Hey y'all - a week and a half ago, James Skinner, Andrzej Lukowski and snapper Burak Cingi went to the eleventh edition of a festival called Primavera; they have just about recovered enough to tell you their story, in words and also pictures.
Thursday, May 26th
The dominant, abiding theme of Thursday at the Parc del Forum seemed to be one of celebration. After a quick gander at Emeralds on the relocated Pitchfork Stage and a charming late-afternoon set from Cults at ATP I headed to the Auditori, where Sufjan Stevens emerged from the darkness and opened with an elegant ‘Seven Swans’ before launching into the neon-streaked spectacle of his Age of Adz live show. The costume changes (wings! Robots!), dancers, heady visuals and massive band (and lasers!) were incredible – really, incredible – but what will stay with me is the warmth and sincerity of the man himself. Also, the quieter moments: a hushed take on REM’s ‘The One I Love’, and a breathtaking ‘Now That I’m Older’, which moved my friend to tears and elicited huge applause from the crowd, who later flooded the aisles and rushed the stage for ‘Impossible Soul’ and the encore of ‘Chicago’. At the end of the show, surrounded by massive coloured balloons, an adoring audience and his wonderful band, Stevens looked happy, triumphant, and completely exhausted.
From what I saw of Grinderman they were fantastic; Nick Cave on blistering form, at one point flooring Warren Ellis and taking obvious delight in introducing the band’s lasciviously-titled songs, while Hamilton Leithauser cut a smart, windswept figure as he led The Walkmen through a fine set down on Pitchfork. (Aside: Is it really that awful if I say ‘The Rat’ was forceful and brilliant and probably their best song?) Caribou drew a massive crowd to the ATP stage and absolutely owned it: their fluid, hypnotic set met with delight by a thronging, appreciative audience and restoring that feeling of celebration, before The Flaming Lips…well, were The Flaming Lips: laser hands, zorbing balls, The Wizard of Oz, ‘What Is the Light?’ and all, and, finally, Girl Talk brought the party to the Llevant Stage in genre-splicing, emphatic – celebratory – style. (JS)
I suppose the worst thing you can say about Sufjan Steven’s performance is that it didn’t really feel like part of the festival per se, and that there’s not really a lot to say about it that people didn’t already say about the Royal Albert Hall shows (though he played some of REM’s ‘The One I Love’, which was nice). That said, not only was it superb, but the sense of it being removed from the festival in general was probably quite a good thing, as by the time we emerged from the booze free Auditori, images of a neon-streaked angel still flicking improbably across our retinas, then the drinks problem had been ‘resolved’, so yay on that one.
As for said problems: the failure of the convoluted electronic payment system seemed so utterly inevitable that it’s hard not to remain slightly peeved at the whole thing. Fair play to Primavera's organisers for accepting it had failed and moving on pretty swiftly, but it would be a pisstake of the highest order if it happens again next year.
Aaaaanyway - pleasant diversions to Suicide, Caribou, Factory Floor and Girl Talk happen, but blatantly the most fun of the night was the boisterous pile-up that was Grinderman and later The Flaming Lips. Anyone who says the former have more than two genuinely great songs needs counseling, and I imagine serious Lips devotees would be pretty irked by the fact they manage to get about three songs out, so intent is Wayne Coyne on showboating. But you’d have to be a dangerous idiot not to be won over by Coyne’s perennially engrossing array of stupid gadgets, or Nick Cave’s pantomime midlife crisis stage shtick (not to mention Warren Ellis pummeling a cymbal with a fair of castanets, then falling over). It’s the type of set they’ll take to festivals across the world with little change, and I can see what people mean about Primavera veering away from its indie roots, but y’know… s’all a good laaaarf, innit? (AL)
Friday, May 27th
Spain has been a pretty turbulent, exciting country to live in recently. On Sunday May 15th in Madrid a protest march by Spain’s young and disillusioned led to a spontaneous sit-in at the city’s famous Puerta del Sol, which in turn led to demonstrations and sit-ins the country over. The unemployment rate for under-25s here lies at 45 per cent, thousands upon thousands of qualified young professionals jobless and living with their parents, no obvious future in sight. Talk of a 'lost generation' in Spain is in no way hyperbolic – it’s a grim reality, and inspired by uprisings in Africa and the Middle East, the so-called Spanish Revolution (its practitioners: ‘Los indignados’) was a long time coming. Weeks after the local elections they were intended to disrupt, campers are holding fast in Madrid, all over the country, and here in Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya.
What has been so remarkable about the uprising is the peaceful, organised nature of it all. That is, until the morning of Friday 27th May, when, in what was supposed to be a clean-up operation of Plaça de Catalunya, armed police moved in and injured over a hundred protesters. The scenes are brutal and difficult to watch, and the incident has affected many of my friends here, who have been swept up in the movement only to be shocked and saddened by an unexpected, unprovoked outburst of violence. And, you know, while this probably isn’t the time nor place for me to harp on about it, what made watching Pulp headline Primavera Sound’s second night at the Forum so special (for me and even more so the native audience members) was not only how brilliant it was, but how Jarvis Cocker took the time to prepare speeches in Catalan, finally dedicating ‘Common People’ to those injured in the square that morning. Banners proudly reading ‘#SpanishRevolution: Sing Along with the Common People’ were commonplace the following day. (JS)
Ariel Pink’s set seems to be hailed as a triumph on the grounds he doesn’t shoot up or die or whatever; I dunno, it’s okay, but they seem to be playing all the really Hall and Oatesy songs when I get there and it kind of puts me off seeing any more bands until 00.30 hours. At which point Deerhunter descend upon the much maligned Llevant stage (it's not that far away) like a storm of fire: the dreamy minimalism of Halcyon Digest goes out of the window for a set that’s all incandescent guitars and thunderous kraut rhythms. Gargantuan, elemental versions of ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ and ‘He Would Have Laughed’ chew up the night air like glowing beasts, each roaring for ten minutes or more. There’s no fret wankery or showmanship here, just instinct, build, power and sound.
Pulp are both magnificent and sliiiiightly underwhelming; Jarvis is on superb form, bantering generously with the crowd and even presiding over some young chap's proposal to his ladyfriend. But considering the heroic perversity that characterised their final years as a band proper, I couldn't help but feel there's something a bit sanitised about a set drawing almost exclusively upon His'n'Hers and Different Class, certainly in comparison to Blur's emotional rampage through their whole history a couple of summers back. It's nostalgia, basically, but I'm not going to lie to you: being bolloxed at 3am to the strains of 'Razzmatazz' is pretty awesome. (AL)
Saturday, May 28th
As I filled up Friday’s word count with not strictly music-related talk, I should probably assert: Explosions in the Sky were made to play the Ray-Ban Stage (an amphitheatre backing out onto the Mediterranean), the new material soaring and the band as humble and gracious as ever; Battles were brilliant; M. Ward was reliably enjoyable, and seeing The National tear through ‘Abel’, ‘Mr. November’ and ‘Terrible Love’ as night fell on the Llevant Stage was every bit as intoxicating as it sounds.
Come Saturday I made it to the site for the latter half of The Tallest Man on Earth on the San Miguel Stage, arriving just in time for a fantastic, band-assisted ‘King of Spain’. The Swede played a sweet, piano-led new song before the band departed and eventually wrapped up the set sharing the mic with Jaw Lesson for a sweet, subtle run through ‘Thrown Right at Me’.
Phosphorescent sounded great in the late-afternoon sun, though I scarpered after a few songs to see Fleet Foxes play their first festival slot in over two years (and inaugural appearance in Spain). Opening with ‘The Cascades’ before segueing into the breathless ‘Grown Ocean’, the band nailed their harmonies and promised to finish before the Barcelona game, Robin Pecknold genuinely delighted at the response they received. It was a great set, studded with highlights from the group’s relatively short discography to date, though it arguably never got going quite as it could have (I’m sure they were a bit more banter-y first time round). Still: in a festival as simultaneously big, exhausting, brilliant and occasionally frustrating as Primavera Sound 2011 proved, songs as clear and limpid as ‘Mykonos’, ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’ and the closing ‘Helplessness Blues’ made for lovely, welcome respite. (JS)
Lovely, lovely Tune-Yards + the last drops of the evening sun = just blissfully perfect, one big ball of joyous yodelling flecked with the golden sax stabs of her band. It should usher in an immaculate Pitchfork stage run, but things go a bit weird: live, Gonjasufi and band are only a few pairs of big shorts away from nu-meta; Gang Gang Dance are kind of fun, but with time limited it doesn seem rather indulgent to spend ten minutes playing a two note synth riff while Lizzi Bougatsos dances around with some gonk waving a bin bag. Lots of people have lots of nice things to say about PJ Harvey’s set; I dunno if we just picked a bad spot to stand (the sound seemed very quiet) or if we might have been spoiled by having seen Polly and cohorts play the same songs a few months earlier, but it all felt a bit underwhelming.
Unlike Swans: I’m surprised anyone remembers anything about them at all, so ferocious is the impact they make; my abiding recollection is percussion erupting like a war, a version of ‘Eden Prison’ so big it could ransack the moon, but also a wry, relaxed Michael Gira a ways away from the grim figure who led the resurgent band into battle at Supersonic last year.
I’m aware that virtually everybody else seemed to hate Animal Collective’s set; um, yeah… maybe it was just because I was forewarned that there’d be virtually no old material, maybe it was inebriation, but I honestly thought the new tracks sounded pretty great, the rich electronic textures of Merriweather... taken a stage further into the realm of actual dance music, pulsing and vital. Also they play ‘Brothersport’, which is nice.
Aaaand then (several hours later, as Kode9’s pleas for more time are denied by a politely smiling Spanish stage manager)… it’s over (for the main festival at least). Not a champagne year, perhaps; the fiasco with the tickets was just a bit too much, though the organisers dealt with it well once it happened. But with the type of line-ups Primavera pulls together, in the type of city it’s based in... it’s hard to stay mad at it for long. (AL)