Parc Del Forum
31 May - 4 June
Primavera Sound, as you may well know, is reputed for pulling together one of the best line-ups among Europe’s festival calendar every year, and the 2017 edition saw more huge names in the top tier than ever before.
The news of Frank Ocean’s cancellation less than a week before, however, was a real downer, and suddenly this year’s star-studded Primavera Sound line-up didn’t shine quite as brightly when his name was replaced with the somewhat uninspiring substitute of a Jamie xx set. Fortunately, Thursday still provided a back-to-back billing of contemporary RnB, with superstar crooner Miguel being immediately followed on the opposite stage by the mighty Solange.
Not only has Miguel got the tunes, he’s a passionate performer – running from one side of the stage to the other with the kind of beaming smile (his teeth are the best we’ve seen, by the way) that suggests he’d probably laugh in the face of “production delays”. There’s a huge congregation for Solange, who appears before a blood red moon backdrop with a slick band who join her for synchronised choreography throughout. It’s a powerful performance, with Solange cruising the crowd barrier to make direct, intimate contact with emotional fans in the front row during F.U.B.U. Very classy.
We catch another surprise set on Saturday – this time from Mogwai, who play their new album in full for the first time. It’s an inspired booking, but the volume perhaps hinders their post-rock swells from reaching their fullest heights. Physical musical experience of the weekend undoubtedly was Swans, whose two hour ride is absurdly entertaining. Michael Gira’s role as prime conductor of his band is main focus, as he aggressively elevates the musicians while at the same time leaving the audience hanging on the drop of every riff or crescendo.
Between Miguel and Solange, word got out of a surprise Arcade Fire set, sending a small stampede towards a makeshift outdoor stage that allowed the crowd to watch from the adjacent bridge. The show that follows is pretty much a greatest hits set with a couple of new ones (Creature Comfort and album title track Everything Now) rather than a new album playback. It’s well-judged good fun rather than anything of true significance, but if you aren’t enjoying Arcade Fire’s hits up-close and personal as an orange colour floods the sky then you’re probably at the wrong festival. Kicking off at 1am, Aphex Twin’s onslaught feels more fluid, danceable and set for a bigger audience compared to some of the more jarring times experienced watching him in the past. That said, the sound is powerful here, and across two hours Aphex pushes untrained ears into musical extremities – including the obligatory foray into jungle and a 20 minute white noise finale – in ways most artists still don’t dare. He remains the jewel in this crown.
What begins as a fucking disaster becomes a triumph for the Sleaford Mods. Compared to their own gigs they’ve got a younger crowd gathered for their set on the Ray Ban stage, one of the site’s biggest venues. It’s not as if the no-fi punk-rap duo require a meticulous soundcheck – in fact, for every tune beatmaker Andrew Fearn literally just presses play on a laptop and swigs lager – but for some reason the sound is appalling, with the volume dipping so low that the crowd’s booing eclipses the band. At one point, pre-show music can even be heard leaking from the left speaker stack. But after aborting a bunch tracks and storming on and off stage, eventually the sound kicks into life for English Tapas track Moptop, and by the time they play Jobseeker the Ray Ban area’s so full that the colosseum-style seating at the back is packed. Definitely a highlight.
Later we cross the bridge to head to the revamped Primavera Bits arena – home to most of the dance-orientated programming at the festival. Huerco S provides us with the dose of oddball house before Montreal artist Marie Davidson’s powerful arpeggios and unusual vocal offerings make a strong impression – definitely an artist to watch over the coming year. Dixon’s fourth year as RA’s top DJ has done him no favours in the eyes of critics, but his condensed set is unsurprisingly full of emotion, a much-needed reminder of Innervisions’ appeal.
The ATP stage is now known as the Primavera stage, and despite the name change the line-up programming is still more or less in the spirit of the fallen festival, with revered alternative acts like Shellac, This is Not This Heat and rock deconstructionists Royal Trux appearing on it across the weekend. The Royal Trux reunion sees the band’s notorious core duo of Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema joined by brave members of their former side projects. It’s a mess of course, but Hagerty’s sloppy riffage still sounds great, and Herrema’s rock star presence is intact, as she groans while clutching beers and cigarettes with her fringe completely obscuring her eyes. When the crowd suggests an encore, they look hilariously baffled.
Saturday night’s most special offering was, of course, the legendary Grace Jones. As she prowls the stage, the frills of her striped costume blow in the wind, giving her the appearance of a zebra batfish. After a slow vocal start, the medly of Shenanigans, the stunning Williams Blood and Amazing Grace lead into the phenomenal Pull Up To The Bumper, by which point she’s asked the crowd for cocaine three times in 45 minutes (old habits die hard, eh?).
And then, it only feels right to head to Primavera Bit for the final dance of the weekend, where Giegling’s DJ Dustin pushes an emotive, engulfing house/techno crossover sound that really retains a full and moving audience. The sun rises, and the crowd disperses, with the hardcore revellers heading to the beach to watch the sunrise. Looking around, it’s hard to imagine many people have doubts about doing this all again next year.
Words: Davy Reed + Thomas Frost