mercredi 21 juin 2017

Primavera Sound 2017

Festival season is officially open! And I've decided to stop fooling myself: I may criticize Primavera Sound for a number of reasons but the fact is that every year, I can't help but go back!

This year, when the line-up was published, reactions were mixed. Whereas some praised a "ridiculously brilliant line-up", others complained about the weakest programme the festival had ever come up with. As far as I'm concerned, almost no names on the line-up aroused real enthusiasm on my part but let's be fair: there were many bands or artists that I didn't know or knew very little. As such, it provided me with the perfect excuse to follow the line of action that I started developing in recent years at this festival: avoid the big concerts! I'm not really sure why but I can feel a growing distaste for these huge concerts in the particular framework of this festival. I don't mind that much at Rock en Seine, for example. But I guess the audience is not exactly the same and I've grown tired of having to fight to catch a glimpse of tiny figures out there on the stage far, far away, in the middle of drunk foreigners who don't give a shit about anything because "hey, we're in Barcelona, let's party", or in the middle of drunk hipsters who show just a tiny little bit too much of self-awareness for my tolerance. Not to mention the fact that on the main stages, the sound is usually crappy and the fact that the above-mentioned people just can't seem to ever shut up does not help enjoying the atmosphere of a concert. I know I already mentioned my traumatic experience during Nick Cave's concert, when I found myself witnessing against my will a very animated conversation about car insurance that covered the singer's voice, but you need to understand that I still suffer from PTS because of this.
Surprisingly, I didn't even have to use ninja moves this year. I just politely informed the people who give me a generous amount of money every month and take that as an excuse to make me work on bank holidays, that I would have to leave "earlier". Seems that I've just completed an upgrade: from ninja moves to strategic skills!...

So no "big" concerts for me at Primavera Sound this year. Yes, let me break it to you without further delay: no, I did not go and see Arcade Fire. Or Bon Iver. Yes, that's right. I switched the "discovery"mode on. And I survived! Here's how...

Day 1: "Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid." (Franz Zappa)

Thursday afternoon... Time to grab my brother who had come to visit me in Barcelona for a week, and we made it just in time to see the second half of Soledad Vélez' concert. I was quite seduced by her particular, fascinating voice and what was a nice mix of pop and darkness. It definitely was a nice way to start the festival.

Siblings selfie
We then went to the Pitchfork stage to check Aries out. To be fair, what I had listened to hadn't entirely convinced me. A bit too "sugary" to my taste. Turns out we were on our way to see another concert and just stopped there a bit by chance but it wasn't bad at all. I think I read somewhere she was compared to a Spanish Björk. I feel that every time a solo female performer emerges and captivates an audience with music that is not easy to label, people shout that they've discovered the new [insert nationality] Björk. So yes, alright, there's a touch of dreamy pop to Aries' music that may not be stylistically opposed to Björk's music. But I think the comparison stops there. Anyway, I liked Aries live better than what I had heard before.

First of what turned out to be the longest list of concerts I ever saw on the relatively small Adidas stage was Nots, a band delightfully reminiscent of the riot grrrl movement, with touches of punk and experimental vibes. I really liked their energy on stage. I also have to admit I found the music and most particularly, the vocals a bit repetitive after a while. But I had an overall good feeling about this band and the concert.


To keep in line with this exclusively female start of the festival, we went back to the Pitchfork stage to see Alexandra Savior. That was my first disappointment. I only knew a couple of songs. The dreamy/indie pop thing can be nice, even though I'm not 100% passionate about it. But if it's done well, I can enjoy it as much as the next hipster would. No, seriously: I really can. Contrary to what you may think, I don't exclusively enjoy rock music. But I don't know, I just didn't get into the concert. Alexandra Savior looked a little bit like a simpering, gasping young heroine, acting a bit shy on stage, coyly laughing and showing an almost absent-minded attitude that was probably meant to look mysterious. As time passes by, I realize it's not the kind of female character I can relate to anymore, be it in a woman in real life or in a female artist on a stage. Plus, to be honest, I had the feeling that she was singing a little bit out of tune at times. Maybe it was just the crappy sound, I'm not sure. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, both for the sound and for the attitude, considering that she looks very young and should probably be given time to mature as an artist. To be continued...

Back to the Adidas stage to enjoy the quiet folk of Julia Jacklin. Well, not only "quiet", to be fair. Some songs sounded a bit more like old school rock'n'roll or even a bit like country, with a distinctive nostalgia feeling about it all. Overall, maybe not a gig that totally won me over, but it was rather nice.

Julia Jacklin
Then I discovered something new at Primavera Sound... Actually, I'm not sure it was really new for everyone or if I just hadn't noticed it before. I'm talking about Primavera Bits, of course, the electronic festival happening in parallel of Primavera Sound... on the other side of the bridge. Of course, I had never noticed there was a bridge there either... Turns out they set up a couple of extra stages over there and during daytime, you can even access the beach, which is pretty nice. But even more important: there's grass on the other side of the bridge... Not everything is made of concrete, I swear I saw green. You can even sit, lay down, roll over in the grass if you want to. Like in a real festival, you know? Life is so different on the other side of the bridge... Of course, you have to want to listen to electronic music all the time, which may or may not be an adequate option. But if you're not convinced by weird DJ sets, there's a food truck that sells ecological hamburgers to compensate. Proof below!

Beyond the hamburgers and the pleasure of sitting on the grass, there was another reason for us to cross the bridge and that reason was called Vox Low, a French band of dark electro music, with a bit of industrial and krautrock influences. Nothing that couldn't appeal to me! And I found the gig highly enjoyable, of course. So crossing the bridge was definitely a good move.

Vox Low
We regretfully left our green bliss behind to get back to the regular Primavera festival. I was very curious to see The Afghan Whigs. I'm not particularly knowledgeable about this band but I knew some songs and I knew the name for having seen it around for quite some time and having influenced many bands. So indeed they don't look that young anymore (surprisingly!) but I enjoyed their energy on stage and Greg Dulli's genuine efforts to communicate with the audience. The rock songs were loud, tormented and psychedelic. The quieter moments brought more variety to the concert and the sound in general. They won me over quite easily, I have to say.

We then made our first incursion to the Mango stage. OK, I said in the introduction: no big concerts for me this year. So I lied a little bit... There were a couple of exceptions and here comes the first one: Slayer. I'll be honest here: this is usually not my kind of music. Too much for me. It's not the aggressive part that bothers me, though. It just sounds waaaay too repetitive for my ear. I've tried but I've never been able to listen to a Slayer's record from beginning to end without rolling my eyes at some point while pressing "stop". So I went to their concert at Primavera Sound only because I'm trying to renew my title of "Best sister of the world" that I had easily but proudly won when I took my little bro to Camp Nou to see a Barça football match. Considering how little interest I have for football, yes, it's safe to say I'm a loving sister. But I'll be honest here as well: I quite enjoyed Slayer's show (and the Barça game too, by the way)! I realized that listening to the records alone at home is not something for me. But seeing them, the actual musicians that play at a fucking insane speed, that shout like they're possessed (which they probably are), that all look like they've spent a lifetime in jail and that end up talking to the audience with a sweet smile on their faces, all of that was just unbelievable! The singer was pretty funny too, especially when he asked the audience, specifically people on the back, if they were all OK, considering Slayer's music might be "a little different than what you've been hearing all day." No shit?! I loved the understatement.

As Consequence of Sound perfectly summed it up: "The elders of thrash and doom filled the field at the Mango stage at midnight, holding court with a masterfully executed set – whether Slayer was your jam or not, you would have to admit that they were on point [...]." I admit it very willingly!

Back to the other end of the venue to see The Black Angels. I had discovered them quite a long time ago at Rock en Seine and had really enjoyed their concert, which had led me to buy a couple of their records afterwards. Then I kinda forgot about them and was a bit surprised to see them on the line-up of Primavera Sound. Surprised but pleased. I was even more surprised to see they attracted a large crowd. I mean, good for them, obviously. I just didn't expect it, that's all. They hadn't struck me as the kind of band who had the power to mobilize the Primavera Sound's hipsters, especially young ladies in their twenties dancing like they were attending the last rock concert on Earth. But the gig was quite nice, even though we left before the end...

... to go and see The Damned! Yep, THESE ones. As in the goth-punk band, whose name is usually mentioned along with the The Sex Pistols and The Clash when people talk about the original British punk movement. I was writing in the introduction that almost no names of this year's line-up had aroused real enthusiasm on my part. Well, of course The Damned are one of the reasons why I had to write "almost". I had absolutely no idea they were still touring, honestly. But when I saw their name on the line-up, I gasped a little bit. I knew this was gonna be one of my unmissable shows at Primavera Sound. And I was at the same time curious and a bit apprehensive about that show, fearing I might be disappointed. It wasn't the case. At all. Contrary to many other bands, I found they've managed to age quite gracefully, playing a card of psychobilly that suits them very, very well, particularly in live. The band looked in real good shape, transmitting tons of energy on stage and I was seriously impressed by Dave Vanian who still has an unbelievable voice. Definitely the best concert of that first day for me!

The Damned
I then wanted to go and see Skinny Puppy... but to my shame, I guess the long hours of the long working days of these last long months got the best of me...

So that's it for Day 1 at Primavera Sound, marked by a very particular blend of young artists and, er... well, less young artists. Among my highlights, there's obviously The Damned, although I have to recognize Slayer really surprised me. And I guess the best discoveries for me would be Soledad Vélez and Vox Low.

Day 2: "Musicians don't retire; they stop when there's no more music in them." (Louis Armstrong)

Not entirely sure what happened on this second day but somehow, we managed to miss the first show I wanted to see: Slim Cessna's Auto Club, which looked super nice. Fortunately, this disappointment was quickly compensated by the excellent concert of Belako. I discovered them at Primavera Sound in 2014, which still remains up to now my "wow" year at this festival (yep, you guessed right, I'm talking about the Nine Inch Nails/Queens Of The Stone Age year!). I had already been very impressed by their energy on stage. Three years later, they have kept the same contagious energy and smiles... but only better! I felt they had more experience and more maturity but they've managed to keep that spontaneity and osmosis that is so rare in a band. The way the band occupies the stage is also particularly well thought, with the two musicians who can't move at all (the drummer) or can't move much (the singer/keyboardist) on each end, and the "mobile" musicians (the guitarist and the bassist) in the middle. I know it might seem very anecdotal but I can't help but feel it truly reinforces the feeling of seeing a "real band" live, and not only a singer, accompanied by other additional musicians in the background but we don't really notice they're on stage because all attention is focused on the guy/girl on the mic. It really gives room for every musician on stage to take protagonism in turn or together. And I'm convinced this is also what makes Belako's gigs so enjoyable: this unmistakable sensation to be part of the fiesta. Definitely a really, really good way to start Day 2!

I wanted to see Mitski but of course, she was playing around the same time and at the other end of the venue. Instead, we went back to the Pitchfork stage to see Shellac. I remember trying to go and see them once at Primavera Sound. I had stayed for a couple of songs and left. At the time, I had thought it was just because it was late at night and I wasn't as receptive as I could have been. So I went for a second try. It wasn't the night factor... I don't really know how to explain why but this band gets on my nerves. There's something in this self-proclaimed minimalist rock that I find a bit pretentious.

So on to the first visit to the Primavera stage to see Descendents. Apparently, the festival programmers were really nostalgic and longing for some sort of punk revival this year. So what can I say about Descendents? I read somewhere, in a tweet maybe, something like "Descendents are 50 year-olds playing punk songs for 30 year-olds". Well, yeah, kind of... It's not that it was bad. It was quite fun, to be fair. But I found it a bit repetitive and flat after a while.

Radical change of style with Arab Strap. I didn't know them all that well but it was a rather nice surprise. The mix between something that sounds like a super depressive electro-acoustic sound and more dance-like beats is a bit strange but I kinda liked it!

Then we went to see Swans that, in some ways, resulted to be a rather fun gig. Not for the music, obviously, but for the audience. There were clearly three categories. The people who knew they wanted to be there and who were following Michael Gira and his musicians in some kind of trance. The ones who fought their way out of the crowd very quickly after the beginning of the concert, leaving very few doubts about their receptivity. And the last ones, who, given the look in their perplexed eyes, seemed to be facing two opposing inner forces: "c'mon, this is Michael Gira, I'm sure it's really interesting" / "what the fuck is going on there?!" I didn't see my own look but I can tell you I was part of the last group. Honestly, I'm still not entirely sure what I thought of this gig. Some parts were rather fascinating but maybe the overall festival format is not the most adequate.

We went back to the Primavera stage to see The Make-Up. OK, I don't love all of their songs but this was definitely one of the best performances I saw during these three days! I was talking of the homogeneity among Belako's members. This is clearly not the case for The Make-Up, who entirely rely on the energy and charisma of their singer. At times, I felt that the musicians didn't even try to remind us they were there. But I understand them: Ian Svenonius is a hell of a front man! Energetic, funny, weird, sassy, he excels at captivating an audience. When the crowd seemed to show signs of weakness, he laughed, saying he understood, that we had been there for a while and that we probably wanted to keep a bit of energy for the rest of the night... Didn't prevent him from dancing, jumping around or climbing on people's shoulders, in what turned out to be an amazing communion with the audience!

The Make-Up
One other name that had clearly caught my attention when I discovered the line-up was Sleaford Mods. I have been trying to see them live for some time now and somehow, it had never happened. Finally, it did happen at Primavera Sound! Although it didn't seem 100% guaranteed at the beginning: serious sound problems screwed the beginning of the gig over. Right from the first song... The band didn't realize at first that the audience couldn't hear anything but when the message got to them, the singer got pretty pissed off, which created a rather funny contrast with the totally zen and smiling attitude of his accomplice. For a moment there, I felt there was a curse preventing me from seeing them live. But no. After this difficult technical start, which at some point led the singer to show his ass and say something like "Fucking Spaniards", the concert went on with (almost) no problems. These guys are persistent: they wanted to open the show with "Army Nights" and they were going to, no matter what. And hell! They were on fucking fire! As abrasive and angry as I expected them to be... I really enjoyed this raw energy and the thick East Midlands accent. So much that I'll definitely go for the second round in a few months at Rock en Seine!

A quick stop-over to the Adidas stage to listen to Berri Txarrak but we were not very convinced.

I'm not the only one longing for Nine Inch Nails to come back to Spain...
Back to the Primavera stage to see Front 242, very much in line with this year's particularly wide span of generations. The Belgian pioneers of EBM did not disappoint. So sure, they don't look young anymore but they keep a good energy on stage and they were graceful enough to take an amused attitude regarding their age: by the end of show, the audience protested when the singer announced this was gonna be their last song. He made a funny gesture showing his watch and mimicked having back problems, with an air of saying "OK, you're young, you're gonna party all night long but it's almost bedtime for us!" Honestly, it might be one of my weaknesses but I quite enjoyed the show and did have enough energy to dance my way through it!

To finish this second night, we enjoyed a musical and visual journey with Flying Lotus. The bass was super loud, I could feel my jeans vibrate! But it was good and the psychedelic visuals only added to a rather jubilant mood.

That's it for Day 2 at Primavera Sound! Another good day, whose highlights were definitely for me Belako, The Make-Up and Sleaford Mods, in a span of different genres quite characteristic of the festival.

Day 3: "What I like my music to do to me is awaken the ghosts inside of me." (David Bowie)

what I like my music to do to me is awaken the ghosts inside of me
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what I like my music to do to me is awaken the ghosts inside of me
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what I like my music to do to me is awaken the ghosts inside of me
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Excellent start of the day: we were right on time to catch Les Cruet, a Catalan punk band with raw energy, short and efficient songs, and melodies that have a tendency to remain in your head for a long time... "Si li espantés el futuuuur, no ho fariaaaa!"

Another radical change of style with Museless, a young artist from here as well. I was quite surprised that no one compared her to Björk (see the beginning of this post!) but I'm not going to complain. I had liked the songs I had heard, which convey both a warm and somehow mysterious electro-pop vibe. The concert was suuuuuper nice! I really like her warm voice. And just around the time I was starting to think it's tricky for solo artists to be stuck on stage behind their keyboards and diverse technological equipment, two dancers appeared on stage. Smart move! The presence of the dancers only added to this dreamy, weird, mysterious atmosphere. I particularly enjoyed their spasmodic, sinuous moves. And I don't know where Museless stands on the question of gender stereotypes, but I quite enjoyed seeing both pink and blue equally mixed in the clothing and make-up of the dancers and the singer herself (it will be more obvious when I publish the photos, I promise!). So nothing bad to say, it was a really good one!

Short break to rest our legs while listening to Junun, an interesting project gathering Radiohead's guitarist, Indian musicians and an Israeli singer. A rather nice dialogue between cultures and musical styles, I have to say.

Then back to the Pitchfork stage for yet another change in style with Swet Shop Boys. I know: I may not be the biggest fan of hip hop that has ever existed... But these guys are awesome! So they're basically an Indian-American/British-Pakistani duo, who -from what I understood from their lyrics- seem to joyfully use satire and irreverent humor to shout out against racism and all kinds of prejudices. Beyond that, I can only recognize the incredible energy of the rappers on stage, the complementarity between them and their skills to interact with their audience. Didn't think it was truly possible for me -during a rap concert, that is- but I didn't get bored for one single second! Also worth highlighting: the impacting, poignant a capella moment during which the British rapper delivered a charged protest against fundamentalism, Islamophobia and double standards. Very necessary those days...

Swet Shop Boys
A cruel dilemma then presented itself... Van Morrison or Angel Olsen? I was quite curious to see Van Morrison but realized that we would have to walk miles before reaching the other end of the venue, be super far from the stage, not see anything and probably lose more than half of the concert anyway. So Angel Olsen it was. Apparently, everyone has been completely enthusiastic about this gig. Consequence of Sound even titled their review 'Arcade Fire, Japandroids and Angel Olsen soothe the wounds left by Frank Ocean'. I can't say about the first two because I didn't see them. But Angel Olsen's performance left me rather indifferent. I remember seeing her maybe a couple of years ago in Barcelona and feeling about the same. It wasn't bad per se. Just not very exciting.

Teenage Fanclub didn't really help us feel more enthusiastic, to be fair. I can't say much because we left rather soon.

On the contrary, Julie Doiron's gig aroused genuine enthusiasm on my part! I was very sensitive to her delicate blend of folk and indie rock. The folk parts perfectly highlighted the witty, nostalgic lyrics of the Canadian songwriter. And the indie rock parts left room for guitars to really sound like guitars! Plus, she has apparently released (or will release soon, I can't remember) a record of some of her songs translated to Spanish. Of course, we got a glimpse, even though the singer kept apologizing for forgetting the lyrics! It's quite funny because I wasn't expecting anything from this concert really... and it was probably the best discovery of the day for me!

Julie Doiron
We quickly checked Hamilton Leithauser out, who sounded very nice with this kind of evocative rock'n'roll that seems to be longing for another time. We didn't stay long but this is a band I would definitely like to see in better conditions.

We didn't stay long because we wanted to see Seu Jorge paying tribute to David Bowie, interpreting the songs of Life Aquatic. I had never seen Seu Jorge... and oh, boy! It was such a beautiful moment... The audience was alternating between moments of silent reverence and of communion, singing along to almost all of the songs. Not easy to captivate an audience when you're sitting alone on a stage, especially during a festival, where not every single person is necessarily a huge fan of yours. I had only seen Rufus Wainwright being able to do that in Barcelona before. Now I can add Seu Jorge to the list. With this broken, warm voice of his, and his acoustic guitar, he delivered an impressive and highly emotional gig, which was probably one of the best tributes that could be paid to David Bowie...

Shoe buddy
Consistent with our search for different musical styles, we went to see Sleep. I quite enjoyed the "brutal beauty of [...] the 1990s stoner and doom metal titans" as NME wrote. Sorry, this sentence just made me laugh, I had to quote it! The "brutal beauty"... "metal titans"... C'mon, you gotta admire the alliterations here! Anyway... So the concert was really fine! Especially considering that we were on the first row, so there was no escape from this slow, heavy, powerful, psychedelic sound that ends up hypnotizing you.

We then distractedly listened to some songs by Wild Beasts, who sounded alright but didn't particularly make us want to get closer.

To be fair, we didn't have much time anyway because I really wanted to go and see Against Me! Probably not the kind of band I would listen to all day long but I was very curious to see them live and I have to say that they delivered their pop punk with contagious energy and a distinct festive feeling that seemed to win everyone over! You don't really need to ask for more on a third night of festival at 2 in the morning: "singable" melodies and "danceable" rhythms do just fine. And if there's something you can't take away from Against Me!, it's exactly that. I couldn't help but feel an irrepressible surge of joy when they started playing "I Was a Teenage Anarchist"! But beyond the obvious fun part, it's interesting to see how Laura Jane Grace has now become some kind of trans icon, and how the fact that the band includes identity and sexuality issues in their lyrics have a particularly pertinent resonance.

And on for the last change in styles of this year's edition with Preoccupations, which is another band I had never seen live but really wanted to see. We were a bit far but I quite enjoyed the energetic post-punk the band delivered. My only complaint would be about the audience, to be honest. Last night of the festival, not last hours but not early anymore (it was around 3 am maybe): a lot of the people around us were clearly here just to be somewhere and do something (basically getting drunk-er)... A bit of a shame to end the festival on that note, really...

So that's it for Day 3 at Primavera Sound! It might have been the "weakest" day in musical terms for me and in comparison with the first two. But it also allowed me to discover artists like Museless, to see live for the first time a legendary artist like Seu Jorge, and to enjoy the really fun gig of Against Me! All in all, it was still worth it.

An interesting choice of "clothes"
So what could be my conclusion? Well, like always, Primavera Sound has its ways to surprise me, in both positive and negative ways. I guess the thing that bothers me the most is how indifferent some parts of the audience might be, not only to the other human beings around them but also to the artists on stage. Why would you pay so much money for a festival, only to get heavily drunk with expensive beers or long drinks that aren't even good, and completely forget about the music? I admit it is beyond me. Because that's the thing that Primavera Sound always wins me over with: the music (definitely not the drinks!) and more importantly, the diversity of artists, generations and musical styles. In previous editions, there was always at least one name that made me go "Wow, I won't miss Primavera Sound for anything!" I could of course mention Patti Smith, Nine Inch Nails, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Cure, Dead Can Dance... I'm probably forgetting many along the way but the list is already impressive! But even an edition like this one, where no one made me feel truly super enthusiastic -with the possible exception of The Damned- made me live incredible moments of grace, energy, fun and emotion. Well, I guess that's it then: as long as I have this left, seems I'll keep going to Primavera Sound after all!

'Til next year then...

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