June 12, 2012
Live: Primavera Sound, Barcelona. 31st May – 2nd June
Looking towards Europe to scratch that festival itch is no new phenomenon, and the number (and stature) of events on the continent grows each year. Barcelona’s Primavera Sound is a relative veteran in this respect, now entering its 12th year and arguably in the best shape ever — even expanding to a second event in Porto, Portugal to appease demand.
Primavera has an edge over most of its competitors, situated as it is on the edge of the sapphire-blue Mediterranean, with the equally dramatic backdrop of Barcelona and its surrounding mountains opposite. Its 5/6pm start time each day also allows for a few hours on the beach, or a spot of Gaudi appreciation before the evening’s hedonism begins.
This year’s line-up cements the festival’s international status, with a healthy representation of British acts thrown in for good measure (including all three main headliners — Franz Ferdinand, The Cure and Saint Etienne), as well as Pitchfork returning to stock one of the stages with their eclectic brood.
It is on this stage that many of the weekend’s more attractive acts are housed, from the gauzy alt-rock of The War On Drugs, to SBTRKT’s impressive display of electronic virtuosity and live drumming alongside vocalist Sampha.
The syrupy trap rap of A$AP Rocky is given an energetic overhaul on Thursday night, the New York MC proclaiming that “this is my first time in Spain, I’m high as fuck,” before running through tracks from his LiveLoveA$AP debut. A natty-haired Danny Brown pops out for a cameo verse, as Rocky charges through a lean 45-minute set, asking the DJ to “play some going-home music” before throwing himself into the crowd.
Perennial Spanish favourites Franz Ferdinand, meanwhile, are just finishing up on the main stage, slipping in a tribute to the late Donna Summer with a cover of ‘I Feel Love’, while the late-night revelry continues on the amphitheatre-style Ray Ban stage, the Balearic house of local boy John Talabot filling it out until the small hours.
The Parc del Fòrum site on which the festival is situated is big enough to house seven stage areas, and, as is so regularly the case, the best action takes place away from the biggest of these. Friday sees the appearance of AfroCubism — the collaborative Cuban/Malian project that was supposed to have taken place in the late-nineties before visa trouble brought about the The Buena Vista Social Club album and film instead. Guitarist Eliades Ochoa leads a 13-strong cast through the very natural-sounding fusion of Cuban and West African styles — an ideal addition to Friday’s sunset slot that leaves a sense of frustration that the rest of the festival’s line-up is so rock and dance-heavy.
A quick zig-zagging around between stages brings an interesting mix of performances, from Rufus Wainwright’s whimsical AOR projecting out behind oversized sunglasses, to the pounding noise pop of Sleigh Bells.
Hipster dreamers Beach House (featuring a darkly lit Victoria Legrand looking like Robert Plant in silhouette) prove one of the weekend’s biggest draws, matched only by a mercurial performance from The Cure, putting on a tight, well-oiled three-hour set.
Over on the ATP stage, the dark, snail-paced beats of Liverpudlian producer Forest Swords nicely offsets doom metal band Orthodox’s overly repetitive riffs in the Vice area, the latter dressed head-to-foot in what must have been sweltering black monk outfits and KKK-esque hoods.
Original chillwave producer Ernest Greene brings his Washed Out project, now complete with full live band, to the festival late Saturday night, his brand of seventies MOR-inspired pop sitting nicely alongside the yachts bobbing in the adjoining harbour (some of whose sails have been procured for visual projection purposes). In a moment of indie love-in, the group are joined by Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile for a version of ‘Feel It All Around’. It’s a smooth arrangement, one in stark contrast to the earlier Hype Williams set on the Vice stage in which the esoteric duo performed their whole scattergun set behind an aggressive sheet of strobe lighting.
With the withdrawal of Björk due to an inflamed vocal cord nodule, Saturday night is claimed in her stead by the inimitable, downtempo R&B of The Weeknd. The Toronto singer translates his introspective and paranoid take on the style well with a live band, playing a set that spans all three (free) albums he’s dropped over the last year, his dark tales of drug-laden all-nighters given a touch of stage swagger in performance.
Primavera still represents an idyllic pinnacle for festival goers, and as the sun rises on Sunday morning — hangovers shaken loose and mislaid passports relocated — many will reflect that the 2012 edition has done nothing to dampen that status.