Big enough to attract international players, yet small enough to preserve its soul, identity and ability to showcase cutting edge new acts to a bigger audience, Barcelona’s Primavera Sound has just rounded off a successful 2016 edition. Mixing small inner city gigs, with a music industry conference and the full blown, multi-stage festival at the city’s seaside Parc Del Forum, here are 10, (possibly) irrefutable, musical truths learned from roaming between Ramblas and rock stages this year.
1. Reunions don’t need to go off all guns blazing…
Returning after an extended hiatus, duo Air sauntered onstage with some sultry prog as they warmed into their better known material. It was a gentle re-acquaintance rather than a rocket and apt return from the chill-out kings.
2. …OR you can hire the biggest mirrorball in existence for your comeback!
No easing into it for LCD Soundsystem though, who made their European festival return headlining Primavera’s opening night on the beach. With faces etched in concentration, James Murphy’s crew announced their return by dazzling Barcelona with a giant mirrorball and by giving some of their best known tracks a tauter, post punk edge.
3. Floating Points drummer puts drum machines to shame.
Sam Shepherd inspired and delighted by adding a jazz-soaked wash to his house-y leanings, but the star of the show was his live drummer, who’s dexterous beats were jaw-droppingly spot on throughout.
4. Elephants don’t just have long memories they age well too.
When Tame Impala last played Primavera in 2013, it was unhelpfully during day light hours – most of the festival's best outdoor stuff happens after the sun goes down – and though Kevin Parker and co produced an admirable performance in the circumstances, they didn’t look entirely comfortable. Fast forward to Friday night this year and not only did they own the festival’s beach front, but Elephant revealed itself as a full on, Club Med banger.
5. Playing Creep is a really good way to close a set.
Admittedly Radiohead play ‘the hit’ a lot more than they’re given credit for, but Creep was an unplanned addition to Thom Yorke and co’s set. A Moon Shaped Pool material had initially intrigued, and classics like Street Spirit (Fade Out) and Karma Police boosted euphoria levels, but the spur of the moment addition of the fan favourite ensured their headline set ended in true Friday night festival fashion.
6. Not all whispers are careless.
While they’ve been more trance-like of late on record, Montreal’s Suuns were incandescence onstage as their whispered vocals, serrated edges and brutal beats were brought to the fore to produce one of Primavera’s unexpected highlights. Hushed vocals have never felt so loud.
7. You don’t need the sun to enjoy a sun-kissed beautiful afternoon daydream.
Not all of Primavera Sound takes place on big outdoor stages and Q caught an intimate set from Cass McCombs tucked away in a theatre attached to Barcelona’s modern art museum. Though playing a darkened room on a sunny might seem a waste, the combination of his evocative lyrics and jazz impresario-like improvisations/ jams saw the American singer-songwriter shine as he conjured-up his own intoxicating summer dream.
8. Sloop John B with actual boats is special.
Short of watching Brian Wilson perform Pet Sounds in a zoo, The Beach Boy’s Primavera set was a rare moment where art and life collided appropriately. Performing a 50th Anniversary set of the classic album in full on Barcelona’s beachfront, Wilson and original bandmate Al Jardine's harmonic convergence on Sloop John B achieved additional perfection as a fleet of yachts happened to float by on the neighbouring Mediterranean.
9. Hipsters are romantics too.
With Primavera Sound enjoying a deserved reputation for credibility and cool, it's pleasing to see that even those at the cutting edge can be stirred, as hipsters visibly swooned when Richard Hawley performed the heart string-plucking Open Up Your Door, while a the dedication of Heart Of Oak to the late Mohammed Ali brought more ‘Ahs’ and applause from the asymmetrical dressers. You old, hip softies…
10. PJ Harvey inspires all kinds of fireworks.
Heavy on new album The Hope Six Demolition Project and its predecessor Let England Shake, Polly Jean Harvey’s Primavera set provoked a series of intellectual fireworks with its weighty ideas and uncompromising and astute observations. Yet she was never preachy and often, as she wielded the crook of her alto sax like a staff of knowledge, the singer was enchanting. No more so then at the end of her set as a fireworks display down the coast coincidentally burst into life in time with To Bring You My Love. An unexpected yet oddly apt finale to an hour bursting with thought. Paul Stokes @Stokesie
For more head to Primaverasound.com.