Note: The following is a conversation between one DiS writer and another,** Shain Shapiro** and Rob Webb, as they work their way around the delights on offer at the DiS-sponsored Summercase festival in Barcelona (and Madrid, but we sent our men to the coast). Follow it and find the prize at the end.
*SS: *The Parc Del Forum in Barcelona is odd. It functions effectively enough as a skate park, but it makes for an impersonal music venue. Slabs on oddly-shaped concrete jettison from the ground every which way. It seems weird for the sake of being weird. Plus, for some reason unbeknown to us, there are all these concrete bumps protruding from the ground in main walking areas. Avoiding them whilst slightly inebriated on ‘Scotch’ brand scotch is difficult, explaining the nasty bruise on my right knee. I see no reason for the need to stick random concrete phalluses all over a festival site walkway, other than for comedic value. If that is the reason, than bravo Parc Del Forum designers. We weren't laughing.
Summercase inhabits the same odd slab of faceless concrete as Primavera did six weeks ago and, in many ways, it struggles with using the space effectively. I had to walk through the crowd at one stage to get to another, I heard other stages loud and clear when at an adjacent one, and there was one small food tent supplying to the whole festival. It took forty minutes to get a cold potato pancake on a measly white roll. Scotch makes you hungry – well, at least this brand did – and the wait and far-from-epicurean reward was infuriating. Thankfully, the music was spot on for the most part and, really, isn’t that the most important part of the festival? Also, aren’t rhetorical questions great? Rob?
RW: I would answer that, but seeing as it was a rhetorical question... Anyhow, it was a very surreal setting for a festival indeed – having the sea nearby was nice but masses of concrete, no beach and precious few palm trees didn't make for the richest of cultural experiences. Still, the cheap, cheap scotch numbed the pain somewhat. Consider this: for €3.50 you could purchase an entire bottle of Scotland's finest at the supermarket, or enjoy a paltry pot of continental lager at the festival bar. DiS tip! Also, the Spanish could teach us a thing or two about festival toilets. Clean, not to mention spacious. Nice. Shame about the person who couldn't wait their turn and proceeded to regurgitate their tortilla all over the outside wall of our temporary resting place.
SS: I like Fionn Regan, and made a point of coming to the site early for his set. Sparsely attended but dutifully performed, Regan was impressive. His performance was half solo and half accompanied by a drummer and folk singer/dancer, and proved an appreciated aperitif for the madness that was to come. No better start to a festival than a subdued, emotive singer songwriter. I felt emotional... and sweaty. It was a tad humid.
RW: Yep, Shain, 'twas humid. There's even an act on the bill today called The Whitest Boy Alive... it would have been nice if someone had given me a bit of notice that I was expected to do a solo spot as well as 'report' on this festival, but with factor 50+ smothered all over my person I'm hoping (praying?) to avoid my traditional bout of burning. Sadly, Regan is a touch early for this half of the intrepid DiS team. Extended siesta + travelling companions taking excessive amounts of time to get ready + an awful, awful public transport system = no Fionn. Boo...
SS:All their songs do sound exactly the same, but I like this one song very much, and these twelve versions of something that sounds like 'Ban Marriage' were enjoyable, enjoyable and enjoyable. Each song I thought, “Oh, this one has to be it”, and while it wasn’t, it was close enough to pretend that it was. I'm ranting, must be the scotch. For some bizarre reason they reminded me of The Proclaimers. What's that you say? Because they've only got one song and are, in actuality, a bit shit? Nah, that's harsh. It's just a feeling, y'know?
RW: From a feeling to a band who seem to want to sound more like The Feeling on their second record. C'mon, it might make money but whatever happened to artistic merit or trying to do something different?! At least copying Joy Division meant they were attempting to rip off a Rolls Royce. This? It's more like mimicking a Mini. And we can't hear the guitars, and given that they're by far the most palatable element of what Editors do, that's a big problem. Over to Shain for an altogether different view. Or not...
SS: Editors were fucking awful. I do not think a band has made me so angry in some time. Seriously, four songs in I wanted to punch a baby for no reason. There is something about this slit-your-wrists, let’s-be-angry-about-everything, darker-than-black-coffee music that drives me up the wall. I do not like Interpol to begin with, and having the same stuff sung by Vincent Price does not help. Really, I was pissed off; better get pissed then and head over to see...
SS: Much better thankfully, but way too loud. The mid-size tent they played in was over packed all weekend, especially for PJ Harvey (discussed below), and a bit overbearing it became. I like Guillemots and 'Annie Let’s Not Wait' was ace, but something was not right. Maybe it was the Editorial aftertaste. Okay, enough about how angry they made me. Weird, because some folks, even smart ones, slurped up their set as if it was free coke.
RW: Free coke?! Lily Allen’s definitely been imbibing something, and I'd hazard a guess that it's more, even, than the bottle of Jägermeister she hands to a lucky punter in the front row. Liking only a handful of Guillemots' songs, I opted for this instead and I'm not at all disappointed by that choice: a packed, sweaty tent or outdoor auditorium complete with handy hillside vantage points? In this sweltering Spanish heat, it's something of a no-brainer. Equally, Allen's music ain't half as clever as the hip-sheets tried to make out when Alright, Still first dropped (it's just rather good pop), but live she's really raised the bar in the past twelve months. With a brass section, live drums and bass, plus a singer who no longer looks and performs like a nervous karaoke virgin, her set proves something of an unexpected treat.
RW: Virginal isn't an adjective you'd apply to PJ Harvey. No sir. And that's not even coming from us boys, who were stuck outside for her ridiculously oversubscribed tent set. Rather than tell you what we thought we heard, here's a guest spot from Kate Hewett with the lowdown:
KH: PJ Harvey: women want to be her, men want to bed her, and also probably vice versa. Without the aid of a backing band, she still manages to command the fairy light-laden stage, single-handedly belting out fiery, scuzzy, sexy blues on guitar and synth. Employing her piano for the more slyly suggestive moments, she manages to fool no-one with her girlish, wide-eyed gratitude and sweet, innocent demeanour. The new songs are as well-received as the established classics, and even the absence of 'This Is Love' and 'Kamikaze' doesn't detract from the warmly satiated feeling with which we leave the tent.
RW: Cheers Kate. Post-Polly Jean, confusion abounds. Lots of wandering around, some abortive phone calls. Food, as I recall, is sought and endured. The View, too... 'Superstar Tradesman' is a proper tune, as the kids say, and the Scots really get the crowd going. I know someone who'd call this ruffian-pop. She'd be right. But it's still darn good fun. Then, some Phoenix. Either their music is sufficiently dreamlike to ensure I recall practically nothing about the set (apart from the fact the crowd snaked way, way back towards the press area, and that Phoenix kept thanking us), or I was in a bad way. In hindsight, I claim sunstroke. Still, what I needed at that point was some top class entertainment to revive me from my heat-induced stupor - and that's exactly what I got. Shain too...
SS: There is something inherently melodramatic about The Flaming Lips. This show was pure theatre and brilliant for it. Quick rundown of the auxiliary theatrics: a hoard of dancing Father Christmases, a model wearing gigantic, metre-long hands to grope Wayne Coyne, a mouth camera highlighting the singer’s ominous dental care, a mass of video screens buttressed by odd visuals and lasers, gigantic stuffed animals and massive blow-up spheres flung into the crowd. It is all absolutely absurd. Absurd and mercurial. Agree Rob?
RW: Yep, and although The Flaming Lips might be too wacky for hardcore, stoney-faced kill-me-now-because-I-don't-understand-the-concept-of-fun musos - there's undoubtedly a whole lot of razzmatazz about the live show - the important thing to remember is that without songs of true genius their bombast wouldn't work. Songs like 'Yeah Yeah Yeah Song', complete with monosyllabic audience sing-along, a life-affirming rendition of 'Do You Realize??' and a fragile, politically motivated 'Waiting on a Superman' was bliss. Content was I, as everything, absolutely everything just seemed to make sense for a moment. I could hark on for paragraphs, but Arcade Fire were up next. Wow.
SS: Now, so much is said about their live show, but all of it proves to be true. This was another life-affirming experience, a genre-bridging slew of love, hate, sorrow and hopefulness, paraded over a bacchanalian ethos built on the foundation of ten singers, dancers and jumpers plucking music makers for an hour. Enlisting the crowd as chorus, Win, Regine and company unfurled one hit after another - ‘Neighbourhood #1’, ‘No Cars Go’, ‘Keep The Car Running’, ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ and ‘Wake Up’. In addition, each member played half a dozen instruments (or it seemed they did). I was in cramps of claustrophobia, but shielded by awe. Regine played drums for half the set, drummer Jeremy Gara played keyboards and Win rotated from guitar to bass, mandolin and banjo. Simply amazing. What do you reckon?
RW: Totally, they're of the few current bands whose legend might just live to stand the test of time. Oh, and tonight they play a cover of a Belle & Sebastian cover. Why? Because the Spanish love B&S. History lesson: 'Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son' was originally written by Serge Gainsbourg and won the Eurovision Song Contest for Luxembourg in 1965.
SS: He got cancelled. Fantastic that is.
RW: Guilty pleasure? Maybe. Great live rock 'n' roll band? Definitely. Nobody could ever excuse them of changing the world, but to everybody inside this sweaty tent at 1.30am there's not an awful lot that needs changing. Apart from, maybe, singer Matt Bowman, who loses his leather jacket after only one song - good move, Matt, as it's way too hot in here for that. It's getting late now. We're getting more inebriated. Shain especially.
SS: Well, it's past 2am now and I'm more than halfway through my litre of €7 Scotch-brand scotch - which as my fellow DiSser discovered, was not the cheapest brand - so the vividness of Bloc Party’s set is lost to me. It sounded great and they played 'Like Eating Glass', which is the only Bloc Party song I know by name. As you can probably infer, I'm not much of a fan. It was tolerable and kept me awake. In my early morning state, that translates to a good set. Score two points for the Bloc. After that, I'd had enough, skipping the Belle and Sebastian DJ set and The Scissor Sisters. I needed an eight-hour nap.
RW: Not for us. With Shain tucked up safely in bed, we sit on the grass and listen to LCD Soundsystem. It's good, and the bass is unfeasibly loud even outside, but we don't really have the energy for a dance. That is, until we mosey on over to watch Belle & Sebastian play some records. While their mixing skills leave a lot to be desired, the tune selection is pretty good. So we dance a bit. And then? We head back to Barcelona proper, in search of a nightcap and supplies for tomorrow. In this heat, it all makes perfect sense.
SS: I was late getting to the festival site, because the Metro in Barcelona was closed and all they had on offer were cramped shuttle buses that took five times as long to get to Parc Del Forum. I knew that, so I have no excuse for being late, but it all was a bit shit really, closing half a Metro line when thousands of people relied heavily on it for a few days. Brilliant minds those transport authorities. Eh, Rob?
RW: Conscious of our carbon footprint, we walked the rest of the way, having discovered said Metro closure. Arriving both in and with good spirits, it was time to check out the more exciting half of the Summercase bill. Yesterday was full of dead certs, but DJ Shadow and Electrelane are two acts I've wanted to see for years... and tonight was the night.
SS:I have no idea why James still exist. If you look at it logically, it's impossible to justify why this washed-up one hit wonder – well, at least in North America - is still going at it, except to bolster their RRSP. As expected, the set was rubbish. They play that song, ‘Laid’, where Tim Booth screams like a cat whose tail has been stepped on at the start, before going yelping incessantly about having sex. Ever wondered why Whiplash abounds in those discount CD bins in Tescos in Bradford and Blackpool? Well, exactly.
SS: Much better than James. Unleashed was 75 minutes of soul-quenching funk, acid-house, hip-hop and rock. His mixing is flawless, and he enhances ones mood with each change, cleverly building blocks of sound on top of each other until they explode in a fury of dancing and romancing. Admittedly, I'm not a great judge of DJs, as I know little about the mechanics of the process. I do know, though, that a good DJ never stops moving, as it is a mighty challenge to manage all that sound at once. DJ Shadow never stopped moving.
RW: Yup Shain, he sure didn't, and neither did I. Material from latest album The Outsider was scarce (a good thing, in my book), but the 'hits' were all present and correct. 'Organ Donor', 'Six Days' and 'Walkie Talkie' were all executed flawlessly... but what do you expect? It's Shadow, the greatest DJ ever. Apart from, maybe, David Jason.
RW: No Shouts, No Calls indeed: somehow, Electrelane have been playing for half an hour already and we're in danger of missing the second part of our eagerly anticipated double-bill. This is no time for tardiness, so we race towards the tent and head straight for the front. In the resulting melee, at least half a cup of my own scotch finds its way facewards, needless to say missing the mouth by some distance, but that's not important. What is, though, is that there are four women onstage delivering some of the most potent, inventive dance-rock we've ever had the pleasure of shaking our limbs to. For all of !!!'s boundless energy later on, this is still the musical peak of our tenure in Barcelona.
RW: With Shain still snoozing/schmoozing in the press area, presumably exhausted by the man Shadow's brain-sapping beats, it was left to me to check out The J&MC. Legends in their day, and still pretty nifty in ours, this was something of a greatest hits set, taking in seminal albums Psychocandy and Darklands. 'Just Like Honey' is a particularly sultry treat, even without the presence of Scarlett Johansson on backing vocals. The brothers Reid still have it, then... even without Bobby.
SS: Awakening and fantastic, methinks. It's a treat watching a band emulate various studio wizardry in the flesh, and Air mastered it in each note. Focusing primarily on the new album alongside a small contingent of older stuff, the live quartet was much better than anticipated, revolving from all-out dance to more mellow, introspective terrain sharply and concisely. Wipe off the sweat, chug some pseudo-scotch and off we trot to catch Ratatat.
RW: On record, Air are very much a 'background music' sort of band for me. In the flesh, though, they're right up in your grill. That's a good thing. So is 'Sexy Boy'. Yes indeed. Ratatat sound good from afar, but it's time for a bit of R&R. So over to Shain...
SS: I love this band. There I said it. Since my musical companion had no clue why, I dragged her to the middle of tent two songs into the set. Moments later, she couldn't thank me enough, as Ratatat proceeded to continue said Catalan dance party with their angular, techno-jazz rock, or whatever the hell it is they do so well. Classics was the name of the game, including ‘Montanita’ and ‘Wildcat’. Simply ace, a highlight no doubt, but no comparison to the next treat...
SS: The ridiculous band name and best set of the weekend award goes to !!!, as their hour-long dance party was so good I was soaked to the bone with sweat ten minutes in. I remember being drunk, flailing my arms and calling it dancing and smiling like I won a candy store gift certificate. I like Myth Takes, and presumably you do too, so imagine the album performed live, loud and intensely, so much so a girl beside me in a wheelchair got out of her seat to shake her ass alongside. She just had a broken leg mind you, but I remain impressed. It was that good. Got it?
RW: Yep, I remember now. It was quite a spectacle. And when a set this good is only roughly your third favourite of the evening, you know you've witnessed a special bill.
SS: The evening ended lying in the grass, looking up at the sky and falling into The Chemical Brothers. It was well past 4am, the morning birds were being morning birds and I had finished the whiskey to the disdain of my liver, in need of a good sit. Therefore, The Chemical Brothers were much more ‘chill out’ than anticipated. Yet, while I was listlessly falling into an alcohol-induced coma, ten feet away thousands were bumping and grinding, so the duo had moments. Too late for my old bones.
RW: Old? Shain man, we're only 24... come on. Still, despite everything tiredness had definitely crept in somewhat and the hillside seemed a good vantage point. Still, 'Hey Boy, Hey Girl' ushered in one last burst of energy before the team began the pilgrimage back to central Barca. This was to be something of an unexpected race against time - with my plane merely a few hours away, and public transport decidedly lacking, tethers were beginning to become a little on the expended side. Not Shain's, though...
SS: With the Metro closed for repair, we had to walk for over an hour to get to a packed station that was open as the sun shone as bright as it did the day before. Tired and satisfied are the words of the day, despite the minor annoyances caused by the organisation of the festival. Not enough transport to and from the site made getting there as comfortable as a rectal exam, and the services offered were nothing short of nothing... But in terms of toilets and talent, arguably the two crucial elements of a festival, Summercase was on the money, right? And us? Next year, all being well, we're on that plane.
_Click your way to the Summercase website, here, for more information. _