Primavera Sound 2014 @ Barcelona, 28 – 31/05/2014

Primavera Sound 2014In theory, there is a festival. But I haven’t seen it yet. Instead a vast series of allegedly-linked car parks, purporting to be one unified ‘parc’, adjacent to a distinctly unglamorous stretch of the Balearic Sea. Anglophone louts pepper the local contingent, who sneer in an appropriately European fashion at the touring lads. One chap, no stranger to the gymnasium – perhaps a clerk of some kind, or a bid writer or even an actuary in his civilian existence – has divested himself of his shirt. Arms aloft, wild eyes, he picks his way through the throng in a distinctly ungingerly fashion, with the blissful lack of awareness that only the medicines of the dance can deliver.

Yes, much like Sartre’s hell, festivals are other people. But who are these people? It's difficult to know. We had been promised swaggering peacocks, East London Ice Princesses, knowing Berliners with voracious appetites for the night, and of course the local inconformistas, comfortable in the security of their occupation of their nation’s most voguish metropolis. But there's a distinct aroma of vanilla in the air - with the exception of one contingent of psychedelic gentlemen, with their rallying cry of, “Gentlemen, gentlemen, please!” who seem like they may have overindulged in some of the more rarefied plaers of Catalonia. Are these the Normals? Perhaps so, one fears. Will there be no end to their territorial ambitions!?

The cold weather keeps the hipsters away,” a native tells me, and indeed one might hope for more clement conditions for the first two evenings of the festival. Perhaps they're occupied elsewhere in the city, involved in the four days of unrest surrounding the local authority’s closures intention of converting a squalid squat complex to a tasteful pleasure garden. Housing is such a terribly outmoded conception after all.

The byzantine vastness of this concrete festival allied with the brazen unrelenting corporatism of the whole spectacle –like any other festival, sure, though one was surprised to find oneself not emblazoned in corporate livery by the close of the third evening – did little to create a sense of the green season for which the festival is be-monikered, and less so of a coherent set of happenings. Perhaps not the sort of festival one would attend with the intention of widening one’s social purview. Where, pray do tell, are the other carneivaleque enjoyments – the artisanal local produce, the coconut shies, the earnest reels of cinematic delight – which inform our understanding of the festival as Festival? Nowhere to be found.

Heartless would be a stretch too far, but then where – one found oneself asking – lay the heart of the festival? It seemed less a definitive Thing possessed of a quiddity of its own, more a series of vaguely connected performances by a rather wonderful line-up of high-end mainstream-alternative artists. Perhaps it's somewhat churlish to over-privilege the totality of the experience; of course, music is the reason this great washed mass has descended on Spain’s second city – but when we dissect a festival experience it is, with the exception of a handful of unique experiences, through the thick unifying fug of intoxication.

So, what of the music? A smorgasbord for you: on the opening evening, we had Neutral Milk Hotel, reformed like every other band on the bloody planet that ever stopped playing together. But yes, yes, Neutral Milk Hotel are a big one; it seems somewhat strange to see them playing on a huge stage to thousands of people. Then, Aeroplane Over the Sea doesn’t want for anthems – and anthems are what we get. Probably as many people as you’ll ever see singing, “I love you, Jesus Christ,” this side of Tennessee. A suitably commanding performance.

Arcade Fire are... Well, Arcade Fire. Accordingly, half of the festival flock to take in some of the worthy soundtracks to a million trailers of films that are, it’s more than likely, not very good. Fine, if you like that kind of thing. It all feels a bit professional to these ears, but there are a lot of people here and it seems like a lot of them are having a wonderful time. And that’s nice, isn’t it? That’s what festivals are about, isn’t it? Morons all enjoying sing-a-longs, drinking Official Beer from plastic cups. For hours on end.

Finally to Metronomy. The hand of Hypnos is beginning to make its influence felt and many choose to take the performance with buttocks appended to the ground. But as ever, there’s a lot to like about Metronomy.

Onto Friday evening, and Dr John and the Nite Trippers. Which is interesting, certainly. A little bit ridiculous, but that’s fine. A return to this stage a day later for Caetano Veloso is also ridiculous, which is slightly more disappointing for connoisseurs of the world’s music. The fellow is a legend, but there’s something distinctly underwhelming about this performance, as he alternatively stands stock still, does a multi-armed Vishnu with his band mates and lies down on the floor. The problem, we suspect, is that he has continued to make music, rather than preserving himself in aspic at times when he’s not performing.

After Dr John, it’s time for Slowdive. Delightful, a pleasure for the senses! As stately and grandiose as you would hope. Which you can’t say for fellow reformers Pixies – who just aren’t very good live. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Have a bloody sing-along why don’t you? Then go and throw yourself around for Kvelertak, who play black 'n' roll. Which is about as a good as it sounds. Also the singer is wearing a terrifying goat mask.

It all gets a bit blurry around this time; we have Laurent Garnier to see the evening out. It makes sense at the time. One suspect that it wouldn’t in normal circumstances.

The final day of the festival proper - there’s a small show elsewhere in Barcelona on Sunday, for which Cloud Nothings pull out a joyful, energetic performance to help us ease back into the trauma of reality - sees two of contemporary hip-hop’s brightest names entertaining us. Earl Sweatshirt is energetic and bouncy, performing for what might have been the whitest audience this reviewer has seen, while Kendrick Lamar isregal and accomplished, the best performance of the whole damn festival.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are far too quiet, while Mogwai are at an appropriate volume, but are just kind of dull. Blood Orange is less so, ironically referencing Nine Inch Nails, who are playing at the same time, in a smooth accomplished set that's as far from the raw mathematics of Test Icicles or the devastating mediocrity of Lightspeed Champion as one could imagine.

Finally, Chromeo’s executive 80s funk is exactly what you want at the end of the festival – japes, dancing, vocoder. Lots of vocoder. And now it was time – for this gentleman at least – to go back home and weep without relent and never speak of this again. Because, yes, this is not a festival experience to which a Brit is accustomed, but the brutal brutal hangover and its concomitant sense of shame is still very much the same...

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3 Responses to “Primavera Sound 2014 @ Barcelona, 28 – 31/05/2014”

  1. Steve 28/06/2014 at 7:04 pm #

    This is probably the most pathetic, incorrect review I have ever read. Primavera is nothing like how it is described in this review.

    I didn’t know whether to laugh or be angry when reading this review.

    • Tiffany Daniels 29/06/2014 at 2:33 pm #

      It’s neither correct nor incorrect Steve, it’s an opinion, and Mansoor’s is as valid as yours.

  2. Mansoor 30/06/2014 at 9:41 am #

    I always recommend a heady combination of laughter and anger – but make sure to bring a spare pair of undercrackers, of course.

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