Springtime in Barca - Primavera 2008 : part two


Primavera 2008: Continued from part one:


....Yes, Devo.


Who are, along with our beloved Cardiacs, one of the few bands I find truly disturbing. I'm not going to pretend I've been a lifelong fan of these particular legends but they're pretty entertaining - in a scary way. Bouncing onstage in their trademark yellow overalls and plant-pot hats - sorry, energy domes - the rotund figure and ageing face of frontman Mark Mothersbaugh bears a striking resemblance to Timmy Mallett gone wrong. Or indeed gone more wrong. Their spiky electro-post-punk- has stood the test of time pretty well, not least because about three years ago every second new band in Britain sounded a bit like them. Always as much about the theatre as the music, during signature tune Are We Not Men they strip down to T-shirts, shorts, long socks and, err, knee pads. It looks like a slightly gay senior citizens' aerobics class. They save the most disturbing till the end, though, with Mothersbaugh emerging for the encore in his Booji Boy guise (the character even has his own Wikipedia entry - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Booji_Boy) - hampered slightly by the sound cutting out, they carry on regardless until it comes back. Good fun, but still scary.


Back over to the ATP stage next, where the PA is blasting out Sonic Youth's Teenage Riot for approximately the 354th time this weekend. We're down here to see Fuck Buttons, a band people keep telling me I would like, so let's see... or are we? They're the first band to be late on all weekend, and we're wondering after fifteen minutes whether they're coming on at all - unwittingly projected on one of the back screens, a silhouetted road crew type figure can be seen making extremely frantic phone calls involving a lot of gesticulation. Eventually the duo appear, starting slowly with a spacious Mogwai-esque ambient-to-loud piece in which the same drone note pulses through different tones and volumes. Some of the electronic subtleties are a little lost in the airspace here, but I could imagine it being the most intense thing ever if you were trapped in a sweaty basement with them. Gradually as the set progresses the electro side starts to take over until they peak like the evil offspring of 65daysofstatic and The Chemical Brothers. Oh yes indeed.


The Go Team are on the main stage. There are no words to describe the level of my loathing of this band and their evil smug jollyness, so it's over to the CD Drome, now renamed the Electronica Drome. Where, thankfully, Robert Hood is doing some ace minimal techno, a phrase I've been hearing quite a lot this year from a couple of respected directions. And it sounds like the sound my head makes sometimes, possibly due to too much exposure to repetitive beats at a formative age - call it what you want, but to me this is just proper techno, "like what it was back then", when 808 State were still halfway to Kraftwerk and Detroit exported relentless machinistic beats that echoed the sounds of the city's automotive production lines. Interesting to note our own pioneer of such A Guy Called Gerald in Hood's Myspace Top Friends; influences crossing the Atlantic in both directions. Industrial, almost puritanical, head down, he wraps slightly offset thematic structures around each other to startling effect. The white girdered roof of the place with the tower blocks behind, it's exactly how this music should be experienced. It's nothing o'clock (3ish, really). Unfortunately next up is some bollocks disco shit so we go back down to the now relatively empty Rockdeluxe arena and watch The Rumblestrips doing their Dexys impression, which is nothing short of surreal at 4am.


Half an hour till Holy Fuck's set, I think we're going to last the distance - back down to the Vice stage then.... what the hell's going on here? El Guincho, says the book, is a "sampler juggler and collector of tropical and African sounds" who "has revolutionised the underground with an exceptional tribal frenzied pop album that doesn't need to envy the experimental sweets of Panda Bear". I'm glad we've got that one cleared up. Personally I prefer my own description at the time - "mentalist with drumstick." Dancing about like an 80s disco king DJ between two massive screens bearing his name in between slashing images of fruit and flowers he's highly entertaining in the way completely insane people are at this time in the morning when you're on the Jägermeister again. It is ten to five by the time Holy Fuck have finished plugging stuff into other stuff and start their set. Needless to say I don't remember that much about it part from the fact that they are probably the best live band currently operating in the vague genre of experimental electro, the analogue tape-strip sampler squiggles, the live bass and drums bolster the foundations and recent single Lovely Allen is truly magnificent. The sky is starting to lighten just a little and we're down the front giving it a last blast of energy when from somewhere a lone dreadhead vaults the barrier, bounces like an Olympic triple jumper on those platform things BSP's Noble was enjoying yesterday and onto the stage, dancing wildly. A few people appear from the wings, friends or crew or whatever, and dance with him. Then someone beckons the crowd up and the floodgates are open! We duck for cover as a hundred bodies or more fly at the stage, falling over the barrier and dragging each other up... soon the stage is rammed, and we worry a bit for Holy Fuck's irreplaceably strange equipment, but it's a truly amazing end to the set and to one of the longest and most excellent days of live music I've ever seen. I can hardly walk. I don't care. It's past six and daylight by the time we fall into bed.





The forecast rain arrives on Saturday, so we spend most of the day in the pub; eventually getting down to the festival in time to hear Buffalo Tom do Taillights Fade, so that'll be their one song worth bothering with out the way then. Don't get me wrong, an absolute classic, but I never investigated them further at the time and can't be arsed now. We wander round to the CD Drome for Dirty Projectors ("alchemist of stuffy naughty melodies" - er, come again? - featuring "polyrhythmic eruptions" apparently... and I do like a polyrhythmic eruption now and again...) but the time it takes us to get served at the bar is enough to ascertain that they're tuneless but in a not good way. Watching Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks down on the Vice Stage from halfway up the steps is pleasant enough; looking down into the packed arena amuses me - I'm in the presence of a Proper Indie Legend - and yeah, he's OK. Maybe I've reached the sort saturation point where complacency is setting in. Or maybe it's just really nice up here, clustered under the solar panel with a few others who look like they've had some late nights too; the atmosphere's a very friendly one. Dev "Lightspeed  Champion" Hynes walks past almost unnoticed.


A necessary toilet trip (peak time queue five minutes - pay attention, British festivals) brings us to the back of the Estrella Damm main stage arena, where Rufus Wainright is playing in the distance. And we're stunned by the fact that one man, armed with just his voice and an acoustic guitar or grand piano, can hold a crowd this size utterly captivated; during his quieter moments you could almost hear the proverbial pin drop. It still makes me laugh occasionally that the son of all-American grizzler Loudon Wainwright III turned out to be one of the most gay people in pop and Rufus is enjoying camping it up between songs, congratulating Spain on having legalised gay marriage (in 2005) then musing that he and his boyfriend are quite happy as they are, and what he'd really like would be to marry a rich older woman. Expect the fax from Liza Minnelli by nightfall then Rufus...


Back down to Vice next, propping our exhausted selves against the barrier; might have an early one tonight after all... or not, as the case may be. Now I'm not normally one to live in my musical past, less still anyone else's. Last year I gave away a long-held Wedding Present George Best 20th Anniversary Tour ticket in favour of the last date of a Maps tour I'd already seen six dates of, because in my heart of hearts I realised I'd rather be watching my favourite band of 2007 than my favourite band of 1987. Just last weekend exactly the same could be said of 2008 / 1988 when I chose Exit Calm over The Sun And The Moon. That said, had either 80s band actually comprised the full line-up I loved back in the day, the decision might have been a little tougher - now and again a bit of nostalgia can be just what you need. And here, by the chance of scheduling, we round off the weekend with three back-to-back brilliant performances from bands who made their mark before some of my mates were born.


First of these is a band I don't remember from first time round. Sometimes I look at the wide ranging musical tastes of my youngest mates and I'm stunned by just how much they've soaked up, but when you've grown up with the facility to cross-pollinate music tastes with like-minded kids from Arizona to Tokyo and scoop up anything that sounds remotely interesting down broadband wires it's easy to be eclectic. My generation were limited to the records we and our mates could afford, the impressive collection of a cool dad / uncle / older cousin or sibling / neighbour is you were lucky (I wasn't), and stuffing C90s with the best bits of John Peel and Piccadilly's Tony Michaelides. I'm sure I'd have loved Mission Of Burma had they ever crossed my path, but they never did, instead being brought to my attention some years back by the American contingent on the Chameleons' forum.


My only previous experience of Mission of Burma, in the confined space of a summer (2004) night in Manchester's legendary sweatbox Night & Day at its absolute hottest, was like being in the boiler room of a nuclear submarine. Drummer Peter Prescott was so loud he had be be caged in behind a perspex screen to minimise adverse effects to guitarist Roger Miller’s tinnitus (often cited as the main reason for the band’s 1983 retirement); at the time our beloved venue had been under threat of losing its licence following a noise complaint from some newly-arrived local resident busybody, and Mission of Burma's performance felt like a great big fuck-off to him/her. Four years and two albums into their reunion era and on a large open air festival stage it may not be as physically intense, but they're no less powerful. No sound screening for Prescott, I suppose the space between them's bigger here.


One thing missing from that 2004 reunion was the tape-looping work of Robert Swope, apparently an integral part of the MOB live sound and pretty pioneering too - yeah, everyone's got a looper pedal these days, but Swope used to do it manually from the sound desk with a great big reel-to-reel. We can definitely hear looping today though, inside out guitar swipes and repetitive electro-inspired fills. Later I'm excited to report that no, they haven't sold their souls to digital technology; it's one of Shellac manipulating the loops just as Swope did back in the day. Meanwhile Prescott, Miller and bassist Clint Conley charge through a frenzied set of post-punk firepower, sharing and swapping vocal duties as they go. You can hear the roots of most of America's 80s-90s alternative scene here. The track led by Prescott over a hard monochord from other two is brilliant, and "hit" of sorts That's When I Reach For My Revolver sounds fantastic - yet another of those all-time alternative classics we've had the privilege of hearing live this weekend. If indeed we were getting complacent it'd be almost justified.


Right, back to the main stage then for an audience with one of the many bands, now legends themselves, who cited Mission Of Burma as an influence. And if the reunion tour is rock's equivalent of a pension plan, then Lou Barlow's like one of those annoyingly smug gits who've got two pensions on the go in case one falls on its arse. Yesterday he was Mr. Sebadoh; today he's one third of one of the most seminal bands of the 88-91 alt-rock era, back where he came from in Dinosaur Jr. And comparing his barely-aged features to his bandmates’, (frontman J. Mascis's still long hair is now almost completely white; drummer Murph doesn't have any left) could, if he was so inclined, give him something else to be smug about.



That long white hair looks so cool onstage though, and the band sound amazing. Theirs was always the more pop end of alt-rock-punk (grimly, this possibly makes them responsible for an entire generation's worth of crap) - however much the guitars distorted or Mascis mumbled his Original Slacker lines there was always a great catchy tune going on in there somewhere. Early on comes one of the best, The Wagon from 1991's Green Mind album - by the end of that summer Nirvana would have allegedly slayed Reading Festival (the myth doesn't quite correspond to the reality I remember, but that's another story for another time) but Dinosaur Jr always had the best tunes. Feel The Pain being another one - the song that pretty much defined the slow-verse-speedfreak-chorus blueprint, and that guitar solo, it sends the crowd into a frenzy. Some of them barely as old as the songs, others older than the men onstage, everyone's going for it.


And of course we all know they can go one better. It comes towards the close of the set, starts with the strum of a couple of simple chords, and the crowd as one leaps about three feet in the air, Freakscene. Simple to the point of near perfection in melody and lyrics; there have been few more devastatingly effective lines written than its closing "sometimes I don't thrill you, sometimes I think I'll kill you, just don't let me fuck up will you, cos when I need a friend it's still you... what a mess" and I realise there are indeed tears in my eyes. That's the thing about nostalgia bands - they'll stir up ancient feelings with pretty much every one you've had since - those people I know who'll only go and see bands they used to like when they were young must get through a hell of a lot of tissues. How do you follow that? With the most gloriously distorted squiggling guitar solo introduction ever; of course, their other hit, Just like Heaven. The original saw The Cure at their best, eschewing rubbish about giant spiders for waking from a dream of love into grim reality; Mascis instils it with even more pain. And I always liked the way their version seemed to end sort of in mid-air - even more so live, as the odd-looking trio walk off triumphant.


They have over-run (not that anyone was complaining); we've got just five minutes to get over to the Electronica Drome, shift musical gears again and travel back a little further in time to an even crazier summer, where clothes were bleached-out and tent-like, Dry Bar was the most uber-stylish and futuristic drinking experience in the world, and the sun was never going to set on the glorious party city of Manchester. And our masters of ceremonies for those golden days were the almighty 808 State. But this doesn't feel like retro nostalgia music at all. It feels here and now, timeless even.


"In... Your... Face!" shouts the MC, a faintly belligerent sounding Manc in a big coat, in between attempts to foster some sort of rave atmosphere. We're dancing, the couple near us also from Manchester are dancing, there are odd people who've clearly had pills or a few Jagermeisters too many, but mostly it's a pretty quiet crowd; "Make some Noiissseee!" not really ever getting the response he's hoping for. Still, the band are fantastic. To think at one point people used to think dance / electronic music wasn't really a live thing - Graham Massey alone manages to play about six different instruments. But it's when he reaches for his brass (no, I don't know exactly what it is - a metal clarinet or a small straight saxophone) the applause is universal before he's even blown a note. And so, to the last of the weekend's live renditions of all-time classics: I am listening to 808 State playing Pacific at two o'clock in the morning by Barcelona’s seafront - surely exactly how it should be heard - and it's amazing, Massey jazzing out an extended version of his brass solo.


There are, of course, more bands on; another 5.30am finish for those who can take it - but it's time to leave on a high and count off the landmarks on that twenty minute walk back to the hotel one last time. I've been home for two days at the time of writing, I have plans to attend a few British festivals this summer - but the bar has been raised, folks. ALL festivals should be like this.


Words & pics: Cath Aubergine




To returm to part one of this article, click here.