Review :: Primavera Sound

July 5th 2012

The Refused at Primavera Sound, photo Damia Bosch

Put the music aside for a moment, what makes the annual Primavera Sound Festival so unfuckwitable is the location: bang on the Mediterranean in one of the world’s funnest cities, Barcelona.
The result is amongst attendees from across Europe, the United States and increasingly Latin America, a preponderance of Catalan and Spanish folk; i.e. good people to be around at a festival. They greet each other with an affection that brings a tear to the eye and err on the side of not getting obliterated when drinking. Ask for a light and they might give you the lighter and, not to sound like a cock but, they tend to be short which is not insignificant in terms of stage visibility. Fights and people draped in Australian flags are non-issues and most of all – they just know how to enjoy themselves. In fact your biggest problem with a Primavera crowd is the very real possibility that a stranger launches into a friendly conversation with you right as your favourite band is about to start.

The main venue, Parc del Forum, is a series of well spaced amphitheatres and a concert hall (unfortunately unavailable next year) that’s part of the seaside urban renewal, fueled by the ’92 Olympics, which covered over a Francoist death camp, displaced a shanty town and demolished much of Catalan’s increasingly uncompetitive manufacturing industry, once an anarchist stronghold in the Republican fight against fascism during the Civil War. Like Spanish property development in general it’s heavy on the concrete slabs but compelling if only because of its stunning waterfront views and the unmitigated infrastructure it offers a 3-day plus festival of Primavera Sound’s ilk. Although here the word “day” should be used advisedly because, in keeping with Spain’s siesta culture, each festival day kicks off not long before sundown and goes more or less all night.

Primavera’s approach to musical selection stresses “coherence, eclecticism and love of risk-taking” with a commitment to independent music. Which is not to say there’s no marketing at the event, every stage has a sponsor but the pay-off is the quality of the festival’s sound and production, the slickness of the organisation and the calibre and range of bands invited without recourse to more commercial music. In this regard the 2012 Primavera Sound Festival kept the bar frickin high.

On indie/ post/ punk rock nostalgia: Archers of Loaf, who inspired sing-alongs under a setting sun; Codeine, who reminded us why they’re the world’s most aptly named band; Mudhoney, who combined raw screaming energy with an obvious commitment to musicianship; and Refused, who explained the reformation that was promised would never happen with the simple rejoinder, “We just love to play”. From any other band it might smell like bullshit but watching singer, Dennis Lyxzén, somersault and kung fu about the stage to the perfect precision of what still sounds very much like the shape of punk to come (add to that too the context of a Spanish wide Indignados movement against European austerity) and everything about Refused being at Primavera felt right.

Then there were the bigger names like Wilco, The Cure and Yo La Tengo whose guitarist, Ira Kaplan, crafted explosive but completely controlled feedback around bossa nova rhythms in a way I’d never appreciated until seeing live. Plenty of space reserved too for metal and doom including Liturgy, Wolves in the Throne Room, Harvey Milk and veterans Napalm Death who had the brute force of Slayer but with a social conscience, notably doing their version of Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”.

Hip-hop is also building a presence at Primavera and this year Araabmuzik, loosely emanating from the genre, was a highlight, taking that electronic drum app on your cousin’s smart phone to its ultimate conclusion. For mine though, nothing came close to Afrocubism in terms of playing a completely different style of music to an ostensibly indie rock audience (in this case a combination of old-school Cuban and north African) and doing it so goddamn well that the masses went nuts come the maracas solo. Yeah, there was a maracas solo.

From Australia Dirty Three more than represented. Violinist, Warren Ellis, locking horns with drummer, Jim White, in a wild bearded convulsing animalistic beyond-sexual soul-jousting crescendo that left the Catalans speechless for a beautiful moment before they broke into ecstatic applause. And in terms of new and local (to Spain) stuff, the Basque Country’s Lisabö was a standout with their fugazi-esque interlocking guitars and sense of human solidarity uniting with a driving rhythm section comprised of two bass players and two drummers.

Naturally, no festival report ought go without mentioning Primavera stalwarts Shellac who paid a fitting homage to the snare drum that has served them so well. Be it via Todd Trainer, who cradled and intermittently whacked it while slinking golem-like about the stage before using it as a springboard to launch his quiver of drum sticks into the crowd or guitarist, Steve Albini, who with signature deadpan sarcasm banged on throughout the greater part of the song “The End of Radio” about how far back the friendship goes between “snare drum and I”. “Snare drum and I were big in the 70s. Snare drum and I.” Why is everything that man says so evocative even when he’s talking absolute bollocks? Especially when he’s talking absolute bollocks.

They weren’t officially the very last performance but the reality was The Pop Group rounded off a festival that smacked of a musical creativity and adventurousness that they helped spawn. It should be noted here that the aforementioned bands are just a fraction of what went down at Primavera Sound 2012 and with so many options that’s just the way it has to be. A friend tells me after the festival that Jeff Magnum playing “Neutral Milk Hotel” would be his ultimate show: can’t comment, didn’t see it. And Trash Talk? Spaniards cornered me with friendliness before they came on and I missed them.

There was also a bunch of side shows around the city, some of them free, that further established Primavera Sound as an annual Barcelona institution available, at least in part, to everyone. Of course this reflects the fact that the festival is growing and inevitably the well worn, but not always unfair, cliché is heard: It was better when it was smaller. On the other hand, respect has to be given for an event that has helped build an audience for so much incredible independent music, that offers free concerts in the heart of Barcelona and still maintains a significant degree of intimacy at most stages considering an attendance at the Forum of around 40 000 per day.

If you do decide to nip over to Barcelona for Primavera Sound 2013 – or Porto, Portugal where the festival has from this year also kicked off – note that tickets will go on sale later this year and get progressively more expensive as it moves closer to the festival date (around the end of May next year). Arriving in Barcelona a few days before the main event will give you a chance to see all the side shows and ensure a smoother pickup of your entrance bracelet and card. Security at the event is refreshingly hands off by Australian standards and you can bring in food, the more financially conscious/ alcoholic managing to find ways to sneak in a little hard liquor or reserving festival time to duck outside the main gate where Spain’s army of underemployed immigrant labour will approach you with offers of cut price beer.

With these bands and this audience in this city at this location, Primavera is a festival visit worth considering.

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