jeudi 21 juillet 2016

Primavera Sound 2016

It happens every year. And every year comes a moment when I feel slightly angry at myself for having fallen in the trap again: Primavera Sound... It is a huge festival. It is expensive, so much that it has become increasingly difficult for the locals to access an event happening in their very own town. As a consequence, there are too many hipsters and too many drunk Brits. Moreover, the beer is rather awful and almost as expensive as in a Paris festival. And icing on the cake: the festival direction has been repeatedly accused of shamelessly exploiting people working under the convenient title of "interns".

And still, every year, these Primavera Sound assholes come up with an impressive lineup, just as good as any other renowned European festival. A rather unique blend of super famous headliners, less famous bands with little media attention, local bands, newcomers, etc. With the clear comparative advantage that it is highly unlikely to rain at Primavera Sound. So of course, every year, I find myself at the gates of Parc del Fòrum, trying to overcome a vague feeling of guilt while queuing among so many other happy festival-goers, many of whom look rather like they're going to a fashion show. They are usually the same who, later on, behave like they're the only people on Earth or the ones who talk very, very loudly about their car insurance issues during, say, a Nick Cave concert. True story, obviously. *Sigh*

This year, when the lineup was released, I witnessed a distinct surge of enthusiasm. Even The Guardian took part in this collective rejoicing: Radiohead were announced as headliners. As well as LCD Soundsystem, Sigur Rós and, more importantly to me, PJ Harvey. How these things work are always a source of wonder to me because I'm utterly convinced that my musical tastes are not particularly original, nor unconventional. So why people were so thrilled about seeing Radiohead that the tickets were sold out in record time, left me slightly bewildered. Radiohead's first live shows in four years. Alright, that could be an explanation. Then again, same thing was true about Nine Inch Nails when they came to Primavera Sound two years ago but I didn't see such an uproar, even though the band hadn't toured or released an album in years. After studying the lineup more in detail, I was feeling quite happy too. And I certainly did not feel unhappy to see Radiohead. But to be honest, I didn't feel nearly as enthusiastic as I felt last year or the year before. 2014: Warpaint, Queens Of The Stone Age, Dr. John and The Nite Trippers, Lee Ranaldo, Dum Dum Girls, Nine Inch Nails,... Last year: Benjamin Booker, Thurston Moore, The KVB, Patti Smith, Tori Amos, Babes In Toyland,... Déu meu...

As usual now, I'm gonna try and sum up these three days. Warning: views expressed are my own and highly subjective, not at all looking to be neutral!


Day 1: "Between Ennui and Ecstasy unwinds our whole experience of time."

As usual too, I had to use my best ninja moves to escape work at a decent hour. I did pretty well: I made it just in time to see Beak, another project of Geoff Barrow. I like Portishead and I still can't really get over the fact that I couldn't stay at their concert at Rock en Seine two years ago. In my defense, a few weeks before Rock en Seine that year, I had been very elegantly dumped on the day before I was supposed to go on vacation with my then boyfriend. I wasn't completely myself at this time, but the survival mode, which is strong in me like the Force is in others, made me realize that if I stayed the whole concert, I would probably end up wanting to drown myself in the mud or slash my wrists with my recyclable plastic glass. So a flash of lucidity made me leave. Seriously, I'm all about dark, depressive music. Everybody who knows me knows that. But there are times in life... Long story short: feeling much better at Primavera Sound this year, I had to see Beak. Sí o sí! There was not much going on on stage but I really enjoyed the music and atmosphere. It kind of made me regret not seeing them in a smaller venue in a "real" concert.


On the (long) way to get to the stages on the other side of the venue, I heard a bit of The James Hunter Six, which made me regret not seeing more! But I was trying to meet up with my friends, which is already complicated enough at Primavera Sound not to add any additional obstacles along the way. Incredible luck: we all agreed that we wanted to see Daughter. I had seen them in Barcelona on their previous tour but I couldn't really remember how the concert had been like. Seeing them again at Primavera Sound helped me remember why I didn't remember the previous concert. OK, I know it doesn't sound very positive, so let me explain: it wasn't bad, far from it. It just wasn't very memorable. The music is nice, the lyrics are quite dark and witty, the singer is adorable. I just felt like listening to the record louder than in my living-room. It was nice and easy. A little too easy. And I felt slightly bored.


Then I guess I should have felt some kind of national pride at seeing Air. Obviously some of my countrymen were: I swear I saw someone wave a French flag. Except that, I never really understood any kinds of patriotism... and the gig was quite soporific. Again, not fundamentally bad. Maybe it was simply too early in the day or maybe I should have gotten high before. The fact is I didn't feel much more than a vague ennui. I didn't stay till the end of the gig, I'm afraid. I walked again the (long) way back to the stage by the entrance and managed to grab a nice spot, close to the stage, to see Suuns, who managed to wake me up from the lethargy I could feel myself slip into. Great gig! Maybe not the greatest energy I've seen on stage but the energy is in the music already. Some kind of dark, electronic, industrial rock, at times hypnotizing with its blasting beats, almost suffocating. Nope, I wasn't kidding when I wrote I liked dark, depressive music! But not only, and not at all times...


Proof is that the next gig I went to see on that night was that of Har Mar Superstar, seen (and enjoyed) before at Solidays. It is quite difficult to describe a Har Mar Superstar's show because you have to live it, really. And speaking of energy on stage, that guy could teach anyone a lesson! So well done again, Mister, for sharing such a fun moment with your audience.

Then on to see THE master of horror, John Carpenter himself, who also proved to be a master of the stage. A master having a real blast! Nonchalantly chewing his gum the whole time, he genuinely seemed to be having a great time and put quite a lot of passion in his set, which turned out to be something more of a cinematic journey, really. Quite fascinating...

Finally, general movement to go and see the headliners of this Thursday night at Primavera Sound: LCD Soundsystem. I'm not really sure what I expected, to be frank. I don't know LCD Soundsystem all that well. But I guess I was expecting something a bit more unconventional, somehow. I saw people having a blast and I read afterwards very good reviews of the show. Maybe it's just not my thing. I felt bored rather quickly and decided to go.

All in all, a first day of contrasts, not entirely convincing to me, but with a few moments of grace, raw energy and real fun.

"Agua no potable" Vs. "OK beber agua"

Day 2: "Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better."

My second day at Primavera Sound started in an unexpected way. I surprisingly managed to get there quite early so I decided to go to the "Auditori" to see Cabaret Voltaire. I really dislike this Auditori. Not the building in itself. But the idea of seating in a closed venue, in complete darkness, is just so weird in the framework of a festival. But I really wanted to see Cabaret Voltaire. Well, "see" is a rather inappropriate verb to describe that set since the stage itself was in complete darkness, with the exception of the screen projecting images in a strobe light manner. Turns out it was something like a DJ set but to be honest, I still don't know what to think of it... I know I felt like a vampire when I got out of the Auditori, blinded by the sun and somehow numbed by the electronic, sonic waves thrown into my ears.
Cabaret Voltaire

I came to my senses and rushed through the gates and on to the other end of the venue to get there on time for Savages. A-ma-zing... I had seen them for the first time at Rock en Seine a few years back, then again during their tour in Barcelona. I think I was even more impressed this third time! The music has a kind of feverish effect that takes you to the guts. Add to this an intense, expressive singer with tons of energy on stage, and you'll get a fairly good idea of how much I enjoyed the gig.

Then on to a much quieter gig with Beirut. I had only seen them once and didn't remember it all too well but this show at Primavera Sound was nice. Not positively transcendental but pleasant.

And then, of course, the first real dilemma of the festival: Radiohead Vs. Dinosaur Jr... Absolutely nothing in common, of course. And I had already seen both. So basically, the choice came down to: the mainstream headliners who will probably attract 90% of the total audience of the festival or the somewhat more "obscure" veteran rock band that even Kim Gordon holds in high esteem. Of course, I did both. I started with Dinosaur Jr, who sounded loud and great. I regretfully left the gig but I was curious to see Radiohead again. I remember seeing them many years ago at Rock en Seine. Contrary to my expectations, I had thoroughly enjoyed the concert and had been quite surprised to see a dynamic band on stage. Thom Yorke had been rather communicative and energetic and the whole concert had been a really nice surprise. With these memories in mind, I suppose I could only be disappointed this time. OK, it's Radiohead. Everything was perfect, perfectly played, perfectly sung. But it felt slightly emotionless and, er... slightly boring. It was quite a beautiful moment to hear the crowd sing along "Karma Police" and sure, "Creep" made us all feel like awkward teenagers again. But something was missing. And it bothered me. Maybe I was just expecting more / too much.

The main headliners on that night had probably been geographically selected, for the next highly expected gig was that of The Last Shadow Puppets. They didn't gain unanimously positive votes among my friends but I have to say I rather enjoyed what I saw. More than Arctic Monkeys, anyway. Weird thing: I probably like Arctic Monkeys records more but I felt kind of bored every time I saw them live. Maybe they were tired, maybe I was. But somehow, the Last Shadow Puppets were more fun to see in concert.

Nights at Primavera Sound usually become more electronic. This is when DJs take the place over, basically. So we went with the flow and actually, I rather enjoyed the Icelandic minimal techno duo Kiasmos. Not the kind of music I'd listen to all day -or at all, as a matter of fact- but I do enjoy it in festivals. Just makes me want to dance and helps me keep my energy up. 

Last one of the night for me was Beach House. Not at all the kind of music that makes you want to dance and keep your energy up all night long! They're mostly renowned for their "dream pop" and the peculiar voice of the singer. The gig was quite nice, I have to say. But I was getting a little tired and it may not have been the best format for this band, which is probably more enjoyable in a smaller venue, with a more intimate atmosphere.

Day 3: "I firmly disbelieve that one has to be a tortured soul to write good music." 

And here we are already. I'm not gonna hold the suspense much longer: day 3 was by far the most enjoyable of this Primavera Sound. Things started with Argentinian duo Mueran Humanos, who I absolutely wanted to see before but of course, they were scheduled on Thursday afternoon, at a time when even with the best of my ninja moves, there was no way I would have made it on time. It made me feel quite frustrated, to be fair, so I decided to have a look at their unplugged session. Conclusion: it definitely made me regret even more not being able to see them, full-fledged version! 

I then went to see Autolux, a super nice alternative rock band. I didn't really know them before but I liked their weird mix of post-punk and electronic music. I also liked the fact there were two singers and that one of them was the drummer who, on the occasion of the songs she performed, stood on top of her drums!

It was a very good start of the day. It continued with Jenny Hval, a Norwegian artist I didn't know before. Musically, it hasn't exactly fascinated me. But it wasn't a concert. Not only, anyway. It was a true performance. Jenny Hval appeared on stage with her two musicians, all wearing Barbie-like wigs -yes, including the male musician! Said wigs became valuable accessories to play with during the show, as was what seemed to be moisturizer and other fun things of the like. Honestly, this woman is completely crazy... and she is amazing! She started asking us if we felt complicated. I'm assuming that if you don't feel complicated, a Jenny Hval's show is probably not for you! Later on, she funnily said to the crowd: "You guys are really brave. I don't know if I'd have stayed at my own show, I'd have been terrified". Well, seems like a very good summary of what happened on stage during the set!

Jenny Hval

And then, of course, was THE concert I was really waiting for. There's always one like that at every festival. Last year, it was Patti Smith. This year, it was PJ Harvey. Like so many other people who like her, I have a long story with the British musician. I discovered her when I was a teenager, at the time when her records were still made of angry, feverish, bluesy-punky songs. I fell in love with her voice, with her rage. I followed her on her more theatrical trend, with the beautiful "To Bring You My Love" and later on, with the more experimental "Is This Desire?" And so on for many years. The most recent albums had convinced me a little less. But still, I have always admired PJ Harvey's will to renew herself, to reinvent herself and become a truly multi-faceted artist. In comparison with the previous ones, her latest record was a good surprise for me. I liked this weird fusion of rock and jazz that comes out of it.

By now, I guess it's pretty obvious that PJ Harvey is beyond any doubt one of my favourite female singers and musicians. I have seen her quite a few times on stage, be it in Paris or Barcelona. So I had lots of expectations on that Saturday night at Primavera Sound. And girl... suffice to say my expectations were largely met! I found a pretty accurate summary of the set via Consequence of Sound
"She then proceeded to produce what was perhaps the most theatrical and conceptually unified set of the festival, tying songs together with cavalry horns, orchestral flourishes, dramatic movements, and intense stares into the audience. The tight focus and black-and-white shots displayed on the big screens amped that feeling, as well as the large, industrial concrete facade behind the band."
Yes, it was theatrical and maybe I did miss a bit more of rock'n'roll. I definitely missed seeing PJ Harvey with a guitar again. But all in all, it was a brilliant set, dominated by the almost intimidating presence of the singer. The contrast was huge when she finally got out of her sombre character to greet the audience with a cheerful "Hola, Barcelona" and a bright smile. No need to say I was particularly happy to hear the older songs, like "50 Ft Queenie" and "To Bring You My Love". I don't know how long the set lasted but I couldn't really believe it when it came to an end, for I felt slightly dazed.
Waiting for PJ Harvey with Óscar & Alix
A bit harsh to follow that... And unfortunately for Sigur Rós, they did not manage to retain my attention. I'm sure in some circumstances, it must be amazing to see them live. Although I have to say I kind of agree with my friend who said: "It sounds pretentious." Well, yeah, a little bit...

In need of something a bit more rock'n'roll, we went to listen to Parquet Courts. In spite of a rather stupid name, the band is actually quite good. I had seen them very briefly at Rock en Seine but this time at Primavera Sound, I was rather amazed at how different the songs sounded in style: a bit of punk, a bit of garage, a bit of hard rock... Kind of an explosive fusion!

But the real rock explosion came with Ty Segall and The Muggers. I have seen Ty Segall several times with different projects -the last one being the amazing Fuzz that I saw at Rock en Seine last year. So OK, I understand the guy must be some kind of hyperactive musician. But he just never disappoints! The set really was that moment of rock'n'roll that Primavera Sound often lacks. I don't even remember how it happened but at some point, Ty Segall handed his mic over to a fan. Not only did the guy started singing at the top of his lungs, but he also ended up on stage, with Segall cheering him up from the first rows of the crowd. The guy made a really hilarious improvisation, adapting LCD Soundsystem lyrics to "Ty Segall is playing at my house". But the thing is that he was actually pretty good!

So long story short, the whole set was like that: a moment of collective rock fun and a touch of craziness! At the end, as he was already off stage, we could see Ty Segall trying to negotiate with the festival organizers an encore. The answer was obviously negative... which didn't stop the musicians to come back on stage for a couple of extra songs. It may sound ridiculous to mention that fact but believe you me, it is not when it comes to festivals, and particularly Primavera Sound, where some bands are allowed a strict 40 minute-set and where you clearly don't fuck with the schedule -except when you're The Cure (probably because the organizers were way too scared of Robert Smith to explain him that he hadn't been allowed to play for... three hours!).

As Ty Segall and his Muggers had filled me with energy, I decided to stay and went to see Pantha du Prince DJ set. It was rather nice and I danced like crazy but it was also that time of night when a lot of people sticking around are massively drunk. Maybe it was because I was on my own but I could feel the atmosphere becoming slightly hostile. I stayed till the end of the set and made my way out of Parc del Fòrum, to arrive home just when the sun was rising.

After all that, can I be sure I won't be falling in the Primavera Sound trap again next year?... Damn, I'm so predictable!

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