A review on Barcelona music festival, Primavera Sound 2011, featuring the artists Animal Collective, Caribou, Das Racist, Ducktails, The Flaming Lips, Gang Gang Dance, Girl Talk, Las Robertas, PJ Harvey, Pulp, tUnE YaRdS and Swans
By, Tess Amodeo-Vickery
Aside from the protestors flooding Barcelona’s Plaça Catalunya demanding social and civic change, this year’s Primavera Sound Festival lacked any political message but managed to hang on to the hippie vibe.
Over two hundred bands were present for the San Miguel-sponsored event that flooded the city’s Parc del Fòrum and Poble Espanyol with herds of Brits abroad and other festival scenesters for five days of international music. Though they were great in number, in variety Primavera’s bands and crowd lacked diversity.
At Parc del Fòrum, music poured from ten stages sponsored by labels like Ray-Ban, Adidas, Jägermeister, Smint, Pitchfork and San Miguel, the headline sponsors for the event. Built over the ex-prison site from the Franco regime, Camp de la Bóta, the hangar-esque atmosphere coupled with tiered construction made the Parc del Fòrum a suitable, if not paradoxical – prisoners were lined up and shot here until 1952 – host for a multi-staged festival with concurrent acts. Turning a blind eye to the death squad connotation, the main complaints about the venue from concertgoers were regarding the lines, where ticketholders queued for hours to enter, eat, drink, buy festival merchandise or use the facilities – note that Primavera Sound is not for the faint of bladder. On Wednesday and Sunday, the festival shifted gears to Poble Espanyol, an outdoor architectural museum built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition, where idyllic stone buildings created a more intimate setting for groups like Caribou and Las Robertas.
Such hype surrounds Barcelona’s premier music festival that American DJ favorite, Girl Talk, flew in Thursday night to play a forty-five minute set at 5:00 AM on Friday before catching the morning’s first transatlantic flight back to the U.S. His show was fresh with new beats mixed over his selection of tunes that never fails to keep a party hopping. Girl Talk picks the songs we all know and love and layers them over tracks you couldn’t imagine working together, yet somehow manages to make them sound better than the originals.
Other notable acts were Gang Gang Dance, tUnE YaRdS – led by the mighty female lead Merrill Garbus, who left her audience in awe – and Ducktails, which guitarist Matthew Mondanile told me is named after the cartoon (spelled “DuckTales”). Having lived outside of New York City for the past two years, my irony-dar is a bit rusty, so I’m not sure whether or not he was joking. But, come to think of it, where else would you get a name like “Ducktails” from?
Speaking of joking (or not joking, just joking, we are joking, just joking, we’re not joking), New York’s favorite boys of controversy, Das Racist, graced Primavera with their prominent presence twice on Thursday night. Their evening show at the Ray-Ban Unplugged tent created buzz after a controversial interview and a short set saw the crew with spanking new Ray-Ban shades to top off their looks. Bringing much-needed diversity to the festival with both their music and their persons, Das Racist was by far the most stylish group to put on a show and for sure the most energetic act to rev up the crowd at the Pitchfork stage.
On Saturday night, Swans hit the Ray-Ban main stage and grooved to a psychedelic vibe that conjured Woodstock 1969. The group gathered en masse in the middle of the stage around two drum sets and churned hypnotic beats while long hair and black flags waved to their improvised rhythms. Crooning from the San Miguel Stage, PJ Harvey played her part in the free love fest dressed in a white feather headdress and a flowing frock to match. Singing on the side of her band, rather than playing front-and-center woman, Harvey was the ethereal focal point that didn’t steal the limelight, though fans missed her Queen Bitch vibe.
The Baltimore-borne band Animal Collective, comprised of David Portner (vocals, guitar, samples, keys, percussion), Noah Lennox (vocals, percussion, samples, guitar), Josh Dibb (synthesizer, guitar, vocals) and Brian Weitz (electronics, samples, vocals), followed suit with their horror-movie-soundtrack-meets-psychedelic-sound-music set that was much-anticipated by festivalgoers. The crowd pulsed to their progressive drones with eyes fixed on Geologist’s (Weitz) signature glowing headlamp. It was certainly a show to be enjoyed from the front, rather than the large green patches on the Forum’s slope or the VIP field, where complimentary San Miguel cerveza flowed until well after six in the morning.
The highlight of Primavera Sound was undeniably the Friday night reunion concert of Britain’s beloved ramparts of rock ’n’ roll, Pulp. Playing together again for the first time in ten years were Jarvis Cocker (vocals, guitar), Russell Senior (violin, guitar), Candida Doyle (keyboards), Mark Webber (guitar), Steve Mackey (bass) and Nick Banks (drums), who put their hearts and souls into a performance that turned the harbor into a human drum kit as fans jumped in sync and pumped their fists to the songs many had enjoyed since childhood. Better showmen than the disappointing Flaming Lips, who played the exact same concert I saw at Brown University in May 2007, Pulp filled the Parc del Fòrum with a vibrancy that was lacking across the massive venue’s multiple stages, much like they did at their farewell concert at Poble Espanyol back in 2002.
My main disappointment in Primavera Sound was the lack of connection one felt to the music and the event as a whole. With so many places to be at once and such a confusing schedule, it seemed that only the diehard fans were able to make it to more than five acts per night. For the rest of us, it was a colloquium for hipsters and indie musicians, a sea of beer, drugs and onesies in which we may have drowned had it not been for the day-glow nail polish and wristbands lighting the way back to the metro.