by / June 7th, 2012 /

Primavera 2012: State’s Top 20

Last weekend was a busy one for the State team, taking in festivals in Dublin, London and Barcelona. Our coverage starts at Primavera and the twenty acts that caught the eye of our correspondents Ian Maleney and Conor McCaffrey…

A$AP Rocky (Pitchfork stage, Thursday)

The next young Harlem big thing is the consummate rap chancer at Primavera, laughing all the way to the bank that’s been beefed up by a $3m advance for his upcoming debut album. He’s jumping off monitors and high-fiving the front row while his two hype men shout “A-FUCKIN-SAAAAP” and the ‘DJ’ drops backing tracks from his Live.Love.A$AP mixtape. The intricacies in his spacey cloud rap productions is bullied somewhat by A$AP’s posse hollering, but it’s infectious alright, even if it falls short of last year’s Odd Future Primavera riot. He summons a bit of Wolf Gang spirit though, crowd surfing over Big Tymers’ ‘Get Your Roll On’, and ‘Goldie’, but the biggest cheer goes out for the dumb ode to bling, ‘Peso’. There’s no ‘Wassup’ though. Eh, Rocky, Wassup with that? (CM)

Chromatics (Pitchfork Stage, Saturday)

With its 6am finishing times, Primavera is a festival fit for night owls, and they don’t get any more nocturnal than Chromatics. Johnny Jewel’s dreamy synth act hisses and pulses like a slowed-down italo vinyl at the end of the night, the soundtrack to the fuzzy after-party and the long walk home. It’s only just after 11pm on the Pitchfork Stage but Chromatics usher in that lysergic 3am buzz with ‘Hands in the Dark’ and ‘In the City’, with Jewel’s keys bolstered by subtle guitar tension, unobtrusive snare rattles and Ruth Radelet’s bewitching vocals. Chromatics’ Kill For Love is a personal top album of 2012 so far, and these songs seal the deal at Primavera. ‘Back from the Grave’, the title track and the eight-minute vocoded lament ‘These Streets Will Never Look the Same’ has the crowd swaying in a trance before the twin covers of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ and Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ sends us away with a warm glow you’d get from a fizzing neon strip light. (CM)

Demdike Stare (ATP Stage, Saturday)

In some ways Demdike Stare stuck out at Primavera like a fried Irishman on a Catalan beach. As reserved and oblique as ever, their occult interpretation of minimal techno is not one expected to be totally suited to the festival environment. Playing to a relatively sparse crowd shorty after sunset, they nonetheless managed to create a unique atmosphere within the festival, as if a cloud of intense dread had settles over the ATP stage only to be punctured by sparse, skittering beats and chest-rattling sub-bass. Their music is one with a particular weight and emotion, picking slowly at your nerve centres while hypnotising with subtly body-grabbing beats. The surrender of control becomes revelatory and, by inhabiting the world they build, they invited the audience to leave behind the idyllic setting and be led to somewhere new and exciting. That the Manchester duo could achieve such a transposed state of being on a festival stage at such an early time of the night just reinforces the power of the aesthetic they have created. (IM)

Dirty Three (ATP Stage, Friday)

“Make me sound like Jim Morrison”. “This song is about knowing that for all your reading of Danté’s Inferno, you are not prepared for the inner circle of hell that is to be a haemorrhoid on Bono Vox’s arse”. “This is a song about waking up after a festival, and you take the whole world back to your flat, put it in a blanket, fold the corners, and drop it in the sea, and realise: you are happy.” These quotes might not be exactly, 100% word-for-word accurate – he wasn’t speaking all that coherently – but it should give you some idea of the attitude Warren Ellis appeared on stage with. Striking flailing poses on all corners of the stage, ripping his bow to furious shreds, and interjecting the band’s naturally sublime music with hilarious rambles of the ilk seen above, the 46-year old Bad Seed was clearly the star of this show. For all that, Jim White’s incredible dexterity on the drums constantly beggars belief, often forming an awkward union with the work of Ellis and guitarist Mick Turner before driving the whole enterprise forward by falling into their rhythms at precise moments. Closing with ‘Some Summers, They Drop Like Flies’, the ending is even more dramatic than what’s preceded it. Perhaps it’s the way their songs seem to break free of the ramshackle mess from which each begins or the way they refuse to aim for familiar emotional triggers, but the three men conjure a sublime beauty that goes way beyond words. (IM)

Godflesh (ATP Stage, Saturday)

Until last weekend the heaviest show we’d ever seen was Swans’ final night performance at Primavera 2011. Exactly a year on, Godflesh dissolve that record in a vat of toxic industrial metal. Justin Broadrick and C.G. Green are nearly static in silhouette, nodding to their drum machine’s blast beats, as visuals of molten lava, cracking skulls and details from Bosch paintings compound the intensity. Opening with ‘Like Rats’ and ‘Christbait Rising’, they dredge most of the set from their early 90s albums Streetcleaner and Pure, with Broadrick’s growls almost as low as the Earth’s core bass rumbles. Godflesh have only played a handful of gigs since reforming after an eight-year break, but they may crack a few venues’ ceilings if they decide to go on tour again. And a culinary aside: the Godflesh burger at the Pitchfork stage was pretty damn serious too. (CM)

Grimes (Pitchfork Stage, Thursday)

If Clair Boucher feels any anxiety about her sharp rise to fame, from playing tiny clubs (see: upstairs in Whelan’s scant nine months ago) to international festival slots, she didn’t show any signs of it on the Pitchfork stage on Thursday. Boucher’s particular mix of bouncing electro and floaty 4AD sugar pop translates easily to the bigger setting, with a low-end punch that’s not always obvious on record becoming vital in moving the large crowd to dance. Each hint of a familiar beat or synth melody sent a palpable ripple through the gathered mass, with the eventual pay-off of all the elements snapping into place often resulting in mass hysteria. Boucher’s audience know every twist and turn of her songs, with giant sing-and-dance-a-longs for ‘Be A Body’ and ‘Genesis’ in particular. Boucher herself was clearly having the time of her life with a totally infectious energy present in every yelped vocal ornamentation and dance move, feeding blissfully off the crowd as well as her two dancing side-kicks. Most exciting perhaps is the Canadian’s obvious growth into the pop star role; rather than imitating the gestures of her musical influences, she is now moving and performing with a confidence and personality that is all her own. (IM)

Hype Williams (Vice Stage, Saturday)

Hype Williams are important because they are divisive. They take no prisoners. On Saturday night it was clearer than ever why they are now signed to Hyperdub, with label head Steve Goodman’s interest in the so-called ecology of fear no doubt resonating with the expression of sonic warfare that is a Hype Williams show these days. The mysterious duo of Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland have long played games with their image, taunting press with non-interviews, creating ridiculous back stories and generally just hiding the truth from view, but now this oblique image seems secondary to the uncompromising sound emanating from the stage, using the bush as cover from which to launch attacks on the ears of their audience. Beginning in the sub-heavy, bleak beauty of their recorded work, the show slowly descends further into noise and aggression, eventually blowing up into a shrieking storm of noise, obnoxiously unmusical samples like car horns, inescapable snare hits and the ever-looming sub. It’s far from pretty, and when combined with the rapid, constant strobe lights, it makes for an intense spectacle for all the senses. Your options are to leave or let yourself become absorbed. While many took the former, those who stayed witnessed one of the most impressively brave, unique and provocative sets of the weekend. (IM)

John Talabot (Ray Ban Stage, Thursday)

Most acts play their first live show in some grotty club to a smattering of disinterested punters. But then, most acts are not John Talabot, with the Barcelona home boy making his live debut in front of a crowd of thousands on one of the festival’s biggest stages. Setting up as a two piece behind an array of keyboards, samplers and drum machines, the task of bringing to life the unique sounds of one of the year’s best albums, Fin, was clearly not one taken lightly. Thankfully, the deft musicality that defines that record was just as present on stage. The show itself wasn’t perfect however, with lengthy gaps between songs and not a whole lot of crowd engagement, but it was deeply exciting to witness an artist attempting to break through their usual modes of expression in such an ambitious way, and in such a pressured environment. The material is there, the audience is waiting, so it will be surely be exciting to watch where Talabot takes his music as he continues to explore this new avenue. If he can follow in the steps of Dan Snaith and the Caribou crew, he could be onto something just as revelatory as his Canadian cohorts. (IM)

Justice (San Miguel Stage, Saturday)

Festival texts are mainly garbled versions of “right speaker, front”, “sound desk to left” or “where r u?” But I get a few “At Justice, HOLY FUCK!” texts as the French duo crank up their Marshall amps and neon cross for a bout of dumbed-down chainsaw synths and jackboot kickdrums. Post-punk terrorists the Pop Group are on at 2am so we decide to check out Justice at 1.45 for 10 minutes. This snowballs into the whole of their hour-long set, so bye-bye muso hipster credentials. In our defence, Justice play a blinder – heavy on headbanger riffs, with all the money shots from their albums † and a nosebleed version of ‘Helix’ from Audio, Video, Disco. They ditch the build-ups for a drop every minute, bar the nervy ‘Stress’, that plays out like a horror flick chase scene. It all gets a bit student disco for ‘We Are Your Friends’, but you can’t be too cool for school when thousands of heads are losing the plot for an hour, in the best possible way. (CM)

LFO (Mini Stage, Saturday)

One of the most blinding dance sets of the weekend is also victim to the worst scheduling. The remaining half of LFO, Mark Bell, is up against Jamie xx at 2.30am, and he’s been dumped on the Mini stage, 15 minutes’ walk from the festival’s engine room around Ray-Ban/Pitchfork/Vice that hosts most of the closing sets over the weekend. The sheer expanse of the area doesn’t help either – it’s about one tenth full, with diehards shuffling among the all-too noticeable detritus of crumpled beer cups and ripped-up festival programmes. Still, Bell knocks out relentless jabbing techno, rooted in no-nonsense 4/4 kickdrums, vocoded messages and acid squelches that twinned Sheffield with Detroit as the Warped city of the future back in the early 1990s. Framed by a screen spewing out bold shape-shifting geometric patterns, Bell weaves in ‘LFO’, ‘We Are Back’ and ‘Freak’, among rave snippets and basslines that very nearly matched Godflesh on the Richter Scale. (CM)

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  • Niall

    Good stuff, hugely enjoyable festival, would have liked to know who saw what from the 2 reviewers though, ‘cos as pointed out, The Cure’s extra long set meant it would have been impossible to see The Dirty Three. I know this because I missed most of it myself waiting for The Cure to finish.

    I am genuinely trying to be constructive here.

  • Niall

    Haha, just saw the initials after. delete as appropriate

  • DK

    Good stuff. Though the clashes always leave me with a “what if” feeling ( Napalm Death, Refused, M83) so I’m scouring tinternet looking for reviews on those guys. The Cure did a Pixies , no chat all hits but hugely enjoyable. And the hipster quotient was lower than ever this year, Spanish recession?
    Personal highlights were Off!, The Men, Obits, Chromatics and The Weeknd doing Dirty Diana on Jubilee weekend.

  • Conor

     Yeah the clashes were mini dilemmas alright. Along with the ridiculous number of cancellations I missed loads of my favourite acts. Still, Primavera gets two big thumbs up to the sky. And Chromatics. Just Chromatics.

  • anon

    “This is a song about waking up after a festival, and you take the whole world back to your flat, put it in a blanket, fold the corners, and drop it in the sea, and realise: you are happy.” – This quote from Warren Ellis! Brilliant gig, amazing festival! 

  • anon

    I was meant to say I remember this quote from Warren Ellis….