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Music |

Primavera Sound 2013: Festival Review

Monday 03 June 2013
Words Ailis Mara

Before this trip I was a Catalonia virgin – as unknowing to the overwhelming scenery of Barcelona as I was to this festival which sits at its feet each year. Arriving a few days before the start of Primavera it seemed as though thousands of tipsy Blur fans would soon trample the patience of the locals and flood the peaceful streets with unlikable teenagers – contorted out of shape from cheap MDMA and vicious shades of sunburn. It turned out that beyond the festival site, which sat caught between the edge of Barcelona and the ocean; the city remained as eccentric and absorbing as it had before the thousands of travelers took to its streets and public transport.

The festival site stretched out across the coast covering seven stages, a market type area to buy records and band merchandise plus a few smaller spaces where the music took on an acoustic or promotional form. It was a messy string of crowds and noise, connected by huge clumps of people at the various stages- the usual markings of a festival were everywhere to be seen. The sun came and went and rain threatened continuously, but few people seemed bothered, or even aware that there were clouds in the sky. As there was no camping, each night meant riding an ever broadening wave of nationalities to the entrance- hearing excitement in a dozen different languages before finally surfacing from the metro to face a small army of police officers, armed to the teeth with agitation and handguns. The heavy police presence was no doubt a necessity considering the vast amounts of people spilling across such a small part of the city, keeping crowds in line with the automatic fear of a seven foot man scowling through a balaclava.

Primavera has existed since 2001, each year showing preference to alternative and eclectic forms of music across many genres and eras. This was the first year where a real multitude of icons and long standing giants took to the main stage. It was the first time Primavera stood toe-to-toe with any of the big festivals- combining the draw of the recognizable and the uniquely diehard excitement stirred by cult status. ‘Meat Puppets’ and ‘Swans’ clashing with ‘Blur’ and ‘Nick Cave’ is about as contrasting as you’ll get this year at a festival and the leap in genres meant a huge diversity in the audience – keeping a genuinely unique atmosphere to each stage.

The first night saw a highly anticipated performance from ‘Savages’ on the Pitchfork stage, living up to the hype surrounding their debut album and delivering their set to an audience stretched right out to the water’s edge. ‘Death Grips’ gave a typically consistent run down of past and present material; one of crushing sound and chaotic energy- instantly creating the highest possible standard of expectation for the next few nights. Drummer Zach Hill was missing from the line-up, with synthesizer and general button pusher Flatlander making a return to the stage after a long absence. Bruised feet were the side effect of standing too close to the stage as the ratio between stomping, size 12 maniacs and chirpy festival folk became swayed further away from the latter the closer toward the front you ventured.

The second night was one of contrasts, with a lazy and distant performance from ‘Jesus and Mary Chain’ resulting in people leaving prematurely in disappointment. ‘The Knife’ put on the most abstract and original live shows of the festival, filling the stage with dancers and strange, LSD infested visuals- the crazy stage show did, however, overshadow the actual performance and made it seem as though there was no one playing at all. Easily the most breathtakingly overwhelming performances of the whole three nights came from the long standing post-punk band ‘Swans’. Using a towering stack of amplifiers and a slow moving, epic progression throughout the performance, the band, formed in the drug heavy early 80’s New York no wave scene, tweaked anxiety and anticipation through a lengthy set.

The third and final night opened to the atmospheric tones and brilliant contemporary piano compositions of ‘Nils Frahm’. Playing to a packed-out indoor venue at the Rockdelux (far more fitting than an open air stage), Nils ran though truly beautiful songs and grabbed the entire rooms attention- finishing his set to a standing ovation from an astonished crowd. The most surprising disappointment came from ‘Wu-Tang Clan’, it felt like something was needed to boost the set from beyond a routine run down of their hits, including the most popular ‘ODB’ tracks – As enjoyable as it was to hear classics from 36 Chambers, a live band would have made it something truly special. One of the highlights of the final night, and even the whole weekend, was the return of the ‘Meat Puppets’. The group played an absorbing and passionate set filled with tracks from their seminal ‘Meat Puppets II’ album and wrapped up the festival with nostalgia and alternative perfection.

Organised with precision and set against one of the most perfect backdrops in Europe, Primavera 2013 lived up to the brilliant line-up which had been heavily advertised across a wide range of media platforms for months in advance. For anyone planning on attending the festival next year, setting by enough time to properly explore the city of Barcelona is a must as it’s a city filled with creativity and inspiration- reflecting the festival which sits alongside it for three nights each year.