Our final report from Primavera Sound 2012 features words on Sharon Van Etten, Jeff Mangum, Jamie xx, Forest Swords, Josh T. Pearson and a bunch more, as well as some closing thoughts from our writers in attendance.
Saturday is hot, the huge Parc del Fòrum site basking under a deep blue Mediterranean sky, festival-goers resplendent in shorts, sandals and sunglasses. It’s a typical June day in Barcelona, then, so it feels a little odd to be watching a song about forests in Kent that swirls and thrums with all the power and urgency of progressive British trad-folk at its finest. Even odder that those supplying it are Catalonia’s very own Anímic, a beloved local act who sing in both Catalan and English, mining traditions hundreds of years old in their cause.
Led by singers (and spouses) Ferran Palau (guitar) and Louise Sansom (ukulele), the band is based in Collbató, a small village at the foot of the nearby Montserrat (literally, serrated mountain), and favours a D.I.Y., self-produced approach which suits its music well. Tasked with opening the Pitchfork stage on the final day of the festival, they quickly draws a bigger crowd, and so they should: the set ranges from delicate, hushed balladry to storming maelstroms of sound – often within the same song – and the effect is rousing and powerful; traces of melancholy offset by unexpected, bracing power. (JS)
Sharon Van Etten, San Miguel
Sharon Van Etten is sullen. Stony-faced and clad entirely in black, 'This is the ugliest place I’ve ever been to,' she tells the crowd after a few songs, to be met by baffled cheers. Chalk it up to nerves, maybe, or exhaustion (this is the last stop on her current European tour): as the set wears on, her dry between-song banter becomes softer and actually quite endearing. Off the back of this year’s excellent Tramp LP, she comes armed with some bruised, brilliant material too, and a more than capable band to play it with (Heather Woods Broderick’s contribution on keys, guitars and backing vocals is particularly striking).
The fiery ‘Serpents’ is introduced as “the first song I ever wrote on electric guitar,” (“I was angry, at the time” she adds), ‘Leonard’ is soaring, beautiful, ‘Ask’ likewise. Van Etten looks tiny up there, but hers is an assured, commanding presence, and the band hits the dronier, more unusual songs with clear relish. ‘Love More’ doesn’t get an outing, sadly, but on the closing ‘I’m Wrong’, Broderick and Van Etten combine to wonderful effect. 'Go fucking swimming and listen to music,' she orders the crowd by way of farewell.
(Later on I catch the band play a few songs in an overflowing Ray-Ban Unplugged tent and Van Etten seems in far better spirits, discussing an exchange programme she did here while in high school and trying out her Spanish on the crowd. Not the most auspicious of starts then, but two great sets in one day isn’t bad going.) (JS)
Jeff Mangum, Rockdelux (Auditori)
The Auditori is a huge, almost futuristic concert hall, so when Jeff Mangum shuffles onto the stage and takes a seat next to a rack of acoustic guitars, it’s to his credit that he invites his audience to come sit closer. 'It doesn’t scare me,' he mumbles, and the crowd surges forward. It suddenly feels like an intimate event, and as he gets straight to business with a ragged, fervent rendition of ‘Two-Headed Boy’ the sense of wonder only grows.
Minus the fuzz, drums and horns, it’s remarkable how these songs not only hold up live, but sound so full, so raw, so strange yet so intuitive all at once. As far as concerts go, this is poles apart from last year’s appearance by Sufjan Stevens in the same venue. That was an extravaganza; this is a modest, plainspoken dude armed with a few battered guitars that sound for all the world like they’re emanating from an old practice amp somewhere out back.
The crowd never really sing along as invited, Mangum is often inaudible between songs, and the whole thing really could use a bit more volume. But it is magical nonetheless; genuinely hypnotic. Alongside a few On Avery Island cuts, everything you could possibly want from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is present and correct, and Mangum’s unassuming introductions ('This is a song called "Holland"') elicit audience-wide gasps of anticipation. Before I know it he’s ploughing through an epic ‘Oh Comely’, eyes bulging as he hits the long notes, his voice straining and buckling, the Auditori collectively holding its breath, and the show’s over. Again: magical. (JS)
Forest Swords / Demdike Stare, ATP
Early evening Saturday is spent back on the ATP Stage, where the excellent double bill of Forest Swords and Demdike Stare bring a bit of early-evening hauntology. The atmosphere for the former’s set feels marginally diminished by the presence of sunlight, rendering the visuals projected onto the rear of the stage all but non-existent. Sonically though, Forest Swords’ set is wonderful – joined by a live bassist (although said bassist spends a lot of the set doing considerably more ‘vibing’ than he does bass playing) his music sound more organic and fluid that most laptop musicians out there. He plays a fair amount of new material which, in this live incarnation at least, adds slowed down garage beats to his dub-infused, atmospheric productions. To liken this new inclination towards slow-mo 2-step to Burial feels like way too much of a lazy comparison, but suffice to say Forest Swords is one of the few producers you can mention in the same breath as Hyperdub’s biggest export without having to bitterly mutter the word ‘imitator’ afterward.
Demdike Stare, on the other hand, aren’t blighted by daylight, which is fortunate as their well-compiled accompaniment of dated, out-of-context film footage is the star of their live show (without it, visually, they’re just two guys stood at laptops). The combination of these well-crafted visuals and the excellent, soundtrack-like drones and precise ambience of their music works perfectly however, and particularly sat in the muggy evening heat it’s a perfect mood-setter. (ST)
Josh T. Pearson, Rockdelux (Auditori)
A Josh T. Pearson show, as I’ve been told, is akin to seeing a stand-up comic. It’s kind of strange – his solemn, haunting songs unwind deliberately and powerfully, the demons that drove Last of the Country Gentlemen in full flight – but he’s funny, too, really infectiously funny, comfortable and at ease with the audience to the point where he’s cracking up himself, drawing from an arsenal of dirty jokes, desperately trying to regain composure before taking on another of his epic compositions.
There are some, I’m sure, that aren’t in favour of this. Pearson probably spends as much time chatting as he does singing. In fact he’s even openly filling time towards the end of the show ('20 minutes…enough time for one more smash hit'), calling back to earlier jokes (blow jobs are the recurring theme of the evening), engaging with members of the audience, expressing his awe at the beauty of the Spanish public, accidentally revealing his hotel room number and reminiscing about playing shows in Hull, of all places. I’m personally all for it, and Pearson is even on record as considering it an essential part of his performance. Gentlemen is an absorbing, singular (quite terrific) listen, but man, it is a heavy one too, and leavening the set with his unique brand of humour renders the crowd all smiles as it filters out of the Auditori, two standing ovations later. Exceptional stuff. (JS)
The Weeknd, Pitchfork
Tonight’s main event, for me, is the European debut of Abel Tesfaye’s dark r&b project the Weeknd. There was always going to be a fair amount of danger involved in bringing Tesfaye’s faceless, regret-tainted tales of drug consumption and partying into the live arena. Stripped of layers of online anonymity and production sheen the Weeknd becomes a different beast entirely, but fortunately it’s one that is no less enticing. Reports of Tesfaye’s early live outings at Coachella suggested an occasional lack of confidence as a performer, but by the time they reach Barcelona – despite having only a handful of shows under their belt – he and his crowdsourced backing band are one of the slickest operations at the festival.
As the chorus of opening number ‘High For This’ kicks in the band flood the Pitchfork Stage system with a huge wave of bass – so much so that it appears to trip the stage’s limiter and the power cuts out. We lose the second half of that song but the band return quickly (unfortunately at a noticeably lower volume) to run through an assortment of tracks from last year’s trilogy of free albums. Tesfaye’s voice is note perfect throughout; his ‘Dirty Diana’ rework is just as enjoyable as you’d hope it to be, while ‘The Morning’ becomes a bizarrely upbeat singalong and proves to be a highlight. ‘Urban’ music and live guitars are rarely entirely comfortable bedfellows (see also: every rap/rock record ever), but in this case the Weeknd’s sound benefits nicely from the slight added punch, particularly on the thunderous, climactic ‘House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls’, which comes complete with added drum solo. (ST)
It says a lot when a festival can have this many high-profile cancellations (Björk, El-P, Death Grips, Ultramagnetic MCs, Sleep, the Melvins) and still be utterly fantastic. In terms of its well-balanced, interesting line-up, this year’s Primavera had it nailed – enough to happily fill each evening with acts you can genuinely look forward to watching, an eclectic mix of genres and all nicely paced: building from early evening acoustic acts to late night dance music. It’s hard to pin down in words exactly why (the weather, atmosphere, lack of camping, queue-free bars and Barcelona in general would all be factors) but having sampled a fairly hefty selection of festivals over the past decade, this was – arguably – the best yet. Not since my first trip to ATP (a good six years ago), have I come back from a festival so certain I’d definitely be attending the next edition. Fair play Primavera.
This was my third time at Primavera Sound for DiS, and, not coincidentally, my third year living here in Barcelona. It was by far my favourite of the three editions, despite having to move house during the festival, in some horrendous yet unavoidable timing. (Hence not so many words from me on Friday; I did watch the Cure and a few others, but was more than content to meet up with old friends and quaff cheap beer.) Also, the first thing I did on Thursday was sit on a panel entitled ‘How Tastemakers Can Globalise Your Music’ as part of PrimaveraPro, a series of conferences that runs alongside the main event at the Hotel Diagonal Zero, just next to the Parc del Fòrum. It was the first time I’d sat on a panel, I had a ton of things I’d like to have said and the wise words of Messrs. Sean Adams and Mike Diver ringing in my ears, but to be honest it didn’t go brilliantly, the billed President of Pitchfork was a no-show, and by the time I felt like I was finally saying something that might have been worth listening to we had to finish.
But: the sprawling Parc del Fòrum site felt less crowded and more relaxed than it has of late, the weather was typically brilliant, the food and bars were much better than the last two years, and, apart from hearing some pretty rough tales of Jeff Mangum’s ticketed Friday performance starting when the majority of the crowd were still waiting to enter the Auditori, it seems the organisers went for their biggest year yet and pulled it off relatively hitch-free – not to mention a whole new festival in the shape of Portugal’s Optimus Primavera Sound, taking place as I write this under the watchful eye of Andrzej Lukowski.
Finally, to echo Si, the line-up was as tremendous and varied as ever, even with those high-profile absences: from Jaff Mangum to M83, Refused and Josh T. Pearson to name but four (as well as strong showings from local acts John Talabot and Anímic) the whole thing was stacked with memorable performances. Here’s one more review, which wraps things up pretty fine:
Jamie xx, Vice / Numbers, Pitchfork / Scuba, Rayban
02.15, 03.00, 04.15
The final few hours at Parc Del Forum provide the festival’s best selection of late-night DJs. Jamie xx kicks things off on the Vice Stage in pleasing style. It’s easy to criticise the young beatmaker’s DJ sets for a slight level of predictability (you can bank on some classic house, and it’s no surprise when he slides into garage two-thirds of the way in), but he certainly knows how to put together an excellent party set, and mixes it all with skill. Dropping ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ within the first 15 minutes of a set is a big move. We leave before the end to spend an all-too-short half-hour in the company of the ever reliable Numbers collective – it’s long enough to catch Deadboy playing some lovely synth-heavy tunes – but we opt to end the night in the company of Hotflush boss Scuba (although I’m reliably informed that Oneman did a superb job of wrapping things up). Over on the Ray-Band Stage Scuba makes the most of the powerful soundsystem in exactly the manner you’d expect from a man who’s spent the past few years living in Berlin. His techno-leaning set slowly evolves to bring out the more playful side he showcased on his recent third album Personality. Joy Orbison’s ‘Ellipsis’ and Boddika’s VIP mix of ‘Mercy’ are crowd pleasers, but when Scuba ends his set just after 6am by dropping his own, Nineties rave-flavoured ‘NE1BUTU’ at the precise moment the sun rises over the Barcelona shoreline, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect end to a festival. (ST)
Main photo Sharon Van Etten. All photos (including that striking portrait of Josh T. Pearson) by Burak Cingi; visit our gallery here