Primavera Sound expands even further with a quite monumental offering, Getintothis’ Peter Guy and Matthew Eland reflect on another momentous year in Barcelona.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any bigger. It has done exactly that. Nope, not Alex Turner‘s ego – more of that later – but Primavera Sound.
For seasoned festival goers, or readers of these pages, you’ll be well versed in the magnitude and quite magical billings presented by Barcelona’s Primavera. And while, it doesn’t quite match the scale of Glastonbury, it’s finely tuned line up and brutal yet beautiful Parc del Forum concrete playground make it Europe’s number one for colossal music festivities.
Indeed with a bill boasting Nick Cave, Bjork, Arctic Monkeys, CHVCHES, Lorde, Tyler The Creator, War On Drugs and A$AP Rocky there was perhaps just the obvious Kendrick Lamar shaped piece missing to complete 2018’s must-see musical jigsaw. Kendrick is surely a shoe-in next year, right?
Yet, this year’s event was taken to even greater extremes. There was a slight change in direction. And also a considerable shift in audience. The result was mostly good, some bad, and a little bit ugly.
The most notable was organiser’s emphasis on dance music. With the expansion of the Primavera Bits section – a vast stretch of sandy beaches awaited those who made the trek across the overhead suspension bridge (which gave a magnificent view of the surrounding harbour and Godzilla-sized yachts), towards a larger Bacardi Stage – featuring among others James Holden, Mount Kimbie, JLIN, Jorja Smith, Beastie Boys‘ Mike D, Chromeo and Oneohtrix Point Never, meaning you could literally decamp there the entire weekend soaking up some of the finest and most experimental new electronica available.
But there was more. New for 2018 was the Desperados Club – a kinda make-shift Ewok hut, or an upturned cowpat, which saw revellers dancing in the midday heat right through til 6am to a vast array of globally renowned DJs (Mano Le Tough, Marcel Dettmann, Daphni, Seth Troxler and John Talabot to name just a few). While not far along the Xiringuto Aperol area boasted club mixes by Floating Points and more. It was body-sapping in the extreme.
Back on the main site, and perhaps the best addition to not just the electronic elements of Primavera, but the festival as a whole, was The Warehouse. A makeshift night club built into the rockery of the park with black curtained dividing rooms and a quite ridiculous sound and lighting system purely designed to push your senses to the very limit. Eyes and ears were quite literally popping.
With Yves Tumor we encountered a deck surrounded on four corners by some of the largest, most crystal-clear-sounding speaker stacks we’ve ever encountered. There were strobes and blast-beats and other terrible noises and in the middle the enigmatic experimentalist himself, leering over his turntables as if they were the only things restraining him from physically attacking the crowd. It was wonderful and intriguing before we scurried, frightened but still curious, to the exit. Our final night’s foray into the Warehouse saw Warp Records takeover the space and with it, incredibly, ramp the whole thing up a further notch with the likes of ADR pummelling our belly with mighty club-fisted beats – it was off-the-scale sonic lunacy.
However, such is Primavera‘s exhaustive bill there’s barely a moment’s respite as there’s so much music which you’re desperate to catch. It is, as ever, an impossible game of musical cat and mouse.
This was typified on the opening day (Wednesday! Boy, does that seem a long time ago) when a queue of thousands zig-zagged their way in the sapping midday heat in an attempt to purchase €2 tickets for Spiritualized with an orchestra and choir in the quite magnificent Auditori Rockdelux – a gun-blue and silver mirrored intergalactic looking auditorium seemingly custom made for Jason Pierce to apply his cosmic-gospel lullabies. Those who were lucky to get in were treated to one of the highlights of the weekend in a 90 minute show which included interstellar smashes from Ladies And Gentlemen… through to more recent hymnal grooves.
Later that evening, the festival’s pull was at it’s greatest as organisers – as is customary – allowed Barcelona residents and families in for free to watch the opening night’s artists, and in this case Glasgow’s Belle and Sebastian were greeted by one of the largest audiences of not just this year, but any, as the expanse of people stretched for further than the eye could see. Stuart Murdoch was clearly bowled over by the appreciation as tens of thousands gleefully skipped in time to The Boy With the Arab Strap, Legal Man and Dylan In The Movies. It was a joyous finale to an opening night.
Any concerns that overcrowding would be an issue were assuaged on a gentle opening day proper as Madrid DIY rock and rollers Hinds kicked off the newly-branded SEAT stage in uproarious style; all sprightly riffs, teasing onstage wisecracks about whether to speak in Spanish or English (the latter seemed to raise the loudest response) and some fizzing melodies in the evening heat.
The quartet are indicative of a cracking weekend for female-led acts with Primavera bookers giving a masterclass in variety and gender equality to their UK counterparts who this year more than most have underlined how male-orientated the festival circuit really is.
Fever Ray is as provocative as ever with her troupe of cavorting dancers straddling, licking, enticing and baiting each other in all manner of positions while bucket-loads of heavy hammer-blow beats rain down from the stage. She balances the primal bangers of IDK About You and An Itch with the brooding malevolence of her early work like If I Had A Heart; all low-end thuds and treated, multi-tracked vocals – it’s sinister and enthralling all the same. At the more ecstatic clubland end of the scale, Lauren Mayberry‘s CHVRCHES are in little mood to mess about either as they mix songs from their first two studio albums and recently released third, Love Is Dead. Mayberry is in strident mood with the likes of Bury It, Gun and Recover ensuring the crowd is reduced to a mass dancefloor. They’re superb, and underline their status as one of the UK’s best pop acts.
Earlier Anna Von Hausswolff captivates melding Nordic black metal, progressive pop and her sky-scraping vocals with one of the sets of the weekend, Warpaint overcome sound problems with their tribal dub stew, Lykke Li makes a triumphant return embracing more textured electronic power pop set with I Follow Rivers reminding us why we fell in love with her in the first place. Lorde, complete with baby-doll outfit, plays to one of the largest crowds of the weekend, and is clearly not overawed to be playing pre-Arctics and overshadows them effortlessly with a set mixing deft understated balladry, intricate choreography and massive power pop with the likes of Royals and Green Light garnering two of the weekend’s biggest singalongs.
There is a feeling with Beach House that they peaked with Bloom, and that they’ve struggled to kick on from there. They are, after all, the premier flag-bearers of the “dream pop” genre, and they were supposed to lead it to new horizons. After the disappointment of new album 7, which promised wanton experimentalism but instead delivered more of the same, knives were out. In the context of the set though, new tracks such as Dark Spring and Lemon Glow do add more texture to their set, and we’re left reflecting on what a strong body of work they’ve amassed, in comparison to the Primavera 2016 when we couldn’t tell the songs apart.
Elsewhere, Charlotte Gainsbourg produces one of the festival’s best surprises with a set packed with ready-made icy-crisp pop anthems before HAIM rally with their customary mix of ridiculousness and winsome melodies as we dance like drunken baffoons at the end of a wedding. Waxahatchee are a perfectly acceptable bevy-weather accompaniment while The Breeders over on the Mango stage see Kim and Kelly Deal break out all the old favourites and the All Nerve material added new variation to a set full of classics. Josephine Wiggs taking centre stage on MetaGoth was a particular highlight, as was a solid rendition of Gigantic, which illustrated how much the Pixies miss the compositional nous of their former bassist.
Let’s Eat Grandma are veterans of the festival scene despite still being teenagers. Second album I’m All Ears is due at the end of June, and on this evidence of it they’ve continued to develop musically, with the addition of a drummer anchoring their sound amid the instrument swapping. Poppy enough for mainstream appeal and experimental enough to satisfy those with more off-kilter tastes, we’ll continue to follow their career with interest, particularly with new tracks as involved and soulful as set closer Donnie Darko.
It’s left to the boys to produce hit and miss sets – or in the case of Migos, miss your plane flights completely resulting in a cancelled set.
The hits arrive in the shape of Mogwai (all juggernaut guitar noise amid quietly simmering electronica and drummer of the festival Cat Myers), War On Drugs (a wash of krautrock, blistering brass parps and cinematic instrumentalism), Here Lies Man (barnstorming riffs married to Afrobeat hysteria) and Thundercat (an acrobatic jazz-bass workout with a side order of tongue-in-cheek funk). Late on Tyler The Creator more than makes up for us missing A$AP Rocky as he’s in no-nonsense full-on attack mode in his Bob The Builder fluorescent workman’s jacket straddling the tiered stage while belting out bar after bars with sweat pouring off him like Socrates in the ’82 World Cup. With the words FUCKING LONELY flashing behind him he contrasts abrasive material with the tender beauty of See You Again.
Yet too often, the bigger boys either flattered to deceive or were simply rubbish.
Chief among them were The Arctic Monkeys. All decked out in white, Alex Turner‘s men (whether it was contractually obliged or not) are on stage with next to no other band clashing, resulting in a whopping crowd – of which the vast majority are British – and for the first time the festival doesn’t feel like you’re in Barcelona but Leeds or Birmingham or fucking Milton Keynes. The air is rife with poppers, lager and vintage football kits and from the moment they kick off with Four Out Of Five we feeling somewhat disconcerted.
Brianstorm and I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor follow and they’re delivered with a curled-lip nonchalance and we feel a little bit of sick – it’s all too knowing, tepid and controlled. It’s frankly dull. It all goes further downhill with Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? and Tranquility Base Hotel And Casino – and it’s not long before we’ve had enough and catching the end of geography rock whoppers Public Service Broadcasting – who at least have zero pretension and aren’t surrounded by dickheads.
The missteps continued with Ariel Pink‘s car-crash Ray Ban set seemingly blasted through a mouldy sock; all gooey, insipid with a particularly pungent stink, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are perhaps the weekend’s big hype band (and certainly the vast crowd at the adidas stage suggest that) yet they prove little more turning in a set of lukewarm dated 90’s alt-rock which leaves us cold while Ty Segall on the Primavera stage seemed bloated and toothless; quality very much sacrificed for quantity as indie veterans Slowdive produce all mid-paced indie-rock alongside peak bad-tempered congestion at the bar: very much an anomaly at this festival.
Descending the steps underneath the tilted solar panels to the adidas Originals stage, where we’d hoped that F/E/A might syphon off a few thousand kilowatts of that photovoltic power. Unfortunately, they only managed to deliver meat and potatoes post-rock, recalling Pelican at their safest, with the nominal frontman’s sound manipulation failing to pierce the pedestrian din. Even more lacklustre were The Zephyr Bones, whose wishy-washy psychedelica sent us off in search of more substantial fare.
But the Arctics aren’t the only megastars to underwhelm. Bjork, with her new album, Utopia, is an even bigger casualty. A record indebted to ‘the air’ is fanciful, flute-led and a world away from her big pop hits of old. Here she recreates a tangerine garden of Eden on stage with a vast cornucopia of foliage and elaborate stage settings. Yet this is music fit for an art exhibition, not that of a great outdoor music festival. Sure the thudding bass and fantastical visuals are impressive but save for Human Behaviour and Isobel were left wondering what might have been for her debut Primavera set.
Indeed it’s Primavera‘s sheer scope of ambition and vast booking policy were the festival truly shines. This is exemplified in the diversity of smaller, or emerging talents. Under the dappled lights of the cool, air-conditioned Auditori Rockdelux, Delorean are probably more famous for being “virtually kidnapped” in Mexico in 2013, but they were here presenting their tribute to fellow Basque Mikel Laboa. Our expectations of a relaxed, understated beginning to the evening were immediately undercut by the blue and yellow strobes and kidney-punching bass. The band were probably most effective when repressing their more artistic, atonal tendencies in favour of arpeggiating, moody synth lines, but their booking was an indication that the festival hadn’t lost its knack for innovative and interesting programming.
Nightcrawler may only have one trick, but they do it well: John Carpenter-esque synth soundscapes with ISS footage and space-cop future landscape projections in the background. They even survived a mid-set gear breakdown without losing the crowd, and celebrated this goodwill with raised fists and cheers as the show got back on the road.
It was a more sombre affair over on Pitchfork for The Twilight Sad‘s set, with the band still reeling following the death of Scott Hutchison from former tour mates Frightened Rabbit. Singer James Graham tweeted beforehand that he “might need some help” in getting through the set, and help is what he got, with ecstatic cheers throughout their closing cover of FR’s Keep Yourself Warm. The band, playing their first gig since late 2016, were understandably rusty, but now’s not the time to be critical. Besides, with James on the floor, leaning against a monitor and laughing through the tears, they produced one of the images of the festival.
Levity arrived in the shape of Sparks singing “props to our peeps and please keep your receipts, we are suburban homeboys” over on the Primavera stage. Another highlight involved pencil-moustached keyboardist Ron Mael, who had maintained a frown throughout the majority of the set, walking to the front of the stage and flinging his pink tie into the crowd before performing some kind of music-hall skank in his high-belted grandad kecks. They perhaps made a blunder in not saving This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both Of Us until last, which resulted in a mass exodus with two songs remaining; but the Mael brothers, posing for a selfie in front of the crowd, didn’t appear to be too bothered.
Watain offer another spin on things, with the Swedish Satanists materialising on the adidas Originals stage with their upturned crucifixes and their blood-soaked leathers. It’s all rather enjoyable. So too, Barcelona residents and recent Liverpool Sound City conquerors, Holy Bouncer, who kick off the first day with a set drenched in harmonies, hooks and a wildly catchy track in Coyote before including a preposterously fun drum solo and extended freak-out with centre-piece Anticipation.
There was another sad occasion over in the Auditori, with Echo Collective playing tribute to Jóhann Jóhannsson by playing his 2016 album Orphée. With the smoke billowing down while the orchestra played and the samples crackled, we were left reflecting on the loss of another artist who’s left us far too soon. There was concern that Nils Frahm’s set might be this year’s equivalent to 2011’s Animal Collective performance, which turned out to be a willfully obtuse crowd displeaser and the final nail in their critical coffin. Worries of mournful, atonal piano laments performed to a rapidly dispersing crowd were quickly banished, however, with an intricate and eminently danceable wall of beats, loops and continuous keyboard playing.
Over on the Heineken Hidden stage, Josh T Pearson seemed to have transformed from an anaemic Alan Moore into a bleached-blonde Rutger-Hauer-in-Blade-Runner cowboy. “You’ll wonder how anyone so handsome could have been so sad”, he drawled before one of the slower numbers. Quite so. And with the setting sun warming our beer and casting our eyes asquint, we all felt a little more Texan at the end of the set. He returns on Saturday with his cult outfit Lift to Experience playing in front of a massive lone-star flag, with a longhorn skull in the middle of the stage; their biblical fire and brimstone proves surprisingly amenable to the proto-brutalist architecture of the Port Forum site.
We’re not quite sure yet if Idles are the real deal, but they’re certainly vital. No half measures here, no chin scratching: this was sweaty, shouty, visceral punk, generating what was possibly the festival’s only circle pit; a soundtrack for purgatorial pre-Brexit 2018. Early impressions suggest that this is no flash in the pan, and the fact that the band have already been together for six years implies that they could have a long career. If nothing else, seeing these alpha male Bristolians loudly proclaiming their love for immigrants was as potent a political statement as you were likely to see all weekend. There was even time for some a capella Mariah Carey.
At the festival’s close, and with resident DJ Coco‘s characteristic sunrise party set in full swing, we stood beneath the glowing letters of that eminently Instagramable turnstile to bid Primavera farewell for another year. It’s a festival for all kinds. You want a frat-party beach rave with Aperol Spritz and pop-up food stalls? An All Tomorrow’s Parties by the sea? Top-tier pop and dancefloor fillers? Hip hop titans or perhaps futurist electronica? Primavera Sound provides all those things and so much more.
Yet, with a degree of repetition creeping in to the line-ups, and the creep towards electronica and dance as the younger heads move away from guitar music, it will be intriguing to see how they maintain this equilibrium.
For the time being though, Primavera is the undisputed king of festivals, home or abroad. Long live Primavera.
The eight best artists and bands of Primavera 2018
Spiritualized with orchestra and choir – Auditori Rockdelux (Wednesday)
The last time we caught Spiritualized was Liverpool Psych Fest – and what should have been a headlining spectacle was a lesson in trad MoR staleness. The band this writer fell in love with was replaced by safe, almost Elbow-like dadrock replacing all notion of experimentation with gospel-lite Songs of Praise Sunday church yodeling. In Barcelona, they’re reborn. A set which marries their entire catalogue, it fuses the extended undulating mania of Electric Mainline with the heartbreak epicness of Stay With Me. However, it’s the accompanying choir and orchestra – a 30+ beast – which makes this one-off so very special – on the likes of I Think I’m In Love the power of music causes many in the Auditori to gasp for breath as the music resonates so deeply. Out Of Sight, with its accompanying brass swells, nearly takes your scalp off while Broken Heart is simply magical. There’s further surprises with Ladies and Gentlemen I’m Floating In Space melting into a chorus of Elvis‘ I Can’t Hep Falling In Love which sounds wondrously Christmas-like – almost laughable considering we’ve just spent two hours queuing up for tickets in Barcelona’s sweltering heat outside. And there’s also time for a cover of Laurie Anderson‘s Born, Never Asked before Jason, who has remained seated and in sunglasses throughout, signs off with an impassioned So Long You Pretty Thing. There’s suggestions that an encore of Come Together and Oh Happy Day were to follow but time restrictions prevented – it matters not, for this was our set of the weekend. And, that’s a very tough call. – Peter Guy
Anna Von Hausswolff – adidas Originals (Thursday)
From the first notes of The Truth, The Glow, The Fall, it was clear that Anna von Hausswolff was in the mood to deliver something special. Together with her band, they droned, shimmered and pummeled in the red light, von Hausswolff‘s hair frequently hanging in her eyes as she loomed over the keyboard, creating the unnerving, phantasmagorical impression that she was somehow able to turn her head 360 degrees. And the set pieces! The drums kicking in on Ugly and Vengeful, the massive and cataclysmic middle-eights deployed with insolent ease, the operatic high notes soaring amid the tumult. Perhaps best of all was von Hausswolff headbanging throughout the acceleration of Come Wander with Me, oblivious to the cross-looking tech sent to indicate that they’d already overrun their finish time by 15 minutes. An hour of glorious evil. – Matthew Eland
War On Drugs – Mango (Thursday)
It always feels like some kind of transformative experience for Adam Granduciel when he takes the stage. He’s a man not wholly comfortable with being out front and seems wrapped up in insecurity and doubt. Yet, his fan’s genuinely root for him and the sheer euphoria on display during War on Drugs‘ set in Barcelona was evident from the off. There was barely any let up, with even the slower, more contemplative tracks drawing huge punch-the-sky moments – not least as the glistening guitar break of Strangest Thing shattered through the mix on a quite transcendental solo. Elsewhere, Red Eyes is a towering motorik groove, In Chains is a riot of sparkling keys trading with Charlie Hall‘s impassioned work behind the kit and Under The Pressure is a marathon work out for the band as they seer into the distance seemingly lost in the leviathan of music of their own making. They close with a tender stripped back Eyes to the Wind. It’s near perfect brilliance. Heroic. – Peter Guy
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – (Thursday)
After the death of his son in 2015, many speculated on the impact it would have on Nick Cave‘s career. Would the tragedy finish him? We all should have known better. He’s come back out high-kicking and slinging that wiry frame around stages all over the world, with more intent and purpose than ever before. Jesus Alone was a suitably spooky start, with its mist rolling off the sea and Warren Ellis‘ radar-like samples whistling over a swampy delay. Then the slowed-down version of Mercy Seat and the tetchy prowl of From Her to Eternity. Distant Sky was affective enough to survive the apparition of Else Torp on the big screen behind the band, which in other hands could have been a bit cheesy, while Jubilee Street has morphed over the years into a powerful beast with an anthemic, exhilarating climax. Set highlight though was Stagger Lee, with Cave openly flouting health and safety legislation by dragging up around 50 tearful and awestruck fans from the first row to sing right in their faces about pumping the devil full of lead. Anyone expecting Cave to shrink away after personal tragedy might be surprised to find this perceived curmudgeon connecting with his audience on a very literal and more personal level than ever before. – Matthew Eland
Mogwai – Primavera (Friday)
The major clash of the festival was that of Mogwai with Shellac and The National. In our eyes, there could be only one winner, in spite of the undoubted quality of those other bands. Mogwai always deliver. Rano Pano should be the new national anthem; Don’t Believe the Fife glimmers and then explodes; and despite experiencing it countless times, the explosion of noise in Mogwai Fears Satan continues to be the eighth wonder of the world. Star of the show is Cat Myers, still standing in for Martin Bulloch; she provides aggression and groove, as well as being a focal point for a band that hasn’t always exuded star potential. – Matthew Eland
Niños del Cerro – Night Pro (Saturday)
We tried to go and see Dead Cross, but something from the Day Pro stage was calling us: a Swans style wall of feedback with electronic loops cutting through. It was intriguing and somewhat jarring when the song that followed turned out to be more of a post-punk pop tune. The again, Niños del Cerro, from Chile, don’t seem to be constrained by such labels, and provided one of the surprises of the festival. For all our annotated Clashfinders and diligent research there’ll always be a hidden gem stumbled upon by chance. – Matthew Eland
Jon Hopkins – Bacardi Live (Saturday)
For an hour or so, Hopkins builds wave upon wave of hypnotic grooves which are both relentless and yet otherworldly, taking you on a trip deep into your own subconscious. The kaleidoscopic visuals mixed with cartoons only added to the sense of something else; something odd and not of this time or place. Much of the material was drawn from new album Singularity – reaffirming it as one of the year’s best thus far. The stand out dance act of the weekend. – Peter Guy
Evian Christ – The Warehouse (Sunday)
As alluded to earlier, the Warp Records takeover of The Warehouse was pure madness. We’ve barely witnessed anything quite like it. Impenetrable dry ice and epilepsy-inducing strobes akin to Kurt Hentschlager’s ZEE exhibition filled the space as the soundsystem wielded noise more deafening than two Sunn O))) sets. Amid all this we saw Evian Christ round things off with lazer-guided trance and a slice of Madonna’s Music. It was a set purely designed around extremes; ecstasy and lunacy – and the music did indeed, make the people come together. Farcical yet tremendous fun.
Pictures by Getintothis‘ Peter Guy
- Getintothis stayed in the beautiful beachside apartments at Lugaris Beach.