Primavera Sound Festival 2016: In Its Prime
The photovoltaic cell, a sloping sculpture visible all year round from Barcelona’s man-made beach creation, pinpoints Parc del Forum, the concrete home of Primavera Sound Festival. There’s no camping, no glimmers, no gimmicks. Turn off your mind, flip a 180º on your sleep cycle and let the only worry of your days be choosing who to see from one the most fruitful line-ups of 2016.
After a month of Prima’s preparation across the city in daily events, Thursday was the first day in full festival swing. Electronic songwriter Jessy Lanza showed her skills on the decks with a seriously funked up sun-soaked afternoon set in the Bowers & Wilkins tent. B&W was a mental trek away from most of the festival, but with speakers coming from all angles, the stage was a humble abode to the best audio layout of the entire venue.
The well-anticipated BEAK>, made up of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Billy Fuller (Robert Plant), took to and tore up Primavera’s own stage, their darker, slightly bitter sound merging with Barrow’s own Bristolian-infused warming character. Later into the night, in the same grassy spot, my mind was metaphorically and unexpectedly blown by experimental noises of Suuns. Violent, raw, unapologizing and totally captivating, Suuns melted all transient limits of their 2013 album Images du Futur and whizzed music with cleverly thought-out light and visual effects and made nothing short of art to their audience’s every sense. Sam Shepherd, otherwise known as Floating Points, drifted through a jazz-drenched set that similarly combined light and an ageless sound, grounding a handful of us into the grass in a serene state of mind.
Thursday wound up on the Heineken stage with LCD Soundsystem, playing a set of songs that will be cool for as long as the colour black is. James Murphy is, as always, effortless and unruffled without saying a lot except his thanks. The only thing that could have been more of the definitive mic-drop than the band’s selection of “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends” as an encore, would be an actual mic drop.
Friday’s line-up was the one that right until 9pm that night, people scoured the internet for and queued outside, just in case of the slightly unlikely chance anyone decided at the last minute that they didn’t want to go after all. From the H&M stage Beirut played a smooth set of wind and Balkan percussion in a sweet harmony to Zach Condon’s distinct vocals, personal favourites from their 2007 album The Flying Club Cup seizing the hour. Between the magic here and the setup of future magic on the Heineken stage directly opposite, this was probably the closest Primavera will ever be to the feeling of giddiness you get on Christmas Eve.
I’d be lying if there wasn’t one band every man and his dog wanted to see on Friday. Though perhaps reluctant to be accepted as the headlining act of a festival, Radiohead have inevitably through incidental popularity become just that. Not to mention that, where the audience might sometimes divert their attention from the performance, the entire crowd maintained silence throughout, right from the off, opening with ‘Burn The Witch’ and moving into ‘Daydreaming’ – where a portion of the crowd turns and hisses at the sound of an iMessage jingle. At times, Thom Yorke sings with such unrefined grace that the body reacts to the sound of his relief. In the composed simplicity of ‘Nude’, his vocal range reaches its height at the line “you’ll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking,” leaving the audience with goosebumps and without breath. Where other artists have used the screens bordering the stage to increase the visibility for the audience, the set is shown through obscure angles and filters, flitting through the band with cinematic sharpness. Considering all the ways Radiohead might have curated their set, spanning from the sombre, sumptuous and sometimes bleak album A Moon-Shaped Pool recently released there was something ‘final’ about their performance. Some festivalgoers even gambled that this might be the final chapter altogether, somewhat enforced with choosing ‘Creep’ as the last song, “I don’t belong here” left to hang in the air.
Friday slowly unravelled into Saturday with Beach House showing a darker side than the floaty-hippie sounds we know and love them for on their studio albums. Victoria Legrand moved something witch-like under a synthetic set of stars, her voice occasionally but beautifully breaking. At the darkest point of night, Evian Christ thrashed out one of the most twisted fusions of grime, R&B, hip-hop and tech beats from the Pitchfork stage to a brilliant crowd of friendly faces in snapbacks and golden shorts. Daybreak began to the last of implausibly happy jingles from DJ Koze, teasing the last of Primavera’s crowd with a conclusive sound of summer.
Closing Primavera Sound comes along Brian Wilson with a ten-piece band, making perfectly apt renditions of Beach Boys classics. Through the cheer and figurative sunshine songs like ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ and ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ make, there is something a little sad in Wilson’s performance on a personal level, that coincidentally matches the bittersweet tones of the festival’s finale soon upon us. Marching to the same stage later in the evening with band in tow, the ethereal PJ Harvey is nothing short of spellbinding. A true lady who has been making music longer than I’ve been alive, she delved into a playful, darker performance, bringing new life to old classics, mastered by slight theatrics and clear chemistry between the band and herself. Moving from the sinister tinge of uncertainty in ‘Let England Shake, Harvey becomes pure power in ‘To Bring You My Love’ – menacing, unchartered, unavoidable. Into the alien, Sigur Ros huddle closely together and open with debut Óveður, revealing themselves as evolving and progressing, revamping signature songs and delivering them with some incredibly impressive light work on stage. The neighbouring screens become heat-sensitive patterns, spouting geometric lines of Birgsson singing a strong falsetto. The only nag comes not from the trio’s deliverance, but the constant noise of the audience.
German techno project Moderat moved us into the early hours of the morning. Having seen Moderat at Pitch festival (Amsterdam) in 2014, the group has transitioned from performing for a moderate-sized crowd in a small old industrial factory to a major act and highlight for many people at Primavera. Their performance mirrors the ambitions of the album III (2016), and is geared more to an audience who really digs the album. Back in Middle Earth on the Bowers & Wilkins stage, we found Dorisburg exploring old and new sounds of tangy minimal techno in a live set to a smaller but more interactive crowd. All finished in an expenditure with the growling force of Ty Segall and The Muggers, who’ve gone through the growing pains of angry drag in the past and into restless dynamics that ate up the last of our energy. Segall’s sign off made a physical ending to the Primavera Sound adventure and sent us into a two-day recovery from the previous three days. Until next year, Prima.