Primavera Sound 2017 @ Barcelona, 31/05-04/06

Primavera Sound 2017Sunday evening, 3.30am. By rights, we should all be in bed by now, lunch packed and undercrackers laid out ready for the next day. Instead, a fellow journalist is drunkenly jumping off the stage at the Apolo, on which Japandroids are causing a fantastic aural ruckus, into my face. My shirt is dripping with sweat and beer, my glasses are fucked and I think my leg is bleeding. It’s a messy end to the hazy few days of Primavera Sound 2017; a pleasing clusterfuck in the Catalan moonshine. Monday’s reality is no less harsh for the inevitability of the physical and spiritual anguish that we, and no doubt plenty of other festival-goers, are feeling.

The festival started the same way on Wednesday, with those who could organise themselves heading down to the same venue to catch Kate Tempest (your correspondent got a bit distracted by absinthe), before bullshit Aussie collective No Zu forgot to inject any actual funk into their ensemble rhythmic exercises, while morons proclaimed their excellence.

The next day, the festival proper kicks off. It’s in a charmless concrete and tarmac corner of Barcelona, next to the sea. You’d almost certainly never trouble yourself to go anywhere near here were it not for The Event. Primavera has for years boasted cracking line-ups, though this year – strong as it is – it’s hard to feel like it particularly stands out from anything on offer in the UK; indeed, many of the other European festivals seem to be gaining ground. It hardly feels Spanish/Catalan either – that’s the cost though, the bigger and better you make it, the more people are going swarm in. More informed and better-looking people than me can tell you about the locals’ relations with the tourist horde and its effect on the city. The big and seemingly increasingly the smaller acts are predominantly Anglo-American, and the crowd is certainly heavy with Anglophone wankers; this one here included.

It certainly lacks some of the camaraderie that comes with a traditional tents and turf festival (hell, at least you don’t have to camp) and is more on the civilised side of things, for sure. You can even get pretty nice food; imagine that!? You tell me whether or not that’s a bad thing. The civility, not the food. Maybe it’s a bit Norm too, these days, but what isn’t? And who am I to begrudge the Norms their fun? Some guy on the internet is all.

That’s not to say it’s not a festival of good vibes or good times though, and hell, if you like being around beautiful people, there are far worse places you could go (it seems vaguely implausible after a point that there could be such a high proportion of beautiful people; is there a quota?)

It’s relaxed too; you don’t want to get there too early, and when you do, you don’t want to rush around like a tit. You can if you like, but fuck it, there’s such a surfeit of live music in the Western World, it’s hardly a once-in-a-lifer. Again, make of that what you a will. Demystification is both for better and for worse, innit really?

Okay, shall we talk about some bands? First up on Thursday, a bit of Nots. It’s spiky, spare, funky punky. Which is a recipe for a fucking awesome thing, but it’s a bit underwhelming. Maybe I’m too sober? Next is the most brain-meltingly monikered act of the festival: This is Not This Heat. Which is the personnel of This Heat but with some other younger people who make it Not This Heat. It’s a good line in droney Olympian statements; they don’t always pull it off, but when they do snare you into the pulsing, thudding groove, there is certainly a feel of colloquy with the great gods.

A flying check-up at Miguel (still ludicrous) and Broken Social Scene (still shambolically life-affirmingly), is followed by good wholesome fun from magical granddads The Zombies, who are performing the entirety of their sole masterpiece Odessy and Oracle in the all-seater, no-beer, indoor stage of the festival (a gripe I’d like to repeat from a previous year – most of the gigs here require separately obtained tickets, which is absolute bullshit at a festival to which you’ve already paid to go. Put bands that people want to see where people can just go and see them as they please; Lord knows there’s enough admin in the world as it is). The presentation is charmingly naff, with a terrible out-of-sync video in the background and an excellent vintage boxer voiceover introduction preceding their 70-something trots onto the stage. But, by Vishnu, what a performance; one which does perfect justice to a wonderful album and leaves you feeling like everything might just be alright after all.

At the second time of asking, a bit of Kate Tempest is observed. It’s nice that this exists, and her message and performance are fucking powerful. Not convinced it’s not a bit artless, mind you, but hell, there’s not a great deal of political music geared at young people and The People seem to love it, so go on doing Brahma’s work, my good friend.

Let’s forget political conviction for a moment as guiltily we have a little (ahem, quite long) look at fucking Slayer. They’re dodgy basts, no denying, but there’s also no denying they are a force, very much exuding the stately power of elder statesmen of music. There’s been no Metallica-esque lurch to the mainstream here; this is still the pure stuff. For what it’s worth, once upon a time, they were an artistic conduit for lost and disenfranchised youth too.

A new feature this year is a small drugs island, on which Joy Orbison are performing now. It’s good, brain-melting, funky stuff – but ain’t no joy on drug island unless you got a milk moustache of drugs. To round off the evening, the Crown Prince of Brain Melting, Aphex Twin. Fucking hell, there’s a thing. It’s glitchy, it’s squelchy, it’s like someone is seeing just how far they can drive a drill into your temple before your eyeball explodes. It’s complemented by a wonderful seizure inducing, real-time production of the gurning faces in the front rows. Let us hope that their aged mothers never see this horror.

Mitski is a lot more cleansing for the soul the next day. She’s a pleasing combination of bad ass (she puts on some shades to leave the stage) and melodic; an accomplished performer with some tunes. Couldn’t really ask for much more, could you, you greedy pricks?

A couple of hours of flailing around drinking (biographical detail) is a good way to prep yourself for Mac DeMarco. Again, here’s a man who can write a song. His trademark little twinkly guitar runs are, however, a little bit hard to discern with the sound perhaps not so much murky as it is just plain quiet. Like, guys, music being audible at a festival is probably the first rule of putting on a festival, no? Well, even if you can’t hear him, you can see, and he’s up to…something? Antics abound, including a naked drummer who Mac goes to check out at length, before the grand finale: Mac strips to his pants pulls them into his arse thong-style, then sets what little body hair he has alight with a cigarette lighter, all soundtracked to an ascending finger-tapped solo. Cool.

Swans again channel the sonorous Music of the Gods™, this time unequivocally. Is there another band on the planet who could get away with playing the same chord over and over again for five minutes and have it sound like a stroke of artistic genius?

Many people consider Run the Jewels to be artistic geniuses too. Not this guy. Their politics are good, I’m told, but…yeah…is this not a little bit frat boy? It is a bit, isn’t it? Admit it, guys. You all like a frat boy band. Don’t be ashamed, guys. It’s okay for a grown man (and they are almost all men) to wear a cap.

No, wait. It really isn’t.

Things get a little bit hazy here. Probably a good time to see Flying Lotus. Yeah, this makes a lot of sense. I just need to go home and have a bit of a sweat in a dark room now, yeah?

Back to the light on Saturday with the more kosher sound of Junun featuring Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express. I have no idea which one is which, but who doesn’t like some Indian guys with moustaches having a good time with drums, with only the slightest hint of fusion to make it accessible. Van Morrison follows but I’m not sure I can tell you about that because it is pretty much an aural lobotomy.

What better than to make you feel like you’re in possession of all the parts of your brain again than Angel Olsen, though? She’s got the tunes, she’s got the attitude, she’s got the voice, she has the charisma and she is fucking lovely. I wish Angel Olsen was my friend. In all seriousness though, these beautiful, raw-edged songs make even more sense in person than they do on record. Olsen has the gift of sort of making it feel like she’s singing just to you, though so many have turned up to see her – something at which she expresses surprise. Come off it, mate.

Onwards to Metronomy, who by this point are as consummate performers as you would expect and hope. Like Mac DeMarco, a bit quiet, but like Mac DeMarco, the audience is making up for that by singing along to the music parts as well as the wordy parts. A delightful slice of dance pop perfection from the South Coast legends. One of the best Big Bands out there today, no doubt.

Following on from this, we have one of the Biggest of all time: Grace Jones. Again, the set’s a bit quiet, which means the POWER OF FUNK is lost in the aether somewhat. No matter, she busts out some hits, people dance like idiots, we’re all basking in the wonderful knowledge that GRACE JONES is on the stage, near us. She could mark us for death with her eyes at this distance if we weren’t all total insignificances to her.

It’s a dark delight to see King Krule jazz-punking it up thereafter – somehow the night feels a bit thicker and blacker under the influence of his obtuse chords and evocative snarl. He’s a rough diamond, and unique to boot. Some new material sounds very promising too, so another reason to try and stay alive in this miserable life on this miserable planet (weird that miserable music has that effect).

Keeping it London, we’re on to Skepta who is…well, he’s Skepta. What do you think it’s like to watch Skepta? What you’re imagining. It’s just like that. Nuff said.

Discounting drunken journalists throwing themselves about to punk, the end of the festival looms. And what better closing act, for thousands and thousands of utterly walloped people, than !!!. What a performance – a beautiful, blippy, funky, brain cell decimating joyful mess. A band worth seeing time and time again, but for now that is quite enough.

Time for a good long lie down, I think. Maybe for about a year.

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