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


The slab of news that Deerhunter had been drafted in to the fill the mainstage slot vacated by Band Of Horses was a welcome one to wake up to, but apparently only a fraction of those who showed up were aware of the switch when Bradford Cox strolled out and announced his compatriots as “Band of Horses II: The Reckoning”, pushing out a ripple of bemusement that translated to a minor exodus. I was really hoping they would deviate from their tour setlist given the unexpected extra slot but bar Cryptogram‘s opening salvo they continued down the same, Monomania-heavy path as every show on the tour so far. It wasn’t necessarily negative: Cox snarled through “Dream Captain”‘s Queen-aping “I’m just a poor boy from a poor family” to offset Lockett’s plaintive cooing on “The Missing” and blazed through the title track with intent, even seeing fit to tack a distorted 300bpm drum machine workout onto the end (Cox’s “new European house hit”); on the flipside, a handful of the newer numbers were damp squibs, leading nowhere and adding nothing. I couldn’t shake the fact that the crowd reaction to a run of “Don’t Cry,” “Revival,” and “Desire Lines” — the latter especially provoking quite a touching quote unquote big moment, seeing girls hoisted on shoulders and whatnot – reenforced that they could definitely have subbed in at least one or two tracks from career highlight Microcastle. They were oddly suited to a set that began in fading sunlight and ended in darkness, and after so many near-misses over the years it was great to finally catch them in their element, but it felt as if they didn’t fully deserve the extended ambient detuning at the end; holding out hope for “Twilight At Carbon Lake” to emerge from the mire was futile. When firing on all cylinders Deerhunter have churned out some of the best alternative rock of the past half-decade, and while they were very good as opposed to great, I look forward to the day when Cox wears the pop sensibilities proudly on his sleeve once more.


But at least they were attempting something new, unlike token hip-hop booking Wu-Tang Clan. It pains me to say it, but everything smacked of minimal effort and rote tradition (wave your hands side-to-side, everybody jump, make some motherfucking noise etc etc) that kinda reenforces the negative stereotype of why rap is sub-par live. They seemed in a rowdy mood when leaping straight into “Bring da Ruckus” – it would be hard not to be – but the façade dropped when RZA started spraying champagne, Ghost looked bored and it became apparent the allstar billing was undercut by the absence of Method Man and Rae, usually the two most animated; the Genius and U-God were perhaps the only two who seemed to care, but the mic on the latter was so low he was barely audible. Of all their 36 Chambers classics only “Nuthing Ta F Wit” really impressed, so by the time they had engaged the crowd in an extremely surreal karaoke rendition of The Beatles’ “Come Together” and their DJ had dropped a scratch routine that would rival Pauly D at his prime , I called it. Posse cuts involving nine hungry, lecherous, legitimately frightening 20somethings will remain eternally brilliant, but two decades on the glue that bound the wildly different personalities has come unstuck. I sent a text to a friend saying “this is pretty dad”; while I intended ‘bad’, autocorrect sorta nailed it.

Dan Deacon restored my faith without playing a single note. He spent the opening couple of minutes leading the entire audience in a chanted invocation praising the moon and from the moment the twin drummers began ramping up “Of The Mountains” I doubt he lost the attention of a single attendee for the remaining fifty-eight. The contrast with the Wu could not have been more apparent as he tried to keep a good dozen components of his set-up going at once while bellowing into a mic rammed in his gob, sending shards of circuitbent joy corkscrewing out into the night and whipping the exponentially expanding crowd into a frenzied delirium. As is customary at Deacon performances he demanded constant action: a gigantic circular spazz-off with the best set of rules I have ever heard that descended into utter chaos; thousand-strong, “logistically impossible” tunnelling and 50/50 split interpretative dance routines; a dazzling choral rendition of “Wham City” was almost definitely the song of the festival. There were at least three crowdsurfers up in the air at any given moment during the full 20-minute rendition of his four-part “US”‘ epic, and when the last of the juice had been drained, he received by some distance the longest and most emphatic ovation of the weekend. The overwhelming wash of positivity even made me half-forget how grim I still felt, keeping one fist aloft while bent-double.


Liars‘ ragged, throbbing, trance-influenced, trance-inducing post-punk assault was surprisingly palatable even while suppressing cold chills, but I badly needed an extra-large coffee so we skipped the bulk of them. I had been fretting about whether it was wise to catch My Bloody Valentine in light of onrushing deafness, but bizarrely I didn’t need earplugs (for a little while). The crowd was very small for a co-headliner and beyond some ecstatic diehards flashing up on the Jumbotron, there was a discernible level of disengagement. The sound was evidently way off target – somehow neighbouring Nurse With Wound was actually managing to drown out Kev et al, and not even just at the fringes. The drum fills in “I Only Said” sounded monumental and a stadium-ready revamp of “When You Sleep” was fierce and unassailably brilliant, but m b v highlight “new you” drifted out with little to say for itself, exposed as dull and wispy, a tremendous shame. Belinda’s vocals on the Isn’t Anything cuts shone through with unusual clarity and I was reluctant to depart but had miraculously caught a second wind and felt in the mood for less sludgy fare.

While not quite the level of Dylan at Newport or Hendrix at Woodstock, I can at least say that I was present for the precise moment when Omar Souleyman elevated from Sublime Frequencies curio to a higher level of global recognition. Only time will tell whether mid-afternoon on Saturday at Glastonbury 2011 will go down in the history books, but having struck out to see the man on a whim that day and come up trumps by catching an incendiary set that found its way onto the TV screens of millions in the UK, I was up for seeing how this old favourite had progressed in the 18 months since I watched him demolish an ATP slot with similar panache. He was, as expected, a riot. The novelty had evidently diminished across the vast gathering as seemingly everyone know the right reaction to his retrained gesturing (for the uninitiated: slowly raise your voice shouting HEYYYYYYY and lift your arms every time he points at your section of the crowd) but it was super fun nonetheless. Souleyman knows he’s safe in this kind of slot, which worked both ways: he commanded the stage with more confidence, but oddly shed Ali Shaker, his longstanding sazplayer, from the touring roster and had almost certainly had programmed his own trademark calls onto the keyboard, as they intermittently cropped up when he did not open his mouth. A Syrian flag in the audience brought brief pause about what had unfolded in the interim, and I did begin to wonder about whether the amount of bros around me walking like an Egyptian meant I was complicit in some kind of warped, hyper-globalised 21st century minstrelsy routine…but let’s not overthink this. A fuckload of twatted people had turned up to dabke their way into the small hours and in the wonderfully skewered Primaverse, Souleyman appeared an established, big-league popstar. That enough is cause for celebration.


It was, sadly, all over far too soon. But there was a final hurrah to be had from one of the few acts that can legitimately claim the role of crossover hitmakers in the real world while simultaneously basking in the adoration of the underground, the indefatigable Hot Chip. Alexis Taylor continued his don streak decked out in all white, Al Doyle leapt throttling his guitar around as usual, Owen Clarke cut serious rugs and the energy coming off the stage was generally infectious – for all the times I’ve seen them, they probably suited the role of assumed festival closers the best. As one of the most consistently excellent groups in recent years on record, they’d be forgiven for simply knocking out the big tunes with minimal oomph, but one of the most gratifying strings in Hot Chip’s plentiful bow has always been their desire to tweak the formula and breathe new life into their material in the flesh. While their live reinvention of “Boy From School” has lost none of its revelatory zip and the amped-up version of “Over & Over” (complete with duel Alexis/Al axe-wielding) still, seven years on, retains the power to level crowds, it’s the manner in which they refuse to let even the newer cuts sit still that really impressed: “Night & Day” was imbued with the kind of sexual background muttering that coloured early Adonis and Frankie Knuckles tracks; “I Feel Better” threw a gurgling 303 line over the usual steel badassery; while “Flutes” – a track you may remember I gladly crowned our 9th best of last year – had grown into a full-blown anthem. At points Taylor’s off-beat emoting was counterintuitive when he should have played it straight, and it was difficult to ascertain whether fluctuating sound levels were intentional part of the ebb and flow or merely the side-effect of an underpowered system, but on balance this was pretty much flawless; a non-stop hit train, exactly what was required to wrap things up at 5am on a Sunday morning. As a parting gift, my party were left with a rotating medley of tunes lodged firmly In Our Heads (YUP) for at least as long as it took to get back to London. Result.

So, in spite of any attempts from my organs to derail proceedings, it was a total triumph. Gripes are few and far between: the main criticism that could be viably levelled was the scheduling, which saw brutal five-act pileups littered across Thursday’s programming but large swathes of meh on Friday and Saturday; this obviously comes down to personal preference, but most people I chatted with seemed to view the balance as a tad lopsided. I didn’t catch anyone I hadn’t been at least partly planning to see, but again, with this calibre of line-up I was somewhat disincentivised to stray away from the glut of favourites across the bill. I’ve seen a handful of commentators mention in the usual post-mortem that there was an overabundance of advertising at this year’s edition (constant sponsorship, roaming Heineken sellers etc) but a) I have no point of comparison, b) not having to leave the crowd to get a beer is fucking great, are you crazy?, and c) if it keeps them in the habit of putting on stellar line-ups with compromise, then so be it. Seeing as Neutral Milk Hotel will be stepping up to headline in 2014, that seems to be the case, so all good. But I’m picking at straws here: all smiles amongst the attendees, a perfect location and music that only really disappointed when judged by my own absurdly high standards. Taken as a whole, Primavera Sound 2013 pretty much decimated the competition. Let’s hope my pasty frame can handle a bit of sun next time too. Til then.


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