’s as-yet unfinished third album. A midtempo bop featuring the hook, “I feel so unstable / Fucking hate these people,” it’s an instant classic.

Ending her lean, 40-minute set with a confetti cannon-powered romp through ‘1999’, Charli is there for a good time, not a long time. It’s an invigorating end to a day that proves if you actually give female artists a platform they’re more than capable of delivering the goods. Primavera Sound one, everyone else nil.

Words by Gemma Samways