From a personal perspective, Primavera turned into a prime example of times when you might enter a festival rattled up for particular artists and perhaps see a few that almost seem dispensable to the acts you’re eager to see. In an interesting twist of fate, these dispensable acts might just be the highlights of the night, or even, some of the most memorable shows you will ever witness. When was the last time you went to a concert and ended up watching a fully grown and talented man fashion his boxers as a g-string and set fire to his leg hair? What about seeing a 69-year-old performing while wearing a strap-on? What script could we have written that would have showcased any of this?
Thursday kicked off in jazzy hip-hop high-tops by BADBADNOTGOOD, and Kate Tempest – who through conveying complex emotions musically was example #1 of unexpectedly entrancing performances. Headlining the evening was Aphex Twin, with a set filled with drawn-out, aloof and prickly transitions that left many describing it for the rest of the weekend as “I’m not too sure what I just watched.” Things were turned down a notch with a theatrical-like show from Tycho, which looking back perfectly resembled vanilla – nice, pleasant, safe. Nothing to get too excited over.
Some sort of effort has kind of happened with Primavera’s stage layout, which results in most alternative/”mainstream” artists performing in the main body of Parc del Forum, with a long, constantly overcrowded bridge connecting this torso to a predominantly electronic music limb. Here, as #2-5 of unforeseen goodness, Fatima Yamaha gave a fittingly lofty and upbeat set, followed by a deliverance of subterranean levels of deep house by German producer/cult figurehead Henrik Schwarz and a truly chilling live set of breakbeat and broken vocal sample wading into moments of old school dubstep from Bicep to an enthusiastic and amicable crowd.
For many, Friday was from the very start not going to live up to the heightened expectations people had set themselves, considering that just the Sunday before, headliner Frank Ocean pulled out his performance as a result, the momentary trend of the festival “Prank Ocean” was born and available on t-shirts, bags and hats.
Regardless of this, the bill promised a rather organic affair of indie and alternative acts, starting with an impromptu show of smoke which somewhere amidst, Mogwai was playing. Mirroring recent albums, things were, once again, a bit vanilla – if anything, they were a perfect beginning for those just arriving and talking to each other while laying on one of the only grassy areas on site.
If anyone were to ask me what Primavera 2017 was like, seeing Mac DeMarco get halfway through “Together” before jumping onto a speaker, giving himself a thong and in the process the cameraman a good old view of his behind whilst carnally lowering himself towards the naked drummer and wincing when he caught himself burning his armpit hair would probably be the first thing that came back to mind. As someone who doesn’t take himself seriously, even as a musician, we, as spectators, were truly given a performance.
The contrast came heavy, then, when on the main stage of the festival, The xx somehow managed to give thousands of people a truly intimate and slightly sombre piece. I was someone who saw the debut album as a lover you never really got over and felt like everything that you experienced afterwards couldn’t compare to. Yet, a compelling interaction between singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim throughout playing, not to mention the iridescent personality of the group conveyed something that I’d never noticed before in the recent albums I’d so strongly stayed away from. In the vocal harmony alone lies a duet that is captivating and yet is almost obsolete in music today. It was clear that the trio had considered a wide range of elements for the set and combined a well-ordered set list with glistening visuals and faintly subdued lighting, which together exhibiting patterns of refracted light, left many in absolute awe. It was, in many ways, so precious, that it seems a shame to have to denote serious issues with sound, as was, in fact, to become a recurring theme throughout the weekend.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, sound troubles continued on the Bowers & Wilkins stage, which considering is celebrated for its ingenuity in sound systems, it was almost agonising to listen to legendary force Âme play a live set through a crackling speaker. Despite this, it is impossible to characterise the tandem as anything other than a pure energy drive; it’s instantly clear why the duo has such a powerful reputation between them. This kind of vigour consequently feeds into its audience, which was spaciously formed of techno freaks and house heads.
Friday was signed off with panache by Flying Lotus, who has created himself as a type of cosmic jazz/contemporary electronic music alien. Exalting oomph in both a collision of musical genres and accompanying visuals (of which at one point starred a computerised human tied up on the floor, another feminine body with a face similar to FlyLo’s own twerking over) he unceasingly showed himself to say “no thanks” to conventional style, obscure and haunting one moment, hilarious and mocking the next. Talaboman, the duo outfit that is John Talabot and Axel Boman, moved light-dark/dark-light as the final act of the night when it starts to become morning. Stragglers of all stages transfixed to modern day landmarks of intelligent electronic music, a subjective climax peaking with the sunrise and moving to “The Sun Can’t Compare” in its full and entire glory.
With a tendency to present older names and long-celebrated artists on Saturday, the atmosphere at Primavera is usually significantly different. The atmosphere gets a bit more relaxed, the crowd dies down and things become, or so it seems, a little more for the locals. The groove sets in earlier than previous days – this time in an oriental fusion with Junun, a project of different cultures and nationalities, usually including Jonny Greenwood. As a mixture of traditional Indian instruments and Israeli influences with electronic coding as the backbone of the outfit, Junun is a multi-cultural, polyrhythmic discourse; their performance giving colour and vitality and making it impossible to stay still. Later, diva/musical icon/Jamaican disco goddess Grace Jones created an absolute storm on the main stage, her entrance somewhat improvised after a dramatic and wind-induced curtain fall. Between bearing a force of a stage persona by asking for a “Coke” in an ambiguous manner midway through the set, to unveiling herself wearing a dildo, she showed herself to a society obsessed with youth and as limitless and unapologetically ageless.
In fact, Primavera proceeded to go down a Saturday Night Fever route in which disco proved to be king. Since Primavera is also an international phenomenon in both acts and audience, there is something intangibly special when John Talabot, who hails from Barcelona, comes back to his roots and performs in front of an appreciative and melody-hungry audience. Playing a disco set, Talabot continuously manages to capture this essence of bliss and yet take the whole of humankind on the same journey at the same time. Weval were a stones’ throw away making some similar magic – as a live and downbeat edition. The Dutch duo is a bit like how a priest might describe God – personal yet impersonal; transcendental yet immanent. Moving away slightly from the intricate power they’ve consistently mustered throughout their studio work, Weval led all eyes on an emotional thread and offered an all-encompassing performance that takes electro-pop, dreamy dance and touching vocals to finish in a state of rapture.
Regardless of the hushed-up malfunctioning sound system and the constant clashes of interest in the programme, reputations happen for a reason. Primavera is now recognised in international lands as a leading festival for its line-up, and this year, excluding the heartache of Prank Ocean, was no exception. An almost predictable outcome of this is a melting pot that allows attraction of like-minded people from a plethora of countries. Where other festivals might offer better food, boutiques and camping, few festivals can compete with the feeling of leaving in the early morning sun to head to the beach and walk back to base in the magical city with borderline mythological architecture and infinite springs of culture that is Barcelona.
Check out http://www.primaverasound.com/ for more info.