15 Jun 2012

A written and photographic synopsis of, arguably, The World’s Greatest Music Festival in 2012. (And a brief-ish pre-amble about the generally dismal state of the festival market).

It’s with a vague sense of authority that Rockfeedback can declare Primavera Sound the finest festival currently in existence, a suspicion made concrete with the passing of this year’s most recent edition.



There are numerous, no-brainer explanations for our seemingly heinous dashing of hyperbole – a handful off the top of my (still-recovering) head being: 

- It’s in Barcelona, where sand, sea and smut unite in a manner typically reserved for the most sordid of fantasies. When you’ve simply partied as hard as you possibly can, you just carry your 7am-and-still-going throng to the…

- Beach. This festival is held right next to a beach.

- It’s also within a purpose-built, concrete jungle of an outdoor arena – ideally designed for intense rocking, featuring: a modernist-psychedelic array of seated amphitheaters, a vaguely sophisticated, seated food court, and patches of mysteriously tall plants that always get covered in plumes of vomit by the end of the night.

- What’s more, you don’t stay in tents… crappy, either extremely hot or freezing, muddy, rubbish, piss-sodden tents. Instead, you and your mates club together in a sleazy apartment in the gloriously debauched Gothic Quarter, or – if overdrafts permit – a swanky apartment overlooking the sea.

Finally, like Lionel, the whole damn thing goes off all night long.

Yet, chiefly, beyond this lies an oceanic depth and consideration within the music programming, its most eminent quality. Primavera Sound isn’t mere artist booking by (financial) numbers – which, for context, can be typified as the philosophy adopted by a major promoter in the current landscape, as follows:

  • First off, book HUGE, familiar-name headliners that will sell 80% of the tickets (usually involving acts that only last topped the bill two or three years ago, or recently reformed);

  • Then, lock down a ‘main support’ or two that are big-ish;

  • Continue to confirm a range of ‘mid’-sized acts that have been knocking about for the last ten years in various forms;

  • Finally, fill the rest of the line-up across various stages offering ‘favour slots’ to young aspiring acts delivered by booking agents that have already help you secure the larger acts from their roster. Boom.

And so it’s little wonder that festivals are experiencing a dip in public interest with the above formula: it’s formulaic, and the figures too demanding on all sides. After a couple of years, why would you go back for more?

So, the slightly obvious conclusion: the only thing defensible, in any given era, is quality, experience, and – where possible – the avoidance of repetition.

Primavera Sound’s team seemingly understand this and, via its cutthroat sense of taste and balance, manage to curate – year after year – the most eclectic and essential music compendium to inaugurate the summer. Early on in the day, you get to find out if those blog heroes can genuinely deliver live; mid-way, you’re singing anthems by some of our era’s most seminal names; by nightfall, you’re in a neon daze, dancing and marching to a succession of beats-ridden experts who excel in luring you out of your temporary 12am slump, ensuring you effortlessly cruise towards a bleary-eyed all-nighter. 

The whole process is so seductive and subtle, it’s dawn before you even realise it.

With this savvy and passion, it’s why I’ve been compelled to return for four consecutive years. And it’s testament to an event that features the cancellation of one of its three high-profile headliners in Bjork (let alone further no-shows from The Melvins and stoner-rock types Sleep) that you still don’t even notice something magical missing from the line-up.

With the above rolling around in my briefly sober mind, and before a single note is heard ringing from a PA stack, it’s fair to say we have high hopes for Primavera 2012. 

Fortunately, PURITY RING don’t let anyone down. For this impending, dark and hypnotic display, we should be in a canyon, or a long, disused railway tunnel at dusk. But, as it is, we’re by the sun and sea, in beautiful Barcelona. Credit to PR’s enchanting bass-driven tones, choppy beats and Megan James’ beguiling, bewitching vocals, we’re still transfixed, whilst the impressively triggered light-show-cum-drumkit is a sublime touch. 

[Purity Ring]

All leading us to conclude that PR represent a reassuring future for dark, icy pop music – one brimming with presence, precision, and most magically of all, soul and passion for its craft.

Take your sunglasses off, I want to see your eyes,’ purrs the impossibly sultry Samantha Urbani from FRIENDS shortly afterwards. It’s enough to make me shiver despite the sunburn nestling on the back of my bright, British neck. This salacious slab of disco-y, jungly, pop tuneage doesn’t let up for its duration - like CSS with less kitsch and novelty – and it particularly helps that they have some monster tunes.


Conversely, ICE AGE are here to appall, with their lanky, flailing punky discordance, which wakes us up on the Pitchfork Stage. Nasty, scratchy guitars and timelessly arrogant frontman vibes courtesy of Johan Surrballe Wieth provide a grand contrast to the comparative control and slickness of PR witnessed in the same arena just minutes before.

Obnoxious, Ramones-y, Strummer vox chants and thrashings bring Primavera crowds over to the Danish dark-side temporarily, and it’s soon we realize they remind us of a great, recent lost band – Jakobinarina from Iceland. Suddenly it’s refreshing to have young-faced oik-rock disruption to break up the relative prettiness and esoteric nature of the wider bill. When it clamours to a pummelling climax, they walk off the stage expressionless and unbothered, a suitably self-involved, non-pleasing exit.

[Ice Age]

Sonic Youth’s LEE RANALDO flickers between such eternal teen angst and, conversely, a remarkably tuneful, Stipe-esque hand with melody over in the idyllic setting of the ATP arena. Steve Shelley is on drums, making this band officially 50% Sonic Youth (YES), and just as we thought Ranaldo’s days of thwacking a drumstick against a feedbacky fretboard seemed aeons ago, he suddenly reaches for a violin bow to do the same. God bless this man.

Next up, it’s our first reformed glories of the weekend – the undeniably influential AFGHAN WHIGS, who have lent so many choruses to the Foo Fighters, it’s a wonder their Main Stage isn’t covered in pure gold. But whereas the Foo’s took such urgent, emotive pummelling to daytime radio heights, the Whigs have a more sensitive, cello-strewn approach, demonstrable in today’s full line-up.

Grand, crashing guitars and forceful, ravaged vocals, turn the daylight to darkness. And so proves another worthwhile reunion, admittedly, and something the band's mighty hordes go ballistic for, even when the intensity is taken down a notch.

[Mazzy Star]

And cripes, here's another one (reformed band): MAZZY STAR. Moody, sumptuous chimings from one of the most visually stunning and invoking groups of their time. Tonight they garner the audience volume you'd/they'd pray was possible, a full amphitheater engulfed in evening twilight and enchanting melody, set to a stage of huge projections.

TOUCH ME I'M SICK!!!!!’ screams MUDHONEY’s Mark Arm down the path, which we fail to ignore, during a blistering rendition of their signature, deranged-garage-punk anthem, which, lest we forget, was the first song featured on their debut EP from over 20 years ago. A sign that, sometimes, even if you peak early, it doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate that fact for many, many, many years to come – as long as you still do it with honest punch and conviction.

Clearly, WILCO are similarly enjoying themselves in a prominent headline set on the San Miguel Stage. 'You guys are the best audience in the world… and I'm not just saying that,' grins a be-hatted Jeff Tweedy.


Swathed in predominantly blue throughout, this is clearly a magical one for the band tonight – the city’s twinkling skyline their backdrop, and their audience an entirely besotted one. ‘We've got too many songs!' they bellow when realising the experience will be ending soon, reflecting jovial spirits, whilst hurling out cheeky Americana anthems one by one, amidst piping Hammond organ and hazy pedal steel. It's addictive and euphoric, not just onstage.

THE XX also seem misty-eyed. ‘This is our first festival in almost two years... One of our favourite festivals in the world.'

[The XX] 

Alternating new and old songs seamlessly with a brighter stage set, there’s less awkward finesse on show than before – this band is now tighter, confident, more palpably soulful. The evidence of their debut, eponymous album having made a huge dent in the public’s consciousness is now more apparent than ever: songs are sung along to in unison and there’s the general sense that any concerns of this being a fleeting, Mercury Prize-focussed, one off love affair being safely abandoned.

[The XX]

 Keeping it raucous are REFUSED, our final reunion act (of today at least). After an hour of taut hardcore, we get a moving and screamed speech to leave us with a smile:

 Love life!

 Live life the way you wanna live it!

 Remember, always stay f**king cool, always stay f**king wild… stay f**king hungry, alright?!'

 Which leads us to conclude their underlying fervour: a self-help seminar with strobes, mosh-pits, finger pointing and a hell of a lot of ace screamo intensity.

 And so well curated is Primavera Sound that, by 1.45am, without even knowing it, you really, really do actually fancy a few banging indie hits.

 So, FRANZ FERDINAND are here to play us out, everybody. And, boy, are they aware of their purpose today – they open with debut single ‘Darts of Pleasure’, follow with debut LP standout ‘Tell Her Tonight’, and immediately provide the pop shot in the arm that cannot be underestimated amongst such a comparatively serious line-up. Big tunes. Simple. Always works. Every song follows fast and furiously.

[Franz Ferdinand]

Glam, camp Bowie swagger and Orange Juice tunefulness infuses a host of massive songs from a career that’s you all too easily forget has soundtracked some of your favourite nights out – ‘Take Me Out’, ‘Walk Away’, ‘The Fallen’, ‘Oh, You Girls’, ‘Ulysses’, ‘Michael’ all thunder past in violent succession and it makes for a massive atmosphere. By the time it culminates in a ferocious ‘This Fire’, you genuinely wonder where the last 75 minutes have gone. Even with Kapranos bearing a ‘sore throat’. Wry, sophisticated, infectious, Franz set the vanguard for classic British indie pop that others should never be afraid to study. 

Soon twigging that all of this was merely the first day, we promptly stagger home and pass out smiling(/slightly drooling).

Part 2 to follow...

[All Pictures by Deborah Chang] 

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