Spanish festival impresses once again...

Thousands of us slowly turn our backs on the main stage, and start to wander across the dust and gravel, back across Barcelona’s Parc del Fòrum. Although it’s past midnight, the air is warm enough for shorts, t-shirts, and - in the case of many a regretfully dusty footed member of the crowd - flip flops. The closing notes of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ have just been delivered with almost unbelievably convincing vigour for an anthem some quarter of a century old. The second encore was the only way to put a full stop on the 23 song, career-spanning set a sizeable percentage of the crowd had been dreaming about since entering their card details all those months ago. The hushed reverence of a hundred thousand people during gentle recent single ‘Daydreaming’ however, is truly emotionally shattering; not old enough to be a singalong, neither new enough to be a total surprise. The band draw on decades of experience, summoning ghostly whispers of Thom’s sampled voice into unpredictable ghostly shapes beneath the Catalan nightsky, serving the song’s haziest ambitions.

The set overflows with favourites (‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Pyramid Song’ stand out) and a few unexpected gems (‘Talk Show Host’). Only one song, ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’, suffers from the vague sense of a band going through the motions. During the slow march back across the festival site - the crowd splitting comfortably into Animal Collective, Last Shadow Puppets, and Holly Herndon fans - we pass dozens of ecstatic groups either joyfully recounting the stellar playlist or chanting their favourite Radiohead lyrics (“Ice Age coming! Ice age coming!”). Whether approaching it as a weepy fan or super-hip detractor, the band are surely delivering exactly what we all wanted.

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The relevance of Primavera Sound seems at an all time peak, offering one of the most well balanced lineups of any large festival in Europe. Dozens of hours are assigned to up and coming artists - particularly Catalan ones - and the headliners are wonderful representatives for that rare golden ratio, achieving gigantic mainstream success without sacrificing originality, experimentation, or anthemic tunes. For now, that makes them apt symbols for Primavera itself.

The genetic makeup of any festival is made of so much more than the lineup though, and like a quirkily handsome chap, Primavera Sound is not without flaws. Notably Heineken’s sponsorship and resultant beer monopoly has sent prices to a flat €5 per pint across the festival. One really expects your wallet to empty somewhat more slowly in a country where unemployment still hovers around the 20% mark (youth unemployment is in fact closer to 45%). Somewhat more nicely, Wednesday is a day of free live music at the vast multi-stage Fòrum, so even empty-pocketed locals can witness the likes of Suede, Goat, or local industrial poppers El Último Vecino. As usual Goat prove their worth, delivering ample wah-wah energy and the first opportunity to warm up those legs of ours and groove a bit. A hellish hour of overcrowded public transport later, and we’re rewarded with Barcelona’s plentiful bounty of cheap drinks and incredible seafood. A fine start.

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Agreeing a path through a timetable as overcrowded with great acts as this one is always a struggle; the kind of painful political decision normally left up to questionably elected white men in suits. As with any first world problem though, it’s best to shrug it off and dive in head first. For us, Thursday is one long build up to LCD Soundsystem’s headline set, so clashing sets from Mbongwana Star and Thee Oh Sees both quickly disappear from our plans. Such is life.

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Bristol’s greatest moody neo-kraut band Beak> litter their set with recognisable grooves such as ‘Yatton’ or the woozy ‘Eggdog’, but the hefty bass riffage on fan fave ‘Wulfstan II’ is what wins over the hungry crowd. The trip to LCD Soundsystem takes us for a disappointing Destroyer set, then for something of a breather in the form of Air. It’s easy to forget how gigantic the French group are, and they deliver a beautifully slick set peaking around the eternal ‘Highschool Lover’. Montreal band Suuns make a massive impression too, wielding fiery indie groovers that balance synthetic elements with their rock band core, and leave plenty of space for guitar freakouts. The punch of tunes like ‘2020’ or ‘Resistance’ make it clear their accelerating rise is just getting started.

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Only recently having started playing live, film director/composer John Carpenter later achieves even greater heights. An assembled band help Carpenter do justice to themes from movies like ‘The Fog’ and ‘Halloween’, even covering Ennio Morricone’s theme from ‘The Thing’, all the while assisted with projected clips from the corresponding film. “My name is John Carpenter, and I make movies,” he declares. We all go wild.

Later in the night, Primavera regulars and colourful math rock stalwarts Battles justify their continued existence in incredible fashion, but first it’s another trudge to the main stage for LCD Soundsystem. The two-hour set is immensely commanding, the group wielding the biggest damn disco ball you’ve ever seen in the process. The huge stage setup of modular synths, drum kits, keyboards, guitars, and James Murphy cuts a striking image, and drummer Pat Mahoney leads the group through those ferocious grooves flawlessly. Not one note of new material is played, but nobody cares. The way ‘Losing My Edge’ both sends up and celebrates hipsterdom feels increasingly relevant with each passing day, and the likes of ‘All My Friends’ or ‘Tribulations’ will really never get old. A long and tiring day, but well worth the wait. The next day, the main programme for Friday - or as it’s temporarily retitled, “Radiohead day” - opens with Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk playing indoors to a rapt crowd. Perhaps it was the vodka we snuck in, but our eyes water more than slightly.

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Our eyes water more than slightly...

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Flaw number three - the way in which Radiohead dominate the lineup is more than a bit annoying. Their epic set clashes with sets from Dinosaur Jr, Shellac, Tortoise, Sophie, AND Cavern Of Anti-Matter (Tim Gane of Stereolab’s latest project), and even cannibalises the crowd from Beirut’s set immediately beforehand. Reluctantly though, we inevitably make our choice and stick to it. Of the pre-Radiohead entertainment though, Savages undoubtedly rule the day. Having vastly increased their arsenal of post-punk anthems with ‘Adore Life’ out earlier this year, Savage’s Jehnny Beth takes on that wild, charismatic, Nick Cave role their music begs. Much to the irritation of security, she repeatedly leaps into the front of the crowd, even getting fully held aloft by the front rows for a full song. It’s an unforgettable and ridiculously high calibre performance, and Savages have made it clear: they are the future. No new band seem so immediately ready to conquer like they do.

All too quickly, Saturday is the upon us. Tiring legs and longer hangovers make for a sluggish afternoon before the start of the big shows, but Japan’s legendary Boredoms work better than any hair of the dog. They’re in a quintet setup with two drummers, one guitar, one dude playing goodness knows what (an upturned speaker into which he throws pieces of metal, it looks like), and of course Yamataka Eye intermittently screaming like a samurai who stepped on a thumbtack. It’s completely manic, and they’re a potent addition to the lineup. Sets like this are why Primavera is so good. Not long later, it’s off to the biggest stage again for Brian Wilson and co doing ‘Pet Sounds’ - a strangely apt transition between shades of sun.

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Japan’s legendary Boredoms work better than any hair of the dog.

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Deerhunter immediately follow, and Bradford Cox seems to channel David Byrne in a brimmed hat and slick suit, guiding the band through their signature mix of groovy hooks and soaring washed out beauty. Lockett Pundt’s sole lead vocal turn for ‘Desire Lines’ however, is the set’s peak, meandering into drawn out spacey plucks as night falls over the coast. Following a typically powerful set from PJ Harvey arrives Sigur Rós, who unexpectedly make the best case for their continuing relevance out of the three headliners. A stage riddled with a digital dream of lights and projections sees a setlist teeming with shades of dark and light, diving to demonic depths on an explosive ‘Ný Batterí’ and ‘Kveikur’, and ably reconfiguring prettier classics like ‘Starálfur’ or ‘Vaka’ for a trio configuration. The group’s improving abilities to compose with electronics make the brand new song that opens the set - ‘Óveður’ (‘Storms’) - a stunning overture of gigantic thudding beats and Jónsi’s seraphic vocals.

A speedy wander through the throngs, and we catch Julia Holter kicking off. A relatively pure and simple set up of static lighting, keys, double bass, violin, and percussion cushion Holter’s lilting songs, and it’s perhaps the finest moment of the entire weekend, surrounding a tiring audience with her loving embrace, softening our inevitable descent back into post-Primavera reality. Frustrating as it may be, the many clashing sets on the bill, and sheer number of artists one had to miss, is nothing more than the result of a truly exceptional gathering. If any festival can make the case for the genius of modern music - a landscape where Brian Wilson and John Carpenter happily share a bill with Beak> and Boredoms - then Primavera is it.

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Words: Tristan Bath
Photography: As Credited

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