The Peculiar Sadness Of Going To A Music Festival Alone: A Photo Essay

I’ve never been good at making commitments. I can hardly finish a novel, let alone agree to attend a five-day music festival in a foreign country. But after spending a non-refundable $619.22 for six nights at a hotel approximately 0.6 miles away from the entrance to Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festival, I was fully committed.

I arrived in Barcelona directly after a ten-day solo-trip in London, riding high off of British nightclubs, love affairs, and countless meat pies. What kept me going was the prospect of seeing some amazing bands like Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, and the freshly reunited Avalanches across three consecutive days in the fresh, Balearic air. I also should note that I’m at a point in my life where the stressful parts of the festival experience have begun to outweigh the exciting ones. Read: I’m more concerned with wearing comfortable shoes than making sure my outfit is photogenic, or that my hair is freshly washed. Still, it seemed like it would be well worth it to power through my post-UK bender exhaustion for another handful of daysor so I believed.

Primavera Sound, which ran June 1-5 this year, was one of the most well-planned and strictly organized festivals I’ve ever attendedso much so that I had to ditch those friends of mine who weren’t able to enter daily through the separate and mandatory press check-in area, and whom it would be hard to link up with anyway, because they didn’t have texting or data plans in Spain. I decided to do the festival in honor of myself, and to focus on seeing the music I wanted to see, rather than staying close to my incommunicado compadres in a sea of tens-of-thousands.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and in some ways it flew in the face of knowledge I already had, which is that being solo in a place that’s intended for social interaction can be extremely lonely and torturous. It’ll be a great experience, I thoughtI live by myself, have been voluntarily single for years, and party-hop solo in New York just about every weekend, so how would this be any different? Still, it was a way of putting whatever self-sufficiency I thought I had to the test.

I had hoped that LCD Soundsystem, who have been my favorite band since I saw them live during my freshman year of college, would provide sufficient companionship with their headlining set on Thursday night. Sadly, my experience during their set was lackluster. I once again bailed on my friends in order to enter the press pit to take what I hoped would be legendary photos, only to be told by security that I was on the wrong side of the pit and couldn’t enter. There was no way in hell was I about to spend the first half of LCD’s set clawing my way past thousands of Europeans and other tourists just to get into the press pit, so instead I stayed put and sang along, alone. I thought about how I wished the bass was turned up to the level I’d become accustomed to, thanks to nightclubs in NYC. They played “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” and I cried a little. My photos sucked.

The following day, I approached the correct side of the press pit to take some shots of Radiohead, and was told that my camera equipment was not professional enough to enter. I thought the security guard was kidding. “I am a professionalhave you heard of VICE?” was all I could think of saying. Despite my persuasive nature and charm, I was not granted access. So I spent another legendary musical performance distraught, singing alone to “Creep” while intermittently chatting with an adorable boy next to me who spoke in an accent I could hardly understand, aside from, “What a lovely track, yeah?” And a lovely track it was, but I felt so fucking alienated from it all.

Later that evening, Maceo Plex closed out the night with an outdoor set. People were dancing on each other’s shoulders and shuffling to strobe lights as Maceo spun intense techno underneath the sun rising from the east. This time, I took in the music surrounded by the friends I’d lost touch with earlier, and the feeling of being with them at a multi-stage festival in a foreign country was unmatched glory. I even had some company to walk my tired-ass up the stairs and out the festival exit once it ended, and watch me devour an entire personal pepperoni pizza on the sidewalk at 6:00AM. If I did that alone I would be a sad-sack, right?

The relief I experienced when reuniting with my drunken friends made me realize something: we live in an age where sharing experiences with your friends is something routine, be it in person or on social media. Going solo to Primavera Sound left me without a source of external validation, with no one to acknowledge that I’d really seen these acts I’d waited years to see, except for my Snapchat followers. Call me a product of my environment, but I’ve been molded, and so have you. I spent more time questioning why I couldn’t break that mold and enjoy my alone time at the festival than I did simply listening, observing, and reveling in it all.

Thatcompounded by a UK-related hangover, potential quarter-life millennial crisis, and missing some guycaused my photos of the festival to reflect something of a despondent mood, focusing on the shapes and colors found at Primavera Sound rather than the music and the crowd. They say good art raises your state of consciousness, so if you find yourself questioning your habits and overall existence after viewing this gallery, I’d consider it a win.

Sara Wass is a VICE staffer and NYC-based (actual) photographer and writer. Check out more of her work here.

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