PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Pamies, Primavera Sound
With a line-up as strong as this year’s Primavera Sound festival, it was always going to be a tough call deciding which bands and artists to see. I was already late to the party having missed the opening night, but armed with a clashfinder in my pocket and a cerveza in my hand, I set out across the dusty shores of Barcelona’s Parc Del Fòrum to experience as much as the festival could throw at me.
The open, gravelly expanse of Primavera’s main stage area has an otherworldly feel, flanked on one side by high-rise flats that wouldn’t look out of place in a dystopian episode of ‘Benidorm’. As I approach on Thursday, the rapturous Algiers set is well and truly underway. I wonder if the soft sounds of the act to follow – London trio Daughter – could get lost in such a space but I needn’t have worried. As they take to the Heineken stage just before sunset, Elena Tonra’s lyrics subtly spill over Daughter’s hauntingly beautiful indie-pop. She plays on words with devastating effect and we’re overcome with sheer noise and a wall of emotion, as the thumping ‘No Care’ gets heads nodding in the crowd.
I barely have time to hear out the wonderful ‘Youth’ before rushing back across the site to the Pitchfork stage, in hope of catching synthpop soloist Empress Of. Arriving just in time for the bouncing synths of ‘How Do You Do It’ and the closing ‘Standard’, the Honduras-born and Brooklyn-bred Lorely Rodriguez jumps around the stage in an iridescent haze but is gone far too soon. Dashing off again, I make a failed attempt to get into the packed out stage where Peaches is playing and then go on to get caught up in the crush at the front of LCD Soundsystem later that night. New York’s finest storm through an hour and a half of blissful dance-pop – far from losing their edge, every song is a hit.
It’s easy to spend too much time moving from stage to stage but on Friday I see a show so undeniably captivating that it stops me dead in my tracks. Savages’ ravenous main stage performance kick-starts Primavera into life with a spectacular, riotous, rock and roll display. Donned head to toe in black, leading lady Jehnny Beth is a force to be reckoned with. She stalks around the stage – her fierce, wide-eyed expression forces everyone to pay attention. Backed by pounding drums, driving bass and brilliant guitars, Beth dives straight into the audience and crowd-surfs her way across a sprawling mass of arms, never once letting her mic slip. She instigates an impromptu competition between each side of the audience, exclaiming “You have to hold up my knees!” and surfing first on one-side and then the next. The air is hot and thick and with the sea on the horizon, she towers above the crowd, surrendering herself wholly to the adoring fans beneath her. Savages’ set ends with a storming rendition of ‘Fuckers’ and it seems there’s not a single member of the audience who hasn’t fallen under Beth’s spell.
Watching Savages through to the end unfortunately means missing the soulful pop of NAO back across the site, but by this point, it’s also time to bed in for the evening, with only one eye and ear on the rise and fall of Beirut in the distance, to ensure I get a good place in the crowd for tonight’s headliner, Radiohead. Anticipation hangs in the dusty atmosphere and the opening tracks from ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ play out as expected, to an eerily silent crowd, before the set descends into a near perfect mix, from ‘Pyramid Song’ to ‘Idioteque’ to ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ to ‘Nude’ and ‘There There’. The singalongs come quick and fast and we all lose our shit during ‘Paranoid Android’.
Having just supported Radiohead on their European tour, later that evening electronic artist Holly Herndon takes to the Pitchfork stage. Spacey visuals weave in and out, mirroring the glitching synths and divine, choral vocals perfectly. The crowd swells as more bodies seep in from Radiohead and are treated to a politically charged live visual display; on stage, artist and dancer Colin Self wears a shirt bearing the slogan, ‘Gender Is Over’, and the show is dedicated to the imprisoned WikiLeaks discloser, Chelsea Manning, “who should be here partying with us”. Amen to that.
I dance into the early hours, accompanied by the melodic techno of Kiasmos and DJ Koze, before finally admitting defeat. The next day, I’m soothed by the dreamy indie of Wild Nothing before witnessing the surreal performance art of Norway’s Jenny Hval. She is joined on stage by a beats maker and a tuba playing backing singer, all three are dressed in identical nude leotards and blonde wigs. The show climaxes with Hval imitating a breakdown on stage, inviting the audience to cry with her. It’s not always clear what statement she’s trying to make but the woozy electronics and her stunning vocal are reason enough to stay and watch the show through.
Just around the corner, Meghan Remy, aka U.S. Girls, dominates the adidas Originals stage, singing over cassettes in her 60s glam-pop style, chanelling munitions factory chic in her overalls, snorting what looks like a Vix inhaler and defiantly refusing to smile for most of the set. She challenges the crowd: “Don’t they know how to dance in Spain?” before berating adidas for not giving her any “free shit” in return for performing on their stage. Like Holly Herndon and Jenny Hval, U.S. Girls explore, experiment with and challenge the notion of gender performativity, bringing their own, unique form of protest music and performance to the festival.
Perhaps no woman embodies punk, protest and politics more than Saturday’s headliner, PJ Harvey. A quarter of a century since her music career began, she brings her latest record ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ to life, delivering a rousing headline set, both brutal and intimate. The celestial Julia Holter steps up later on the Ray-Ban stage and lets the music speak for itself, bringing wave upon wave of ethereal melodies to soothe festival goers’ weary bodies and minds. I leave on a high, straight from the site in the early hours of Sunday to catch my plane (note to self: never again) feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and extremely satisfied.
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