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Festival Review and Photos: Primavera Sound Festival 2013, May 23-25 – Barcelona, Spain



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Photos by Dani Canto, Kyu Han, Eric Pamies, Toni Rosado, Xarlene & author’s own

Barcelona has to be the best city in the world, right? And that’s not just during festival season either – it’s just a really lovely place to be in general, full of warm people with warm smiles free to bask in warm weather due to the warm levels of 57% youth unemployment and hey, it’s just great. That tangible sense of geniality found across Barca was of course omnipresent at Primavera Sound, almost to a disarming extent: I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a friendlier crowd at any major event, on the continent or otherwise. Although not my first international foray, this did mark my introduction to European festivals, and it really couldn’t have been better. The seafront site was logistically sound, managing to keep volume levels super powerful while minimising inter-bleed to an impressive extent, perhaps excepting no mans land in between the ATP and Heineken stages where there was a fair amount of spill; the punters were convivial and considerate enough without losing an iota of energy or zeal; and augmented by the bolstering of local bookings and extensive records and art fayre by the entrance gates, there was a general sense of camaraderie and community that has all but evaporated from UK events of a relatable scale. In a similar vein to getting stuck in at Worthy Farm, stepping on site at the Parc del Forum is akin to entering a alternat(iv)e universe, however whereas the sheen of Glastonbury’s fabled all-inclusiveness has been dulled somewhat by the influx of Grazia-toting V Festival refugees in cutoff hotpants, Primavera was spot on across the board; “just such a good spirit,” as Ed Droste succinctly put it.

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To avoid turning this into a total Cytherean gush-fest, I should probably talk about the music. My party tried our hand at the Wednesday night John Talabot / Parquet Courts double-header – augmented by a secret Breeders slot – but the queue outside the Sala Apolo was 30000000 deep (approx), so we took the consolation prize of watching a gang of cavalier Gaslight Anthem fans sink bodyshots off one another to Crowded House in a nearby bar, which wasn’t bad. Despite the allure of a special Thursday matinee Animal Collective press conference – “uh, yeah, can you try not to make Centipede Hz again, please?” – the fact that all pre-festival nerves about alleged hailstorms were allayed by blissful conditions meant it seemed only right to kick things off with Wild Nothing. Jack Tatum’s gang played a primarily Nocture-based set, a record I admittedly should have spent a little bit more time with, but their brand of dainty throwbacks was pleasant as ever, although unpowered and a tad unconvincing on such a big stage. The vocals were too high in the mix and the rhythm guitar practically non-existant but the sturdy basswork carried the set, and they served their role as a decent mid-afternoon lead-in capably, improving in confidence as they progressed. While sarcastically referred to as “the hit” by a mate, when “Summer Holiday” was dropped in, it did feel like a true gem of recent years, harking back to the glorious summer of ’10 when this kind of hazy dream pop was a little less passé, and proved the clear standout.

But perhaps I’m being overly harsh on them – after all, next up on my colour-coded Clashfinder (yup) was Savages, a band no stranger to accusations of revivalism. In a marked contrast to Wild Nothing’s languid drift, Jehnny Beth jogged on the spot, hands half-clenched, as the outfit tore into the fierce squall of “Shut Up” to a bristling crowd down at the waterfront Pitchfork Stage. That area maintained arguably the perfect sound throughout the whole weekend, managing to faithfully reproduce whatever was being channelled through its speakers in a way that was neither slightly too loud (ATP / Ray Ban), slightly too quiet (Primavera, on occassion) or subject to slightly muddy mixing (Heineken). This obviously suited Savages, whose white-hot bursts of barbed-wire ferocity translated really well for the first 15 minutes, despite a slot in the still blazing 7pm sunshine not exactly tailored to their tailoring. Annoyingly, major technical woes curtailed the momentum fairly drastically, leaving a prolonged lull that, while filled cleverly by an elongated bass groove and Beth’s intermittent band shout-outs, left the band accidentally having Silenced Themselves (boo, you suck, get off the stage etc).

An inauspicious beginning, then, and for the start of Tame Impala‘s set it seemed as if they might befall a similar fate in front of the 25,000 people that had gathered at the main Heineken stage to witness the coronation proper of one of this decade’s brightest hopes. Having only been in the public domain for about eight months, Lonerism‘s status as an minor classic is already cemented, and while the band seemed imbued with more confidence than when I saw them tepidly try to fill an overly-generous 50m outdoor slot two years back – which is commendable considering this was their first ever performance without former bassist and paradoxical featherweight anchor Nick Allbrook – they weren’t entirely convincing during the opening one-two punch of “Solitude Is Bliss” and “Apocalypse Dreams.” An interesting aspect of Tame Impala’s live performance is that the groundswell of goodwill behind the band creates an atmosphere of expectancy that the group, through no fault of their own, can’t quite match. There’s a constant tingle of anticipation that every killer drum fill will lead to a thrilling moment of acceleration, but the tempo never fully deviates from a steady canter, creating tiny voids where the crowd remains tantalisingly on the cusp of a full breakdown, waiting for an opportunity to expend their energy (case in point: the beginning of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”). But following an impassioned “Keep On Lying” five songs deep the band found their groove – probably spurned on by the “pretty perfect” sight of the full moon emerging as the sun began to dip – and really stepped up a gear to charge through the remaining sophomore material before absolutely knocking “Alter Ego,” “It Is Not Meant To Be,” and “Half Full Glass Of Wine” out the Parc. The sound was rich and robust and Kevin Parker put in a memorable performance, relishing the rockstar roll by shimmying around in front of their surprisingly effective visualiser backdrop, wielding his guitar like a weapon and lapping up the adulation of the assembled throng. I was all set for an evening of \m/ alt.rocking out \m/ with Dinosaur Jr and Deerhunter but being the typically useless British tourist that I am, a surprise visit from the sunstroke fairy put paid to that.

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I restarted on Grizzly Bear, a band I would definitely have traded for the aforementioned pair, and whose grand entrance proved comically anticlimactic thanks to Ed Droste delivering what I’m sure was a very heartfelt little speech about how wonderful it is to be back and how beautiful the crowd looked and whatever into a bust mic. Lined-up in their usual egalitarian fashion, their choice of wearing what looked like silk pyjamas actually suited their enchanting lullabies pretty well. The power in Droste’s voice was magnified in the flesh, and the group’s layered harmonising was captivating to watch in front of the best lamp-based stage show this side of Fever Ray (more on her later). “Cheerleader” was predictably sublime and “Yet Again”‘s big reveal struck me as fairly reminiscent of the manner in which Radiohead’s “There There” crests live. The low-end on the Primavera stage was crushing, adding a potency usually absent on record, and it was a shame to leave what had transpired to be a super enjoyable set. However, the depleted opportunities to see post-fatherhood Fucked Up forced my hand – and sure enough, Damian’s first words as he stepped out on stage were about his two kids. But for a man grappling with the twin responsibilities of leading a punk band and raising a family, he showed no signs of deviating from his usual course of action, snaking a path through the crowd multiple times and seeming at times genuinely overawed at the love shown. Really, what can I say that hasn’t been already? They are a total blast live. If you’ve yet to experience the wonderful spectacle of Pink Eyes wrapping mic cords around his face, pulling his basketball shorts up past his nipples, eulogising Spain’s punk history and calling everyone who hi-fives him “sir”, rough luck. Not to detract from the sextet as a whole, mind – they are almost ridiculously well-oiled, smashing through “Queen of Hearts” clean off the bat and emanating a raw power that was a joy to behold. For the several hundred right in the thick of the action fist-pumping through “The Other Shoe”‘s “dying on the inside” refrain, it felt not too far off a headline set. The new material sounded really great too, a perfect encapsulation of the band firing on all cylinders: intelligently structured jams delivered at blistering speed that leave you with a stupid grin smeared all over your face. Bonza.

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But as great as they were, they came second-best in a battle of the Fucks. With Phoenix yelping through their star-speckled diminishing returns on the adjacent stage, my energy levels were flagging and I needed something hefty to convince me not to sack the night off. Irrespective of how big I wanted it, Fuck Buttons gave me little choice; they were chuffin’ colossal. Kicking off with a new track from imminent third record Soft Focus, their set-up was deceptively stripped-back: two tech nerds huddled over a modest amount of gear on a table with a microphone that Andrew Hung intermittently jammed in his mouth, with a disco ball in the back and a screen hosting body-rendering projections. But Christ were they loud, and Christ were they good. I had to actually move to the back of the sound booth for fear I was going to pass out. “Space Mountain” was absolutely punishing, sounding not too dissimilar to what I imagine two aerodromes scraping against one another in an earthquake might, whereas Benjamin Power’s tom thwacks on “Colours Move” were cavernous and gave the set an industrial feel throughout, something echoed on the new record, of which three or four cuts were debuted. I mean, *cliche alert* but I can’t think of an act that I’ve seen more accurately live up to the overused ‘widescreen’ tag than Fuck Buttons, who managed to somehow wrest euphoria out of the crushing din. The dazzling rainbow lights that accompanied Official British Government Approved London 2012™ anthem “Olympians” had the audience throwing their arms aloft; similarly, when a particularly militant techno reworking of “Surf Solar” dropped in, people began losing their shit, pummelled into a senseless, jelly-legged groove; once that in turn had screechgued into newie “Brainfreeze”, large swaths of the crowds had completely given up any resistance and were flinging themselves around with total abandon. It was a testament to Primavera’s sense of parallel reality that this ATP-signed noise duo pushed themselves into a realm that you imagine only the likes of dyed-in-the-wool big league dance headliners such as the Chemical Brothers and Orbital ever really touch in front of a crowd of thousands at 4am on a Thursday night.

My whole gang revitalised, we scoped out one final act to deliver a slice of valedictory triumph to rubber-stump the day as ‘unfuckwithable’, so it seemed only right to catch Jackmaster in full Tweak-a-Holic mode. I’ve tried my hand before at addressing how best to critically assess a familiar face but really this time round his set posed more questions than it answered:
– Can you hear me calling out your name?
– How will I know if he really loves me?
– Psycho Killer, qu’est-ce que c’est?
– How does it feel to treat me like you do?

…I’m sure you get the gist. He full-on bodied it – even saying as much himself – capping a truly singular day.

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