Summer Music Festival
Vadim Ponomarenko | Adobe Stock

Summer 2023 European Music Festivals Promise an Exciting Mix of Genres

After the draught of the pandemic, Europe’s biggest and newest music festivals ramp up the hype by expanding for the summer 2023 season. Get a preview here.

With the dread of the COVID-19 pandemic and mass performance cancelations behind us (hopefully forever), music festivals across the (North)Western hemisphere have had all hands on deck for media exposure and prime slots on our Instagram and TikTok feeds for months already. Among the usual narratives of art, “freedom”, and “joy”, another trend has solidified in the post-pandemic reality: proliferation and franchising.

Many traditional vogue events most people know by name have expanded to multiple cities, countries, and even continents; some have duplicated themselves to enable audiences in different places to share the experience. (Coachella, for example, duplicated itself over two weekends in the same spot to accommodate the outlandish demand for tickets.) By the same token, some events have amplified themselves by extending their run to multiple weeks or months even, with a single headliner and a small number of supporting acts per night; think a regular concert night, but with many big names playing day after day. 

Knowing that most of these events sell out months in advance clearly indicates our desire to enjoy live shows. Perhaps most importantly, the ever-growing list of performers is usually diverse across the board, inviting the crowds to enjoy distinct genres and aesthetics. For those traveling around Europe who might want to hook themselves up with a bit of the continent’s summer festival mayhem, here are some of the events to consider: 

Primavera Sound Barcelona/Madrid

Where and when: 29 May – 4 June Barcelona; 5-11 June Madrid

Who: Kendrick Lamar, Blur, Depeche Mode, Rosalía, Halsey, Calvin Harris, New Order, Baby Keem, Four Tet, and more.

How much: ca. $350 for a full pass

How far we’ve come from 2001. Once a mid-scale, integrated urban happening looking to bring artists and other industry professionals together over some shows in Barcelona is today one of the largest global music industry events. Known for its love of electronic music and late-night sessions, multi-venue, 24-hour party experiences, and an absolutely uncompromising lineup leaning heavily toward electronica and MTV-era giants, Primavera spread like wildfire in the narratives of metropolitan connoisseurs. 

It’s been over a decade since its creators realized that Primavera Sound has outgrown the confines of a single illustrious party city, so now we get to enjoy a series of festivals across a heap of the world’s most celebrated fiesta spots. Porto was the first expansion to be added in 2012, followed by Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, and Los Angeles in 2022.

From this year on, Madrid will also be thrown in the mix, with the same lineup as Barcelona on stage a week after the “home” event. This is a sound decision because the Barcelona edition sold out year after year. Both events will kick off with a free show by Pet Shop Boys, Jake Bugg, Confidence Man, and La Paloma, followed by a three-day melting pot of genres and a fourth night dedicated to clubbing, with Diplo headlining. It’s an absolute must for any music enthusiast, especially those affiliated with the industry. The famous Primavera Pro professional conference, branded as a “compass for the whole industry”, is also taking place 31 May – 4 June in Barcelona. If you’re looking to enjoy and create music, Primaver Sound is the place to be. 

Mad Cool Madrid 

Where and when: 6-8 July Madrid

Who: Robbie Williams, Lizzo, Lil Nas X, Machine Gun Kelly, Mumford and Sons, Queens of the Stone Age, The Black Keys, Sam Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Prodigy, Janelle Monae, Jamie XX, The 1975, The Offspring, Franz Ferdinand, and more.

How much: ca. $250 for a full pass.

Drawing on Primavera’s extraordinary success (and the fact that the Spanish capital struggled to establish a big music festival for decades), not to mention Spain’s astonishing popularity with party-friendly tourists, Madrid finally came up with a solution of its own in 2016. Mad Cool never hid its ambition to become one of the biggest pop-rock festivals in the world; astoundingly, it actually made the cut within a few years. PopMatters reported on the 2018 edition, which had already seen the event transfer to a bigger venue on the outskirts of the city (by the Madrid Fair) to accommodate the tens of thousands of people looking for a ticket. More than 80,000 people attended each day and stayed until the break of dawn. It was a wonderful affair.

Despite a two-year COVID-19 break, Mad Cool has pulled off cementing its status as one of the continent’s best and most sought-after events. Knowing their roster included Metallica, Pearl Jam, The Who, Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys, Kings of Leon, Muse, The Killers, Nine Inch Nails, Florence + the Machine, and many more over just five editions, this comes as no surprise. Extra kudos go to the management for keeping ticket prices affordable and headliners as strong as ever despite Primavera coming to town.

I-Days Milano

Where and when: Intermittently between 22 June and 15 July, Milan

Who: Florence + the Machine, Rosalía, Travis Scott, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Arctic Monkeys…

How much: $50-100 for a daily pass.

Milan, Italy’s northern gem and one of the must-see cities for any self-respecting Eurotripper, has been a Mecca of style, shopping, and all things high class for decades. What it’s sorely lacked, until now, was a major music event to go with the Italian epicureanism, especially during the outdoor season when Aperol Spritz is ubiquitously enjoyed from 10 am (not an exaggeration). Luckily, LiveNation understood the rising demand for boisterous, not to mention branded, musical happenings, so this year we get I-Days, a month-long intermittent festival taking place at the San Siro horse racing circuit. 

I-Days, founded as Independent Days in 1999, has itself been an on-again-off-again event, changing dates and venues year after year. Having hosted many of the most prominent names in rock and pop, it grew to a record-breaking crowd for an Italian festival of 210,000 (over four days) in 2017, when it took place at Monza Park, with Radiohead, Justin Bieber, Linkin Park, and Green Day headlining. 

Understanding that variety is key to success, this year’s I-Days’ performers are just as disparate as in 2017. Florence + the Machine plus Foals, Rosalía + Tinashe, The Black Keys plus Liam Gallagher, and many more, will be taking to the stage over the summer. With daily passes available for just about $50-60 for most days, the expectation is that crowds from all walks of life will surge to the San Siro tracks after days of boozy festivities. 

Sziget Festival 

Where and when: 10-15 August, Budapest

Who: Billy Eilish, Florence + the Machine, David Guetta, Macklemore, Mumford and Sons, Lorde, Imagine Dragons, and more.

How much: $400 for a weekly pass.

If you’ve ever wanted to enjoy the best of the Old Continent on a budget, then Budapest, Hungary’s opulent capital, is truly one of the best cities you’ll ever have the pleasure of exploring. Tucked comfortably in the heart of central Europe, with low-cost flight connection to just about any city in the Western Hemisphere, it has been home to the one-of-a-kind Sziget for nearly 30 years now. In short-ish, it’s an entire island merely five overground stops from the city center that gets commissioned for a full week each August to host about half a million partiers from over 100 countries who swarm there for a holiday of camping/glamping, art, music, and generally an unspeakably vast array of content. Just dive into the years of reporting PopMatters has published on the event and uncover the incredible scope of activities the Sziget team has delivered over the years. 

As has been the case for a decade now, Sziget’s generally eclectic musical programming skews heavily toward radio pop and electronica, with many up-and-coming names spread across over a dozen stages. Billy Eilish, Lorde, Imagine Dragons, David Guetta, and Mumford and Sons are some of the names to grace the Main Stage, while the Party Arena, one of Europe’s largest electronic music venues, will be lit until the morning with sets by Diplo, Tale of Us, Adam Beyer, Reinier Zonneveld, Troyboi, and more. 

If $400 seems like a lot for a ticket, keep in mind that the ticket buys you a six-day entry with free camping and that Budapest is generally known as one of Europe’s most affordable metropolises. A pint of beer is usually around $3, with full meals normally ranging between $5-10. At Sziget, complete infrastructure is provided for the visitors so that you don’t have to leave the island at all unless you want to. Flushable toilets, showers, and pop-up supermarkets with prices barely differing from retail are all at one’s disposal. If you’re not grossed out by the idea of swimming in the Danube, Sziget could be your complete summer holiday this year – here are also beaches, game tents, and even TED talk panels on the island. 

Rock en Seine

Where and when: 23, 25, and 26 August, Paris

Who: The Strokes, The Chemical Brothers, Foals, Billie Eilish, Florence + the Machine, Placebo, Fever Ray, and more.

How much: $200 for a three-day pass.

Among the many events massive in scale and scope sits Rock en Seine, a cozy, still modestly-sized festival well worth your attention. Taking place at the end of August on the river Seine, its biggest selling point is that it’s in Paris, the most sought-after European destination, apart from London. Should you find yourself in the city of love and burning barricades this summer, give Rock en Seine a go; you will be getting a dozen Billboard Hot 100 acts per day for the price of a single concert ticket. The capacity capped at 40,000 attendees per day makes for an ideally sized crowd – big enough to carry the atmosphere of fervor and fête but still comfortable enough not to turn into a shitshow of endless hordes stampeding in the dust.

Among the typical “give peace a chance” pledges by the festival, embodied in the commitment to waste reduction, mindful energy consumption, and diversity, perhaps the cutest idea dreamed up by the organizers is the Mini Rock en Seine, a rock camp for “future rockers” age 6-12 to learn about music. If you’re planning a family vacation, Rock en Seine might be ideal for multiple generations to have fun.