A dozen observations from Primavera Sound 2011
(1) It was not a good Primavera Sound for iPads. The festival organisers hatched a fancy-dan plan for a pre-pay card system for their bars instead of cash and tokens, but the whole darn iPad-powered thing came a-cropper on the …
(1) It was not a good Primavera Sound for iPads. The festival organisers hatched a fancy-dan plan for a pre-pay card system for their bars instead of cash and tokens, but the whole darn iPad-powered thing came a-cropper on the first night. As the whole system keeled over and crashed, thirsty, confused and angry punters, who’d stuck a load of cash on their cards before heading down to Parc del Forum, wondered what the hell was going on and why there was no clear communication about the problems. Memo to organisers: technology always lets you down when you need it most. Other memo to organisers: trust the Wu, C.R.E.A.M. It might mean more staff, hassle and security but I don’t think you’re short of a few bob to do this.
(2) There were three acts on my must-see list and weirdly enough for the weekend that was in it, I got to see all three. Big Boi was superb, a bumping, crunking, bouncing bang-to-the-boogie slam-dunk of good times hip-hop with a big ol’ Southern dollop of weirdness on top. The prize dog breeder’s notion to bring a dozen indie girls onstage to do some bumping and grinding during his set provided the first unintentionally ROFLOL moment of the weekend. Glenn Branca and his ensemble reached for the stars, rolling out those fiery, fierce, fulsome guitar symphonies at full pelt . I’d been waiting years to see him – I missed his Analog gig in Dublin in 2007 – and he didn’t disappoint. Instead of watching the football, I went with Gang Gang Dance and their glorious, low-slung, hypnotic, sweet-as freak scene. A band operating on a very unique swagger, they’d make a great act for the Sunday night on the Body & Soul stage at Electric Picnic. Bookers, please note.
(3) OTR is probably alone in this regard, but I didn’t think much of some of the acts who grabbed the higher slots on the bill. Belle & Sebastian were insipid, Pulp are a cabaret act and there can’t be anyone left on the planet who hasn’t seen the Flaming Lips do their schtick at this stage. It’s probably just me, right?
(4) Memo to Irish promoters: I’ve now seen Factory Floor slay audiences on three occasions, all outside of Ireland. I reckon they could do the same thing in Ireland and I’d say there’s a market for this kind of thing. Why the hell haven’t any of you booked them yet?
(5) It was the year of queues. Of course, when you’ve 40,000 punters walking around the place every night, you’ll get queues, but it seemed to many that those queues were longer than they should have been. Even though the site had been extended to the east and west – both the Pitchfork and Llevant stages were in new pitches – it really seemed as if there were way more people trying to get everywhere. Be interested to hear from PS11 punters about their experiences in this regard.
(6) Playing to a crowd buzzed up by the news from Wembley Stadium, PJ Harvey had a tough task ahead of her on Saturday night, but those songs from “Let England Shake” did their job and then some. It’s an album I keep going back to because the songs really do get under your skin. Live, Harvey embellished the sombre tones with painterly flourishes and you were stilled into listening. A subtle triumph.
(7) The outside world had quite an impact on PS11 with the football ensuring that there were less people on site on Saturday evening than on the previous two, while there was also subtle reminders over the weekend that there was a lot of hassle brewing up on Placa Catalunya. More on Los Indignados tomorrow.
(8) As much as people come to Barcelona to be thrilled skinny by acts like Battles and Animal Collective, they also buy their tickets for Primavera to be with their own kind. Broadsheet would have got an entire week’s worth of hipster-baiting posts from an hour with a camera at the festival. They have to go somewhere, you know. And yes, there were a couple of thousand Irish music fans at PS11. That will be a couple of thousand Irish music fans who probably won’t be going to any Irish music festival this summer. Just saying.
(9) As always, there were some acts who stopped me in my tracks who I didn’t expect to stop me in my tracks. The National were fantastic, throwing out the hits (well, what National watchers call “hits”) one by one in a well-paced, well-judged set which was better than anything I’ve seen them do in yonks. The crowd-pleasing appearance of Sufjan Stevens onstage (indie rock universes imploded as grown men and women squealed with delight) was the icing on the cake. A pre-sunset appearance by James Blake should have been a recipe for disaster, but his stately, elegant, spooky tunes were met by a hushed, swaying audience who clung on to every streamlined bleep and post-modern sparse ballad for the lovelorn. Both Low and Explosions In the Sky are long-in-the-tooth acts that I rarely bother with, but more fool me as both wowed with sets which were magnificent and moody. And it wouldn’t be a weekend at a festival if I didn’t come across at least one brand new act (to me, at any rate) who are worth a spot in the despatches. On this occasion, it’s Finnish pop band Rubik, who rocked with glorious melodies and swish, swinging tunes like “World Around You”. One to investigate this week.
(10) More from the notebook. Gonjasufi’s “A Sufi and A Killer” was one of my fave albums of ’10, but Sumach Ecks and his band’s live show was atrocious, all funk-metal posturing and palaver, less FlyLo and more Gonjasufi Against the Machine. If there’d been a roof on the venue, Tune-Yards would have blown it right off with her tribal stomping and hugely energetic swathes of ethno-fury. I finally got to see a live set from Ariel Pink and the dude’s trippy, sunblissed pop was something to behold. And there should have been a hell of a lot more people around to appreciate Field Music’s intricate, highbrow, lovely-applied tunes.
(11) Another day, another Odd Future encounter. Playing late on Saturday night/Sunday morning, they brought the noise with a set which was loaded with energy, high jinks and fuck-you attitude. It was also proof that there’s a lot more to how OFWGKTA roll than just Tyler, the Creator, his socks and the outrage over his lyrics (where all those outraged folks when Tyler was throwing out “Bastard” back in 2009?). Catch ‘em while they’re hot and before they turn into another squabbling bunch of hip-hop grumps waving their towels in the air.
(12) Is this the year that Primavera jumped the shark? Certainly, it was the first year that I’ve heard so many complaints from regular PS-goers about both the musical fare on offer and the fair itself. It’s got bigger, for sure (it’s a long way from my first PS visit back in 2004 when the festival was housed at Barcelona’s answer to Bunratty folk park up at Montjuic), but that was always inevitable as the festival gained more international rep. The question now is where it goes from here and if it can still maintain the USPs which have made it so attractive to international alt-music fans in the first place. Perhaps it’s the case, as we saw with fellow Barca-based fest Sonar as it grew, that it will take Primavera a few years to re-establish that equilibrium. Whatever happens, though, the crowds are probably set to continue flocking to Barcelona at the end of May for some years to come.