It’s difficult not to use any topics but the Primavera Sound 2013 had, once again, a line-up of bands attractive enough for music nerds from all over the world. People from continental Europe, the UK, the USA, Mexico, Japan, Korea and Australia – to name just a few places of the planet – came once again to one of the best festival of the year in Barcelona, Thursday to Sunday, on May 23rd to 26th.
As it happens every year, the organizers seem to give priority not to a whole genre but to musicians with – loosely – similar traits (use of guitars and atmospheres, electricity and anger, instead of subtlety, electronic sounds and ambient tendencies). And this year, combos like slow-metal trio Om, hardcore veterans Dinosaur Jr., garage surfers Thee Oh Sees and post-punk warriors Savages were some of those bands that gave lustre to the festival, if headliners Blur, Nick Cave, The Postal Service or Animal Collective were not enough for you.
One again, ten out of ten points for the organizers for the splendid “Fira”, the market area were you could buy records (prioritizing Spanish labels), t-shirts, books, posters and many other music goodies, the perfect place to spend a while if gig clashes meant that you had some time off.
And as a tradition for the last years, many small venues across the Mediterranean city offered many gigs related to the festival in the week leading to it. Even Wednesday evening had free gigs at the Parc del Fòrum, from which the most notable was the one played by Basque wonders Delorean, still digging in their disco path, which seems endless and to which they keep adding flavours, textures and sounds.
Now fully immersed in the first day of festival, Catalan duo L’Hereu Escampa opened the evening at the Pitchfork stage. They look like a local version of Japandroids (QRO live review) and with similar tunes, very similar spirit, impassioned performance but certainly not as boring at all as the Canadians, L’Hereu totally encapsulated what we’d see on that stage for the rest of the evening: loud guitars, big energy and sweat.
When you know a bit about them, their arty side and how they organize their own gigs (to make it brief and a bit disrespectful, sorry not much space to elaborate) and you see a beach ball flying over the crowd, you may think Savages would point that out and would confront the audience. But that’s only the image people created about them. They really knew where they were and offered a splendid set based on their debut album Silence Yourself (QRO review) and previous EPs. Even though guitar problems threatened to disrupt a magnificent beginning of their set, guitarist Gemma Thompson never showed any signs of nervousness while her band mates kept playing “Down The Strife” as a sort of dub-impromptu. The highlight of the gig was, actually, Thompson. Without drama – and not a single smile – she made sounds and noises that took Savages’ set list to another level and set a very high benchmark for the rest of the festival. Definitely, not hype.
After the nice slow set offered by Woods (a band to watch) and the correct but lacklustre gig by Wild Nothing, METZ returned us to the ground of L’Hereu Escampa, with a fast set that offered old good hardcore that was great fun and kept the festive mood on a high.
After a quick dish of pasta for dinner, we caught another hardcore band, THE hardcore band for some: Dinosaur Jr. 30 years later they still have the same energy, even though J Mascis doesn’t move very much onstage. Good to see how some chaps in their late 40s can be way better than their younger impersonators and also good to see they didn’t forget their roots (one of the songs was from one their early bands before Dinosaur) or even how others influenced them as they showed with their classic cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”. One of the highlights of the festival.
But even Bob Mould got to make a set that was more appreciated than that of Mascis and Barlow. True that his experiments with electronic music are disliked by many, but Mould proved once again his passion and bravery with a solid set that reminded everyone why he’s one of the most important musicians of the last decades.
Tame Impala conquered the multicultural audience with their psych rock, showing their acclaimed album Lonerism can be as good live, while The Postal Service played the nostalgia card in a concert that was good on enthusiasm but lacklustre in sound and vocal prowess. Moving on, Deerhunter are a guaranty of quality. Totally. And you never know how Bradford Cox is going to surprise you. And we don’t’ talk about the silly dress he was sporting, but the intensity and density of the music. Their latest effort, Monomania, is as good as the previous one, Halcyon Digest (QRO review), and that made for an excellent gig. So good it was that you can’t even help feeling envious of the band and their fantastic tunes.
Then, instead of French combo Phoenix (very good by all accounts), we decided to go back to the Primavera stage and watch Grizzly Bear. Yours truly got disconnected from them after Yellow House and was astonished to see how precise they were at all times and how varied and diverse was their pallet of details and sounds, how they could combines faster and stronger tunes with more melodic and dense songs. Sorry for Phoenix, but our choice was very good as well.
And before Animal Collective, who played a set widely based on their latest records and that was, astonishingly, too crowd-pleasing, back at the Pitchfork stage Dead Skeletons offered one of the darkest concerts ever seen at the festival. Their concept of using the matter of death in their songs and their imagery was not for all audiences and their songs, reminiscent of the best Spiritualized (QRO live review), made for the opposite of the Animal Collective set: the least crowd-pleasing gig of this year, alongside Ghostigital and Om (see below). But that was the thing with the Skeletons: we give you this. Do you like it? Good. You don’t? Go back to the sushi bar, then. Frankly surprising.
Ethan Johns may not be very well known as a musician but he proved his mettle as a producer of different bands like Kings of Leon, The Vaccines, the interesting Laura Marling, Ryan Adams, and The Boxer Rebellion. His solo gig at the lovely Auditorium venue ranged from angry electric blues à la Howlin’ Wolf to delicate, dreamy folk not far from the most melancholic Crosby, Stills and Nash. His lovely gig embodied the reason why the Auditorium is so necessary in the Primavera Sound.
Einar Örn, as many of you remember, was Björk’s right hand at the Sugarcubes. Now he divides his time as a chairman of Reykjavík’s committee for culture and tourism and his work in Ghostigital, an electronica combo that has had a host of contributions from David Byrne, Dälek or Damon Albarn, to name just a few. His mental uninhibited movements onstage, his totally improvised lyrics and the distorted and unhinged sounds made his the official freak of the festival. Albarn himself was on the side of the ATP stage watching Örn, and at times he really didn’t know what face to wear… But Örn was, oh, so much fun! At the same time, Kurt Vile played a set in the neighbour main stage that was miles away from that of the Icelandic chap, of high quality but somehow too traditional after Ghostigital.
Florida’s Merchandise played a good set, with an impeccable rhythm section but their sort of new wave with elements either from Europe and USA sounded like a poor version of Morning Parade (QRO live review). An hour later, while Django Django certainly refined their live experience based on dancey catchy tunes, right after Merchandise a cold breeze started bothering those of us who didn’t have half a dozen beers. And in that exact moment, Om appeared onstage. Guitar-less metal mantras, filled with spirituality, Asian loops and drone passages resulted in the other darkest highlight in this Primavera Sound, after Dead Skeletons. In some moments, Lichens contribution on keyboards and guitar was non-existent, but was compensated by the arpeggios from Al Cisneros’ bass and the blunt drumming by Emil Amos.
Once again, Shellac played the same kind of set and yet they still were magnificent. Then at the Primavera Stage, ‘90s nostalgia was personified by the classic line-up of The Breeders, the one of Last Splash their biggest record and the one that formed their gig. It sounded a bit slower than on record but the Deals and the other members were having so much fun it was a nice place to stay. And lovely that Kim Deal didn’t stop smiling at all.
Jim Jarmusch and Josef van Wyssen aspired to be the freaky couple of the Primavera Sound as SQÜRL, but after a good acoustic start and a couple of folk-rock songs sung by the filmmaker, they ended up sounding like two friends just jamming onstage and made for the most boring gig of the festival. Elsewhere, Neurosis played a wild set, The Jesus and Mary Chain proved they still are a good live experience although they’re slowly losing power, and headliners Blur decided to take the ‘greatest hits’ approach on their slot at the Primavera Sound. They opened with “Girls & Boys”, basically to take it our their system and then they treated the audience to classics such as “Beetlebum”, “Song #2”, “The Universal”, “Country House”… Their 80-minute set was good but not as memorable, in Primavera Sound terms, as the three-hour gig by The Cure, last year (QRO photos).
One of the few electronic bands around, Doldrums, made a party of Friday’s night but also showed their electronic manners may have much more to say in forthcoming releases, so stay tuned. And the night ended with a steamroller named Swans. Michael Gira and company played to their strengths by offering an extremely solid set brimming with angst, anger, screams and tremendous sparks of electricity. The band played like clockwork and the gig was one you had to live, not read about. Mind-blowing.
Imagine a clear moon and a dark sky. Imagine a band formed by three girls and a boy who looks like those the popular chaps at high school used either to ignore or to bully just because they had enough personality to be different. Imagine them nowadays, travelling the world with their music while those who bullied them are, in fact, the losers. Imagine them playing nice warm harmonious tunes suddenly splashed with drone passages à la Sunn O))), their own personal revenge to injustice. This band exists. It’s called Mount Eerie. Strangely good.
And back at the Auditorium, Sascha Ring’s Apparat played a four-piece adaptation of his version of Krieg und Frieden (War and Peace), something radically different to his beat-flooded records. Irrespective of the fact this new work was done as a commission for the 2012 production of War and Piece in Germany, the whole of those songs can well represent the drama of all wars: destruction, desolation, annihilation, ruins, loss, desperation, anticipation of something worse, white noise driving people mad, rain soaking the homeless, lack of security, total disregard for human life… But the virtue of Ring’s compositions is that, strangely, there always seems to be a way out, some hint of hope, something, someone or somewhere to hold onto. Barn Owl are the music of the sun, Sunn O))) the music of darkness and Throbbing Gristle the music of nightmares. And Sascha Ring’s Krieg und Frieden is the music of hope. Impossible not to have a knot on the throat with this one. This was the best gig at Primavera Sound 2013.
Then, a strange situation happened. Dexys made a sort of theatrical montage based on their latest album, One Day I’m Going to Soar in the Auditorium, while at the old open aired amphitheatre Dead Can Dance played their usual set of magnificent and elegant folk and multicultural music (to make it brief as it’s not easy to describe them in three words). Dexys were totally lacklustre, with no energy or substance, whereas DCD were really good but hampered by the fact that half their audience didn’t really seem to pay total attention to them. Their habitat this time should’ve been the Auditorium, a stage that would’ve totally suited their nature.
Next, two kinds of adrenaline. San Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees playing again at the PS and what a better way to combat the bloody cold wind that invaded the festival since Friday than to play an unpredictable and noisy set. One can wonder if they ever have a bad day. And then, at the main stage, Nick Cave and the Grinder… sorry, and the Bad Seeds made almost all the other headliners mud. Personally, I’ll never buy a record by Nick Cave (my wife is the fan), I hate Cave’s diva persona and his condescending airs (and that’s something I apply to the rest of the band) but it’s undeniable that he’s a better frontman than the 98% of the frontmen of the world. “From Her To Eternity”, “Tupelo” or “Stager Lee” are songs everybody should learn from.
And well, My Bloody Valentine played what it was supposed to be a good set but that was yet again hampered by poor sound. This was, at least, their third gig at the Primavera Sound and only the 2009 gig at the auditorium sounded correct. And it can’t be the sound tech’s fault all the time…
From the last bunch of gigs at the Apolo and the new Barts venue, worth mentioning were Julie Doiron’s last gig before giving birth to her first child – an intimate set of songs with space for contemplative song writing as well as some electric sparks – and Thalia Zedek’s and Chris Brokaw’s Come, who are immersed in an international tour to support the re-release of their record 11:11 in its 20th anniversary. A good chance to see where the ‘90s indie movement was actually formed.
All in all, yet another good Primavera Sound, bigger than ever, maybe not better than ever but in no way bad at all. Still a reference on where to find new music and new fans as passionate for music as almost nobody, nowhere else. And for 2014, the first act confirmed by the organizers is Neutral Milk Hotel. We’ll keep you posted on new confirmations!