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


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Having been spoilt the night before, in hindsight it seems only fair that Friday kicked off on a disappointing note (although admittedly not quite on the same level as missing Pantha du Prince’s supposedly jawdropping Saturday matinee show because of having to seek out a location to film an interview with…Pantha du Prince). Due to goofing and heading the long way round on the Metro, we missed not only the first 15 minutes of Kurt Vile & the Violators, but also Panty Pantera, an hitherto unknown local outfit my lot desperately wanted to catch. As it transpires, no holograms of Dimebag Darrell in his Y-fronts materialised as we had anticipated, so not that big a loss after all. Anyway, I digress; the sun was high and so was I (lol jk :P) and, arriving during the tail-end of “KV Crimes,” I was ready to see the man behind two of the finest records of this young decade make amends for a somewhat lacklustre showing on the Smoke Ring For My Halo tour by stepping up and nailing his chance at opening the main arena. Sadly it fell short of expectations. He shuffled round the stage as he does, flitting between extremely causal – ‘Ghost Train’ – and highly animated – “Shame Chamber” – and while he offered up a decent amount of vigour, it felt a tad lacklustre for a man who is so quietly thrilling on record. Perhaps had I caught the opening salvo of “Wakin’ On A Pretty Day” and “Jesus Fever” it might have felt more complete, but his solo attempt at “Peeping Tomboy” was a sadly listless choice of centrepiece. That said, he made a canny move in blitzing through on pre-breakthrough choice cuts “Hunchback” and “Freak Train” to end, adopting a scorched-earth approach as he ripped through the thundering chords and howled out the closing lines. So even below his best he was still pretty good. Friday’s late afternoon / early evening selection was by some distance the weakest programming of the weekend so I went off to do my own thing (read: sleep) before heading back onto site just in time to miss James Blake play “CMYK.”

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Bollocks, that’s irritating. Blake’s set was plagued with distracting issues – namely, the audible sound of multiple panties wetting every time he got close to the mic. I mean, just look at him up there! Such a dreamboat. Half my notes genuinely read “#luvujamesbb” or some variation thereof. But it was in all seriousness, an accomplished show and one of the biggest surprises of the festival. The response on the subs was tremendous and his crooning translated well to his peak-time midnight slot, much improved from clumsy early live attempts. The stage lights flooded James and his longstanding touring partners in a royal blue throughout, perhaps as a tribute to the imminent return of Mr T Funke & co; although Blake unintentionally had more than a hint of this about him. The delay-heavy dub coda on “Limit To Your Love” had couples flooding out to have sex and although the title track was dull, “Voyeur” – the first release from Blake’s new 1-800-Dinosaur (yup) imprint – was really impressive, feeding a lilting cowbell into a jagged bassline that oddly resembled Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction.” It brought the crowd energy up considerably and led into “Retrograde” nicely; the amusing addition of background cheering in Blake’s looped vocals was a novel touch to seal the deal.

I didn’t intend to spend too long at Glass Candy, so it was kind of them to make my decision that bit easier. I appreciate the specific aesthetic they’re shooting for, but when Ida No began rambling about her children in a gold lamé dress between tracks for minutes at a time, the self-serious nature of the performance was lost and it just looked amateur, resembling a holiday camp tribute act. She was animated enough, but came across like a fourth-rate Karen O knock-off at points, and halfway through their cover of Belle Epoque’s “Ms Broadway” I clocked out. Goat were considerably better. Saddled with a difficult clash up against two legends – Blur drew a staggering amount of people, Swans much less so – the Swedish freak-out merchants quickly filled up the ATP Stage, which was heartening to see. Although all seven members had donned masks to compliment their guiding ideological tenant of anonymity, they certainly weren’t afraid of exuding character onstage. Resplendent in flowing robes and saris, the duel frontwomen’s enticing dance routines were perfect foil to the knotty jams unfolding behind them: frenetic tabla drumming, incredibly nimble Rickenbacker playing and freewheeling, wah-wah drenched guitar solos. Their meld of Afrobeat’s rhythmic complexity, post-punks tightly coiled groove and the kind of fuzzed-out tonality lifted from the ’60s psych scene proved just as perplexing and brilliant in the flesh as on World Music, drawing a clear line from ESG and Can through to fellow countrymen Dungen. I left to catch the tail-end of Swans, whose grinding, brutalist maximalism was probably amazing if you subjected yourself to the two hours in its entirety. I was feeling pretty rough by this point, so the lone emotion that Gira’s primal screaming roused in me was one that pined to sit down and have a brownie. Go figure. They had found enough room on stage to employ Arnie’s Conan the Barbarian slamming twin gongs with maracas though, so props for that.

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All day I had been admittedly fairly calculating in choosing a leisurely dim sum (nb: a delicious leisurely dim sum) over a cluster of acts – Neurosis, OM, Tinariwen and Dope Body – I would have been up for seeing. So now, after years upon years of feverishly awaiting The Knife’s return, was I really going to forego their grand comeback because I had read some online grumbling about their decision to showcase Shaking The Habitual‘s overwrought gender politics via the medium of contemporary dance? Yes, yes I was. I split the difference and checked in on how Titus Andronicus were coping with no longer being flavour of the month; pretty good as it transpires. A debearded Patrick Stickles strode on stage mockingly requesting more noise from the moderate crowd before launching into “A More Perfect Union,” generating considerable bounce amongst the faithful. 2012’s Local Business was unfairly maligned but the botched production jobbie undoubtedly jerked the band’s upward trajectory. In spite of lost career momentum they appeared to be relishing the role as ragtag punk underdogs once more, and the hearty singalongs that accompanied the Pogesian strut of “In A Big City” and a blistering version of “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” showed people were still on the band’s side. Stickles, ever the enigmatic showman, was in fine form, making light of his abysmal Spanish – “Titus Andronicus muy beuno, Titus Andronicus número uno, Pitchfork stupido” / “Daniel Johnston es no loco” – and was rewarded by swelling numbers, in no doubt abetted by the streams of punters flooding away from the other band I had designs on seeing.

Having felt ropey all day, by 4am I had convinced myself that I wouldn’t be in the mood to put up with The Knife being pretentious and ruining their own legacy. In critical terms, it was poor: a mishmash of 6th form dancing in sparkly rainbow outfits over a playback of recent cuts, but every track had been warped into a monstrous techno template, so “Full Of Fire” and “Stay Out Here” thumped hard and the intense flashes of colour, coupled with a decent level of druggy confusion on the outskirts of the voluminous crowd, tied it together into a fitting Friday after-hours send-off. It may have grown tedious over a full 70m, but in wrapping up on a brittle, curiously hopefully version of “Silent Shout” that exposed Karin’s vocals as evidently live, they definitely ended with a bang. This was as close to a hit as we were going to get and ultimately it proved a pretty fun way to round the day off. Moreso than wretching twice on the hour-long trek back to our apartment – the key to which I was convinced I had lost – at any rate.

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