With an intergalactic billing Primavera Sound promised to serve up something quite extraordinary, Getintothis’ Peter Guy and Peter Goodbody reflect on the sights and sounds in Barcelona.
“We got over that fucking nightmare – and we can get over this one too,” came the cry as Win Butler addressed Primavera Sound‘s largest crowd of the weekend.
The Arcade Fire frontman, dressed like a Kwik Fit mechanic, was referring to the ongoing US presidential farce yet amid the colossal throng gathered to watch perhaps the most anticipated – or at least most popular – set of the weekend, the savage irony of another tragedy was unfolding in the UK. The latest terrorist incident at London Bridge was just beginning to unravel and several people around us are seen clutching on to their mobile phones evidently distracted between the chaos in Barking’s Borough Market and the live performance on the Parc del Forum‘s vast Mango Stage.
And while it was impossible to fully submerge your senses, Arcade Fire‘s triumphant rallying thunder was perhaps the antidotal soundtrack for a seemingly never-ending apocalyptic world-shattering crisis. And at Primavera in 2017, this was somewhat thematic – as artists brought hope, togetherness and messages of unity against a backdrop of global disorder.
These are almost symbiotic themes which course through Arcade Fire‘s catalogue – yet it’s a body of work which in truth rarely lives up to that seminal debut album; and it’s fitting that the band open with Wake Up, perhaps their greatest musical offering to date – it sounds quite simply heroic. Complete with Richard Reed Parry‘s booming bass drum clobbered within an inch of it’s life, and tens of thousands singing in unison, it’s titanically massive. Yet their set peaks and troughs according to whichever era of t’Fire we’re presented with. While it’s beautifully theatrical throughout – a vast rectangular light-box from which they emerge provides the stage setting of the weekend – the later work is disjointed and at times verging on forgettable. In contrast, it’s their earlier work which strikes the finest chord; Rebellion Lies, a rare outing of In The Backseat and Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) are all glorious while Régine Chassagne once again proves the band’s not-so-secret weapon as her vocal-led tracks provide a sharp contrast to the band’s somewhat over-zealous bombast; Haiti is terrific off-kilter fun while her ice-cool rendition of Sprawl II injects a much-needed change of pace.
However, we’ve only ourselves to blame for any minor quibbles as it’s the only point of the entire week spent in Barcelona we find ourselves following festival friends instead of relying on personal preference (it also means we foolishly miss a rare live outing from doom titans Sleep) – for Primavera Sound is delectably scheduled, masterfully curated and quite simply a treasure in the global festival market. It’s Getintothis‘ second year at the festival – and once again we’re almost out of superlatives such is its quality in every aspect – from the food, site layout, scheduling and amenities.
What really strikes us second time around is the nuanced, near perfect structuring of the event.
Whatever, and however, you choose to play Primavera there’s barely any chance of it going wrong. While many festivals can prove difficult to navigate – both in terms of the geography of the festival site or simply the booking schedule, here it’s expertly planned out. Our routine often involves late morning rises, easing into the day with local cuisine before relaxing beach-side and easing in with the emerging artists and bands late afternoon before hitting it harder as the night goes on. There’s a cohesive perpetual flow which seems to culminate around 2am each evening. If you last longer into the night, it’s destined to be even better.
Having arrived on the Tuesday and leaving a week to the day later, we’re able to bask in the joyous qualities the city of Barcelona has to offer – from strolls around Park Güell (which in the dizzying heat recalls Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and it wouldn’t seem out of place had we been forced to take evasive action from a giant cannonball careering down it’s winding foot paths high up in the Carmel Hills) to dining on tapas in the Diagonal Mar neighbourhood, touring Barca’s Camp Nou or taking in the locally brewed Loka ale in a metal bar in the Gothic Quarter, it’s a city with endless riches to enjoy alongside the festival.
For anyone who chooses to take on the week long festivities they’re treated to one of the finest elements of Prima – the book-ended night gigs at Sala Apolo. Bathed in burgundy, the charming, slightly-rough round the edges music hall opens up on Tuesday night with one of the sets of the week as rising Norwich teenagers Let’s Eat Grandma prove bewitching and otherworldly in equal measure. They blend saxophone, prog-rock guitars, xylophone, hip hop, synthesizers, drum pads and all manner of vocal stylistics into some form of science experiment complete with hopscotch and school playground hand-clap games into something remarkably natural which leaves first-time listeners startled at what they’re witnessing. In contrast, El Paso hype band Cigarettes After Sex, who follow appear somewhat staid by comparison. Sure, there’s little shortage of haunting noir and pensive seduction but it’s all a little controlled and lacking in variation.
The same can’t be said the following evening when we return for Afro-beat jazz-funk collective No Zu whose energy assists us power through til near 3am. It helps that they’re proceeded Kate Tempest who’s in blistering form when she bravely runs through her entire new album Let Them Eat Chaos barely pausing for breath. The hour-long narrative takes in the anxieties of numerous lyrical characters as their subplots intermingle before arriving at the same destiny – 4.18am and a search for inner peace. Tempest’s ambition can’t help but be applauded; the poetry is engaging, permanently posing questions while her delivery is ramped up til she’s exhausted and out of breath. Similarly, the breadth of musicality by her band is stunning – and despite this being only our second night it’s without doubt one of the highlights of the week.
Earlier in the evening, that aforementioned exquisite festival curation, allows Barcelona residents to enter the festival free of charge with Catalans joining the hoards in front of the Primavera Stage for rising Aussie Gordi who’s billed as the female Bon Iver – which may unfairly pigeonhole her yet it’s a pretty solid comparison with numerous tracks capably slotting in on either of his first two albums. We’re impressed. Particularly when she sticks to the more restrained songs in her armoury, less so when she belts it out and it all leans towards Florence and The Wind Machine. Following on, Saint Etienne seemingly struggle with their characteristically understated pop falling a little flat, fairing better are Local Natives whose restless, frenetic and at times HUGE sounding set includes highlights Airplanes, Breakers and a beautiful cover of Kanye West‘s Ultralight Beam.
The patch of sloped grassland that sits opposite the Primavera Stage is one of many simple pleasures Parc del Forum has to offer – providing a meeting point as well as the ideal resting and vantage point to catch many an act during the weekend. Cymbals Eat Guitars provide an early warm up of angular riffing, This Is Not This Heat combine rhythmical wizardry we’ve not witnessed for some time while the joyous insanity of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard‘s introductory Rattle Snake implores us to take to our feet, join the masses and go wild. Seeing what looks like an actual palm tree held aloft dancing through the heaving mess of bodies which twist and crowd-surf is one of the finest and funniest things all weekend. Make no mistake, Stu Mackenzie‘s band are fast developing into the kind of live benchmark band Thee Oh Sees have been trading on for years. Tracks from Nonagon Infinity and Flying Microtonal Banana segue beautifully into each other providing one almost seamless cyclical track as riff after riff collides into those dual drummers. Their joyous power outweighs that of the proceeding Death Grips who appear to struggle somewhat with a sound which lacks their on-record might instead transforming into a gloopy mess lacking the necessary punch.
The same can be levelled at Run The Jewels, who on record rely on that compressed bulldozing sound to drive home their message, here the sound falls a little flat and it’s largely underwhelming. It doesn’t help we’re several hundred yards from the front and a friend later tells us ‘you had to be right in the mix to feel the full hit.‘ We experience something similar for both Aphex Twin and Skepta, who though certainly better, it all seems a little detached unless you’re right in the mix. The same can’t be said for Slayer, who appear absolutely thrilled to simply be at Primavera. Tom Araya‘s grin stretches right across the Mango Stage as he acknowledges that this isn’t their usual set of fans – but they’re delighted to be a part of such a happening – the feeling is clearly mutual as the band blitz through the likes of Repentless, Raining Blood and South of Heaven all the while Kerry King face down to the stage thrashes his Signature V before concluding with a cataclysmic Angel Of Death.
Earlier in the evening Bon Iver provides unequivocally the set of the weekend. Running through 22, A Million almost in its entirety it’s impossible not to be struck at just how much musical ground he’s covered since the sparse, fractured folk of his debut album. Tonight he and his ensemble transform into some kind of hip-hop infused spiritual gospel collective all centred around that astonishing vocal. Opener 22 (OVER S∞∞N) sets the tone as we’re ushered into a world of minimalistic melodies, falsetto vocal cries and low end thudding percussion which has the habit of sweeping you off your feet before crashing into nothingness in an instant – just as you’re losing yourself there’s a gap of silence. 10 (Death Breast) is a chugging monster of glitches and arresting bass battling against treated vocals which sound like they’re being put through a gigantic dishwasher, better still 33 God begins all twinkling magic and sparse orchestration before breaking down into plaintive piano before exploding into stomach-churning bass rumbles – it’s the loudest music of the weekend and the Heineken Stage‘s double-decker-sized speakers are seriously put to the test. Out of the dark, bowel-shuddering booms comes a glistening choral effect as we’re thrust into a sequence of delirious light beams and the beautific thrum of #29 Strafford Apts and it’s porch-side blues. All around people are holding each other and singing. Mostly incomprehensible gibberish – but what does it matter when music is this affecting. A sound-checking Slayer across the way allows for Vernon to inject some levity into proceedings suggesting they’re perhaps not the most ideal of bands to have in your monitors while attempting to play these kind of tunes. The highlights are plentiful; each track bringing something else as layer upon layer of sound built up then quickly stripped away. 666 ʇ is angry, taut and structured around thudding military beats, 8 (Circle) swells amid billowing organ while Perth is quite simply a masterclass in songwriting which pulls your heartstrings to breaking point. There are slight lulls which test even the most fierce of superfans – but when he pulls out the quite magnificent double-header of Holocene and Calgary it’s almost, almost too much. Just when we think it’s over, Vernon returns to the stage solo with his guitar in the spotlight to deliver a bewitching Creature Fear which has the entire place erupting into song. It’s quite the moment, in a set littered with them.
The variety of music on offer at Primavera in 2017 is quite remarkable from the feral punk of NOTS to the cosmic instrumental synths of S U R V I V E through to Miguel‘s charismatic blend of rock-fueled soul-pop there’s an unending banquet of sound on offer.
And one of our great discoveries of the weekend arrives in the fantastic Auditori Rockdelux which served as one of our favourite spaces last year. The silver-plated art gallery museum is a wonder in itself to look at and our only trip inside this year saw Russian trio Phurpa serve up droning Buddhist style chants all the while sat down in near darkness as plumes of dense smoke poured from the stage. They’re undeniably following in the lineage of Sunn O))) and fellow doom pioneers but there’s enough here to keep us entertained – it’s like watching Jawas perform some kind of pagan ritual as gut-wrenching rhythms fuse into dense ambience.
Similarly, Prairie WWWW, who we discovered at Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, provide another oddball rush with their frenzied chaos of outrock on the blink-and-you-miss-it Night Pro Stage. We only end up there by happenstance when we mistake Teenage Fanclub to be on the Ray-Ban stage only to find it empty. A quick check of the schedule and we realise our error just in time to catch them deliver a quite brilliantly triumphant version of Sparky’s Dream over on the Primavera Stage – complete with Scottish flag waving in the foreground. Veterans of another form, Broken Social Scene fall victim to a packed range of clashes and we’re miffed to have to abandon their set just four songs in – they, like so many of the bands this weekend, seem utterly delighted to be playing and their ebullient set reflects as such with Cause = Time and 7/4 (Shoreline) sounding positively ecstatic.
The highs come thick and fast throughout the weekend; Whitney, who made their name at the festival two years ago, are all warm nonchalance despite Julien Ehrlich confessing he may have broken his thumb quad-biking earlier in the midday heat, Arab Strap, celebrating the 20th anniversary of their formation induced pummelling bass that could easily have resulted in a couple of broken ribs, Kevin Morby deftly flitters between understated Americana and some high-octane rock with one of the solos of the festival, Sinkane proves refreshingly funky with his effortless blend of pop, soul and African jams, Mac Demarco, who earlier injected playful RAWK with a cameo during Whitney‘s set returns with an hour of assured blissed-out brilliance while The Growlers are pure louche rock and roll fun oozing effortless cool. Earlier Junun featuring Shye Ben Tzur and the ensemble of Rajastan Express provide one of the early afternoon slots of the weekend mixing traditional Indian flavourings with Jonny Greenwood‘s exotic orchestration – it’s a loose rhythmical delight. Tel Aviv’s Vaadat Charigim are another Ray Ban stage discovery offering chiseled shoegaze which hammers home marvellously mixing driving percussion and dreamy spacerock. One to further investigate upon our return home.
Speaking of which, Solange. Alongside Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, the younger Knowles sister draws the most devoted crowd of the weekend and she pulls out all of the stops with a beautifully pitched set of restrained soulful pop. Backing dancers inject some fabulous choreography but it’s hard to take your eyes off her as she gives her 2016 album A Seat at the Table a complete work out. Whether it’s standing statuesque or breezily floating across the stage, seemingly levitating at times, Solange is quite the star and her creamy vocal during the likes of F.U.B.U., Don’t You Wait and a particularly rousing Cranes In The Sky are lapped up by the sizeable crowd hanging on her every word. She closes with an explosive Don’t Touch My her seguing neatly into a reprise of Rise as the stage set dips to blood red – and married to the golden orange sunset splaying across the Barcelona backdrop it’s quite the picture.
Across the other side of the site SWANS deliver a customary thunderous set – the last we’ll see of Michael Gira‘s current live set up. Complete with punishing, near relentless propulsion it’s pretty hard on the crowd to endure this kind of aural sledgehammer at such a late hour, but the more sensory battering you take the more satisfying it feels.
Filling, what we’re dubbing the ‘Brian Wilson Sunday slot‘ is Van Morrison. We’d heard numerous stories of his ire and in the lead up to the set had a preemptive dream of him ploughing a white van over a pedestrian – and when not quite killing the poor soul, he reversed his vehicle over him once again just to make sure. Gruesome stuff, and we’d feared his set may follow suit. To our relief it’s nothing of the sort. In fact, quite the opposite as Van appears in near rapturous form; be-suited in resplendent purple with gold trim and racing green cravat he tumbles through a set which radiates every big track in his arsenal. Opening with a sax-led Too Late he tosses away Have I Told You Lately and Moondance before swaggering his way through Days Like This and the bluesy boogie of John Lee Hooker‘s Think Twice Before You Go. It’s pure party music and literally everyone is swinging side to side when he drops a wild version of Here Comes The Night. The interplay between his band is something else too as slide guitar, pedal steel and all manner of brass is thrown into the mix as the likes of a tootling Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile), Brown Eyed Girl and an uproarious Gloria sends the crowd wild. It’s a masterful set and pulls into sharp focus what a band leader and musician Van Morrison really is – and real treat of the festival.
Our weekend at Park del Forum closes in glorious fashion with a hat-trick of performances which once again remind us of that perfectly pitched schedule. HAIM are the latest of the surprise sets – earlier in the week Mogwai debuted new album Every Country’s Sun in full and in full volume on the Bacardi Stage – racing through an hour’s set of slick pop-rock. While the LA-based sister’s earnestness can tend to grate there’s simply no escaping their knack for a huge chorus and with the likes of Falling, Don’t Save Me and a particularly rocking The Wire its the perfect tee up for a quite brilliant finale in the Forum. What follows is even better as a golf buggy driven by two worse for wear punters trundles through the expansive Ray Ban Stage crowd allowing Getintothis and several dozen other punters to pitch up right at the front of the stage just in time for !!! to enter. As per Nic Offer is in Mr Motivator mood as his balls-bulgingly-tight cotton tennis shorts are stretched in every direction. Limbs fly, vocals spat and drum kits thwacked for 40 minutes of dancefloor heroics. Our night is brought to a close with Mr Barcelona himself, DJ Coco closing the festival proper with his customary traditional send off. There’s more cheese than a Christmas hamper but it matters not – and as the light breaks at 5.50am to the sound of tens of thousands of voices singing Don’t Stop Believin‘ it’s hard not feel you’re present at the greatest party right now anywhere on earth. It feels that good.
— Peter Guy (@Getintothis) June 5, 2017
It doesn’t end there though. While for many festival goers this is the end to their 2017 Primavera, we’ve one more night to recover, and one more night to savour as we go back to where it all began – Sala Apolo. While our minds are weary and our bodies crushed to breaking point, it’s just as well that the triple sonic threat of Shellac, Sleaford Mods and Japandroids are on the menu. Had there been anything other than savage, relentless noise we’d have probably given up – but this is music to pull you up by the collar, slap you round the chops and give you a proper kick p the arse.
And the feeling is obviously mutual as there’s a vast queue outside backing up the fact that this is one of the hottest and most in-demand bills of the weekend. Luckily, we’re inside from the off and positioned to the right of the stage it gives us the ideal vantage point to watch the mania unfold. It’s reminiscent of the carnage the previous year when Ty Segall and co brought the festival to a riotous close – and tonight it’s Steve Albini‘s men from Chicago, Illnois who kick things off.
It’s hard to really underline how much this band mean to so many festivals – the in-house band at All Tomorrow’s Parties have now become the default residents at Primavera and the shared love from the crowd is tangible. With just a 40 minute slot, they waste no time to lay waste to the Apolo with Todd Trainer’s exact angular drumming detonating from the off – My Black Ass is quite horribly brilliant, all shredded steely gristle while Compliant is every inch the sludgy, repetitive mechanical monster. Albini salutes the Spanish contingent saying it’s a wonder they take in any music because if he was one of them he’d spend more time making out such is their beauty before launching into a laughably ridiculous You Came In Me.
The End Of Radio with it’s cranky bassline grind sets up Albini to declare are you ready for ‘the best band in the world today‘ as Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn aka Sleaford Mods take to the stage. It’s quite the statement from a dude hardly renowned for his platitudes – but on this evidence who are we to argue; they’re ferocious, vital and send the entire crowd into a thronging mess within seconds. This is the fifth time we’ve seen the duo, and initially we think we’ve seen it all – we’re wrong, they just keep getting better. Williamson has honed his Norman Wisdom with tourette’s into something else – there’s a dandiness there which is comical yet still equally terrifying and the verbosity of his delivery is amplified beyond measure. While there’s a formula at work it rarely if ever becomes stale and the resulting mess of bodies falling over the barrier is unstoppable – at one point one fan storms the stage bellowing “Fuck Theresa May!” Williamson doesn’t even acknowledge it – simply launching into a barnstorming version of Jobseeker – says it all. Our Primavera 2017 journey ends almost appropriately with the punch-the-sky euphoria of Japandroids – a band who’s uplifting, no nonsense positivity is designed for nights like these. There’s no agenda, no chin-stroking, no cerebral thought necessary – just the might of power chords to enrich your being in the moment. It’s indicative of much of our week – with the world at odds, and seemingly intent on dividing, it’s another timely reminder of how much we need culture, the arts and the power of music to bring us together.
Primavera Sound 2017, you were magnificently magical, we can’t wait to do it all over again.
The 17 Primavera Sound 2017 anthems of the festival
1. Van Morrison – Gloria
2. Bon Iver – 33 “GOD”
3. Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built
4. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Rattlesnake
5. Sleaford Mods – B.H.S.
6. Let’s Eat Grandma – Deep Six Textbook
7. Teenage Fanclub – Sparky’s Dream
8. Kevin Morby – Harlem River
9. Broken Social Scene – 7/4 (Shoreline)
10. Slayer – Raining Blood
11. HAIM – The Wire
12. Local Natives – Airplanes
13. Solange: Cranes In The Sky
14. Arcade Fire – Wake Up
15. !!! – Pardon My Freedom
16. Sinkane – How We Be
17. Whitney – No Woman