Primavera Sound 2012 Wrap-up

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San Miguel stage, photo by Dani Cantó

The Parc del Forúm is an excellent location for Primavera Sound, because the Spanish heat gets intense, particularly in the front row crowds, but there’s always a cool sea breeze that hits you just at the right moment. The three main festival days were full of a lot of excellent performances and I even had the chance to catch some of the shows at other sites. For example, Yann Tiersen played on Sunday at the Arc de Triomf with the crowd in the rain and lightning behind them.

I also had the opportunity to hang out with a lot of the Spanish bands and labels that I’ve been interviewing as there were some booths set up for labels from all over Europe. I spent some time with Beach Beach and a really nice guy from their label La Castanya. The band’s live set was excellent as well, and I was bummed that I didn’t get to see another buddy of THE BOMBER JACKET, Picore. Overall, the festival went down well, filled with a lot of really nice people and memorable moments. A bunch of them are listed below.

Arc de Triomf on Sunday, photo by Dani Cantó

Best on-stage striptease: Grimes

Grimes, photo by Lee Stepien

Unfortunately, Grimes’ set was riddled with sound problems as Claire Boucher, with a neon yellow ribbon in her hair, kept wincing in pain at the sound from her monitors and running back and forth to the sound booth. When she finally settled into her set, the vocals were too low in the mix, but that didn’t stop it from being danceable. A few songs in, people who were presumably Boucher’s friends, popped out from backstage to become backup dancers. Someone from the crowd threw a red flag on stage and one of the guys waved it in the background for most of the set. One girl in particular was deeply lost in Grimes’ trance and progressively took off articles of clothing as she crawled across the stage with them in her teeth and bicycle kicked in the air with her dress over her head and her pink knickers exposed.

Most Fucking Post-Exhausted Fucking Set: Japandroids

Japandroids, photo by Lee Stepien

Japandroids took the stage and quickly proclaimed that they were happy to spend the last night of their tour at Primavera Sound. Their voices were shot and off key, but they put on a show that fit the title of their last record, Celebration Rock. I wasn’t particularly excited to see Japandroids, because I already had seen them before and it felt like the band’s new material would be more straight-up rock and would be missing some of the diversity that made the group’s first, Post-Nothing, so interesting. For how palpable their exhaustion was (singer Brian King had a hard time finding adjectives other than fuck), those guys really gave it their all, just like they did two years earlier at the Middle East in Boston. Even though they said they’d played it a thousand times, they didn’t mind doing “Wet Hair” and it was just as fun to sing along to “We run the gauntlet / Let’s get to France / so we can French kiss some French girls!”

Japandroids, photo by Lee Stepien

Most belonging in a nightclub rather than a festival: The xx

The xx, photo by Eric Pamies

For three people, the set for The xx was huge. Jamie xx (Smith) had a lot of space in the back to move around between his electronic equipment and pound out beats on his overhead drum pads. A giant transparent X hung behind the group onto which trippy low light colors were projected over everything. Since the x was three dimensional and made of fiberglass or something, the second x could be seen through the giant clear letter at an angle, which was pretty clever. Yet, something just seemed off when they started playing and it felt like there was too much space or it was too decorated and you might appreciate them better in some cramped sweaty underground in London. It reminded me of the first time I saw a live video of The xx. The appearance of the male and female singers threw me and I realized that it was because their debut record did such a good job of capturing these characters that I had a clear mental picture of what I imagined they looked like. Their set was great either way and singer Oliver Sim kept on saying really nice things about the festival and everyone there.

The xx, photo by Luis Pérez Contreras

Best slowdance in a cloud: Washed Out

Washed Out, photo by Jose Eduardo Medina, El Enano Rabioso

Washed Out’s set was exactly what fans hoped for: a welcome relaxing sigh as one of the last bands to play after a tiring weekend. I was expecting main songwriter Ernest Greene to be playing alone with a bunch of gadgets and keys, but he was joined by three other members and two even playing real instruments, some bass and drums. The guitarist for Real Estate also joined the group for a song. The smoke machines were on full blast and it really was like they were performing in a cloud as a bunch of people pulled their sweeties close to sway along.

Washed Out, photo by Lee Stepien

The only reason to smash a guitar in 2k12…or at least break a few strings: The Men

The Men, photo by Lee Stepien

The songs from The Men’s last record, Open Your Heart, really stood out in the set as really catchy moments surrounded by shredded punk-rock sludge. Midst their fury, both guitarists broke a string and one of them commented something like, “You know when you’re at your buddy’s house and you break a string and someone just hands you another guitar? It’s not like that here.” Their set made me realize that the band might have a lot of punk-rock and grungy tropes, but they were genuine and real. They wear opened-up plaid shirts play a bunch of barking punk with no breaks for solos, but they really mean it and they mean it well.

Best decision I made: Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells, photo by Damia Bosch

I wasn’t going to watch any of Sleigh Bells’ set, because Wavves started 15 minutes after and because I was pretty disappointed with the band’s latest release, Reign of Terror. They had lost the digital effects that had made their debut, Treats, so interesting. But once they started, dwarfed by too many marshall amps, the intensity of their live show made it all make sense. It’s hard to explain, because it wasn’t just the intensity or the energy of it, but even from the back you could just feel it literally blowing you away. Singer Alexis Krauss’ little glam-rock act didn’t seem as cutsie in person and it seemed more like she could actually hurt you if she wanted. It was nice to bounce around like an idiot before running over to catch Wavves.

Sleigh Bells, photo by Jose Eduardo Medina, El Enano Rabioso

Best reapplication of an emo haircut/ best flying V bass/ worst f@€%ing crowd: Wavves

Wavves, photo by Jose Eduardo Medina, El Enano Rabioso

The crowd for Wavves was full of drunken idiots and jerks, pushing you and spilling beer on you and burning you with their cigarettes and shouting stupid shit like, “Smoke a joint!” to which lead Nathan Williams sarcastically responded, “Smoking weed is bad for you. It’s not cool.” For most of the festival, all of the people I ran into were really open-minded and nonjudgmental, but for some reason Wavves gathered the worst of them. At one point the portly flying V bassist, Stephen Pope, said, “I think they think we’re the Backstreet Boys.” It made me sort of understand why the band couldn’t finish its set at Primavera Sound in 2009 and why Williams insulted the crowd (but then again it was probably mostly the ecstasy and valium cocktail). Despite the nonsense, I don’t know if I had more fun jumping around at other parts of the festival (maybe a bit more at the Mujeres set). They have an amazing control of feedback where it’s interesting but never painful and their vocal harmonies for the “ooohhooohhhs” and “ehhhheees” are flawless.

Wavves, photo by Lee Stepien

Best reason to drink a thousand shots of café: Mujeres

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Mujeres, photo by Dani Cantó

Mujeres went on late after a day full of high-energy rock bands, but it was impossible to be too tired to jump around. The group has an exhilarating ’50s rock ‘n’ roll style punctured with a lot of catchy, wordless do-wap vocal melodies. It was good to see a Spanish band playing for an hour alongside other popular international acts and not boxed into a “Spanish band” stage, because it doesn’t matter where they’re from, Mujeres is just a great, fun band. It seemed like they had gained a pretty good following too. It was the only time at the festival that I saw every last person in the crowd moving about.

Best sprint across the festival: Beach House and The Olivia Tremor Control

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The Olivia Tremor Control, photo by Dani Cantó

It was great to see The Olivia Tremor Control on the same bill as Jeff Mangum; to get a fill of some classic Elephant Six collective members. Their set was fun, but I was hoping for a more psychedelic art experience and it made them seem more like a jam band. Halfway through, I ran from the VICE stage all he way across the whole festival to the “mini stage” to wrestle my way through the crowd for Beach House. It seemed like most people at the festival had turned out to see the band play drenched in white light. It was the perfect thing to unwind to and listen to next to the night chill of the Mediterranean sea.

Beach House, photo by Luis Pérez Contreras

Beach House, photo by Luis Pérez Contreras

Weirdest Dylan Impersonation: Atlas Sound

Atlas Sound, photo by Luis Pérez Contreras

I was expecting more people to be on stage for Atlas Sound’s set, but a lone Bradford Cox wandered out with an acoustic guitar, wearing a jean jacket and a harmonica holder around his neck. He was able to reproduce intricate sounds from his songs like “Te Amo” with just a few effects pedals. Other tunes like “Walkabout” got a new loop interpretation that was fascinating to watch unfold. There were a lot of people staring intensely and I even got shushed when I greeted a friend who made it halfway through the set. It seems Cox has fans that are as intense as he is, but it’s understandable because his set was infinitely interesting and captivating.

Atlas Sound, photo by Luis Pérez Contreras

Best transposing of a digital song onto accordion: Beirut

Beirut, photo by Luis Pérez Contreras

Although Beirut was playing in the wrong century, the band was at least playing on the right continent for Primavera Sound. Despite the Mini Cooper ads, it was easy enough to imagine the the mini stage transforming into an antique wooden outdoor amphitheater in early 1900s Europe with hot air balloon coasting by in the background. One of the coolest parts of the set was that the lack of digital equipment didn’t hold them back from playing. They transcribed the rapidfire digital melody for “My Night With The Prostitute from Marseille” to the accordian and added in horn parts. Like the two versions of “Scenic World,” it was cool to see and unique to Beirut live.

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Beirut, photo by Morgane Salas

Best Sunday’s best: Girls

Girls, photo by Luis Pérez Contreras

Girls decorated the stage with bouquets of flowers on every mic stand and singer Chris Owens came out dressed as if he was off to Sunday school, with pressed khaki pants, a pink shirt, and a tie. The set captured the group’s ’50s-ish throwback well, complete with three do-wap backup singers, one of whom flew up and down scales with ease for her solo in “Vomit.” The Girls even let their hair down a bit as guitar solos ripped through the songs with hefty distortion. Seeing Girls live just augments that simple giddy feeling to be had from listening to the records of a simpler, childlike time, with something just a little bit weird going on underneath.

Girls, photo by Lee Stepien

The records do them no justice: M83

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M83, photo by Morgane Salas

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M83, photo by Santiago Periel

Most M83 records contain a majority of songs that you can put on softly as you’re falling asleep, but from their live set, you wouldn’t know it. It wasn’t the intensity as much as it was the sugary energy that made songs from their record sound like you’d never heard or danced to them before. It was an incredible set, although it seemed like pre-recordings were doing a lot of work for the band, as they had five laptops backstage. But for just four people, it was impressive how many sounds they could make with nothing from the record left out. The live version of “Midnight City” defies description.

M83, photo by Luis Pérez Contreras

Best mental illness humor: Jeff Mangum

Jeff Mangum, photo by Lee Stepien

Jeff wandered on stage brandishing a beard and bags under his eyes that made him look like he hadn’t slept in days. He started right off with “Oh Comely” without a word and immediately captivated the entire packed auditorium of the Rock Deluxe. Maybe a thousand and then some people sitting in silence watched this one dude sitting with three guitars beside him. He looked like he was really, really pissed off, especially when singing with such intensity. At one point he said something like, “You can talk to me and tell me how much you hate it and everything,” with a kind of unflinching, well-refined sarcasm. He mentioned touring around and playing at friends’ houses and as people gathered in front to sit in a circle on the floor in front of the stage and sing along, the entire auditorium was filled with that same kind of warmth that can be found in a small living room with close friends.

Someone asked him what his favorite book was, which seemed like a clever joke. Instead of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Mangum seemed to quickly respond just as cleverly with, “Memoirs of My Nervous Illness.” However, he wasn’t referencing his mental breakdown that caused his 12-or-so year hiatus from music, but a book by Daniel Paul Schreiber, and he enthusiastically said that it was a great read. When the time came around for people to shout requests of old, obscure songs, I yelled out, “She Did A Lot of Acid.” Mangum just laughed and said, “She did do a lot of acid,” then launched into the last song and an epic rendition of “Two Headed Boy, Part I.”

With a huge shroud of mystery surrounding what happened to Mangum during his hiatus and why he’s returned now, I shouted, “Do you have any new songs,” to which he promptly replied, “Nope.” It’s hard to imagine that ten years went by without working on even one song, especially when starting to tour again. Then again, I suppose that’s what a breakdown is. It couldn’t really be that Mangum was so terrified by the weight of In The Aeroplane Over the Sea‘s brilliance that he gave up on the idea of trying to write music ever again. It would almost make it seem like he was touring now just because he knew how much people loved the music and loved the experience to see all the songs that they’ve only heard come from a stereo finally come from the mouth that wrote them. Because it was an experience. I like to think that he’s got one or two songs in the back of his mind, he just hasn’t figured out how to avoid the storm of criticism that is sure to come.

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