Primavera Sound 2016 took place over the past few days at the Parc del Fòrum in Barcelona and half of the Methods Unsound team went along to report on it and generally get up to no good.
There are some things you should first know about this half of the Methods Unsound team though: 1) we’ve never been to Primavera Sound before, 2) we’ve never been to a European festival before, 3) one of us is a fairly grouchy 35 year-old prone to emotional outbursts after the merest hint of alcohol, 4) the other one of us is pregnant. As you can imagine, it was quite the weekend.
But before we get into reviewing the bands, here are a few impressions of Primavera for those who have never been before…
– Unlike UK festivals, it’s entirely made of concrete. There is very little greenery… but it’s very beautiful in its own unique way.
— Methods Unsound (@MethodsUnsound) June 3, 2016
– And it is next to the beach, so you’re never far from gorgeous sea, sand and a cooling breeze.
– The weather’s lovely. It never got above 23 degrees, and you wouldn’t necessarily want it to as there’s very little shade in the section containing the two main stages.
– Because the Spanish are sensible and would never go out in the midday sun anyway, the festival doesn’t really kick off till past 4pm. Hooray!
– This does also mean you may be here till 4am every night because most of the best bands are on after the headliners – Battles, Animal Collective, Holly Herndon for instance. Hooray?
– You have to really like Heineken. Getting through more than three pints of the stuff becomes a war of attrition. There is however a very reasonably priced selection of gluten-free beers and non-alcoholic beers. And shit-tonnes of second hand smoke. You have to really like second hand smoke. And concrete.
– It’s all music. There’s no comedy, theatre, dance, film or any of the other stuff that we pretend to think is added value at UK festivals but never go to see anyway. It’s all music. And concrete.
– There are loads of posters, records and CDs on sale too, which is great and makes a change from the usual mixture of shit novelty hats and inflatables, but it does mean you will spunk all of the money you saved on cheap beer on a psychedelic poster of Witchthroat Serpent.
– There’s no camping, so you have to find your own accommodation. I know for most people this is half the fun of festivals, but imagine the joy of being able to go back every night to a hotel room or AirBnB and have a shower and sleep in an actual bed and not have to eat beans from a tin. This also means the festival itself feels fresh every day, nobody’s acting like a stinking strung-out asshat, the toilets stay clean, the littering is negligible and you don’t get baked alive in a tarpaulin oven every morning.
– Accomodation tip: we highly recommend staying in Badalona instead of central Barcelona. It’s a 20 minute train/tram/cheap taxi ride away from Primavera, it’s quiet, there’s a beautiful beach here, and this Airbnb is genuinely badass. It has the kindest and coolest host, an incredible terrace and contains some terrific books.
– Oh God I love it here, I don’t ever want to go to a UK festival ever again.
Now all that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the music…
Thursday 2nd JUNE
THE JAMES HUNTER SIX [18:55 – 19:50] H&M
Imagine that your dad is terrific guitarist, singer and performer. Like Charles Bradley good. Then imagine that he still insists on making the same terrible jokes he makes at the dinner table. That’s what makes Colchester born James Hunter so easy to love. Their cover of The “5” Royales’ ‘Baby Don’t Do It‘ was incredible on every level and by any rights you won’t be able to attend any festival from now on without seeing them on the bill.
BEAK> [19:30 – 20:20] PRIMAVERA
Geoff Barrow from Portishead’s other marginally more terrifying band tore up the Primavera stage like a bunch of fucking heroes, helped by Barrow’s brilliant mixture of warmth and animosity towards the crowd. At one moment he decided not to play one of their more accessible, closest-to-actually-charting hits and instead played a much obscurer abrasive one, proclaiming, “you’re here to be exposed to new music!” I now love them a lot harder than ever before.
VINCE STAPLES [22:10 – 23:10] PITCHFORK
Despite this being one of my most eagerly anticipated sets of the weekend, the former Odd Future collaborator and creator of one the best rap albums of the last couple of years felt oddly off-form. He was all crazed bouts of aberrant energy but little focus. Much of the moody atmospherics of Summertime ’06’s best tracks were lost, and Staples himself sounded off-key and hilariously incoherent at times.
JOHN CARPENTER [23:50 – 00:50] PRIMAVERA
It was a privilege to witness first-hand one of horror director John Carpenter‘s first EVER live shows and this was easily the highlight of the first day. Carpenter mostly played his classic themes, beginning with a double-hit of Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13, but surprisingly only peppered a handful of Lost Themes tracks throughout the set. Each one sounded chilling and terrific though, especially stood outside with a large captivated crowd long past midnight. Yes I came all this way to a beach in Barcelona to listen to the Halloween soundtrack. I DON’T CARE IF THAT MAKES ME A LUNATIC.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM [01:10 – 02:45] HEINEKEN
It may seem trite to say it (and there probably wasn’t really any doubt they’d return) but it is genuinely lovely to have LCD Soundsystem back. Tonight’s set was a perfectly judged and delivered run-through of the best of their three albums. There were very few surprises – save for a GIGANTIC FUCKING DISCO BALL that threatened to disrupt Earth’s gravity – but you can understand the trepidation of these fawn-like steps back to life. Some tracks went on a bit too long. In places it could’ve been a little bit tighter. Personally I was mildly disappointed they didn’t include ‘Drunk Girls’ or ‘North American Scum’, but who can really complain when you get to hear ‘All My Friends’ and ‘Someone Great’ performed so exquisitely in all their emotional, uplifting glory. It should also be noted that James Murphy is in fantastic voice. In fact I’ve only just realised what an incredible vocal talent he really is. Please come back soon.
Friday 3RD JUNE
SAVAGES [20:00 – 20:50] HEINEKEN
On the main stage, lead vocalist Jehnny Beth spent most of her time straddling the crowd and she was clearly having a blast. Say what you will about Savages (“a bit boring, derivative and exhaustingly serious”) they fucking ooze cool and seeing them live makes you appreciate how truly talented they all are. Savages manage to balance intensity and fun in a way that few bands can manage. I just wish they were a tiny bit more interesting.
Beirut [21:00 – 22:00] H&M
Putting Beirut on before Radiohead makes Radiohead seem like fucking Slade.
RADIOHEAD [22:15 – 00:15] HEINEKEN
The last time I saw Radiohead live was in a big-top in Warrington the night before Kid A came out and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. Tonight was just as good. You forget how monumentally wonderful they are live. So tight, so slick, so full of surprises – apart from ‘No Surprises’, they always play that one. They have the ability to make a field of 55,000 people go completely silent in reverie for one minute (if you made even so much as a throat-clear during ‘Daydreaming’ you’d get an evil glare from any number of bearded, bespectacled middle-aged men) then turn them into a full-on mosh pit the next.
It was an utterly crowd-pleasing two-hour long set. For the first half-hour it leaned heavily on A Moon Shaped Pool material – which I’m still not totally sold on, but it was suitably atmospheric and hypnotic here tonight – before launching into a mixture of older gems.
They pretty much played three or four tracks from every album. Stand-outs included ‘2+2=5’, a rare outing for ‘Talk Show Host’ and a trio of Kid A‘s best tracks including ‘Idioteque’. Although I don’t feel like I ever need to hear ‘Karma Police’ and ‘No Surprises’ ever again – particularly as these just induce mass Glastonbury circa ’97 singalongs – ‘Paranoid Android’ was utterly demolishing. Radiohead ended with ‘Creep’ and although I would have preferred anything from The Bends to finish (from which they only played ‘Street Spirit’ *sad-face emoji*) it would be churlish to fault a band with nine albums worth of insanely brilliant material to choose from. Ultimately you just felt thoroughly spoilt by them.
HOLLY HERNDON [01:00 – 02:00] PITCHFORK
I frigging love Holly Herndon, and although her experimental sliced-up glitchpop is often perhaps more cerebral than outright enjoyable, it soon found its footing and became a gorgeously textured and danceable set. Despite someone who looked like Thor screaming into a microphone and some terribly dated graphics. My wife fucking hated it. I can totally see why.
Saturday 4th June
BRIAN WILSON PERFORMING PET SOUNDS [20:00 – 21:15] HEINEKEN
I can’t lie. I had a meltdown during this. From the moment Brian Wilson and his band launched into ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ all the way through the entirety of Pet Sounds, to an encore consisting of ‘Good Vibrations’, an assortment of other classic Beach Boys tracks and even the frigging ‘Monster Mash’, I was in tears. “Oh my God, this is so beautiful, Pet Sounds is such a glorious work of art and it completely broke Brian Wilson but here he is performing the whole thing right now in 2016 and I feel so lucky to be here listening to it oh my God why won’t the tears stop?” This was was me for the entire 60 minutes.
My wife insists it was all the white wine I drank in the press lounge half-an-hour prior, and she might be right. But seeing Brian Wilson along with original founding member Al Jardine on guitar and his son Matt Jardine on falsetto vocals, performing ‘God Only Knows’ was the highlight of the weekend, if not my entire festival-going career.
DRIVE LIKE JEHU [21:35 – 22:35] PRIMAVERA
The post-hardcore legends who disbanded in 1995, returned to extraordinary life on the Primavera stage with an eviscerating set full of exhilarating spite and menace. Admittedly, I had little prior knowledge of the band prior to the recent ATP debacle, but I’m so glad I’ve been exposed to them now. Every moment on stage felt vital and a welcome release of energy during a weekend perhaps lacking in pure sweaty fury.
PJ HARVEY [22:35 – 23:50] HEINEKEN
A rare opportunity to see PJ Harvey live is a moment to savour, and perhaps nobody else can make an album truly come alive on stage more than her. Here Harvey was backed by a nine-piece band including long-term collaborator John Parish and she played a largely The Hope Six Demolition Project set, but threw in a couple of seldom heard older tracks (‘When Under Ether’) some old favourites (‘Down By The Water’, ’50ft Queenie’) as well as a few tracks off the unbeatable Let England Shake. PJ Harvey looked as if she was having the time of her life too.
VENOM [23:05 – 00:00] Adidas originals
The festival’s only (and surprising) concession to true NWOBHM came in the form of Newcastle-born metallers Venom whose golden years were 30 years ago. Here now though, these survivors stood silhouetted by mist and red lasers, and took the form of immoveable action figures from the 80s with only four points of articulation. They were fucking excellent.
ACTION BRONSON [23:45 – 00:45] PRIMAVERA
The chef turned rapper busted out an hour’s set full of bonhomie and self-effacing humour, and managed to draw a humungous crowd to a relatively small stage. His delivery was as grizzled as ever, and became more gnarled as the night wore on, but Bronson knows how to keep an audience entertained and would often drop some classic 90s samples into the mix – Biz Markie’s ‘Just a Friend’ being a terrific example.
And that’s it for Primavera Sound 2016. Would we go back again next year? Fuck yeah! Would we go back again next year having to be forcibly sober due to pregnancy? Hang on, I’ll ask Toni… She says: “No… Hmm, well actually maybe if I had a fold-up chair… No, it’s still no. Please don’t make me.”
Main image: Eric Pamies