First Review: Primavera Sound 2011
Francis Whittaker gets an odd dose of Spain's leading festival
Socially conscious twenty-somethings peacefully camping outside listening to makeshift reggae soundsystems and banners
emblazoned with left wing slogans sounds like the kind of thing you'd expect to see at your typical music festival. It's not
exactly what you think you'd stumble across in the bustling centre of one of Europe's most exciting, cosmopolitan cities.
As indie fans from far and wide ventured to Barcelona for Primavera Sound 2011, a festival that's built a reputation for luring a line-up so strong it'll leave your average music nerd drooling, the Catalan capital became a scene of passionate, but admirably peaceful, protest, with scores of youngsters camping in the city's Placa Catalunya to rally against Spain's shockingly high youth unemployment rate.
The movement was rocked, however, when police stormed the camp on Friday, an action which sent ripples of outrage to the very heart of the festival. Pulp (9/10), playing a triumphant first gig in nine years on the San Miguel stage, felt compelled to dedicate raucous set closer 'Common People' to the protesters, with effervescent frontman Jarvis Cocker on scintillating form mounting speaker stacks and even venturing into the crowd to help facilitate a marriage proposal. Other bands, including math rockers Battles (9/10), who played an imaginative set on the Ray Ban Stage, also paid tribute to the demonstrators.
Further, but much milder, indignation had been the order of the day earlier in the festival thanks to a number of organisational glitches that caused chaos in the architecturally stunning Parc del Forum. Festival bosses had needlessly introduced high tech online top up cards to use as payment at bars, but the system crashed during the first day. The card system was also central to the bizarre balloting used to gain access to two ultra-rare festival performances by alt-folk icon Sufjan Stevens. Fans had to pay an extra two euros each if they wanted to get a seat in the limited capacity Auditori theatre, with scores of people left disappointed once the draw had been made.
Those who did manage to see Sufjan (10/10), however, were treated to as jaw-dropping an experience as you could possibly expect to see on a festival stage. Backed by a flourescent-cladeleven-piece band, the singer brought tracks from his latest 'Age of Adz' album to life with an array of stunning, comic book inspired projections, before finishing with a run through of signature song 'Chicago'. Sufjan turned up again later in the festival, performing backing vocals on a couple of tracks during The National's (8/10) set of fist-pumping, lyrically sharp alt-rock anthems.
The only other band who could possibly rival the multicoloured spectacle of Sufjan's show were The Flaming Lips (9/10), and Wayne Coyne and co's usual array of confetti cannons, balloons, psychedelic visuals and fans onstage in animal costumes were able to bring a smile to almost everyface watching on the San Miguel Stage.
Fans also appeared onstage during mash-up maestro Girl Talk (8/10), whose unholy splicing of artists as diverse as Soulja Boy and Aphex Twin led to scenes of carnage unlike any other seen on an outdoor festival stage.
Carnage also came in the shape of much-hyped rap group OFWGKTA (7/10), whose post-Champion's League final show on Saturday culminated in hundreds of fans defying security duringa mass stage invasion, after which controversial main man Tyler, The Creator was held aloft by adoring festival-goers.
Despite the backdrop of protest and some irritating issues on the organisational front, it's difficult to argue that Primavera Sound is anything other than a fantastic festival. With a line-up to die for, a beautiful seaside site and a location in one of the greatest cities in the world, the festival's reputation as an essential pilgrimage for indie fans is becoming increasingly secure.