Primavera Sound 2013 festival review

'A truly wondrous festival'

Photographer:Virtual Festivals

Chris Swindells - 02 June 2013

Hipsters of the world unite. Primavera Sound is now the default European festival for an all alternative and all transgressive experience in live music. A ground swell of pipe jeans, Buddy Holly glasses and vintage shirts changes the concrete void of Parc del Forum, Barcelona into a refugee camp for the survivors of the great American Apparel disaster.

The coastal venue, about 20 minutes from the centre of the city, has an eery overtone, like a deserted town, but with an avant-garde design, some turn-of-the-century architecture and the waves that crash on the fringes of the park itself.


If the former Universal Forum of Cultures festival site has a sense of the old and neglected coming back to life then much of the 2013 Primavera line-up feels equally dependent on its nostalgic rebirth. Not least bill-topping Blur (8), who play their first Spanish show in a decade - this time with Graham Coxon back in their ranks. It's a relatively short, sweet, hit-heavy set, bookended by 'Girls & Boys' and 'Song 2'. The real treats come in the off-shoots like 'Popscene', 'Caramel', 'Trimm Trabb' and their most recent 'comeback' single 'Above The Westway'.

Where Blur are revisiting old ground, Phoenix (7) are vanguards of a new sound. Spurred on by their Coachella headline performance, the Parisians have stepped it up a gear. Centre stage posturing and confetti cannons may not seem very French but this is a new age of Phoenix. It's in their old arsenal of songs however, '1901' and 'Long Distance Call' in particular, they find the greatest adoration. Surely their festival season finale will feel very different to this when audiences have had more time to pick through their most recent record, 'Bankrupt!'.

Elsewhere you're welcomed with the open arms of familiar friends. Dinosaur Jr. (7) doing a round at the bar, with old favourites 'Feel The Pain' sounding just as fresh as stomping newcomers like 'Watch The Corners', from their tenth studio album 'Watch The Sky'.

Bob Mould (9) has done some soul searching and found time to delve deep into his own back catalogue. Revisiting Sugar and their classic 1992 debut 'Cooper Blue', you find each of the first five tracks from the LP as sharp, focused and fantastic as any rock beats you'll hear all weekend.

Grizzly Bear (9) are howling in the light of the full Primavera moon. The beautiful and delicate howls of lovelorn animals that resonate with a crowd of thousands. This is their third crack at the Primavera whip and the Brooklyn four-piece dig deep into their four album catalogue to deliver veritable jewels of lush psychedelic-pop fancies and minimalist production. Old favourites 'The Knife' and 'While You Wait For The Others' aside new numbers 'Yet Again' and 'A Simple Answer' are highlights.


The moon is nowhere to be seen on Friday night as it turns dark, unsettled and stormy just for Shellac (8). Their revered frontman Steve Albini has the look of Simon Cowell and the guitar technicality of a robot virtuoso sent back from the future. 'Steady As She Goes' finds the eminent audio engineer, and Shellac bassist Bob Weston, hiding from view, only to emerge for the song's grand finale, like two school children playing at musical hide and seek. Theirs is a set that builds, implants itself in your head and Albini is just left to thank what he describes as: "The most fuckable population there could be."

The bilingual city of Barcelona is never forgotten here. Primavera Sound reaches out to many central sites and the Wednesday night of the festival sees a full capacity show from a band best be described as Pavement revivalists, Parquet Courts (7). The Brooklyn four-piece are riding the crest of a wave made from warm critical feeling, and inside this sweaty, boxy room the crowd are having their own warm feelings, riding the shoulders of others, joining a throng of revellers on side of stage for an invasion of Mediterranean type.

Dónde esta la fiesta? At 03:20 in the morning it should be with The Knife (4), who look set to continue what will surely be remembered as their most bizarre live tour yet. Mostly because it's not really live. A glorified PA performance with dance routines possibly pulled straight from Sky's 'Got to Dance'. What some critics have described as "rewriting the definition of what constitutes live performance" certainly is a semantic challenge but offers up little else. The skill and thunder the duo bring on record is absent and the live performance fails to connect with anything other than the urge in everyone to head for the door.

From humble beginnings has grown a truly wondrous festival in Primavera, now one of the defining stops on the European festival circuit. Bigger than its headliners, bigger even than the wealth of talent that play below them. This is a conviction festival, full of character and self-concept, clearly not swayed by populist taste or opinion. Despite the hints of tall poppy syndrome, whispered around the site, the general vibe here is positive. From newbies in The Bots and Metz to those acts with salad days to relive, you can find few faults in the eccentricities or the designs that make Primavera Festival.


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