THE BEGINNING

We spent last weekend in Barcelona at Primavera Sound. Here’s an A-Z guide to the festival’s 2015 edition

Antony-&-the-Johnsons

A is for Antony & The Johnsons
Anthony & The Johnsons headlining a festival? In 2015? It doesn’t sound so good, does it? I mean, we’re trying to have a holiday here, and he hasn’t had a new record in five years. It’s almost as odd a booking for Primavera as Damian Rice is this year, but you’d be surprised (or maybe not) of the magnetism of a full orchestra dressed in white, fronted by the effortless, always real Antony Hegarty, in front of a completely bizarre and somehow harrowing video projection of Japanese performance artists clowning around in the forests as if in a Beatles’ Zapple version of The Magical Mystery tour. It takes a full hour for people to notice there’s zero percussion.

B is for Breakdown?
Foxygen’s big stage performance on the final day of the festival is definitely the weirdest. There’s about a hundred of them up there, on a colossal amount of uppers, which gives their hippy homages a manic fear. It’s like the messy end of the sixties all over again, as the gaunt Sam France flails and slurs. He storms off. The band storm off. But it’s a joke! Haha. It’s not really, though, is it?

C is for Caribou
Caribou play Primavera every year, and yet it never gets dull. This time round, as the final band of the festival on the massive amphitheatre stage, Dan Snaith et al keep it banging, reaching for the lasers with their live-drums-plus-synths simplicity and, of course, a huge, winding singalong apt for closing this particular edition of the festival. All together now: “sun, sun, sun, sun, sun…” (see ‘W’).

D is for Dance Tent
Expanded this year with a surround-sound PA that reportedly cost a bazillion Euros (and sounds like it, too), this is Primavera’s go-to venue for locating the hipster you fancied from that Sven Väth Boiler Room clip. Also, and not particularly compatible with the aforementioned chirpsing, is its status as the only stage at the festival whose PA system induced vomiting in one unsuspecting dipsomaniac, during Raime’s spleen-rupturingly dubby Friday night excursions.

E is for Eating
Spain does food very well, and I’m sure by their standards the restaurants onsite were serving third rate slop at inflated prices. But we’re not from Spain, and a majority of British people can go to Primavera and eat healthier there than they do at home. What was with their burger buns? They were seeded. There was salad!

F is for Fair
That’s record fair. Primavera’s merch stalls are all in one place, neatly by the entrance, and happily free of jester hats, inflatable aliens, T-shirts that look like they say Maltesers but actually say Manteaser and other such tat. Each dedicated to a different store or label, from Rough Trade to the local Boston Pizza Records, they exclusively sell records and the odd T-shirt. We’re here for the music, don’t forget.

G is for Golden Circle
For the second year running, Primavera installed a golden circle on it’s two, facing main stages. It’s nothing to worry about, but it’s worth remembering – one half of each circle is first-come-first-served, the other is for poshos with VIP wrist bands, which you can in fact buy, whether you’re very important or otherwise.

run-the-jewels

H is for Hip-Hop
Primavera’s hip-hop programme tends to be small but unmissable – it’s hard to lose your shit to Electric Wizard in quite the same way you can to Tyler, The Creator, but it’s Run The Jewels who really put the chin-stroking on hold, as a wheelchair is crowd-surfed in the pit and the ATP stage reaches its wildest peak of the weekend.

I is for Interpol  
As usual, there is nothing remarkable about Interpol’s lengthy Saturday night set beyond the tunes themselves, which are played with the complete seriousness they demand, to a huge crowd. Interpol have never been great ‘performers’, but, then, they’ve never needed to be.

J is for James Blake
You’ve come a long way, Blakey: playing a headline slot on the festival’s biggest stage could’ve swamped James Blake’s fragile blubstep posturing, but instead he pulls out one of the weekend’s surprise successes, full of muscular throb and engagingly weird arrangements.

K is for the King’s Cup
Watching football might not feature high on your priorities at a music festival, but watching Barcelona isn’t like watching what passes for the (not so) beautiful game over here. Screening in the food court on Saturday evening was the final of the King’s Cup (Copa del Rey), between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao – two clubs from regions of the country that crave independence from Spain. Of course the place is going to erupt into boos whenever King Felipe VI pops up on screen, but nothing – music or otherwise – is quite as powerful as the reception given to a complete wonder goal from Lionel Messi. Youtube it.

albert-hammond

L is for Launch Parties
Primavera have always hosted a launch party the night before the festival begins in earnest. They used to be a ticketed event, though, on the other side of town. They’ve still got some of those going on, but they also now open a portion of the site on the Wednesday, this year for a completely free show by Albert Hammond Jr. and OMD, for anyone who can be bothered to go along. It’s just a shame that ‘Enola Gay’ couldn’t be a highlight of the festival proper.

M is for Mac Demarco’s band
Jokes are, of course, abound at Demarco’s main stage set (a massive upgrade from where he played in 2013), but they come from his ridiculous wing men, Piers and Andy, rather than Mac himself. Piers covers Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ at one point; Andy answers back with spoken word improv and grandly introduces Anthony Kiedis (“He’s actually really chill”), who is in fact their friend who just happens to have long hair. Yeah, you had to be there.

N is for Noise
It’s not all jangly sunshine bubblegum goodness at Primavera this year – indeed, the back-to-back pairing of Spiritualized and SunnO))) on Friday evening was very much influenced by Super Hans’ motto, “the longer the note, the more dread.” Add a ruthlessly abrasive Pharmakon, a grandly fuzzed Ride and a 150-minute-long Swans set, and a Catalonian beachside festival starts to feel, unexpectedly, like quite the place to realign one’s eardrums.

O is for Oasis
Not including Andy Bell and the reformed Ride, there’s just one fleeting reminder of Oasis’ legacy, when we walk past a small group of British guys stood in a circle singing the chorus of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ with impressive conviction. Book the wrong festival, lads?

P is for Poster Convention
It’s next to the record fair, of course, and that really is the end of the shopping experience at Primavera. Records, the occasional T-shirt and a hell of a lot of illustrated, screen-printed posters, clearly from some very talented people.

Q is for “Quiet!”
One of the drawbacks of city festivals is that eventually The Man’s gonna show up and get you to turn it down. And while a quieter site this year was an obvious bonus for the likes of Tobias Jesso Jr. (see ‘T’) and Torres, whose intimate set didn’t have to compete with neighbouring stages, the limited volume also reduced the impact of some bands who thrive in high amplification: Sunn O)))’s normally earth-juddering thunder became more of a passing storm, to the extent that we were shushed during their set, five rows from the front.

sleater-kinney

R is for Riot Grrrl
Whether by accident or design, Primavera Sound’s bookers this year scheduled a continuous Friday evening run across various stages that comprised Ex Hex (see, erm, ‘X’), Patti Smith, The Julie Ruin and finally Sleater-Kinney, making for a festival-within-a-festival of Riot Grrrl on day two. Smith delivered ‘Horses’, faithfully and in full, Kathleen Hanna cartwheeled and caterwauled with impunity and Sleater-Kinney turned in the set of the weekend, career-spanning and effortlessly convincing. Add a second Patti Smith show and a comeback for Babes in Toyland (mischievously booked in direct competition with the none-too-macho Strokes) on the Saturday evening, and now L7, Huggy Bear and Bratmobile are frantically refreshing their inboxes for next year’s invite.

S is for Strokes
The appeal of The Strokes in 2015, it transpires, is both nostalgia and voyeurism. Accordingly, witnessing five men in various states of long-term disrepair who all appear to hate each other rattle through almost everything off ‘Is This It’ with precision insouciance is a queasily compulsive delight.

tobias

T is for Tobias Jesso Jr.
The most likeable man on site, Jesso Jr. flips Antony Hegarty’s setup on its head and performs alone, at a single grand piano. Unless you’re down the front, you literally can’t hear a thing, yet there are plenty of people happy to cock an ear in complete silence to will the smiley guy through it. I mean, people are missing Patti Smith for this!

U is for Underworld
Underworld’s sprawling festival sets are the stuff of legend. Although their brief here of playing the whole of ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ restricts their set-list somewhat, there’s still enough energy, power and thump to show how startlingly contemporary that album still sounds. The record’s arc – slow-build start, big middle, comedown close – isn’t quite right for a festival crowd desperate to go mental, but the central pairing of ‘Dirty Epic’ and ‘Cowgirl’ remains the best 25 minutes of dance music performed in the whole weekend.

V is for Vanity
We all want to look our best at festivals, don’t we, but it’s quite the trial at Glastonbury when you smell like you’ve fallen in the long-drop and you’ve washed your hair with wet wipes. Primavera’s Pitchfork-y crowd are so fashion conscience I saw a woman wearing a leather bum bag and two hats. Seriously. A tip: stand out from the crowd by having a shave. And what’s with all the brown hair?! Don’t blonde people like music anymore?

W is for Weather
European festivals represent some sort of sun-blazing Shangri-La in the British festival-goer’s mind – a paradise of balmy evenings and dancing in Havaianas with a little beer and the sun setting into the sea. In reality, however, past Primaveras have suffered the kind of meteorological misfortune normally reserved for Glastonbury, so this year’s dose of PERMANENT SCORCHIO was long-awaited and duly lapped up: lobsterfied Brits added colour, early-evening bands got to wear their sunglasses with intent rather than standard vanity, and even the most tepid opening acts (I’m looking at you, The KVB) seemed improved by the warmth.

exhex4

X is for Ex Hex
Continuing the trend for punned band names (Chet Faker, Joanna Gruesome, Joy Orbison – erm, Ryan Adams?), even if in their case it’s an unintentional one, Ex Hex nail one of the plum spots of the festival, in the evening sunshine on the stage that looks straight out to sea. Hurtling through the kind of fun that’s forever soundtracking John Hughes house-party scenes as a massive crowd of kids in Wayfarers look on, Mary Timony’s punchdrunk stage-stagger and ‘My Sharona’ shredding is pure, unaffected joy.

Y is for Youth
We’re not as young as we once were, but it turns out neither is anyone else. Youth was in short supply at this year’s festival, onstage and in front of it. Come on, kids, The Strokes are on! From New York. Y’know, Julian Casablancas? No, not the film.

Z is for Zamilska
Polish noise-techno artists aren’t exactly big-ticket summer festival fodder, but the fact that one such act, Zamilska, was closing the tiny Pro stage at 4am on day one, in the same company as festival titans like Andy Weatherall and Richie Hawtin, to about 50 dedicated gawpers, is a testament not just to Primavera’s impressively all-embracing booking policy but the open-heartedness of its attendees. No, we didn’t actually stop to watch, but you find me a better ‘Z’.

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