Festival Review: Primavera Sound 2011

Miz DeShannon enjoys a weekend of music, sunshine, San Miguel, and clean toilets at Barcelona's massive Primavera Sound festival.

Jayne Robinson

Date published: 2nd Jun 2011

When: 25-29 May 2011

Where: Parc De Forum, Barcelona

Reviewed by: Miz DeShannon

Parc De Forum is a concrete metropolis at the coporate end of Barcelona, with bold, brash, brutal architecture, men in suits, fancy hotels and lots of taxis to mow you down at silly junctions that are all backwards.

Then at this time of year, it's Primavera Sound time, and the place is taken over with rock stars, trendy tattooed locals, British kids getting drunk and sunburnt, and odd guys selling beers out of carrier bags.

The site is quite a way from the historical centre of the city (€12 in a cab), and you can spend the whole day taking it easy and wandering down the beaches through the marinas. When you reach the area itself, local parks have stages for smaller acts like Me & The Bees and Sonny & The Sunsets, or the festival bus pootles about with the likes of Male Bonding amongst others performing.

It's a space really well suited to hosting a festival, being made up of open space for food stalls (all really decent too, no junk food here), record stalls and merch tents, as well as amphitheatre type areas perfect for bigger stages, with a beautiful backdrop of the sea and the sunset. Quite romantic really, if you're that way inclined.

With main stages backed by sponsors San Miguel, Ray-Ban and Llevant, as well as collaboration stages with Pitchfork and ATP, lots of smaller local acts were represented on the Jagermeister Vice stage, Salon MySpace Smint and Adidas Originals tent. Although absolutely everything is covered in San Miguel logos, even down to the crowd barriers, it's so much a part of the festival and not as intrusive as some sponsorship exercises elsewhere. It did become a little annoying though that there was absolutely nothing to drink other than San Miguel. No cider, no bitter, no Guinness, and a basic attempt at spirits provision (whiskey, vodka, brandy, all cheap) - even though staff did do that typical European 'it's really a double' free-pouring thing.

Arriving on Thursday, having annoyingly missed the opening party with Echo & The Bunnymen and Caribou, Skiddle’s Primavera panned out like this;

Thursday 26 May

Main Arena:

19:00 Moon Duo (Ray-Ban stage)
With twee dancy synth sounds from the girl and heavy fuzzy guitar from the boy, they're a perfect contrasting combination of upbeat electro and rythmic absorbing sounds.

20:15 Das Racist (Ray-Ban Unplugged tent)
I hate making 'sounds like' comparisons, but the best way to describe this full on, noisy, party hip-hop was like NWA meets GLC; brilliant stage presence, crowd interaction and lyrics, real old-school vibes.

21:15 Big Boi (Ray-Ban stage)
Only heard the Outkast fella en route elsewhere, and don't know anyone who went to watch, but it sounded pretty immense, and quite out of sorts musically considering the rest of the indie/rock/psych bill.

20:30 Seefeel (ATP stage)
Laid back heavy synth sounds, similar to that slow dance music made popular by the likes of Portishead and Tricky but with some rockiness thrown in, sounded great.

21:45 Oneohtrix Point Never (ATP stage)
Went to see these on a recommendation, and despite numerous accolades their digital trance vibes just sent me to sleep. Literally. There's trancey, and there's utterly drab.

22:30 Blank Dogs (Ray-Ban Unplugged tent)
As with a lot of things at Primavera, you discover bands whilst running to something that you already know. Didn't have time to see much of these but sounded like some great, dark, post-punk.

23:00 Grinderman (San Miguel stage)
Nick Cave and gang being as growly, grizzly and sexy as ever, there's not a lot else to say, it's rock n roll baby.

23:00 The Walkmen (Pitchfork stage)
What a finish to the first night. Despite thinking they're a bit chavvy and laddish, they surprisingly blew me away live, so much energy, especially from the singer. It'd have been nice for them to drop a note somewhere, but they seemed to have perfected the 'perfect but not stiff' way of performing.

Missed: The Flaming Lips, their magical light show and giant coloured balloons for the crowd.

Friday 27 May

Parc Central Del Poblenou:

14:30 The Fresh & Onlys
Friends of The Black Angels and therefore Austin Psych Fest favourites, more of that surge of guitar music coming out of west coast America at the moment full of old fashioned rock n roll tendencies.

15:15 Ducktails
Pretty similar to the above, but a little lighter, more droney, nice vocals, pretty melodies and less grinding guitar.

Main Arena:

17:00 Ainara LeGardon (Ray-Ban stage)
This was very much like watching PJ Harvey of ten years ago; three-piece, female lead, enjoyable rock music, great guitar sounds and energetic performance, but not groundbreaking - and realisation of that similarity made me stop watching.

18:00 Avi Buffalo (San Miguel stage)
These guys were really fun to watch, the pacey beats of bands like Surfer Blood, but with more substance in the writing and vocals that reminded me of Band of Horses. Some of their new material was definitely a grown-up development on older stuff.

19:15 Tennis (ATP stage)
More of that squeaky-clean girly low-fi pop, with a guitarist who spent the whole set watching his feet and a singer who skipped around like Bambi, looking like a young Barbara Streisand. Much better than Best Coast, there's more in the music, and not half as monotonous live.

20:30 Wolf People (ATP stage)
Absolutely definitely one of my bands of the Festival. Such a new band to be hitting a big stage like this, and beautiful timing, just after sunset. Classic rock guitar, jazz drumming, not-too-heavy bass, and beautiful poetic folk lyrics, unpredicatble timings but not leaning too far to the experimental side. Watching the crowd grow as they got further into their set was great.

21:15 The National (Llevant stage)
Never really been a fan of these guys, it's all a bit too Coldplay for me, but this was an epic performance. And I don't like using that word either. The music is very middle-of-the-road, no particular features that stand out, but the songs are good, consistent, and they seemed to attract most of the day’s crowd.

23:15 Low (ATP stage)
Good choice of name for this band, typifies them and their very subdued, bassy sound. Full of heavy drumming, beautiful folky vocal harmonies with the odd wailing guitar – trance-folk, for want of a better description.

00:30 Explosions In The Sky (Ray-Ban stage)
Didn't stick around for much of these, too much hype, and a lazy attempt at doing something proggy and monumental sounding, but not having the balls to go there properly.

00:30 Ford & Lopatin (Pitchfork stage)
Producer led experimental digi-bop from two guys and two laptops. They seemed pretty good for what it was, but it was totally different to their recent release, not as substantial and didn't sound as 80s analogue.

01:45 Pulp (San Miguel stage)
Everyone knows what these guys sound like, and Jarvis was totally on form with his freaky dancing and monotone rantings stirring up the crowd. Starting with 'Do You Remember The First Time?' the air was filled with Spaniards trying to recall the words in broken English, but loving every minute of the near two hour set.

Missed: Battles, who were apparently hugely disappointing anyway.

Saturday 28 May

Found some time to walk around the festival stalls and take in the mini Screenadelica exhibition. Started in Liverpool Sound City, it's a collection of screen printed posters, for the likes of Les Savy Fav, Warpaint, Mogwai and any other act who've agreed to be 'done' by UK artists.

The Mini-Musica area was also pretty cool, even though I was a little old to stick around. A special area for toddlers and kids, with fake grass and squishy things to sit on, you had to be under-age to be in there and see bands like Me & The Bees, Mujeres and Za! All of whom had slots on grown-ups’ stages too.

17:30 Tallest Man On Earth (San Miguel stage)
Mellifluous vocals and folky guitar music, not of the yawnsome kind but still pretty standard.

18:10 Davila 666 (Ray-Ban Unplugged tent)
This was a surprising discovery of dirgy, grungy guitar rock n roll, upbeat and fast, definitely one to follow up.

18:45 Papas Fritas (Ray-Ban stage)
There seemed to be a bit of a lull in programming, and I'm guessing most had traipsed to the other side of the site for Yuck. This was an odd one to have on one of the main stages, disjointed and under-rehearsed. I can't even put my finger on what genre it was other than guitar music, as they were different every time they swapped vocals.

19:15 tUnE-yArDs (Pitchfork stage)
Nice and unusual sounds from Merrill et al, light guitar music interspersed with electro, folk, and African-style drumming and tempos, could be favoured by fans of MIA.

19:40 Fleet Foxes (San Miguel stage)
Another middle-of-the-road type band, unoffensive, with no particular stand out sounds but beautiful, well-executed music, and another good programming choice for watching the sun set from a hill.

22:30 PJ Harvey (San Miguel stage)
Somewhat under-whelming performance from PJ, I know the new album is a step away from her usual musical tendencies, but the whole set seemed rushed, much too quiet, totally lacking in any interaction and as though she couldn't wait for it to finish.

00:15 Swans (Ray-Ban stage)
These were one of the most atmospheric bands of the festival, constant guitar and heavy bass, two drummers swapping between every percussion instrument you can imagine, broken up with tubular bells and clarinet, never-ending and totally absorbing prog songs.

00:45 The John Spencer Blues Explosion (ATP stage)
Another great live band, and definitely an explosion; full-on punk blues and shouty vocals throughout. Just great.

02:15 Pissed Jeans (ATP stage)
Noisy stuff again, from a young 4-piece, quite metal-esque basslines, fast drumming and more shouty vocals. They did seem a bit pissed, typically punk.

03:15 The Black Angels (Pitchfork stage)
Psych-rock with wailing guitars, incoherent vocals, Hammond organ, tambourine shaking and all the other typical trancey elements of such an act. Barely an hour long set though, which was a touch disappointing.

Missed: Cuzo & Damo Suzuki – because of a surprisingly early tea-time set.

The only unimpressive part of Primavera, was the fact that a ticketing system had been put in place for the Rockdelux Auditori (Sufjan Stevens, John Cale, Mercury Rev doing 'Deserter's Songs'). Totally understandable for the festival's only indoor performance space, but a little more obvious notice would have been nice, especially for people travelling days ahead of the opening, not knowing this system existed.

Overall though, such large-scale events in Europe are just so much better than in the UK. Okay, I know there's sun in the equation in this case, but there's cleanliness, organisation, good food and good programming too – all pretty much essential for a spot on festival experience. When places abroad have clean facilities right through ‘til 7am in the morning, why Glastonbury consistently fails to sort out their shitty (in all ways) toilet facilities is nothing short of baffling!