Barcelona: arguably the most picturesque city in Europe. Situated on the Mediterranean coast in the heart of the Catalonian region, it's a landmine of history and culture. In amongst the beautiful landscapes and symbolic architecture; much of it crafted by Antoni Gaudi; lies the wonderful Park Guell, while at the city's highest point resides the Olympic Stadium, redeveloped with an increased capacity for the 1992 event. Then, of course, there's always the world famous Nou Camp, home to arguably the greatest and most successful football club of this generation, which is where our week long journey begins.
Arriving a day early before Primavera's festivities start enables us to take in the unique atmosphere as champions Barcelona narrowly defeat Real Valladolid by the odd goal. It also allows one final opportunity to contemplate this year's timetable where clashes aplenty are the order of most days. However, such a haven of choices marks a great festival, right? Right.
This year's event marks the thirteenth edition of Primavera Sound and, with weekend tickets having sold out months ago, it would be fair to say it's one of the few whose reputation and audience is growing despite the current economic decline. Mainly situated across three venues; the Parc Del Forum, Parc De La Ciutadella and Sala Apolo; Primavera has developed from an initial three-day weekend into a full blown seven-day event.
It's at the Sala Apolo where the week's festivities start, Sonic Boom's SPECTRUM reminding all and sundry why he's held in such high esteem across psychedelic circles and beyond playing a set encompassing both solo and Spacemen 3 material with the odd cover thrown in, 'Revolution' and 'Suicide' - the latter dedicated to Alan Vega and Martin Rev - in particular turning the Apolo's dancefloor into a heaving mass of sweaty bodies.
The following evening, local metalheads FOSCOR combine high-octane riffs and Teutonic drumming with satanic vocals old Lucifer himself would be proud of. Aggressively loud in every way, they're an ideal starting point for anyone wishing to discover the darker side of black metal. London-based Japanese four-piece BO NINGEN are an entirely different proposition altogether. Fusing elements of psyche rock, garage, punk and noise, they take ambient dreamscapes to the next, unassailable level. One song in the set reminds us of Canadian noiseniks Health. Others sound like Motorhead after a diet of hallucinogenic drugs. They're a spectacle not be missed, and one that sadly renders tonight's headliners GODFLESH something of an anticlimax after their truly remarkable Lord Mayor's show.
By Wednesday evening we're already Mojito-d and Sangria-d out, courtesy of the lethal cocktails served up in some of the city's exquisite bars (we highly recommend The Hacienda and Bar Rubi in El Born and Betty Fords in Raval). Beforehand, The Vaccines play a set jam packed with hits to an overly enthusiastic crowd consisting mainly of Catalans frothing at the mouth to join in with every word that passes Justin Young's lips. We've said this before, but if there's a better UK band straddling the rock and pop dichotomy as these we've yet to discover them. Straight after, we head over to the MySpace Smint stage where EVANS THE DEATH overcome technical problems, mainly due to the previous band overrunning by a good twenty minutes or so. Mixing new songs with a selection of choice cuts from last year's self-titled debut, 'Telling Lies' and 'Threads' more than justifying their inclusion among such prestigious company.
Livers still intact, the first day of the main event sees WILD NOTHING draw a healthily large crowd to the Heineken Stage early doors. Now a five-piece band, Jack Tatum and co. have grown in confidence and stage presence since their awkward shows around the time of debut LP 'Gemini' a couple of years ago. Tonight's set veers between both the first record and successor 'Nocturne', although its closing number 'Ride' off last month's 'Empty Estate' EP that really marks how far they've progressed in such a short space of time.
Tame Impala have also grown in reputation and stature somewhat courtesy of last year's excellent 'Lonerism', and in the early evening slot handed to them here they don't disappoint either. Songs like 'Desire Be, Desire Go', 'Half Full Glass Of Wine' and 'Mind Mischief' become elongated psychedelic jams in the vein of The Grateful Dead or even more recent experimentalists like Oceansize or Six By Seven. Unsurprisingly, 'Elephant' garners the most frenzied response from those present, but overall it's a triumphant set fully deserving of the hype bestowed upon Kevin Parker and co.
Across the way, J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr transport us back a quarter of a century via timeless classics like 'Freak Scene' and 'The Wagon'; in some ways nostalgic, yet relevant all the same. Don't believe me? Just ask Yuck, Mazes, and a hundred and one imitators currently riding their coat tails. Deerhunter seemingly draw the largest crowd we've seen anywhere so far this week, to the point where we give up trying to get anywhere near the Ray Ban Stage. Simian Mobile Disco also draw a large and infinitely lively crowd for their low key DJ set in the hastily assembled Boiler Room. Its claustrophobic setting relaying a club-like feel that serves as a fitting appetiser for their main set later this evening.
Further along the Forum on the Pitchfork Stage, Atlanta rapper KILLER MIKE extols the virtues of his "big assed wife" in between quickfire verses mostly dedicated to his heroes past and present. It's Canadian punks FUCKED UP that really raise the ante though, delivering the best bits of 2011's 'David Comes To Life' in typically raucous fashion. Last year's 'I Hate Summer' goes out to "anyone that hates being fat", while singer Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham spends as much of the set in amongst the crowd as he does on stage. Undeniably masters of their craft, it's refreshing to know punk rock is alive and kicking somewhere in the outbacks of Toronto.
Reykjavik's DEAD SKELETONS are an entirely unique proposition altogether. Championed by The Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe and the main highlight of March's Austin Psych Fest if reports are anything to go by, tonight's early morning set feels like a religious experience of sorts. Black and white projections, heavily orchestrated drones, band members adorned in masks and clothes and even a spot of painting at the start of the show exhibit their tendency to recreate the weird and unexpected. The songs resonate with a brooding intensity too. 'Om Mani Pem Hung' sounds like a Buddhist chant for shoegazers, 'When The Sun Comes Up' closer to West Coast psychedelia and mission statement 'Dead Mantra' - frontman Nonni Dead chanting "He who fears death does not enjoy life" in his native tongue for nine minutes over a lolloping rattle of drones, fuzz and feedback - the pick of an almighty, bombastic bunch.
The next day, heavily hyped Florida quartet MERCHANDISE give an eloquent exercise in reverb-heavy new wave that sounds like a shoegaze Strokes or as one observer standing close-by put it, "A not-so-shit Bravery". 'In Nightmare Room' and 'Become What You Are' sound polished and refined, but it's the more experimental new songs aired this evening off recent long player 'Totale Nite' that really hit the spot, whilst hinting at a range of directions for Brandon Carson and co. to embark on in the future.
The Breeders suffer from incredibly poor sound on the Primavera Stage, although those opening bassline notes of 'Cannonball' still make the neck hairs stand on end. Back on the Heineken Stage, THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN are a mighty revelation. Playing a set spanning their entire career, the Reid brothers Jim and William joined by John Moore on guitar, Phil King (formerly of Lush) on bass and Fountains Of Wayne drummer Brian Young leave little to the imagination. 'Head On' and 'Blues From A Gun' sound as dissonant as when first unleashed some twenty-four years ago, while the even older likes of 'Sidewalking' and 'Happy When It Rains' belie their quarter of a century existence. When My Bloody Valentine's Bilinda Butcher joins the band for 'Just Like Honey', there's barely a dry eye on the forecourt, while the closing trio of 'The Hardest Walk', 'Taste Of Cindy' and 'Never Understand' pays homage to possibly the greatest guitar record of recent years, 'Psychocandy'. A full UK tour any time soon wouldn't go amiss.
Stood among the heaving throng waiting for the arrival of Blur, something we'd least expect to happen occurs. The first three chords to 'Kennedy' strike up and, on a balcony over yonder, stands David Gedge and THE WEDDING PRESENT. "I bet you didn't expect to see us here?" he quips, "Neither did we" before ripping into 'Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft' and 'My Favourite Dress'. As unexpected guest appearances go, this takes some beating and when Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree do appear the crowd are already revved up. What comes next is an exercise in the very best of British pop music, whatever the decade. 'Girls And Boys', 'Popscene', 'There's No Other Way', 'Beetlebum', 'Out Of Time', 'Coffee And TV'. the list is endless. Even the much lambasted 'Country House' is treated with resplendent adulation in these surroundings while 'Tender' is simply sublime, and arguably the highlight of the entire festival particularly the "Oh my baby, oh why, oh my." refrain which continues to be sung by 30,000 revellers long after the band leave the stage. During the encore, recent composition 'Under The Westway' sits shoulder to shoulder with 'For Tomorrow' and 'The Universal' before a blistering 'Song 2' provides a fitting climax. Afterwards, Swedish electro outfit THE KNIFE pale into insignificance. Blur were simply that good.
With the week and the festival entering its final days, Melody's Echo Chamber serve up a delightful forty-five minutes of Stereolab influenced pop with subtle elements of distorted noise. Singer Melody Prochet bearing all the hallmarks of this year's indie pin-up girl, the likes of 'Crystallized', 'Endless Shore' and 'I Follow You' tick an array of boxes from sassy to sensual and back again without stopping for breath. Finishing with an extended run through album closer 'Be Proud Of Your Kids', Prochet and band engage in full-on jam mode before the song fizzles out some ten minutes later in a crescendo of pounding rhythms and swirling feedback.
With the all German Champions League final taking centre stage; the Secret Cinema's big screen duly becomes the Forum's focal point for the next ninety minutes; DEERHUNTER's second set of the weekend takes a poor second place alongside the first half of WU TANG CLAN's performance on the Primavera Stage. By the time we head over to Method Man, Raekwon and co., they seem to have lost interest in the lacklustre response and proceed in going through the motions, which is a crying shame for all parties concerned. Over on the Ray Ban stage, Camera Obscura's melancholic anthems make opulent background music, while PHOSPHORESCENT does a good job at covering Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game'. It's only afterwards we find out he was playing an original composition. Oops, someone had better call the plagiarism police.
It's therefore left to MY BLOODY VALENTINE to restore parity with the loudest performance of the weekend, not that we'd expect anything less. 'When You Sleep' and 'New You' acting as the calming influences before the storm that is 'Thorn', the impeccable 'Soon' turning the whole area at the front of the Heineken stage into a raving dancefloor for seven ecstatic minutes after. 'Come In Alone' soothes, 'Feed Me With Your Kiss' pounds, before 'You Made Me Realise' and its now infamous "holocaust" segment bring their set to a close. Magnificent as ever, even having to play a shorter set than normal due to festival time constraints.
With the sun getting ready to rise, Hot Chip provide the perfect accompaniment. 'Boy From School' delectably wonderful, 'Over And Over' still the best dance track released this side of the millennium along with LCD Soundsystem's 'All My Friends' and 'One Life Stand' proving Hot Chip can do pop just as well as anyone. By the end, our feet and throats are tired and we head back to our hostel, mission firmly accomplished.
And now, the end is near. Sadly. As with previous years, Sunday afternoons are traditionally spent in the Parc De La Ciutadella, and with CAYUCAS delivering an exercise in blissful, laidback pop it's a fitting setting in the mid-afternoon sun. Its Canadian troubadour MAC DEMARCO though who's the real victor here. Playing a rousing set packed with material from both of last year's impressive long players 'Rock And Roll Night Club' and '2', he has the audience in the palm of his hand from the outset, even throwing in a lounge cover of Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' and hard rocking version of The Beatles 'Blackbird' for good measure. By the end, DeMarco invites his girlfriend Keira out the crowd before hoisting her on his shoulders for his band's finale. All in all, a fun show that will almost certainly be playing out to a wider audience in the not too distant future.
For the final live encounters of Primavera Sound 2013 it back to Sala Apolo where we started. California's ALLAH LAS may be the archetypical High Fidelity band having formed in a record store five years ago. However, their take on Byrds-meets-Zombies sixties tinged pop is a joy to behold as anyone fortunate enough to gain entry to the jam-packed venue will testify. The graceful elegance of 'Vis A Vis', upwardly romantic 'Tell Me What's On Your Mind' and jaunty instrumental 'Sacred Sands' narrowly stand out amidst a flawless set, while penultimate number 'Catamaran' is perhaps the most beautiful lament to a curtailed holiday romance these ears have ever been partial to.
Two hours later, DEERHUNTER make their third and final appearance of the festival, and in these intimate surroundings appear more at home than on the Parc Del Forum's bigger stages. Largely drawing on material from new record 'Monomania' and its predecessor 'Desire Lines', Bradford Cox cuts a desultory figure with his low cut fringe and tight fitting Cramps t-shirt. Ending in a fifteen-minute maelstrom of pedal induced distortion, it makes for a breathtaking finale worthy of bringing the best music festival on the planet to a pulsating close.
Here's to Primavera Sound 2014! See you down the front.
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