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FESTIVALS 2011: PRIMAVERA SOUND DAY 4
:: P J Harvey :: Mogwai :: Damo Suzuki :: Yuck :: Warpaint :: Perfume Genius :: Odd Future :: ,tUnE-yArDs ::
28 May 2011 / Forum Park / Barcelona
By David Edwards

SATURDAY

Saturday arrives late. 2.15pm in fact, as the light from the window cracks my eyelids and the sound from the cavorting girls on the rooftop pool seeps slowly into my slumbering ears. I’m exhausted, more so than at normal festivals. Maybe it’s the concrete…maybe there is some shock-absorbing goodness to be taken from the English summer mud. But there’s no slouching, I’m straight in the shower and dressed before my friend Martin is even up. Though my body cries for rest and breakfast (this ends up being a chicken kebab from a stall…for breakfast. I’m living the dream here people) there is an interlude with Perfume Genius at the Auditori that I’m desperate not to miss. And despite my percussive brain and gentle shivers, It’s a very wise choice. What a strange, ethereal creature Mike Hadreas is. Shy as a frightened rabbit, uncomfortable on stage, clunky with his audience banter. But when he sings, he pours everything out into fragile, translucent sheets of beauty, aching with poignant sorrow and exposed nerve endings. It’s a simple setup: just him on piano and live cohort Alan Wyffles sat across from him at another piano. At times, Mike picks up a guitar. At times, Alan comes and sits next to him and they play together, in unison, perfectly. And it is absolutely spellbinding: we sit choked and hushed in awe and sorrow. There are tears on my cheek, I feel them. Debut record Learning suffers at times from being doused in too much reverb and lo-fi grit. Stripped bare and almost ashamedly naked, the songs become more beautiful and touching when played with the simplest of backing and the biggest of hearts, as each of the audience feels a couple of their own heart sinews cracking and whipping back and forth in the presence of such magnificent sorrow.

A bit like after Sufjan, you don’t really know what to do after that level of intimacy. The doors to the Parc del Forum have just opened and people are aimlessly milling about. Fortunately, I had the luck to stumble upon Cath Aubergine at Perfume Genius and she suggests heading down to see Damo Suzuki, backed by local band Cuzo at the Pitchfork Stage. She tells me the story (I ought to read up on my Krautrock history) of how he was discovered busking in Munich during his gap year by Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit from Can and invited to sing with them, eventually appearing on four albums. Since then, he has become a wandering minstrel – picking up local bands to play with wherever he lays his hat. Krautrock, Japan and Improvisation: this could either go very wrong or very right...



Thankfully and gloriously, it’s the latter. Suzuki holds court in the centre of the stage and screams, moans and gloats into the microphone, hair streaming in the mid afternoon wind coming from the sea. Behind him, Cuzo are fantastic, churning out epic, psychedelic soundscapes that work perfectly. There’s even a guy charged with solo Kaoss Pad: it’s brilliant. I find myself lost in the rhythms and the sheer hypnotism of the music – it’s as close to a Fillmore 60s freak-out as I’ve ever got and I love every single minute. At the end of the show, Damo takes a big bow. He deserves it. Insane, but still one of the best things I’ve seen all weekend.

I spend a pleasant 30 minutes catching up with my friend Matt and listening to the summery, jangly indie-pop of Yuck who are surprisingly good: pleasant harmonies and a breeze of warmth and sweetness that befits the time of day perfectly. I wouldn’t say they were anything extraordinary; but in this slot, backed by the sea and the sun as we sit on the top of the hill, it’s just what was needed. My next meeting is with Warpaint (necessitating a long hike back to the Levant Stage) but in contrast to Yuck, they’re on at the wrong stage at the wrong time. They’re dwarfed by the massive surroundings and the acoustics are all over the place, meaning that the typical bomb blast of their live set is dissipated rather anti-climactically. They play well and give it all they’ve got (and they still have two or three excellent songs in their set) but it’s a worrying portent for the outdoor stages they’re going to find themselves playing over the summer. There is time, but I’d be thinking of locating them in the dark of a tent if you get the chance: it just doesn’t translate outdoors.

Contrastingly, tUnE-yArDs (the Studly Caps are intentional states Wikipedia. Thanks, I’d never have guessed) is fantastic back on the Pitchfork Stage (my legs were screaming at me for leading them astray at this point….). Merril Garbus is a female contemporary of Tom Waits in her obscure, chaotic but beautiful considered deconstruction of song form and structure. She splices samples and odd instrumentation into fascinating ways, but her Imelda May charisma and prettiness of vocal stops the whole project from turning into impenetrable shale. It is pop music, pretty and immediate, yet warped and twisted beyond recognition. Thoroughly fascinating, her music deserves (and will hopefully get) rightful attention in the mainstream soon.

For the second time in a year, my trip to Barcelona coincides with a major football final. Last year, I danced and sang in the street with thousands of ecstatic Spaniards after Andres Iniesta struck to give Spain the World Cup. And this year, FC Barcelona faced Manchester United in the final of the Champions League. I’d been wrestling with where I was going to watch the game but as soon as I heard that the game was being shown in the Levant Arena, my mind was made up. And so, giant beer in hand, I settled down to watch one of the most stunning team displays of all time. Imperious, elegant and breathtakingly fluid; Barcelona took United apart in a manner that was as beautiful as it was humbling. It’s easy to praise Messi alone (and no-one should be doubting his place at the very top of football’s highest tower) but the sheer art and wonder was present in the team dynamics and effortless class of the passing, moving and energy of Barcelona. The runs and bustling enthusiasm of Alves. The laser-guided passes drilled at a blur between Xavi and Iniesta. The stunning finish of Villa. And Messi. Who words cannot adequately describe, especially for a music writer making a diversion into football writing. So all I’ll say is this: in a sport that has gradually chewed, spat and vomited my love up over the past 10 years, he makes me believe. He makes me love the game, makes me scream like an excited child at a fairground. He makes me happy and remember why I fell for football in the first place. And that takes him beyond sport, from his influence in the slums of Buenos Aires, to the delirious Catalans, to some sunburnt and half-drunk Geordie as the sun falls behind the horizon and (in a wonderful gesture) Eric Abidal, following recent surgery for cancer, lifts the European Cup. I’m sorry to buy in to what so many term the “Barcelona Myth” but in an age of gangbangs, sick behaviour, arrogance, aggression and role models I wouldn’t choose for a dog, they show the beautiful face of the beautiful game. Viva Catalunya!



Back to the day job and back to the festival. Night has fallen as I make my way to the San Miguel Stage to see PJ Harvey, who was one of the main reasons I chose not to head to the Arc de Triomphe or La Rambla but to stay on the festival site. Unfortunately, it ends up being a touch anti-climactic. Not because of Polly Jean, of course. She’s dressed up like a Victorian angel and still sings like one who fell to earth in a morass of smeared mascara and whiskey. And not because of the quality of her songs, including her superb ‘Let England Shake’ which constitutes a good deal of the set alongside a fierce ‘Down By The Water’ and a general smattering of tracks from across her career. The problem is, she’s caught up in a bit of a perfect storm. The football fans are either euphoric or downcast, and need something to continue the adrenaline or raise their spirits. The music fans are somewhat spoilt by having the sheer party of Flaming Lips and Pulp, and therefore intense, literal songs about the human tragedy of World War I fall a little on deaf ears. And the crowd is too spaced out, meaning that an atmosphere never gathers. It’s almost a bit eerie…as if the crowd is muted and scared to get too excited. Ever the professional, Polly continues to the end with gusto, including an exceptional ‘Big Exit’. But overall, it’s good rather than great; admittedly in very much a “it’s not you, it’s me” manner.

I make it to Mogwai for three songs, but am somewhat surprised at how muted they are. They choose to play more around their atmospherics rather than their “thrown-down-a-hill-in-a-dustbin” aural terrorism. Which is nice, but not being the most knowledgeable person when it comes to Mogwai, I find myself enjoying it, but not being particularly gripped by it. So I again make the trek back to the Pitchfork Stage and wait with Dom Gourlay (Drownedinsound, Contactmusic, etc) for Odd Future. Of whom I don’t expect a great deal, and musically, I’m right to set my expectations low: the sound is awful and the raps struggle to achieve coherence. Nevertheless, the gig itself proves absolutely brilliant.



In the middle of a bunch of random outbursts and increasingly bizarre comments (the highlight being: “Word Up Spain! Big up to the n****r who didn’t steal my shoes) and appalling sound is a fantastic ball and bundle of frazzled, chaotic energy which is quite intoxicating. And so despite any reservations (and there are many with Odd Future), you simply can’t help yourself leaping all over the place. You simply can’t help yourself screaming “KILL PEOPLE, BURN SHIT, FUCK SCHOOL” as the set careers to a close. And you simply can’t help yourself dashing to the front, clambering past the security and (on the second attempt, the first is too embarrassing to think about) pulling yourself onto the stage….oh boy. And so I find myself, at the musical climax of Primavera shaking hands with a topless Tyler, the Creator as he is being chaired off stage, jumping up and down and yelling with the crowd, all the time thinking “Shit, I’m probably going to get beaten up for this. Oh well, might as well have fun” Thankfully, they just let everyone off backstage after I randomly bump into a member of Bearsuit, talking about their last Manchester show that I reviewed. Seriously, this is why festivals are so great. Things like this simply don’t happen in real life. You live at festivals. You just live. It’s wonderful, an elixir of freedom that helps to bathe the bruises of ordinary life. Fuck School indeed: tonight I’m having fun. No burning or killing though. That would just be rude…

Musically, I’m almost spent now. But I summon up the strength to head across AGAIN to the Levant Stage for DJ Shadow, only to be disappointed for the second time in a day after an epic trek. Not because he’s bad but that…well, he’s on for a total of 2 minutes after I arrive. After he was meant to play for another hour. Which could have been a very sad and underwhelming end to the festival, had I not randomly bumped into two drunken girls from Warrington who were looking for an after party. We head in the general direction of the main site, only to be waylaid by a familiar drum groove as we walk past the Ray Ban Stage. And then a familiar bass line as we step into the arena. Then, a familiar voice singing “Down, Down; you bring me down / I hear you knocking down my door and I can’t sleep at night”, as we emerge to see thousands of people dancing underneath the full moon. It’s perfect and wonderful timing and we stay singing, dancing and swaying under the stars until the money runs out, the legs give in and the crowd begins to disperse. I walk home singing Pink Floyd loudly. Out of the clubs and bars, weary but elated Barcelona fans emerge from clubs and bars alike: smiling and singing. It’s a city with something to sing about in so many different ways. Tonight, it was a pleasure to be an honorary citizen.

I spend my final day in Barcelona exploring the streets that I love so much, in doing so forgo the chance to see Mercury Rev at the Poble Espanyol (I did want to go but I’d seen them at the Bridgewater Hall a week earlier and though they were amazing, I felt like winding down. I hear and acknowledge the cries of “Wuss!”). I watch the Barcelona Victory Parade: tickertape blowing through the air as the players celebrated with their twin trophies on display. And then me and Martin get lost in a backstreet music club (tables with vinyl on display in them) talking about the weekend and drinking beer and Caipariha's until the early hours, before finding the most wonderful self-serve falafel shop in the world just as we were bemoaning our hunger. Despite the lack of music, it’s a wonderful end to a wonderful weekend. There is something different about Primavera. The sheer scope, the friendliness, the sense of something genuinely exciting going on around you. And the fact that even if you don’t know the band you randomly stumble into, you almost know instinctively that they’re going to be worth watching. I make vows to myself. I’m going to learn Spanish, I’m going to live in Barcelona. I might fulfil these and I might not. But I can count one thing for certain. Ash clouds, Nuclear Armageddon and whirlwind marriage to Avi Buffalo’s drummer aside; I’ll be back next year. Now, where do I sign up?

Top 5 Gigs of the Weekend

1. Sufjan Stevens
2. Pulp
3. Perfume Genius
4. The National
5. Damo Suzuki and Cuzo

Five Things I noticed from Primavera

1. At many English festivals, when you watch bands you don’t know, you have, roughly a 75% chance that they’ll be shit. And even if they’re good, you often struggle to get much of a live performance going. Whether or not I fully got or actually liked the band, every single performance at Primavera was stunning. In most cases musically, and in the case of Odd Future: the ramshackle nature was made brilliant through the sheer energy. It is the festival for the discerning music connoisseur, and not in a wanky way. They just care about the bands they choose.

2. I’ve never been to a more friendly festival. Even when I was sitting down, trying to catch 5 minutes of peace, someone would always come up and talk to you about a band or where you were from. And people genuinely wanted to share tips on bands or find out who you knew was going to be playing later. No aggro, No lairyness, No rudeness. Just fun people having a fun time.

3. If you’re going to Primavera, make sure you get yourself reasonably fit before you go. Especially if they keep the Levant Stage where it is (and there’s certainly an argument for shifting it or at least staggering the stage times) you end up walking absolutely miles. I was more tired on the Monday than I’ve ever been at any other festival, including Glastonbury 2007 when every step counted as triple because of the clagging mud. In fact, I was more tired than after the Manchester 10k! Serious training needs to be done for next year…



4. Uno Cerveza y Dos Jagermeister Por Favor: “Tis’ a consummation devoutly to be wished”. And it was. Many, Many times…

5. The number of beautiful Spanish girls with unattractive boyfriends at Primavera is quite scandalous. I’m taking up Spanish lessons as soon as is humanly possible….


Odd Future photo by Martin Sharman ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/martsharm/ ) / David with Jaegermeister photo by Cath Aubergine / other photos David's own.


Resources:
Mogwai
Odd Future
Damo Suzuki
Perfume Genius
Another view of the last bits by Cath Aubergine for Incendiary

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