Drowned in Sound recently read a piece on the feeling of exquisite sadness – not depression, regret or melancholy – associated with cricket. In Barcelona and the 2013 Primavera Sound festival it was a feeling with which DiS could empathise.
Part of Primavera’s beauty is that it rejects the clichés of Brits in Spain; an eclectic crowd where English shoegaze fans mixed with Finnish dance aficionados and German Tame Impala nuts. Dancing mere feet away from the sea to Iceland’s Dead Skeletons, in a city drowned in Gaudi, where the buildings at points caused a critic with the greatest indifference to architecture to actually yelp with amazement, it’s a festival light years removed from the ruddy-faced stag parties of lads and lager. Perhaps it’s the distance from my beloved girlfriend, perhaps it’s the fact that the festival finishes at around 5am, but the gothic refinement of Barcelona and what is widely regarded as the world’s best festival is enough to make DiS come over all tired and emotional.
Nonetheless, this is Drowned in Sound, not Drowned in Nostalgia, so on with the music and all that...
After landing in Barcelona late morning, checking into our hotel and refuelling on oh-so-cheap beers, The Vaccines on Parc del Fòrum’s Ray Ban Stage was the first stop. Never really a favourite of DiS or its readers, the band are all too easily dismissed as four blokes with guitars making 'proper music'. Tonight though they show why such ire is ill-deserved; like a well-written children’s book, they make simple, hooky pop music but do so with intelligence, care and real effort. The result is one of the most excitably received sets of the festival, hits such as ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ and ‘If You Wanna’ exciting a broad audience.
After this it was on to Evans the Death. I’ll admit to not being particularly familiar with their work, but Katherine Whittaker and co. battled admirably in an occasionally-futile attempt to overcome numerous technical issues in front of a tiny audience on the Smint stage.
From here we were on to the potent and delicious €3.50 mojitos in El Born’s Rubi Bar. Here ends DiS’s Wednesday review.
This was undoubtedly Phoenix’s night. The Versailles quintet – upgraded to a six-piece live with the addition of Robert Coudert on keyboards and outstanding drummer Thomas Hedlund – have made it huge in Europe between Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and this year’s wonderful Bankrupt, although in Britain don’t appear to have made that Arcade Fire-esque indie/mainstream crossover in quite the way that was expected. The entire band is accomplished musicians who, in fine fettle, gave an energetic and polished performance to the 30,000-odd crowd. There were doubts in DiS’s mind though that they had enough hits to justify the headline slot after getting through ‘Entertainment’, ‘Lisztomania’, and a mashup of ‘Too Young’ and ‘Girlfriend’ early in the set.
There were no setlist quandaries over the first act of the day though. Brooklyn’s Wild Nothing put together a neat blend of tracks from both Gemini and Nocturne and closed with ‘Ride’, the highlight of their gorgeous recent Empty Estate EP (although left out their best-known song, ‘Chinatown’). An increasingly smooth-sounding band on record, these were grittier reworkings of the songs; we managed a brief backstage chat with Jack Tatum afterwards, and although he mentioned not wanting to sound like 'a New Order knock-off' there were hints of ‘She’s Lost Control’ and ‘Regret’ across the material.
The best visuals of the festival award had a runaway winner in Tame Impala. They may have started out with something that looked a bit Windows Media Player, but as the skies darkened it evolved into Aurora Borealis and Desert Landscapes silhouetting Kevin Parker et al. It may sound a little cornball but provided the perfect early evening backdrop to a band whose Grateful Dead-like psychedelic jams demonstrated that their burgeoning reputation following last year’s Lonerism is well-deserved.
Resting wearied feet in the VIP area, I had a great view overlooking both the illuminated city and Dinosaur Jr.. J Mascis’s band may sound almost exactly the same on stage as on record, but they are able to shift from alt rock classics such as ‘Lung’ and ‘Freak Scene’ to owning The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ and have influenced a thousand bands from Nirvana to Radiohead over the past 28 years.
Deerhunter pulled a crowd to the Ray Ban stage to rival Phoenix’s in size, so as they would be playing later in the week anyway it seemed a better bet to head to The Boiler Room for Simian Mobile Disco’s unflagging DJ set down by the water. After leaving Phoenix early in order to catch up with his roommates, DiS managed to catch contrasting snippets of Four Tet’s wiry restlessness and Dead Skeletons’ gothic shoegaze, the latter of which sent us to bed with a sound akin to Disintegration as a Lars von Trier movie score in our heads.
Merchandise are a much-hyped Floridian quartet, although their sound is very much based on British new wave music; their influences are apparently the same as those of The Killers or The Strokes, albeit with more aggression in lieu of the latter’s aloofness (or to put it in the same way as DiS’s fellow observers, 'a not-shit The Bravery'). It’s disposable if enjoyable stuff but done with far less gusto or accomplishment than, say, The Vaccines on Wednesday night.
We followed this with an unexpectedly brief trip to see The Breeders over on the Primavera stage. So poor was the sound, with everything periodically cutting out, that second song ‘Cannonball’ was always going to be the spluttering highlight and DiS was soon on its way back over to the main Heineken Stage (inconveniently, this and ATP were located were located some way from the rest of the festival, I think somewhere near Madrid) for the headliners.
A number of people have apparently complained that The Jesus and Mary Chain coasted through their set, phoning in a performance that failed to generate any atmosphere. This is horseshit. Jim Reid may never have been the most energetic nor tuneful of singers, but the band is amongst the tightest I’ve ever seen, and the likes of ‘Some Candy Talking’ and ‘Happy When It Rains’ are euphorically discordant and the quartet of songs from the great Psychocandy is a neat reminder that William Reid is amongst the most underrated of British guitarists. Mid-set Jim announces a special guest: DiS’s money was on original drummer Bobby Gillespie, but we’re pleasantly surprised to see My Bloody Valentine pin-up Bilinda Butcher take to the stage for ‘Just Like Honey’.
Having found a good spot for The Jesus and Mary Chain, we opted to remain in place for the main headline act rather than venture elsewhere. In doing so we were again pleasantly surprised as The Wedding Present turned up unannounced on a balcony to our right for a brief set of ‘Kennedy’, ‘Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft’ and ‘My Favourite Dress’, before Blur took to the stage for the biggest crowd of the festival.
Judging the mood perfectly, the Britpop survivors treated us to a greatest hits set, opening with the danceable triumvirate of ‘Girls and Boys’, ‘Popscene’ and ‘There’s No Other Way’ before carrying on with sing-along after sing-along... ‘Tender’ and ‘Beetlebum’ for aficionados of the anthemic; ‘Parklife’ and ‘Country House’ for the pop fans. ‘Coffee and TV’ showed off Graham Coxon’s guitar work at its best and the encore of ‘Under the Westway’ (already sounding like a classic), ‘For Tomorrow’, ‘The Universal’ and ‘Song 2’ keeping the crowd in fine voice even as we approached 3am. It wasn’t a flawless set, as ‘Caramel’ dragged and ‘For Tomorrow’, unlike the rest of the early songs played, failed to transcend its utter shittiness live, but ultimately Blur were worthy narrow victors in the toss-up with Swans for our attention in the timeslot.
Through tired eyes affected by both large quantities of €1 beers from the Ppress area and the festival’s all-pervading aroma of marijuana, DiS staggered to the back of a surprisingly large crowd for The Knife. Their recent live set has divided opinion, although based on this it’s difficult to see why: I didn’t actually see them play a fucking thing. As I’m sure you know by now, a bunch of dancers took to the stage backed by The Knife’s music to create some kind of performance art thing. To call this a Knife show though is the same as calling the 1980 Flash Gordon movie a Queen gig. In short, fuck The Knife, I wasn’t staying up for this crap.
The absence of Mario Götze certainly hurt Dortmund as Lewandoski was forced into more speculative efforts without the departing man fashioning chances behind him. Still, Jürgen Klopp’s side can feel a little hard done by as Bayern should have been reduced to nine men on account of Franck Ribéry’s first half elbow and the already-booked Dante’s crotch-high challenge that led to BVB’s penalty (although they can count themselves lucky Lewandoski wasn’t sent off himself for a stamp on Ribéry in the second half).
Away from the all-German Champions’ League Final, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Deerhunter (again, this time as a late replacement for Band of Horses) and Wu Tang Clan were doing all the music-y stuff, but DiS only managed to catch the end of the latter after cheering on (along with every single other person watching on Parc del Fòrum’s Secret Cinema big screen) footballing hipsters Dortmund. It’s almost as if Method Man & Co. were as interested in the crowd as those of us who had missed them for the football, and a greater number of people were heading away from their stage than towards it after Arjen Robben’s winner for Bayern.
For the purposes of journalistic integrity and wanting to bring you, dear readers, a fuller picture of the 2013 Primavera Experience, took a ride on the giant Ferris wheel overlooking the ATP stage. After half an hour or so of vertigo, it was time to see some actual music, so we stopped by the nearby Phosphorescent set, where us DiSsers enjoyed loudly singing along to their cover of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ as performed in the style of Yo La Tengo’s ‘Autumn Sweater’. This later turned out to be an original song called ‘The Quotidian Beasts’.
The headline act for Saturday, and the band this critic was most excited to see, was the legendary My Bloody Valentine. The setlist was a slightly abridged version of the same they have been playing all the way through the m b v tour, with only ‘New You’ and ‘She Found Now’ appearing from the latest album (sadly no ‘Wonder 2’ this time); unsurprising given Kevin Shields recorded most of the new album alone with little time for the rest of the band to learn the new songs. A pleasingly Loveless-heavy set was augmented by a number of raucous B-sides and EP tracks, most notably ‘Thorn’ with Dom Gourlay-induced mosh pit and closer ‘You Made Me Realise’ with an abridged ten minute version of the infamous 'holocaust section'. The band’s sound quality is notoriously variable when they play live but, as with the last time I saw them in Manchester in March, they were crisp and clear, with the howling wind augmenting their wall of noise rather than muting it.
At 3.50am on the final day of the main festival, Hot Chip were always up against it with a shattered crowd, but drew a huge number of exhausted festival goers and treated us to some of the finest dance songs of the past ten years: ‘And I Was A Boy From School’, ‘Over and Over’ and ‘One Life Stand’ acting as an aural shot of Relentless before the sun came up.
A quiet day with a couple of free gigs thrown in. Restaurante Rangoli down at La Barceloneta is one of the finest Indian restaurants I’ve ever visited, and although a little pricey certainly worth it for the portions, the perfect level of spiciness for all four of us, and the view over the bay. After this, Mac Demarco plays a perfect set to a small and warmly-receptive audience in Parc de la Ciutadella, drawing from both of his 2012 Captured Tracks LPs as well as a loungey rendition of ‘Enter Sandman’, a shredded hard rock cover of ‘Blackbird’, and a crude mashup of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Bawitdaba’. It’s a slacker rock set that’s at once crude and hilarious, and yet touching and sweet, not least on closer ‘Still Together’ when DeMarco invites his girlfriend on stage and hoists her above his head. It should be a cheesy moment, but in the gentle late afternoon atmosphere it’s the most genuinely lovely moment of the week.
(Hey you can see me in that video!)
Finally it’s off to a rammed Sala Apolo to finally catch Deerhunter, playing their third show in four days. It’s a set heavy on material from latest album Monomania and 2008’s Microcastle. Although the highlight of their set remains the glorious ‘Desire Lines’ – the outro to which DiS could happily listen to for a few hours on end – it’s run close by closer ‘Agoraphobia’, which is extended to a 15 minute shoegazey drone of fuzzy warmth.
And with that, it’s almost time to catch the plane.
photo Burak Cingi