Primavera Sound 2013 – Parc Del Forum, Barcelona – 23-25/5/13
03 Jun 2013
RFB's Toby L recounts three days in Barcelona for Primavera Sound 2013.
Photography: Deborah Chang
Not even in bitter, frankly dastardly winds can spirits be dampened at Primavera 2013. Blindly expectant for another year of lobster-sunburn, the customary Barcelonan uniform of shorts and t-shirt is discarded at the last minute this year for trousers and multiple layers. This isn’t how it should be. But with rough seas and a perpetual Glastonbury-at-3am chill, sometimes choice really is a luxury.
Alas, we will just have to make do with the finest line-up of the summer. This year, once again, Primavera Sound continues to outstrip its contemporaries with truly intuitive music programming, summoning sunrises and sunsets with the most elegiac and magical of soundtracks. There’s also its new, bold timetable, mirroring that of Sonar (soon to take over the same city in a fortnight’s time). With the main stages starting later than ever – around 6pm – it means the last act will ring its last note out of the PA at an impressive 7am. There’s also the matter of the ever-increasing scale – an extra 15,000 attendees a day, denoting a new, massive Heineken-sponsored stage in the middle of a gravel track on the farthest reaches of the site. To compensate for the trek, they’ve chucked in a ferris wheel on the way. Nice touch.
Our three-day holiday by the beach commences as it should: pretty and inviting indie rock courtesy of Wild Nothing, a soft and angelic opening in the mellowing evening sun. Live, Jack Tatum’s once-bedroom recorded, solo operation is bolstered by a tight and proficient group of hipsters, and each jangly tune of introspective yearning thunders along at a pleasing, bobbing pace, easing us in gradually.
Savages are up next, drawing a huge crowd, and seeming particularly incensed today. Pulsing, dangerous, alluring, they are tighter and more pummeling than ever before, treating it as a stand-off between us and them, white lights patrolling the stage as Jehnny Beth prowls and stares us up. It’s all going swimmingly until the guitars cut out, but even then the rolling bass lines and galloping drum grooves keep us entranced. Most other bands would cower in bed-wetting shame, but instead Beth air drums, offers 'muchos gracias', and smiles. These days, they don't so much command the stage as destroy it.
Then a band I confess to having never really got. Tame Impala. Within initial listens, I heard a somewhat standard stab at psychedelic throwback rock, and couldn’t understand the hype. Today, in a stadium-like context, it becomes clearer. In reality, they are the realisation of MGMT’s early promise. Smart hooks, backed by stunningly colourful, vivid visuals and amazing musicianship throughout. There’s also their knowingness, which keeps it resoundingly present day – ‘Auto-Prog’ best illustrating the point. A welcome revelation.
On the other side of the site is a familiar London face, beaming incessantly. 'I always wanted to play this festival, thank you Primavera!' Yes, Jessie Ware is so bloody charming she can do no wrong tonight. Sultry pop tunes with Prince-d up live arrangements and added sass, we're eating out of the palm of her laaarvely ‘and. Although the confines of a festival set-length threaten to elude her at points – 'I’m trying to keep my chat to a minimum, it's hard for me!' – she still manages to cram in twelve dashings of salacious modern soul, closing with the sing-along couplet of ‘Wildest Moments’ and ‘Running’. There’s a potentially magnificent and lengthy career brewing here; it’s a pleasure to witness it unfurl.
Due to some intriguing structural engineering, the new site layout means that if you hop on your right foot, you can hear Bob Mould knocking it out on the ATP Stage, and if you hop on your left you get The Postal Service. It’s a timewarp back to the age of gorgeous Gameboy pop from the latter winsome dreamers, who recently reformed to much aplomb. Light pogoing and joyful dancing is prompted and judging by the impassioned delivery from singer Ben Gibbard, this marks a mutually fulfilling return for a project that was arguably a decade before its time. By the time their staple ‘Such Great Heights’ is aired, the audience is gushing, the short, sharp, guitar stabs and that warming, euphoric chorus never seeming so resonant.
Grizzly Bear keep things cosmic, delivering a bit of a guitar-fuelled dreamfest of a show. The harmonies are unrivalled all weekend, and the spirit from the stage is contagious. From ‘Speak in Rounds’, we’re enraptured, and the gratitude is evident onstage, Chris Taylor and co are visibly unable to believe their virtually-headline status at this year’s event.
Over at Heineken village, Phoenix are continuing their Vegas-esque pop show and it’s altogether more upbeat. Acknowledging their early roots by performing still-glimmering, early single ‘Too Young’, they know how to tear up a festival, with half their set comprising breakthrough LP Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and the rest marking an up tempo frenzy of superlative pop songwriting and energetic showmanship. A closing reprise of their opener ‘Entertainment’ even features a star turn from J Mascis of Dinosaur Jnr, who presumably wandered on after getting lost trying to find catering.
All very nice, all very pleasant – so let’s allow Death Grips to shit on our parade. Shame there’s no Zach Hill present on drums tonight for added ferocity, but still, when you’re faced with the foreboding, Sagat-from-Street-Fighter-II-like writhing motions of MC Ride, there’s no shortage of fury or intensity. He spits and gyrates as Andy Morin lets out unspeakable sampler nastiness, creating an industrial hip-hop war-zone of gargantuan, loud and offensive proportions. Simply horrible. And it’s a total highlight.
Fittingly, the evening begins to feel loose, like anything can happen. Clouds begin painting eerie shapes, the sea is growing vengeful and coarse, whilst a grassy knoll overlooking the Primavera Stage is becoming ever filled with night-owls attempting to gnaw off their own noses, hugging everyone near and dear to them.
We choose our company well, seeing the evening out with Four Tet, whose slow building minimal-tronica keeps the concrete grounds shaking into the early hours. Animal Collective are on clearing up orders at the Primavera Stage, with a gone-3am start time. However, much of the audience has had enough already, departing the main gates in a vain bid to preserve itself for another two days – a shame, because after an hour, their set really gets going, with ‘My Girls’ and ‘The Purple Bottle’ from Feels never sounding more trippy and kaleidoscopic. It also helps that they’re playing in a luminous cave, of course. Day one, over and out.
Kurt Vile & The Violators see in Friday at our new equivalent of ‘morning’ (6.10pm). Unspeakable bass feedback prohibits us from savouring much of his initial set – only when it strips back to a pensive acoustic guitar can the lilting melodies seduce us as effectively as his records. Not to worry, someone kicks the FOH desk seemingly, because by the time a final ‘Freak Train’ rattles into view, we’re nodding along just like we should. Next door at ATP are this year’s buzz/fuzz band de force, Merchandise. Melodic, and charming - 'We are from Tampa Bay – and we have come a long way to play for you today…’ – they are all donning sunglasses and clad in black, sounding surprisingly massive. Until one of them accidentally gets a bit too excited and flicks his shades off by mistake. At which point, I really start to like them.
‘This is our first time wearing these shirts... Give them a week,' cringes singer David Maclean of Django Django, looking like an ill zebra in one of four matching garments. DD are another band that I’d dispensed in the Tame Impala category – perhaps hampered by a particularly average early show of theirs I saw years ago. Again, I’m thrilled to learn that I’m wrong. These days, their hypnotic, enveloping arrangements, possessive of skull-scratchingly simple repetition, build and build and always reach a startling climax. From their meandering, tone-setting intro through to ‘Hail Bop’ and a sizzling ‘Storm’, in just three tracks, the Scottish quartet manage to stir up a kraut-via-disco frenzy that other by-numbers indie acts should take stock of. Imagination should never be discounted.
Afterwards, we walk past the haunting bass filth of Om whilst en route to the comparatively palatable Solange (she wins out of our mega headf**k clash with Shellac and The Breeders), who provides easily one of the weekend’s standout turns. Before the start, however, the ominous thump of Daughn Gibson keeps us suitably terrified and intrigued as the skies darken and waters get choppy once more.
'We're going to smooth it out a bit for you guys,' utters Solange with a cheeky smile, before easing into an eighties slow jam. Tonight she owns it. The busiest Pitchfork Stage attendance of the weekend sees references that are sharp and astute, brandishing vintage chart pop the likes of Luther and Jacko would have approved of. Her band, led by the reinvented, ex-Test Icicle/ex-Lightspeed Champion, Dev Hynes, is immensely charismatic, suited and booted all the while. It's music they want to share and the 'vibes', as Solange calls them, are well and truly embraced this evening. Her dancing is natural and foxy, interspersed with nifty breakout moves in unison with the rest of the band.
Only once does Solange break the mood, and it’s welcome when she does. 'Put down your cameraphones and lose yourselves in the mother**king moment!' They then drop her current signature, ‘Losing You’, and of course people lose their shit. Like Jessie the day before, another fledgling career that we feel privileged to behold.
Now, time for a quick history lesson. 21 years ago, in 1992, there was an event called The Rollercoaster Tour, which tore up the UK with a legendary line-up, offering the best in alternative indie music of its time. It featured our next band The Jesus & Mary Chain, as well as yesterday’s appearing Dinosaur Jnr. It also boasted My Bloody Valentine – playing tomorrow evening – and a fourth band who opened the tour (we’ll come on to them very shortly).
This weekend, somewhat surreally, sees its informal, unplanned, unbilled reunion – with all four acts performing across the weekend. Prescient, it seems, that the innovators of that year, of that tour, are still held with the reverence and acclaim that they are today.
And yet, certainly, TJ&MC don’t give a flying f**k. Looking positively miserable for an entire seventy minutes, they dirge their way through classics ‘Just Like Honey’ (featuring Bilinda Butcher of MBV), ‘Some Candy Talking’, ‘Sidewalking’, and somehow it feels like that’s just how it should be. The mystery has gone; the hair has been dramatically de-poofed. A vain attempt to unleash the smoke machines is commendable enough.
Then, weirdly, in the ensuing break before tonight’s headliners, a blast of sound emits from the PA, although no one’s on stage.
‘Erm, hello, we’re The Wedding Present,’ a voice meekly stutters. We turn to our right, and – sure and awkwardly enough – another veteran Brit indie act starts a three-song show atop a viewing balcony across from the main stage.
‘We’re as surprised as you are,’ mutters singer David Gedge, looking and feeling, well, much like an unwanted wedding present. However, enough warmth eminates for a closing ‘My Favourite Dress’ to not deem the whole thing too random.
The challenge was probably down to who they were preceding in all fairness. And it’s that fourth, opening band of the Rollercoaster Tour, from all those years ago. A band that, back then, no one in their right mind had anticipated to become the group that they are today. Yes, Blur are not just tonight’s headliners, but seemingly the weekend’s too. With reports that every other stage was a ghost town during their appearance, it’s little surprise, because tonight doesn’t feel like it could house any more people. It’s crammed.
And such is the pull and unifying force of this seminal pop act – a band that – in retrospect – successfully led a double life whilst in the limelight: primarily, and most publicly, revered as the cheeky chappy, flawless successors to The Kinks’ crown; and more privately, the experimental, deeply emotional and stirring noise-mongers that helped them attain such gravitas today. For every ‘Girls & Boys’ – which opens tonight’s performance to rapturous shrieks – there’s a ‘Caramel’, a scintillating heroin-soul oddity that features gospel singing, pump organ, timpani drums and the sort of drowning guitar feedback and disorientating loop effects that haunt Thurston Moore’s dreams.
'Sometimes it's great doing this... Tonight is one of those moments,’ smiles Damon Albarn, clearly in reckless mode judging by his unrelenting pogoing and never-ending attempts to soak the front rows with gallons of water.
Blur aren’t the tightest they’ve ever been this evening – it is around 2am, to be fair – but what this provides instead is a punk exhibition. ‘Country House’ and ‘Parklife’ are performed back to back, spat out with bile and fury, Albarn forgetting words in both songs. ‘Popscene’, meanwhile is ridiculously fast, whilst ‘There’s No Other Way’ goes the other way – sounding slower than on record. The touch of sloppiness somehow adds to the performance, however, with Damon constantly goading drummer Dave Rowntree to up the ante, throwing his fists and jumping on to the riser.
Exceptional song follows exceptional song – ‘Beetlebum’, ‘Out of Time’, ‘Coffee & TV’, ‘Tender’, ‘End of a Century’, ‘This is a Low’ – and after a short encore comes a three-part course in modern balladry that induces tears and raises the bar. Featuring Damon’s finest, most impassioned vocal of the evening, ‘Under the Westway’ proves that if Blur want to keep this going, they easily can. ‘For Tomorrow’ – the 1993 prologue to ‘UTW’ – follows in suitable fashion with a scintillating choir and brass arrangement, before collapsing into set standout ‘The Universal’, whose ‘really, really, really could happen’ refrain manages to mean something different, yet somehow magically the same, to 50,000 people all at once.
They part company with a propulsive ‘Song 2’, exiting the stage after just 85 minutes to deafening applause. Better live now than ever before, with their songs’ prophetic value left ringing in the air, Blur may have opened the Rollercoaster Tour back in 1992, but now they’re most certainly closing it.
Normally at this point at any other festival, you’d call it quits and retreat to a campsite to drink your mate’s Scrumpy Jack until you vom into your wellies. At Primavera, however, what most people like to do is lick some mysterious chemicals and keep going. So even though it’s nearing 4am, a lot of folk are getting a sudden urge to dance… No worries there, though, because The Knife have the same inclination. To an alarming respect, their latest live show has been received with mixed response from critics and fans – chiefly because it’s not a ‘live’ show. It’s more a performance art piece, enriched with dizzying lights, masterful dance routines, costume changes, and a soundtrack composed of some of the most exhilarating avant-garde pop of the past decade.
… Erm, so what’s the big deal again? As 20,000 people grind and grin amid the twilight hours, this suddenly feels like the way all music should be represented – glorious and theatrical, romantic and enchanting. I’d take that over moody, mimed laptops any day. By the time a closing ‘Silent Shout’ brings the house down, we’re more than a bit ready to carry on.
Daphni is here to oblige with a closing set, ready and willing to enthrall a loyal few thousand delinquent party animals that remain eager to move until the bitter, grisly end. Matching the initial full moon setting, he delights with an enraptured blend of bass devastation (and some peculiarly uplifting sax samples) before lightening the mood with 70s disco smoothness, astutely avoiding the obvious, de jour Chic / Daft Punk options. As the sun emerges, so goes the music, brightening and lifting, until it hits 6.30am and everyone gets ushered out – a serene close to a day where anything seemed possible. Health Warning: remember, this is just the end of Day Two.
The Sea and Cake open the final day, showcasing a metronomic swirl of shimmering guitars, sublime builds and emotive, unpretentious melodies. The effortless drumming comes courtesy of Tortoise and Thrill Jockey stalwart John McEntire, culminating in an incredible closing salvo of Reich-like repetition, krautrock and Sonic Youth-esque blow outs: a terrific final release in a set otherwise so well restrained and articulate and a surprise standout performance of the weekend.
And speaking of surprises, with Band of Horses unable to make their flights due to severe weather warnings, Deerhunter step in, with singer Brandon Cox leading MC duties, in his own inimitable style.
‘We are Band of Horses: Part 2 - The Reckoning... Live here at Primavera Sound… The best festival in the world... In Barcelona, the best city in the world…'
He actually means it – this is their third performance this weekend. And they don’t do this shoegaze noise pop thing by halves – ‘Cryptogram’ sounds pretty ferocious up there on the big stage, a throbbing ‘The Missing’ does too. Wearing a pair of ill-fitting shades and with a dyed mop of dark hair, whereas once before Cox was an unlikely rock star, he now fits the bill with bizarre ease, not dissimilar to the transition Thom Yorke made between ‘Pablo Honey’ and ‘The Bends’ in the early days.
Taking things up another gear, Wu-Tang Clan open with ‘Bring Da Ruckus’ and it sounds f**king huge. The sort of out of the blue, lightning bolt energy bomb we need at this point on day three. There are hipster kids pogoing in all directions, and it’s kind of hilarious. It really is amazing the way that hip-hop icons have been adopted by the middle classes, and you suspect that they think this too.
'A lot of y'all don't know where hip-hop started. A lot of mother**kers have got your iPads, your iPhones…'
Cue the DJ tactics, where Mathematics gets impressive behind the decks, speeding shit up and even taking off his shoes mid-scratching at a ridiculous pace. It’s as awesome as it is sidesplitting. 'That's the classic hip hop shit you don't see no more.'
'A few people couldn't show today, missed their flights, negotiations or shit,’ is the response to why there’s no Method Man or Raekwon on stage today, before it’s continued, ‘There's another guy that couldn't show. ODB.'
Cue a tribute to Ol’ Dirty Bastard by Ghostface, GZA and co, and it’s pretty epic stuff, 30,000 people shaking their illuminated cellphones in the air and eventually getting down to a raging ‘Gravel Pit’. Tunes, performance, charisma, and malapropisms – ‘Barcelonia’ is called out more than once – and Wu-Tang officially claim the crown as one of the weekend’s indisputable moments.
Not ones to be left behind, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds won’t allow themselves to be excluded from that category either. In just over an hour, we get a greatest hits barrage of sex, smut, violence and terror from Cave and associates this evening. It all starts sensibly enough – the lounge-y ‘We Know Who U R’ creeps into a rousing ‘Jubilee Street’, two new songs fast becoming essential to the Cave catalogue, the latter instigated as a soft and lilting melody and unfurling into a screaming orchestra of noise.
It kicks off a sonic downward spiral that infuses the rest of the set – a tumultuous, virtually tuneless ‘From Her To Eternity’ is simply exhilarating, whilst ‘Red Right Hand’ is shuffling, bell-donging seduction in evil. It’s evident that they really know how to play stadia-sized environments, violinist Warren Ellis kicking the air, Cave himself wriggling around and pointing sinisterly at the audience. 'It's f**king freezing,' grimaces Cave, before dedicating an incensed ‘Tupelo’ to Elvis Presley, whose 'light still lives on in my heart'.
It’s for sure a nasty set tonight, perhaps in part down to the full moon hiding behind tonight’s black clouds. By the time ‘Mercy Seat’ follows, there’s only one place left – ‘Stagger Lee’: his most ravaging, primal and revolting song to date. It opens innocently enough, Nick approaching the front rows, hugging fans at the front. Give it a few minutes and he’s borderline f**king them – audience members grabbing his crotch as he gropes and leers back. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not even a resounding, calming closer in the shape of ‘Push The Sky Away’ can erode the memory, and nor do we want it to.
And with one pelvic thrust after another, Cave concludes our three day orgasmic odyssey in sound, a weekend where the concept of genre, scene or hype didn’t matter once, and where the only limitations that existed in trying to figure out when one would get an hour off to have a sit down. Such was the depth and scope of the bill, there was no down time – through and through, Primavera Sound is a marathon of quality.