It’s day one in Barcelona and apparently some local team won a football match of importance. Catalans like to celebrate their football victories with fireworks. 2009’s Primavera festival takes place against a background of randomly detonated bangers, whistlers, roman candles and rockets. A giddy air of celebration seems to have permeated the entire festival – Sonic Youth’s Lee Ronaldo is spotted relaxing in the auditorium decked out in full Barcelona attire.
Apart from the omnipresent maroon and navy stripes, the other remarkable thing about Primavera on day one is the amount of Irish here. A mate of mine joked that this year’s festival is like the Costa Del Camden street, and he is right. You can’t go five minutes at this festival without meeting some vaguely familiar sunburned punter from the smoking area of Whelans. Every Irish indie band seems to be here too. If you were bored you could easily construct a game of I spy where points are awarded per member of Crayonsmith spotted. It’s remarkable how many have made the trip from Dublin this year, and it probably doesn’t bode all that well for the big Irish summer festivals.
With the sun setting over the city and ferries frozen in an idyllic maritime vista beyond the main stage, Primavera offers more than a bunch of bands to the average Irish punter. It’s an incomparable combination of great music, sunshine and an infectious feeling of being away from it all. The acts playing aren’t immune to this sense of being on holiday either it seems, and a who’s who of Pitchfork – including a wandering Dan Deacon – spend Thursday knocking around the festival, soaking up the sun and checking out their contemporaries.
The first notable gig of the night – the endearing and Kurt Cobain canonised Vaselines – appear to draw a crowd made up of every other band playing the festival. With a compilation of their singles reissued this month, the Vaselines are a hot ticket. They know this too. But sadly it doesn’t suit them. Their ramshackle, bockety back catalogue is played extensively, but with a full band. Lo-fi gems like ‘Molly’s Lips’, ‘Monsterpuss’ and ‘Son of a Gun’ get a muscular power-pop treatment with rattling drums and chunky chords. Sadly, a lot is lost in translation. A large part of the Vaselines charm hinges on how DIY they are. Tonight, that magic is swapped for an accomplished yet dispiriting fuzz-pop rereading of their history.
The Jesus Lizard fare better. Frontman David Yow, looking like a topless builder with sunstroke, delivers a wild gig. Ranting atonally like Mark E Smith, and squirming dementedly, he lashes out one wild number after another and satisfies the hardcore massive.
If the Jesus Lizard are a noisy appetiser then My Bloody Valentine are the main course. The organisers hand out earphones to the press ahead of this gig but, with memories of their impressive but not exactly ear-splitting show at last year’s Electric Picnic, a few of us think this is a gimmick. We’re wrong. My Bloody Valentine turn in a gig so loud it actually feels wrong, like your eardrums are physically and irreversibly falling to pieces over its course. The Spanish must have fairly relaxed laws about volume and Kevin Shields must know this. In fact they are so loud it is hard to tell some of the songs apart. A lot of Loveless gets aired, but in such an ear-splitting fashion it’s introspective beauty is transposed onto a pummelling juggernaut that you don’t only hear, but actually feel assaulting your body and banjaxing your eardrums into submissive goo. It’s not for everyone, and a few perplexed Spaniards walk away with their fingers lodged in their ears and looks of pure distraught on their faces. It’s uncompromising stuff.
Another act that we expect an uncompromising set from is Aphex Twin. A typical gig from this messer consists of a mangled drill and base interpretation of his back catalogue interspersed with the odd middle finger raised aloft to his unfortunate fans. The faithful land down at him expecting the usual punishment. He then astonishes everyone by playing one of the most revelatory straight up dance sets I’ve ever heard, replete with strange visuals and strobing lights. When one of my mates manages to pick his jaw off the ground, he remarks to me, ‘Aphex Twin is actually playing Aphex Twin music’. Richard D James has obviously come to terms with the fact that he has one of the richest back catalogues in modern electronica. He spins out one blinding masterpiece after another, with material from his Analord series, Drukqs and even the seminal Richard D James album getting a straight up airing. It is a revelation, and if it is an omen of what is to come, we are in for some serious treats.
Photos by Loreana Rushe. (Click to enlarge)