Thursday 26th May
Apparently the weather’s not going to be as good this year. There’s little evidence of this to be honest as our pathetic English skin fries in the card charge queue (ten minutes at 5pm, at which point having loaded the card we discover the bars don’t seem to have opened yet…) and soon we’ve joined the cluster in the welcome shade down the side of the Adidas Originals stage where GAF – probably the first band we’ve ever seen from Tenerife! – are playing the traditional role of early-doors band we’ve never heard of before but who are quite brilliant. Did the world really need another multi-instrumentalist deep squad (seven, we think) playing Neu! via Spiritualized via Flowers Of Hell flavoured psychedelic drone? Stupid question, of course it did. (my new fave band? – ed)
Ace slightly obscure band T-shirt of the day contender #1: Radio Birdman.
Down on the ATP stage ISLET are scaring everyone with their two-drumkit tribal dub psych-mentalism. “Do you think they do loads of drugs?” asks one of my companions, possibly somewhat rhetorically. Confined to a stage they’re slightly more restrained than usual but no less odd. However, down in the amphitheatre (this year known as the RayBan stage) things are starting to get fractious: the super-efficient card system has collapsed, and bars stand fully stocked in arenas full of thousands of thirsty punters who have poured cash into accounts, and nobody can access anything. Worse still, jammy buggers walk out of the press area sipping (one year I will get round to applying…) – if this was a British festival there’d be riots. MOON DUO play a great set on the amphitheatre stage: this is Ripley from Wooden Shjips’ side project featuring his wife on keyboards instead of his hairy bloke friends on guitars and drums, but oddly they sound exactly the same, not that that’s in any way a bad thing. It can’t be much fun for them though, playing to a crowd who are almost universally getting slightly pissed off. It’s been three hours now, Primavera, any chance you could get the IT monkey out of bed sometime soon? We feel a spot or two of rain, and suddenly the Best Festival Ever – the one I’ve convinced so many people to come to, many for the first time this year – is rapidly becoming the worst… Word gets out that one bar is serving. The queue is about six miles long. We get in it… and miss Of Montreal. Shit happens.
Down on the ATP stage SEEFEEL make an excellent noise (even if they’re not exactly the world’s most dynamic band to watch) – at a festival which has always celebrated the past, present and future equally the veteran ex-shoegazers turned Warp experimentalists are a perfect booking. This is a much dubbier and less abstract set than their recent “reunion” gigs, perhaps they’re aware that in the sunshine by the sea even hardcore music geeks like something they can dance to a bit. Or maybe they are simply evolving again…
Our extended crew decides to meet up at PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED‘s set on the Llevant stage, which is easier said than done. This new arena – effectively a third Main Stage – is massive, stretching right down to the sea with the Barcelona skyline behind it. The curmudgeonly old git is on splendid form, complaining that it’s too hot (you could try taking your massive coat off then John? Or would that reveal too much of your butter-fuelled physique?), while knocking out hits from a brilliant This Is Not a Love Song perfectly matched to the looming evening clouds, to a fiery Open Up as darkness falls. Less interesting are THE WALKMEN, although there is something to be said for watching thousands of people going crazy to The Rat from a vantage point high above both the arena and a fishing port. A low point comes when we realise we have missed Grinderman (that’ll be that lack of planning this year) but this is soon blown away by one of the greatest live performances I have ever seen…
Alan Vega is 72 years old. Martin Rev is much the same. The album they are performing came out 34 years ago. And yet in 2011, SUICIDE still sound incredible. Droning, pulsating, scowling, nihilistic, hypnotic, sexy. And yes, they’re still scary; Rev battering at his electronics with his fists while Vega’s corpse-of-Elvis croon bounces off the concrete. I once spun Frankie Teardrop in a DJ set and scared a handful of people; tonight hearing its fucked-up story unfold over the heads of thousands is sublimely ridiculous. Dancing wildly to it even more so. Forget tomorrow’s big pop headliners, THIS is hardcore. We don’t want it to end, ever, and when it finally does with a beautiful Dream Baby Dream we just stand around aghast for a while before any of us can even speak. Later, friends will tell us Interpol played one of their best ever gigs on another stage, a fact I don’t doubt for a minute – but for this hour we wouldn’t have been anywhere else in the world. We watch a bit of SALEM before turning in and if I was a proper music journalist I would now spend several paragraphs drawing lines from the aged electro pioneers to the spooky and unsettling blend of twitchy electronics, reverbed deep rap and dance beats that fills the pitch-black ATP stage but as you dear readers are not stupid and have a higher than average appreciation of musical lineages I don’t really need to.
Friday 27th May
To the scenester who has “distressed” his Odd Future T-shirt in such a way that it hangs off one shoulder – you may not think the sun in this entry queue is hot enough to burn, but it is, and you are going to look like (even more of) a total twit later…
A post on the official festival Facebook site, also to email list: “While on Wednesday 25th of May at the Poble Espanyol the electronic purse card worked in an acceptable manner, the problems with its implementation on first day in the Parc del Fòrum have shown that the system is not reliable enough for it to be the only way of acquisition of beverages during the rest of the festival. Thus, it will no longer be possible to charge the electronic purse card, and the current balance on each card will be refunded in cash at the Parc del Fòrum today, Friday 27th of May and tomorrow Saturday 28th of May. To do so, you only need to present the electronic purse card at the charging stations located on the premises. The purchase of beverages will be made in cash in all of the bars of the site. In addition to the purchase in cash, you will be able to use the electronic purse card in some of the bars, but it won’t be possible to recharge it anymore. We regret any inconveniences this may have caused.”
Hence our early arrival. Amazingly, the refunding is hitch-free and I’m left feeling rather sorry for whoever it was that came up with this incredible and innovative idea that, as far as we can see, was scuppered simply by insufficiently robust IT infrastructure… it is worthy, I think, of noting that for the rest of the weekend we rarely queued for a drink for more than a couple of minutes and the bar staff coped amazingly with the fact that they now had to handle cash. From the moans still filling the festival forums, you’d think this had completely ruined the festival as opposed to having mildly inconvenienced a few brief hours of it.
Galician trio NOUVELLE CUISINE kick our day off down in the Adidas Originals sun-trap with some pleasant electro-folk – it gets more interesting later on when the beardy guitarist and bassist let the non-beardy electronics bloke take a bigger role and it all goes a bit pre-first-album Maps, twitchy beats and understated breathy vocals. Most of the big-draw bands are still many hours away but it’s always worth getting down here early. The sun’s shining, the sea is lapping gently just the other side of the wall and yesterday’s glitches are already forgiven. Still the best festival in the world. KOKOSCHCA start their set with some densely layered and rather dark Velvets and Suicide influenced electrogaze that gets punkier as they go along, ending somewhere that sounds a lot like a Japanese girl-punk band (which they’re not) covering The Fall (which they’re also not).
Back down in the amphitheatre it’s time for another of those legendary bands that Primavera seems to just dig out of the woodwork: proto-lo-fi indie pioneers THE MONOCHROME SET. Now if you’d asked me earlier I couldn’t have named one of their tunes, but discover I not only recognise about half the set but can recall all the words of Jacob’s Ladder – despite not having heard it since I was about 16… Brilliant stuff. From the past to the present next when we join what seems like about half the festival crowd trying to squeeze down the stairs under the solar panel for JAMES BLAKE whose performance is excellent, if not at all suited to the environment. Starting with a few selections from his debut album, the songs’ spectral fragility and use of space (effectively an instrument in itself in his capable hands) is somewhat hampered by sound bleed from other stages and lots and lots of people talking. There’s an underlying feeling that a lot of people are here because they feel they should be rather than to actually hear what he’s doing. Eventually we sod off to the toilet and I’m sat there when there’s this deep rumble vibrating the cubicle – shit, what have I eaten? – but no! It’s bass, almighty bass, and by the time we get back Blake and friends have kicked into their dubstep section. Now this works much better surrounded by concrete! He’s clearly pretty blown away by the size of his first ever festival audience, and a couple of fishermen pull their dinghy up the other side of the wall for a look…
ARIEL PINK’S HAUNTED GRAFFITI are just odd. Some weird hybrid of Sparks, early Roxy Music and Hawkwind. I think. The singer demands a cigarette from someone and gets one – “ah, menthol…” Suddenly it all goes Prog. Not your spiked Prog Nouveau, full on vintage Lord Of The Rings prog. Allan from Air Cav (who’s around somewhere) saw them last week in Manchester and could only tell us they were excellent if almost indescribably so – he was right. Sorry indie mates, I’m just not that arsed about seeing The National or Belle and Sebastian right now (proud of you –ed). We opt for NO JOY, who play pretty base grungey rock’n’roll with just enough space fuzz to make it interesting, the guitarist literally shoegazing from under a cascading curtain of hair.
At night the amphitheatre really comes into its own and it’s here that we have seen so many absolutely immense performances: Suicide last night; Fuck Buttons and Orbital last year; The Chemical Brothers (Summercase 2007) – let’s see what EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY can do then, shall we? The starting point (alongside Mogwai who are here tomorrow, albeit not on this stage, sadly) for so many of the best bands of the past decade they are, of course, awesome. This may be the reason why I am not really in the mood for PULP, but it has to be done. We settle on the grassy knoll at the back of the arena. Now I do love the idea of Pulp: the eternal outsiders suddenly forced into the spotlight over a decade into their career; the sarcastic Northern thorn in the side of London’s swinging Britpop party; the ugly misfit recast as a sex symbol and the triumph of such as celebrated in their single Misfits; some great lyrics throughout their career, but musically they generally leave me cold. One by one though they get us on board: one mate has her Pulp moment in Something Changed; mine comes later in Sorted For E’s And Wizz being a lyric many of a certain age can identify with as well as one of their most interesting tracks musically – and more to the point, the lasers are amazing. This Is Hardcore is equally excellent against the brutal Diagonal skyline at 2.30am (“Yes, they will play your favourites” smirked the press release – and I’ll give them that) after which Jarvis dedicates Common People to the people in the square (last night peaceful protests against government corruption were attacked by police using rubber bullets and beatings) and the crowd response is truly incredible. You will read elsewhere that this was one of the performances of the festival / year / decade and whilst mostly not my thing personally, objectively it would be hard to disagree.
Back down to the amphitheatre then: BATTLES again have always been one of those bands I don’t get, but tonight they start with some heavy and semi-industrial groove – its 4am and it works. Truly there is something about this place. The bass is amazing, vibrating the floor and our very bones; an elongated cymbal thrash feels like a mantra as we look back and see the mass of dancing; it briefly goes a bit acid jazz, then hard hard hard industrial with techno bleeps. We turn in at half five, feels like half one. We’re on Primavera time.