primavera sound

Primavera Sound Expands to Latin America: A Win or a Threat to Homegrown Festivals?

Art by Alan López for Remezcla

Primavera Sound is the music festival to end all other music festivals. Eclectic booking, active efforts towards gender parity, and visionary urban integration have anointed the juggernaut launched in Barcelona in 2001 as one of the most exciting music events in the world. Surpassed in influence only by Coachella, Primavera Sound has rolled out aggressive global expansion in recent years, branching into the sister city of Madrid, Porto in Portugal, and a trans-Atlantic incursion of South America and the U.S.

After wrapping its 2019 edition in Barcelona, festival organizers unveiled plans for newly minted franchises in Los Angeles and London that were later put on hold due to 2020’s pandemic shutdown. While the London edition fell through, the festival later confirmed its Los Angeles dates for late 2022 and added a host of new hubs in São Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Santiago de Chile. Despite the excitement over the brand’s arrival on American soil, reviews were mixed: Buenos Aires and São Paulo boasted resplendent events with minor rain disruptions, while clunky age restrictions in Los Angeles and low turnout in Santiago proved there was plenty of room for improvement.

Primavera Sound has now announced two new South American chapters, with Bogotá, Colombia, and Asunción, Paraguay, entering the fray. Again, regional audiences have expressed elation. But there is also mounting concern over how foreign investment and industry terraforming will inevitably swallow homegrown festivals and wreak havoc on Latin America’s live music economy.

“For a country like Colombia, the music industry’s growth and transformation of the past decade has been amazing,” says Sebastián Narvaez, culture journalist and creator of the Sudakas Podcast. The former Noisey en Español editor highlights Colombia’s status as an essential destination for touring mega stars and regional fans alike, convening at massive happenings like Rock al Parque and Estéreo Picnic. However, he also warns of coming market saturation and ruthless bidding wars.

“In 2022, [Festival] Cordillera was born with a very similar curation to that of Rock al Parque, the largest free, outdoor rock festival in Latin America. And the announcement of Primavera Sound Bogotá a month after the 2023 edition [of Rock al Parque] should beg the question of how much competition can affect the sector. We’ve had lots of issues in the past due to lacking logistics, ticketing issues, sub-par stages, and oversold venues, so we should first try to solve the challenges we already face. But just on the merit of being an international franchise, it doesn’t instantly mean they’ll do a good job. Like Dua Lipa’s chaotic show [at Parque Salitre Mágico], which was produced by OCESA.”

Many have argued that there’s enough room for all these festivals to co-exist. Still, only a limited amount of money is available, especially in Latin America, where median incomes are far lower than in the U.S. and Europe. Scarcity breeds a more permissive attitude towards international conglomerates entering developing economies, like a new neighborhood Walmart celebrated for its convenience despite the withering impact on small, local businesses. The same applies to music festivals but on a larger scale and with a better soundtrack.

Mexico is often cited as the Latin American market that has most successfully staved off the encroaching buy-ins of foreign properties like Primavera Sound and Lollapalooza. And yet, in December 2021, U.S. ticketing giant Live Nation (which is behind Lollapalooza) bought a majority stake in Mexican event promoter OCESA (Corona Capital, Vive Latino), which itself was announced last month to be seeking a majority stake in Colombian promoter Páramo (Estéreo Picnic). Even Corona Capital, one of Mexico’s top festivals, has codified the complete omission of Latin American talent from their curation, directly divesting from the regional music economy. And though recent editions of Corona Capital have been praised for including Latin acts like Ela Minus, Pabllo Vittar, and Cuco, those slots were secured through U.S. booking agency TBA, who bring top names to Coachella, Primavera Sound, and Lollapalooza alike.

The money always leads North. And sure, a string of regional music festivals under the same corporate umbrella should – in theory – reduce touring costs for artists, as well as ticket prices for fans paying mark-ups for one-off shows. Such has been the success of South America’s Lollapalooza franchises over the past decade. 

But as Primavera Sound Santiago demonstrated last year, not all that glitters is gold. Where the São Paulo and Buenos Aires editions convened upwards of 100,000 concertgoers over their respective three-day weekends, only an estimated 35,000 people attended the Santiago event. The low turnout and alleged breach of contract from producers Rock Chile SpA even caused the festival to pull out of its 2023 edition back in March.

“Last year, the arrival of Primavera Sound Santiago diversified access to more alternative and independent artists, especially since Lollapalooza has been repeating lots of acts,” reflects Nicolás Orellana, an editor at Chilean media outlet Sonido Radar. “But you can definitely see a festival battle unfolding. The festival’s Chilean homolog Primavera Fauna saw a dip in their ticket sales, with many people reselling their tickets so they could attend Primavera Sound instead, regardless of the steeper cost.”

Orellana suggests that despite the European company’s deeper pockets, Primavera Sound Santiago’s mild performance was largely due to a lack of interest in building on local infrastructure. “[This] is an opportunity for Latin American investors to produce good lineups,” he adds, “Because arbitrarily inserting international brands and capital will destabilize the market, and not just for festivals, but at radios, distributors, and labels too. I think the goal should be to reinforce what’s already here. Because if not, what’s been created for Latin America by Latin America will be raked across the coals.”

“I think the goal should be to reinforce what’s already here. Because if not, what’s been created for Latin America by Latin America will be raked across the coals.”

Primavera Sound has a history of filling gaps left by defunct festivals, as it did with FYF in Los Angeles and as it was meant to do with Field Day in London. As it stands, Colombia’s Estéreo Picnic and Paraguay’s Asunciónico should be temporarily safe from absorption since they take place in March, aligning with the South American Lollapalooza calendar instead of Primavera Sound’s November schedule. But bigger, more cut-throat festival battles are just a matter of time, especially as the event calendar becomes more crowded and ambitions swell.

Latin American fans can hold the line by wielding their money thoughtfully, investing in local talent, and demanding higher quality productions instead of eagerly giving those funds away to U.S. and European corporations. 

Hold on to what is yours: As history shows, the North has never had Latin America’s best interests at heart.