I had been struggling to think of the perfect signifier for A Brit Abroad when one simply appeared to me, as if by divine intervention. My apparition happened under the awning of a bar sponsored by a famous spirit brand, which was serving various complex-sounding cocktails in thick, plastic cups of superior quality to the crushable, flimsy beer receptacles being handed out throughout most of the festival. Here, a young woman – from the south of England, if my read of her accent and attitude were correct – marched past the queue, and, with no discernible attempt at Spanish, resplendent in Topshop, demanded to know whether there was a deposit system in place for the cups.
Here she was: my glitter-faced muse, my something-for-nothing sweetheart. My Brit Abroad.
Every year, British people occupy an interesting hinterland at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival. Held at the city’s Parc del Fòrum, a fantastic, sprawling concrete expanse overlooking the ocean, Primavera is a decidedly more sophisticated experience than most U.K. weekenders. The majority of punters don’t camp, the toilets are basically palatial to eyes which have watered at the sight of a Reading and Leeds longdrop, and, crucially, the largest serving of beer you can buy at any of the bars is smaller than a pint.
These elements, in tandem with Primavera’s overall “chill” mood, tend to work silently together to discourage the lairier behaviours of groups of Brits abroad. What is left instead, are the smaller indicators: groups of mates dressed in the same outfits (the hallowed Banter Uniform, Amen); the actions of the pissed, Hawaiian-shirted conductor who led a grass verge populated by hundreds in rhythmic clapping during a 2AM Beach House set; The Deposit Requester. The Britishness still manages to seep through in small, but noticeable ways.
In 2018 that was still true (lads in crap vintage football shirts as far as the eye could see, certainly, but you would never catch anyone walking round Parc del Fòrum shouting ‘STEVE’) though this year more than ever, it felt as though the U.K. was making its horrible, funny mark on Europe’s best music festival while it still could. Among other things, it was the Arctic Monkeys wot done it. Sheffield’s favourite sons, and the U.K.’s largest contemporary rock export, were confirmed to play Primavera back in January, before they had announced a U.K. tour. As the timetable was released, the inevitable was revealed: the band would close out the festival’s largest stage, in a prime slot just past midnight. When that day finally arrived, I emerged from the gut of the nearest Metro station to the festival to see a woman – a definite Brit and a true patriot – chugging wine from a bottle, her throat moving as though possessed by a snake.
Later that night, Alex Turner – previously the adopter of an American accent – spoke onstage in broad Yorkshire tones: “Does tha know what I mean?” The air hummed with the quality of expectation you smell in a British town centre at 10PM on a Friday night, and the group of girls in front of me Snapchatted home as the band played “Do I Wanna Know?” It was loud, and hot, and as beer was flung over my head, I felt myself curiously at home, for better or worse.
It feels poetic that Arctic Monkeys, a band who are so quintessentially British, closed out the final Primavera Sound event before Brexit takes place in March 2019. Brits have been coming to the festival as attendees and performers (this year’s event also saw weekend-defining sets by Slowdive and Four Tet) since its inception, though it’s unclear whether that will be able to continue as much from next year, as more red tape is introduced to European travel when the U.K. leaves the European Union. Of course, Primavera Sound will continue to thrive with or without our useless pronunciations of ‘dos burgers, por favor,’ but it’s a sad time for the many Brits who have enjoyed this and other European festivals so much over the years: here, 2018 certainly felt like a line in the sand, with a strong U.K. presence potentially making up for the lack of one next year, as 2019 will also see the return of Glastonbury, after 2018's fallow year.
And though similarly-curated festivals (like London’s All Points East, which shared a number of acts with Primavera Sound) are popping up, they don’t, so far, match mainland events like Primavera in scale, vision, or sheer vibe. Let’s hope we learn from European festivals, especially if it does turn out to be harder to get to them from now on.
You can find Lauren on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.