Primavera Sound 2011 Recap

After the 2010 edition, arguably not at the same level as preceding years - despite counting with bands such as Pavement, Pixies, Pet Shop Boys, and Florence & The...
Primavera 2011 Recap
Primavera 2011 Recap

After the 2010 edition, arguably not at the same level as preceding years – despite counting with bands such as Pavement, Pixies, Pet Shop Boys, and Florence & The Machine – that the Primavera Sound Festival (PS) has returned to form in 2011 has been utterly undeniable.  Once again, the festival has achieved the rich and exact mix of big solid names with smaller but also interesting new bands from all styles, letting the Spanish and the ever-increasing foreign audience know about new and exciting movements and sounds.  In addition to this, this year’s PS has had more square meters to build stages and its programme outside the Fòrum of Barcelona has been bigger than ever before with legs in Galicia (north-west of Spain), a string of bars in Barcelona and the recovery of its original venue of 2001-2004, the Pueblo Español of the Montjuic Park, that hosted the gigs of the day prior and after the festival.

Man doesn’t live by gigs alone, so as usual in the Parc del Fòrum, the core of the festival, gathered the traditional and classic music fair of the PS with tents of official merchandise, independent Spanish and foreign labels, art, posters, clothes, and even two radios, the local ScannerFM internet station and the legendary WFMU from New Jersey that, like previous years, recorded many of the gigs to be enjoyed later in streaming.  This is just the point of the iceberg of the festival offers to the people.  But after this intro, let’s talk about its soul: The Music.

 

 

 

Comet GainWEDNESDAY 26TH MAY, POBLE ESPANYOLComet Gain

After the delicious noise rock and pop made by the Japanese trio Nisennenmondai, reminiscent of Sonic Youth (QRO live review), Can, Neu! or Lightning Bolt (QRO photos), the British Comet Gain displayed a subtle set of electric pop that woken the audience up after the artsy previous band, with tunes like “Love Without Lies”.  This way, David Feck and co. paved the way to the big name of the night.

Echo & The Bunnymen

Ian McCulloch Echo & The Bunnymen, one of the very first bands to play the PS – in 2002 in this case – played a gig based on their first two records, Heaven Up Here and Crocodiles.  Ian McCulloch adopted his usual persona, impassive and still during the songs, with an overall image that reminded of Andy Sirkis playing Martin Hannett in 24 Hour Party People.  As for the music itself, it looked like Heaven aged not as well as Crocodiles which was the highlight of the gig, but the band didn’t make an exercise of nostalgia of it, with versions adapted for a six piece band that sounded vigorous and solid.  The encores included their U.S. hit, “Lips Like Sugar”, that concluded a good 90 minutes of music from one of the best ‘80s bands.

Caribou

Dan Snaith But the triumphant band of the night was Caribou.  Dan Snaith keeps on being a sort of a curious and free spirit, mixing pop, psychedelia and electronica in a way that makes a repertoire quite difficult to predict.  Displaying his most festive side, Caribou just gave the audience what they wanted: fun, electricity and loud music.  Tracks like “Odessa” made the audience jump and the ovation to the band at the very end of the gig spoke for itself.

 

 

 

 

THURSDAY 27TH MAY, PARC DEL FÒRUM

EmeraldsThe U.S.’s Emeralds started the first day at the Fòrum at the Pitchfork stage with their unique mix of electronics, psychedelia, ambient, guitar hero antics and minimalism.  The PA didn’t favour them, as they sounded more confusing that it should be and that kind of music really seemed to be more adequate for a night gig, not a mid-afternoon concert.  Anyway, the band played an intense set based around their latest work, Doesn’t It Look Like I’m Here, which connected with the audience and invited them to follow the band’s trace.

Blank DogsYet another proof of the new life of the ‘80s synth-pop and post-punk was shown by Blank Dogs.  The trio, based around guitarist and singer Mike Sniper offered a set of tunes that seem to mix the records of Joy Division, New Order, The Cure and Depeche Mode of the period of 1980-1982.  Tracks like “Blurred Tonight”, a song that could be one of the early New Order singles, showed Sniper is not offering anything new or original but that it’s accessible, fun, it can fit in a festival and makes people dance.  And that’s really more than enough.

SeefeelFrom the Pitchfork stage we go to the ATP area. Seefeel returned to action after 15 years with a homonym record that keeps investigating about dub and abstraction.  Their set was solid and clear sounding, and though they could’ve chosen more vigorous songs to play at the PS, they didn’t sound like anybody else in the festival.

The Walkmen

More

GlasserBack to the Pitchfork stage to watch two very different bands that kind of summed up the essence of this 2011 PS edition.  Glasser played an almost non-stop set of minimalism and electronica all tied up with the beautiful voice of their ideologist, Cameron Mesirow, which was very well received by the audience.  Right after, The Walkmen played a gig of their classic rock recipe: music that is epic, emotional and intense.  In a festival the audience wants to remember the bands they see and the New Yorkers gave them all that and more.  In between John Lydon resurrected for the Spanish audience his well-known project P.I.L. that according to Anika Sade bassist Fede Zarza, “Sounded very loyal to that legacy of mixing dub, reggae and dance music.  Not that they copied what you hear on record but being inspired on that, the music they played sounded varied and rich and you could really see where an awful lot of later bands come from.”

One of the top bands in the 2011 PS, Nick Cave’s Grinderman, honoured their reputation of being one of the most electric and sweaty bands one must see onstage.  Urgent, direct, noisy, hysterical, Cave and co. faced the audience again, after their visit to Barcelona in 2008, and won them over, again.

Interpol

“And you have now crossed over into… THE TWILIGHT ZONE.”  The Llevant (East) stage was a world away from the rest of the festival core, in the middle of a beach with the stage facing the sea.  Not that this fact matters at 2am but it made it a bit of an experience to wander into darkness and stroll beside a sewage treatment plant, to get to the stage where some of the bands of the 2011 PS had to play.  Interpol played the PS for the first time and the script was the usual in the band: a very professional attitude, impeccable playing and a set designed for the festival with a bit of everything, and lack of passion.

Suicide

Right back at the Ray-Ban stage, the veterans Suicide played their first eponymous record that established the sound that bands like Throbbing Gristle would also use in the late ‘70s.  Welcomed by a young audience that probably mistook them for the Bay City Rollers because of the way they jumped to songs like “Ghost Rider” or “Cheree”, Alan Vega and Martin Rev played a good set, despite most of the people, apart from jumping, were more focused on how two seniors looked like a B movie version of the Tron characters.  Back to the San Miguel stage, the main one this year, the Flaming Lips also displayed their usual freak carnival, with a set where classics such as “Yoshimi” or “Laser Hands” could be heard.  A good gig, as usual, but with nothing new to offer, bearing in mind they have constantly visited Spain in the last decade.

The Flaming Lips

Wayne in a bubble

 

 

More photo galleries from Day Two:

Cults

Cults

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of Montreal

of Montreal

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Big Boi

Big Boi

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Oneohtrix Point Never

Oneohtrix Point Never

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Glenn Branca Ensemble

Glenn Branca Ensemble

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Ty Segall

Ty Segall

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Baths

Baths

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Suuns

Suuns

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Girl Talk

Girl Talk

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FRIDAY 28TH MAY, PARC DEL FÒRUM

We couldn’t get into the Rockdelux Stage, formerly known as what it really is, the Auditorium, to watch Sufjan Stevens, but some contributors who could told us it was, to use a Spanish term, the most Martian (the most eccentric) of them all.  It was not only a gig, it was a performance, a party, a one-man show, all in one with projections, two drummers, dancers, the whole pack.Songs like “Get Real, Get Right” or the 25-minute epic “Impossible Soul” were just two pieces of an incredible puzzle the artist who was brought up thinking he was an alien displayed onstage.  Whether you liked it or not, it didn’t leave you indifferent.

Wolf People

Back to earth and to the Pitchfork Stage, London’s Male Bonding played a vigorous set reminiscent of the Ramones and No Age (QRO live review) that included a cover, “Radiant Vibes” by Fountains of Wayne (QRO photos).  Wolf People invaded the ATP stage with their ‘70s noisy rock and solid stage presence right before The National took over the Twilight Zone Llevant Stage.  The Americans Male Bondingplayed a solid set, the usual in them, but they also tried to go beyond that, trying to bond with the audience by letting Matt Berninger jumping offstage or playing more electric versions of their classic songs.  And despite the fact that their success remains a mystery to yours truly, the audience seemed to enjoy the gig, in spite of the evident sound problems and the excess of attendants.

The National

Pere UbuBut the night had a lot more to offer.Classic avant-garde combo Pere Ubu gave the audience one of the very best concerts of the 2011 PS.  They based the gig on their debut record, The Annotated Modern Dance, the guys from Cleveland, fronted by David Thomas and his ironic view on his old self and the world around him, injected new life on all tracks thanks to a very tight and powerful rhythm section.  Pataphysics, a hipflask and the self-conscience that Thomas has aged and the best thing he can do is to be self-critical built a very good alternative to the aforementioned The National, as they coincided in the PS schedule.

Low

“THIS SONG IS ABOUT THE SPANISH REVOLUTION!”  Low dedicated their first song, “Nothing But Heart” to the Spanish movement of the 15th of March that appeared in most Spanish cities demanding the end of the current economic situation and a new politic, social and civil order through peaceful demonstrations and camps that in the case of Barcelona and other cities ended abruptly that Friday morning when the Catalan police entered by force the protestants camp, a maneuver that ended in a very violent clash.  Back to the music, Low, now joined by Retribution Gospel Choir’s drummer Eric Pollard on keyboards, offered a set full of sensibility, Explosions In the Skytenderness, nostalgia and a sort of optimism that included other tunes as “You See Everything”, “Witches” or “Murderer” that rocked (in the sensible and quiet sense) the 3000 people who gathered around the ATP Stage.  Another bunch of chaps that rocked (now in the vigorous sense) were Explosions In the Sky.  The Texans still walk their oneiric, epic, and sonic path but still know how to move the audience, not letting their songs to get lost in a maze of distortion and noise.  Dense and emotional, the Explosions showed once again that they can both play in a small venue or a big festival and be equally effective in both.

Shellac

Deerhunter “Can you hear me now?  I got my radio on!”  Shellac are the golden residents of the PS.Since their first visit to the PS, in 2006, they have played every year except 2007.  And they still play the same sort of set where most of the songs are the same, reproducing some of the same gags, even it seems Steve Albini wears the same clothes year after year… But it still works!!  It amazingly works!!  Their secret formula never fails, it keeps gathering a loyal and big following, and it keeps on entertaining and making people think.  Amazing!  And at the same time, Deerhunter, right there, in the Twilight Zone stage, developed a fantastic set of dream pop, with dense atmospheres, catchy choruses and eternal songs like “Revival” and “Helicopter” that left them in a much better position than their previous visit, in 2009 when they presented Microcastle (QRO review) and it was evident they still needed to develop their melodic side.  Another great gig in the 2011 PS.

Pulp

Headliners Pulp gave a retrospective concert, with many hits like “Pencil Skirt”, “Disco 2000” or the inevitable “Common People” that ended the show, showing that there was much more to the Britpop movement that two stupid brothers or a mediocre singer and melody maker.  Jarvis Cocker, ever the strange, funny and ironic gentleman still knows how to fill a stage and was precisely that, gentle with the Barcelonan audience he knows so well.  The intensity fluctuated but the band still keep their craft, after all.

Del Rey

And the day ended with a very pleasant surprise.Veteran Chicago musicians Del Rey were the last band to inhabit the Jäegermeister Stage at 3am.  Skillful like Tortoise (QRO live review), deep like Red Sparowes, blunt like 65 days of static and angry like Mogwai (QRO live review), the sextet were a true and real sonic steamroller, with different instrument changes and a much defined will to destroy the myth that instrumental music is repetitive.  They deserved a bigger stage to play but they earned the right to be remembered more than any other band around.

 

More photo galleries from Day Three:

Avi Buffalo

Avi Buffalo

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Tennis

Tennis

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Jason Collett

Jason Collett

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M. Ward

M. Ward

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Field Music

Field Music

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Battles

Battles

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SATURDAY, 29TH MAY, PARC DEL FÒRUM

Parc del Forum

Mike Hadreas is the alma mater of Perfume Genius.  A sort of an honest but yet delicate troubadour, Hadreas softly reveals the brutality of his lyrics in piano melodies like “Mr Petersen”, about a homosexual teacher who loves Joy Division and has suicidal tendencies.  A musician that is worth following.

YuckYuck were one of the disappointments of the festival.  Not that they don’t have any quality but live their music really reveals their debts on Pavement (QRO live review) and other ‘90s bands of that kind, a thing that make them loose their identity.  Meanwhile, in the Twilight Zone Llevant stage, Warpaint was the opposite pole to Yuck.  They were so comfortable onstage and playing around with their repertoire that it looked like their record could’ve gone much further than it actually did.

tUnE-yArDs

tUnE-yArDsMerrill Garbus has a contagious smile.  And she has a contagious attitude.  And she plays contagious music.  She’s the one behind tUnE-yArDs, a mix of folk, tribal sounds, a DIY philosophy and an attitude onstage like the world was ending tomorrow and the best choice for us would be to enjoy ourselves.  With a bass player and a small brass section, Garbus achieved a connection with the audience that was hard to beat in this PS.

Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes, while not being excellent on record, proved they are something else onstage, giving their songs a much better treatment and solidity.  Their vocal harmonies also helped and so did the PA, allowing their traditional folk to sound bright and clean.  Right after the folkie foxes, The Album Leaf dared to approach their PS debut with a minimalist line-up, with only leader Jimmy Lavalle and violinist/keyboardist Matthew Resovich representing the band, who were joined by a local string quartet.  The gig sounded well, but their set was based on their most ambient tracks so it hardly took off, so to speak.  They would’ve been a great band for the auditorium.

Money Mark The Album Leaf Money Mark was one of the worst hit artists by the 2011 PS schedule, as they played almost at the same time as PJ Harvey and a bit later than Einstürzende Neubauten.  But the keyboardist, well-known for his work alongside Beastie Boys (QRO album review) and his contributions to the music of Yoko Ono or Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (QRO photos) never lost his temper and offered a solid and really fun set of funk, rhythm and blues, jazz and other herbs that was noisily received by that part of the audience who didn’t want to watch Polly Jean 100 yards away nor wanted to be overwhelmed by the industrial rhetoric of the aforementioned Germans.

PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey : The sexiest woman in rock, one of the most restless artist of her generation and, for once, daring to walk a sort of political path wanting a change for the current situation of her home country.  The songs from Let England Shake (QRO review) sounded clean and tense for the most part thanks to the contribution of Mick Harvey and old fellow John Parish.Older tracks such as “Big Exit”, “C’mon Billy”, “The Sky Lit Up”, or “Meet Ze Monsta” with which she ended her gig were really well chosen to suit her latest tunes but the overall feeling is that her music still works far better in smaller places.  The main PS stage with an average capacity of over 20,000 people may be good for people like Neil Young, Pulp, Sonic Youth or Flaming Lips, but for PJ Harvey’s current music is far too big as it’s kind of hard to feel the complexity she displays on record, even though it was a good concert.

Mogwai

Mogwai and Swans started their gigs at the same time.  The latter set the old amphitheatre stage (officially the Ray-Ban one) on fire, with a sort of post-metal repertoire (in contrast with their industrial past) that was raw, strong and forceful.  Michael Gira faced the audience and even threatened them and insulted them for their apathy.  Only for that, it was one memorable gig.  On the other hand, Mogwai played in the Twilight Zone Llevant stage and the point of their gig was to prove they still have the nerve to stir the audience’s feelings.  Old tunes like “Mogwai Fear Satan”, “Helicon 1” or “Hunted By a Freak” still sound fresh and new songs like “Rano Pano” or “San Pedro” never sounded out of place.  Also, a good thing from Mogwai is that they have been able to prove they have grown up and know how to develop the sound of their songs.  A good example for this is the 2006 single “Travel Is Dangerous”.  Much probably written about the sinking of Russian submarine Kursk in 2000, the band played the song not with the usual anger displayed on record but with much more tenderness and sadness, like focusing more on the pain of the families of the deceased than the impotence of those who passed away inside the old and rotten machine.  All in all a splendid work of electric live music.

DJ Shadow

And finally DJ Shadow ended the Fòrum stint of the 2011 PS with a very visual concert plagued by his trademark beats.  Even though he tested some of the new tunes of his forthcoming new record, The Less You Know The Better, due to be released in early September, Shadow’s set-list fluctuated from classics like “Organ Donor” to some of the new tracks like “Def Surround Us”.  Most may think that Shadow has lost it since his last album, The Outsider, but onstage he’s still a reference of, to make it brief, the modern hip-hop and DJing.

 

More photo galleries from Day Four:

Gang Gang Dance

Gang Gang Dance

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Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500

Dean Wareham

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Animal Collective

Animal Collective

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Holy Ghost!

Holy Ghost!

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SUNDAY 30TH MAY, POBLE ESPANYOL

The Primavera Sound returned to the venue that was used the first day, the Poble Espanyol, for the last round of gigs of the 2011 edition.

BMX Bandits My Teenage StrideMy Teenage Stride seemed a bit out of place at the Poble Espanyol.  Not that they played a bad gig, but they sounded tired and out of focus, and that bored the audience.  A pity, bearing in mind the base of their music is shiny and, at times, urgent pop.  Right after, veteran Scottish BMX Bandits decided to mix old catchy tunes – “Students of Life”, “The Day Before Tomorrow”, “Disco Girl”, “I Wanna Fall I Love” – with new tracks that will be found on their new record, BMX Bandits in Space.  Their leader, Douglas T. Stewart, introduced himself as a sort of half-musician, half-comedian, not taking himself seriously but doing so with his music and really connected with the audience.  As a Spanish friend of QRO commented at the end of the gig, “Now I see where Belle & Sebastian and some tunes by The Vaselines (QRO live review) and other bands of the time come from”.

Mercury Rev

And last but not least Mercury Rev played a retrospective set based on the record that saved them from their musical death, Deserter’s Songs, after they played the same set the previous day at the Fòrum.  Jonathan Donahue, Grasshopper and co. really were on fire, playing the set in an incredibly effortlessly way.  Confident, strong, blunt, the Americans reminded yours truly of Del Rey, the best gig of the festival at the Fòrum (see Day Three).  But whereas Del Rey were a fantastic discovery, Mercury Rev had it all to fail, as the whole of the audience knew by heart their songs.  Sometimes, a classic record is classic not only because of the emotions described in the studio, the acceptance of the audience, the influence over other musicians and many other factors, but also a record becomes a classic onstage, where the band must prove they believe in their work and they can communicate their emotions to the audience.  There have been so many cases where a band seems to lose the spark when it comes to play live but that was not the case with Mercury Rev.  There was no space for subtlety, no shades of grey, no gentleness… It was all electricity, euphoria, passion, optimism, awe.  Forget about the humble and dreamy images they usually project, about their mysticism and their refined craft.  That night, the Revs displayed anger and energy you will hardly ever see in any other of their gigs.

 

 

 

 

A decade later of its beginning, Primavera Sound has established itself as one of the best festivals in the world.  At least some bands like Deerhunter or Mercury Rev said so at the end of their 2011 gigs.  But also, third parties have said so, according to festival Director Albert Guijarro: “First of all, the booking war we had in Spain ended a couple of years ago.  This year, if we wanted a band acclaimed by critics and audience alike to come and play at Primavera, in most cases we finally paid from 25 to 30% less than in 2008 or 2009.  That didn’t mean that if we wanted to bring a BIG name, we wouldn’t end up paying less, but it helped us using our funds anyway.  Also, thanks to our efforts in recent years, the word-of-mouth (that is, bands that had come here recommending the festival to other bans who didn’t come yet) has worked extremely well for us, as some groups of our latest line-ups have asked us to come and play, we didn’t have to go after them so it helped us negotiate the fee we had to pay.”

But also, the alliance the Primavera Sound has established with the ATP festival and MySpace Spain, in 2007, and then with Pitchfork, in 2009, has proved crucial to the expansion of the festival abroad.  Guijarro: “This year we’ve had over 140,000 people during the whole weekend of concerts, over 120,000 at the Fòrum alone.  And we know that a fair amount of people are coming from many countries: France, Germany, Sweden, the U.S.A., Italy, Portugal and so on.  The fact that the ATP and, overall, Pitchfork are so well-known and respected abroad has helped us to reach a wider audience.”

Moreover, the Primavera Sound has also stepped into another level, professionally speaking: “With the professional area we created for people who work in the music industry, the PrimaveraPro, we have had the support not only of our government (at last!) but also the governments of countries like Poland, Chile, Canada, Australia, Austria or Brazil support this idea of creating a synergy between music professionals of all kinds through conferences, meetings and workshops in order to develop new strategies of production, release, diffusion and live music programming.”

But, somehow, it’s the aforementioned collaboration and friendship with people like Pitchfork that has given the bigger amount of satisfaction to the PS Director and everybody involved: “Yes, sometimes it’s amazing the way people show their love to us.  In 2009, the Washington Post said ours was the best festival to be in.  Then Pitchfork said on their website that calling the Parc del Fòrum, ‘the most idyllic place to hold a festival’ was a total understatement.  Some of the mails I get fill me with such pride that I can’t resist the temptation and I forward them to friends who work for the PS.  But the nicest thing for us has been that Pitchfork has been filming the Primavera Sound 2011 because they want to do a documentary about it.  And they told about it like this: ‘You know we make a festival in Chicago (QRO 2010 recap) but, even though it goes against us, as most bands say you’re the best festival in the world, we have to make a documentary about you.’”

Being true or not that the Primavera Sound is the best, or one of the best, festivals in the world is up to you, dear readers, to decide.  So, if you want to know, get your asses to Barcelona!!

-word: Abel Cruz
-photos: Jayne Yong

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