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The 15 things which defined Primavera Sound 2015

© Dani Canto

Words by:

Parc Del Forum, Barcelona
28-30 May

Primavera turned 15 this year, which may not necessarily seem like that big of a deal, but as a multiple of 5, it kind of is. To celebrate the festival being only one year short of being allowed to smoke – although we’re pretty sure we saw it having a cheeky toke at some point – or 15% of a century, we’ve picked the 15 things which defined an unforgettable weekend at one of the world’s most enduring and important alternative musical spectacles.

The setting
Parc Del Forum is right next to the three mile stretch of beach that takes you right into the heart of Barcelona. That means for the majority of Primavera’s attendees you’ve got access to a belter of a beach, and a belter of a city. The tapas runs freely, the locals are more than congenial and the currency isn’t in the best shape so it’s surprisingly cheap. But to be honest it’s the consistent warmer climes and the draw of the beach, otherwise known as nature’s greatest lounge where dirt meets water, that gets the crowds in. The weather was temperate enough to not send you the wrong way, but spicy enough to go home looking bronzed. You could catch us here most days. TF

© Dani Canto

The heaviness
Primavera has never shied away from a bit of gnarly heft on their line-ups and man, this year they really went all out. A constant feature of the bill was a lust for the deep, dark and heavy as fuck. A clear highlight of Thursday night was the epic, physically draining and ever-so-faintly ridiculous drone onslaught of Sunn O))). The stage flooded in an opaque, miasmic fug of dry ice, hissing out constantly and flooding the eyeline, their single note clangs rung out across the site for minutes, tens of minutes, faint timbral shifts having gargantuan effect, overlaid by guttural monastic chanting. Their set ended in a blur of metallic, mirrored spikes and black metal caterwauling.
That was – give or take – as extreme as it got, but there was ample weight to come. Later that evening, Electric Wizard’s doom grooves were dense and muggy through the 2am air, while the following day welcomed this spectacularly intense running order: the searingly emotive noise of Pharmakon, into the stomping thrash of Voivod, into the rumbling droney soundscapes of Earth, and finally, the classic stoner doom of Pallbearer. That’s a line-up befitting any of the world’s finest metal festivals. Sunday also welcomed Swans, but we’ll get to that later. GHD

Smart punx
The first thing we hit up was a beautifully programmed one/two at the Pitchfork stage, which saw a couple of too-smart-for-their-own-good-Canadian-post-hardcore-indie-punk bands pooled together. Viet Cong were up first, thrashing through a handful of songs from this year’s exceptional debut; Ought followed, all sneering one-liners and surging dynamics. The winner? Viet Cong on points, mainly because Continental Shelf is one of the best rock songs of the past couple of years. GHD

Antony and the Johnsons
The first major surprise of the weekend, and a timely reminder that acts who don’t play at every opportunity can often come through with the goods; spending time away from the stage, refining the quality of their performance and creating something memorable and special. Antony Hegarty makes music born from a place on the outside, yet there was nothing ostracising or deliberately obtuse when he presented his music with a 40-piece orchestra on the Heineken stage, Thursday night. His set was a tearful exponent of fragility with visual expressionism as a backdrop. There were tears, and there was magic in filling the stage with that many professional musicians. Hegarty’s voice will rank alongside those individuals whose vocal defined them by their unknowable quality as much as their melody. Kate Bush may have more devotees in the mainstream, but to many he is an equally alternative hero of the modern age. On this showing it’s hard to argue. TF

Bowers & Wilkins Sound System
Bowers and Wilkins make quality home-listening sound-systems and headphones. So imagine this kind of quality in a festival setting. Their bespoke sound system created for Primavera brought clarity to line-ups hand-picked by Resident Advisor and Red Bull Music Academy, on a covered stage which also featured 360° visuals. Primavera isn’t known for huge dance line-ups, but standouts Objekt, Raime and a hometown set from John Talabot particularly impressed. Sub-standard quiet festival sound complete with squelchy bass this was not, and the system also looked really good – which is the most important thing. TF

© Dani Canto

The grrrls
A huge treat on Friday evening saw Kathleen Hanna’s The Julie Ruin followed almost immediately by Sleater-Kinney a five-minute walk apart. With the spectre of Hanna’s ongoing struggles with illness still looming over each show of each tour, her performance at Primavera was astounding, empowering and moving. The Julie Ruin are an underrated and ambitious band, merging jerky synth-punk with the theatricality of cabaret. Hanna grinned, delivering iconic one-liners (“Old people rule! 46, I’m still punk. It doesn’t stop at 30. You can’t stop this”; “I’m not scared of anything – except people who keep talking about the past”), flawless vocals and really good songs – Ha Ha Ha and the achingly nostalgic Running Fast stood out. She left the stage with a cartwheel, splits and a wave. Inspiring. Sleater-Kinney couldn’t quite match that charm, though their bolshy, strutty rawk had enough depth and substance to fill the massive space in front of the central Heineken Stage. No Cities Left To Ruin didn’t exactly get a rousing response around our office, but live it felt assured and confident, and their presence at Prima was very welcome. GHD

Patti Smith
Patti Smith played Horses and sounded utterly compelling, passionate and committed to her seminal album creation as she humanly could be. The definitive album from one of the greatest recording artists of all time as the sun set? Yeah, this was flawless. TF

The underwhelming bits
OK, they came few and far between, so let’s get them out of the way. Tyler, The Creator burst onto the stage like his pants were on fire, and then immediately removed his pants, which suggests that maybe they were a little bit on fire. Not that we’re calling him a liar. Either way, the first five minutes of Tyler’s set were total fire, pants or no pants, but the subsequent 40 mins simply couldn’t sustain that level.

A reluctant mission to see Jungle ended as expected, in a hail of phone-advert-jams that went down a storm with most, but not with us. It’s all down to personal preference, but from where we were sitting all of Belle & Sebastian’s songs sounded like the Scooby Doo theme tune, while catching a couple of tracks of Alt-J’s Saturday night main stage headline slot – for which their booking agent deserves a fucking knighthood – was suitably harrowing. Oh, and we can only presume Foxygen were actually trying to harsh everyone’s buzz on Saturday night, but they failed, so joke’s on them. GHD

Run The Jewels
There’s no more explosive act in music right now than El-P and Killer Mike. They’ve already transcended hip-hop, and were one of the names on everyone’s lips before, and most definitely after, their staggering Friday night showing at Primavera. They were heavy, funny, powerful, cool as shit; the chemistry between Mike and Jamie is unparalleled. They’re tough and smart and honest. They bounded onstage to We Are The Champions, a perfect mix of outrageous braggadocio and knowing self-deprecation. Killer Mike invited his wife onstage and demanded the whole audience wish her a happy birthday. Tracks from both albums sounded iconic and absolutely massive, Killer Mike’s voice in particular scything through the air and straight to the middle of your stupid banging head. They’ve already secured their place in the rap pantheon, forever. In fact, RTJ went very close to stealing the entire weekend… GHD

Swans
…until, that is, we were led into a snaking queue which trickled into the cavernous, matt-black Auditori Rockdelux early on Saturday. A stunning venue, totally off-kilter with the sun-seeped expanses of the rest of Parc Del Forum, it acted as a perfect counterpoint. Michael Gira and his band of grainy, seedy cohorts strode onstage one at a time. What followed was two hours – not the three billed, but let’s not get greedy – of some of the most staggering, grotesque, symphonic, brutalist noise we’ve ever experienced. We were stood a matter of feet from Gira, and our feet remained rooted throughout as our bodies swayed, necks revolved, neck and stomach lurched with the seasick, giddy incantations. There’s truly nothing to compare it to, emotionally or physically. It was one of the greatest sets of music we’ve ever witnessed. Swans are an ancient, carnal, indescribably powerful force of nature. They’re a gift. GHD

© Dani Canto

Two indie big-hitters
A tale of two bands with the same outcome. A tale of two dress codes with a vastly different outcome. The Strokes and Interpol defined the formative indie music experiences for many a youthful music fan. Fortunes have ebbed and flowed and arguments remain over the quality of their respective outputs, particularly in latter years, but come the final night at a festival we were in the mood for sticking to what we know, and it’s not something we regret. But first the garms: Interpol, particularly Daniel Kessler, has always been among the best dressed guitarists in music and as far as we can make out Julian Casablancas has always dressed alright, but his fluorescent t-shirt, black waistcoat complete with black mullet with red go-faster stripes was proof that going clean might well make you lose it. Luckily both were on absolutely sterling form on the two facing main stages. Them Strokes delivered first record material aplenty, plus Juicebox and Heart In A Cage felt every bit as fun as they did during their meteoric rise. Equally, Interpol’s melting renditions of NYC, Stella Was A Driver and the obligatory singalong to Evil and Slow Hands all felt perfectly morose and timeless. TF

Underworld performing dubnobasswithmyheadman live
One of the greatest electronic debuts in memory played loudly and with the reverence and love it deserved from an act who taught the current crop what “live” electronic means. A treat. TF

The bits we missed
Andrew Weatherall, Panda Bear, Sun Kil Moon, Kelela, The Replacements, Shabazz Palaces, American Football, Einstürzende Neubaten, Ride, OMD, Mac de Marco, Jon Hopkins, Hookworms, Fucked Up, Dixon, Daphni and Tori Amos were all missed this weekend, proving once again this is perhaps the music fan’s music festival to end them all. TF

© Dani Canto

Sunday night clashes
In some kind of perverse, evil indie joke, Sunday night saw HEALTH, Shellac and Thee Oh Sees play at almost exactly the same time. Shit! Luckily, we played it perfectly. We ruled out HEALTH immediately, despite them being amazing live, because the new album is a bit iffy. So we hit 20 mins of Shellac, who were as embittered and churlish as you’d demand, then it was up the stairs, under the solar panel and down the front for Thee Oh Sees. What a band they’ve become, managing to translate John Dwyer’s once trashy garage punk to a field-filling spectacle, the complete with the best crowd reaction of the weekend, the likes of Floating Coffin popping off like you wouldn’t believe. GHD

The people
And so to that – the crowd. Maybe above all else, that’s what marks Primavera out from any other festival we’ve ever attended. The 100,000 people or so who swept across the 11-or-so stages across three days were as open-minded, enthusiastic, passionate and charming a bunch as you’ll ever spend time in the company of. How many other large-scale international festivals of this kind can boast a crowd of thousands seeing out the entirely of Sunn O)))’s stomach-churning drone set during the party hours of 1-2am on the first night? And those were the same people who could be found going heads down to Objekt’s flurry of weirdo techno until sunrise on Friday. And of course, those magical kids who saved the best for Thee Oh Sees at 2am on the last night, a sea of legs, Vans being flung through the cool night air, bodies thrust like ragdolls. God, we loved it. So we’re actually going to say this: yes, the line-ups, the weather, the city – all these things are pretty much perfect. But it’s the people who make Primavera what it is. It’s the people who made leaving the site for the last time such a sinking feeling. It’s the people who’ll bring us back next year. GHD

Words: Geraint Davies + Thomas Frost

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