Review of Primavera Sound Festival 2011 which takes place at Poble Espanyol/Parc Del Forum, Barcelona on 25-29 May 2011

With more festivals to choose from than Tesco Mobile stores popping up in the centre of town, the sifting process of deciding where to go can be a bit like picking needles out of a haystack. Bearing this in mind, the idyllic setting of Barcelona played its part in selling Primavera as one of this summer's most viable options, as did an altogether stellar line-up that meant it nigh on impossible to have any spare time between the hours of 6pm and 6am the following morning.

Primavera Sound Festival

Not that Primavera is the all-singing, all-dancing benchmark for every European festival either. If the bill was pretty much flawless, the organisation most definitely wasn't! Aside from spending all of Wednesday evening queuing for passes and therefore missing the opening night's performances by Echo & The Bunnymen and Caribou, the failure of the so-called revolutionary portal card system meant most of the bars around the Parc Del Forum remained closed for the entire duration of the first night, culminating in refunds being issued for the rest of the weekend.

Whether or not the system will be re-thought and implemented differently next year or scrapped altogether remains to be seen, but even that and an unfortunate pick pocketing incident on the Metro during Saturday's mid-afternoon rush couldn't dampen the spirits of yours truly.


Having such a smorgasbord of talent to wade through over the next three days, our first stop takes to the Pitchfork Stage for EMERALDS. Sadly the Cleveland trio's ambient soundscapes become lost in the mid-afternoon sun, and while 'Does It Look Like I'm Here' was undoubtedly one of 2010's finest records, their live set acts as little more than background music.

California's MOON DUO however are a different proposition entirely. Although essentially a Wooden Shjips side project, their mesmerising drones warm the crowd up nicely for the arrival of Suicide later, while Ripley Johnson's vocals on 'Motorcycle I Love You' and 'Escape' carry a distinct air of Johnny Cash about them, albeit a West Coast frazzled variation.

Moving through to the Llevant Stage for the imminent PUBLIC IMAGE LTD via SEEFEEL's dub heavy set across the Forum, we find John Lydon and his current band of accomplices in fine form. Opening with the vitriolic snarl of 'Public Image', their ninety-minute set is packed with material from all eras, 'Albatross' and 'Death Disco' flying the flag vehemently for 'Metal Box' while 'This Is Not A Love Song' makes a similar claim for PiL's later works. When Lydon announces that his band are the only artists here with soul and not for the money, there's a few coughs and splutters around, his stint as the public face of Country Life seemingly erased from memory. Nevertheless, all is forgiven as tonight's exceptional performance proves why he's undoubtedly one of the greatest frontmen of all time.

THE WALKMEN also make a claim for most underrated band of the past decade. Not that the thousands of hearty souls crammed into the Pitchfork stage care a jot. Hamilton Leithauser cuts a suave and sophisticated figure out front, delivering the likes of 'In The New Year' and 'What's In It For Me' with impeccable poise and grace. Marginally distracted mid-set by the racket emanating from the San Miguel stage over yonder courtesy of Grinderman, The Walkmen launch into 'The Rat' and parity is soon restored. Its during 'Juveniles' though that their true greatness shines through, and once again poses that age old question: Why are these not huge?

Having gotten through more bass players this past year than Imogen Thomas has Premiership footballers, it feels like this could be something of a make or break show for INTERPOL. Last year's eponymous fourth album wasn't particularly well received, and recent rumours have suggested they may not be around much longer. Thankfully, the fire seems to have returned to their bellies and some. Paul Banks, a former student at the University of Madrid, interacts with the crowd in Spanish throughout while Daniel Kessler's fancy footwork makes him the focal point these days rather than standing in the shadow of Carlos Dengler as of yore. 'Turn On The Bright Lights' material is delivered with gusto, 'Say Hello To The Angels' notably riveting, while even newer songs like 'Success' and 'Lights' are fast becoming live favourites, even for the die hards. By the time 'Not Even Jail' brings their set to a close, its clear Interpol are far from sighing their last breaths just yet.

With the first day set to draw to a close, SALEM's energetic electronica feels weird, bordering on the confusing. FACTORY FLOOR however act as a reliable antidote. Fast becoming an early morning staple of such events as this, their 3:45am slot may be awash with wreckheads who've sampled far too many illegal local delicacies, but the rhythmic bliss of 'Wooden Box' and 'Real Love' proves eerily salient. Niki Colk even manages a smile at the end, while numerous sweaty, exhausted bodies cry for more. A fitting end to a near perfect day.


Although never held in the same high esteem as fellow UK post-punk acts like Wire or Gang Of Four, THE MONOCHROME SET's awkward take on the genre proves a more than worthy introduction to the second day's proceedings. However, we're soon enticed to the stage next door where MALE BONDING are about to launch into their no holds barred take on early 1990s thrash punk. Now a four-piece, the likes of 'Year's Not Long' and 'Pumpkin' serve as timely early evening wake up calls while subtly reminding us why Sub Pop invested so much time and money into the East London outfit.

JAMES BLAKE on the other hand is brain numbingly dull, so much that we take solace at the bar for the duration of his disappointingly average set. Over on the Llevant Stage, Matt Berninger and co. are about to make their entrance in what could turn out to be a pivotal moment for THE NATIONAL. Certainly ever since 'High Violet' landed almost a year ago their star has risen dramatically, and tonight's excellent fan-friendly set sends out an abundantly clear message why. An opening salvo of 'Start A War', 'Anyone's Ghost', 'Mistaken For Strangers' and 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' sets out their stall from the off, and anthemic renditions of 'Abel', 'Mr November' and 'Apartment Story' merely illustrate further why globally commercial success is theirs for the taking. Simply phenomenal.

Unfortunately BELLE AND SEBASTIAN never really get into their stride. A nervous opening isn't helped by possibly the worst sound we encounter throughout the whole weekend, and when they play what sounds like the intro to 'Rockin' All Over The World', several members of the audience start to sing the Status Quo classic en masse, which ultimately ends up being more entertaining than anything happening on stage.

We briefly catch a glimpse of EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY's diligent post-rock marathon, which exquisite as it is, struggles to hold a candle to the event about to take place on the San Miguel Stage. Its exactly nine years since PULP's last show, at this very festival in fact, yet from the moment Jarvis Cocker and his re-united line-up of Russell Senior, Steve Mackey, Candida Doyle, Nick Banks and Mark Webber launch into 'Do You Remember The First Time?' it barely feels like two minutes since we last heard from them. Still pencil thin, straggly of hair and immaculately dressed - the only difference between now and then is the ATP-style beard - Cocker is the ultimate showman from start to finish. We have a marriage proposal during 'F.E.E.LI.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.', a dedication to the protesters in Catalonia Square earlier that day which precedes 'Common People', and numerous references to the past which serve as introductions to some of this band's greatest moments. 'Babies' still resonates with hormonal anxiety like its 1992, 'I Spy' offering a similar gateway to pervert's paradise. 'This Is Hardcore' meanwhile is the most celebratory ode to a breakdown ever written, while the encore of 'Razzmatazz' brought memories of those early 90s Saturday nights at Sheffield's Leadmill flooding back. Quite simply, this will go down as one of the most astonishing comebacks in recent years. Surely a full UK arena tour beckons?

With the ATP Stage ridiculously busy for BATTLES and the organisers deciding to change SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO's stage times at Llevant without telling anyone, we're left with little option but to join the pillheads throwing some mean shapes to CARTE BLANCHE before BARRY HOGAN's quite wonderful actually DJ set woos us on to the end of the night.


And now, the end is near. Or at least that's what it says in the programme. Nevertheless, with another fun-packed twelve hours in store, what could possibly go wrong? Well, thanks to some thieving pickpocket on the Metro earlier, yours truly finds himself 200-plus Euros down, not the ideal start to the final day's entertainment. Thankfully, there's a modicum of solace in the shape of Californian trio THE SOFT MOON. Combining early eighties influences with a slight penchant for APTBS style sonic annihilation, their tormented death disco is a welcome introduction to Saturday's proceedings, even if their darkly orchestrated soundscapes don't quite warrant this much sunlight.

Over on the ATP Stage, YUCK attract a sizeable crowd although the muddy sound doesn't help their distinguished racket in the audibility stakes. Lo-fi quintet ODIO PARIS fare much better on the tiny MySpace Smint Stage, sounding like a happier-go-lucky composite of The Breeders, Sleater Kinney and The Delgados respectively.

With time ticking on and the Champions League Final about to begin, the only place to watch such an event is alongside 30,000 passionate Catalans in the Arc De Triomphe square, so our decision to leave the Forum for a couple of hours means we miss the likes of WARPAINT, tUnE-yArDs and GANG GANG DANCE, all of whom we're later informed put in blinding shifts. Still, with the result thankfully favouring the Spaniards, Contact feels privileged to have been involved in what will undoubtedly turn into the biggest party in mainland Europe this weekend.

Our return to the site coincides with DEAN WAREHAM and band taking to the stage, and their delightful nostalgia trip through GALAXIE 500's brief but altogether flawless back catalogue brings several grown me to tears. 'Blue Thunder' is wondrous despite its mournful exterior, 'Strange' the only song in living memory that mentions trips to the local drugstore and eating Twinkies in the same sentence, while 'Plastic Bird' and 'Tugboat' both illustrate what an underrated band the Massachusetts trio were. '4th Of July' is simply mesmerising in its delivery, while even the obligatory covers of Jonathan Richman's 'Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste' and New Order's 'Ceremony' add a sense of intrinsic knowingness to their set. If only messrs Krukowski and Yang would see fit to work with their old sparring partner again. We can but dream.

Industrial post-punk ensemble SWANS may have been around in one guise or another for the best part of thirty years now but Michael Gira and co. still exude an intensity many of their peers both past and present would fail to comprehend. Veering between percussive noise and heavily arranged monologues, its difficult to define their pulverising sound let alone categorise them into any one particular genre. JAMES BLAKE's DJ set meanwhile is a tad more exciting than his live show the previous night, and the ideal precursor to what follows. Hip hop's newest bad boys (and girl) on the block ODD FUTURE are here to stir up Primavera into a frenzy of angst and violence, and from the outset Tyler, Syd The Kyd, Earl Sweatshirt and the rest of their ungainly ensemble do just that. While the bass is turned up way too high making many of the rhymes inaudible, there's an undeniable energy they transmit to the audience which breeds excitement and fury in equal measures. By the end, their motto 'Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School!' has become the people's anthem of the whole festival, while hundreds swarm the stage causing the security guards to flee in panic. Is that Klaxons Jamie Reynolds I spot at the front joining in the revelry? Sure is, and despite all the accusations of homophobia, misogyny and advocating rape among their lyrics, its hard to call Odd Future anything more than a partly contrived yet exceptionally entertaining publicity stunt. We genuinely feel sorry for the next band onstage, as nothing on earth could possibly follow that.

Not to be outdone, Texan quintet THE BLACK ANGELS make a damned good job of following the impossible, serving up a double whammy of 'You On The Run' and 'Science Killer' as their introductory salvo. Indeed, there's a pulsating groove about their psychedelic shoegaze, particularly when they choose to play material from 2009's 'Directions To See A Ghost'. 'You in Color' and 'Bad Vibrations' digress slightly into rhythmic country, the latter's punk rock breakdown offering an unnerving twist. Sure, there are moments when they go all Kings Of Leon on us, 'Telephone' for one, but at their sonically ambivalent finest they're a force to be reckoned with, and the perfect way to sign off from Primavera for another year.

Despite the teething problems and organisational chaos, Primavera Sound is still one of the most enjoyable festivals this scribe has ever been to. Bring on May 2012!

Dom Gourlay

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