Closing Europe’s springtime city-based festival programme, as ever, Primavera Sound in Barcelona took place from 22-26 May. Headlined by Blur, My Bloody Valentine and Wu-Tang Clan, and showcasing a selection of other artists new and old, the event attracted several thousand revellers in search of sun, sea, sand and songs. Ready to brave all of the above, CMU’s intrepid Staff Writer Aly Barchi was there to take it all in and report back her findings.
So, I had a very (very) basic grasp of Spanish, a bag of beachwear and a caution care of my dad to avoid drinking a glass too many of ‘shangri-la’, all things I felt might be handy to have at this year’s Primavera Sound. Though looking back, I realise they weren’t really: Primavera is as Anglicised as it can be, had a Blackpoolian windchill factor and didn’t – thanks to its branding obligations – sell drinks that weren’t Heineken, Jack Daniels and/or a deathly mix of both.
Though, while some of my expectations may have not been met, in terms of pre-fest dreams v at-fest reality, it was all relatively as billed. Bar, that is, the non-presence of absentee artists like Sixto Rodriguez and Fiona Apple, but I’ll let that slide. Blur were – and I don’t think anyone will disagree – Blur; My Bloody Valentine were their pallid, hair-in-face, sandal-gazing selves; a fraction of Wu-Tang Clan rapped; and it all passed in one grand, tapas-style taster feast of sun, bands and salty air/Lays crisps, washed inwards with a €1.50 carton or so of (sorry, dad) Don Simon sangria, signifying… well, itself.
On Day One, having decided against braving the massive line to get into a free pre-Primavera show the past night, we started by staring quietly at Kevin Parker of Tame Impala’s bare feet and near-zero charisma, things he made less visible by singing very beautifully, like a popstar, while distracting us with spirally screensaver-style backing graphics.
‘Elephant’ et al ticked off, we watched ecstatic Sade-alike Jessie Ware make her glossy R&B-pop devotionals, and say repeatedly that Thursday 23 May was the greatest day she’d had, like, ever, which I guess it well might’ve been.
Deerhunter won my heart with a brave, strange and enthralling set; Bradford Cox shining bright in a silver diamante dress. White Fence was ace – if as scrawly live as on tape – and Phoenix bribed their way into fans’ affections with avalanches of fake dollar bills.
Day Dos, and we’d already had it with Coke can-sized Estrella ‘drain beers’, made Vines of an old man singing ‘Gangnam Style’ on the M-train, and ‘done a Gaudi’; taking in the eerie, green-lit gothica of the Sagrada Família by night. And so what if we accidentally saw it while searching for a McDonalds, it still qualifies.
Back at the Primavera site, and the early evening began with a slightly drab Kurt Vile ranting and jamming away like a lank-haired, white-flared messiah with mild stage fright. His timeless songwriting dimmed a bit by the Parc Del Forum’s al fresco largesse; he wasn’t, as, say, Bradford Cox had been the previous day, anything special as a ‘spectacle’. Which is really, I think, what’s needed at a festival.
The Knife were certainly that though, and gave all they had, slicing into all those ‘divisive’ ‘Shaking The Habitual’ critiques via the dual media of abstract aerobics and what I like to call ‘making-a-lot-of-noise’. While over at the Pitchfork stage, Solange slank on, all in lizardine green, to share a stylised set co-starring every alt popstar’s go-to collaborator Dev ‘Blood Orange’ Hynes, and smartly saving ‘Losing You’ until last.
Garage-punk scruffbag King Tuff did well to start a pogo-ing craze way past midnight – this after grandaddy Britpop champs Blur hit what many have said was the zenith of the entire festival, ripping into their greatest hits like it was the mid-90s all over again. And I don’t even like Blur in real life.
Dios Tres, and adrenalin wasn’t exactly at an all-time high after a day scaling Gaudi’s Guell playpark, especially when we realised we’d have to stay awake till 3am to watch My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ pillow talk and (perhaps intentionally) un-mic-ed tirade of bass and static. Despite a heavy sense of awe at watching a band so ‘significant’ play live, MBV didn’t feel like a festival act in the ‘spectacle’ sense either, and it felt like a slack finale given Wu-Tang’s earlier appearance, a pin-sharp masterclass in showboating, foot-mixing and, in general, ‘killing it’, that gave off artificial heat on a freezing (given we were in Spain, anyway) last night.
Frantic to make the most of things pre-MBV, we stopped in passing to admire Nick Cave’s impeccable reptilian sleaze, The Babies’ wishy-washy (in a nice, calming way) rock-pop, and Liars’ crazed and black-lit glam spectacular.
The early-evening after, maybe my favourite time of all, was spent lazing in Barca’s green and pleasant Parc Del Ciutadella with Mac Demarco, who, as I wrote about last week, serenaded his one and only love Kiki in a display that might’ve been hammy in the wrong hands… but wasn’t in his.
And that was the Primavera that was; a primetime pageant of acts big and less big, of portaloo fails (not mine) and pricey on-site snacks. It’s a festival set apart – playing travel agent a sec – by its air of sea-freshness, its immaculate tarmac, its sparkling vistas, A-list selection of artists and, above all, non-coincidental nearness to one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in.