'Cos Everybody Hates A Tourist: Pulp, Politics & Power At Primavera 2011
, June 1st, 2011 10:53
The Quietus heads to a Primavera Festival that takes place against the backdrop of an ugly police crackdown on Barcelona protesters. Tim Burrows explains why now is the perfect time for the return of Pulp, plus reviews of Factory Floor & Chris Carter, Einsturzende Neubauten, PJ Harvey, Odd Future, Swans and more. Pictures by Hayley Hatton
"Sun. Sun. Sun. Sun. Sun. Sun. Sun. Sun. Sun..." it goes, emanating from the tightly-designed yet seemingly organic Caribou, an entity enmeshed in smoke and bright orange glow at the ATP Stage on Thursday night, the first of the astutely-programmed-yet-touchy-feely three-day festival, Primavera Sound. Dan Snaith and band offer a legal high of a live set to the audience, each member of the gigantic throng (which must be the biggest at this stage during the weekend) duly obliging with unthinking movement. People aren't just dancing: many are leaping, lost in music, more specifically in the memory of last year's Swim, which this set is an incredible evocation of – all deep bass-throb and pulse, and shattering, shimmering sounds that seem to clear out your lugholes in preparation for the weekend ahead. People spill out of a packed, swaying mass, heading up the side of the steep grassy hill that flanks the right of the crowd. Blissed-out while clinging on to trees or lodging feet into the dusty, dry earth; position yourself correctly and hang on tight if you want to see this moment through to its climax.
A friend says later on that Caribou have played more than 220 shows in the past year, and it figures, the same way that if someone told me that Salem's gone-3am show on the same stage was the band's first ever, that would figure too. But they've done enough of these things now for us to expect a little more power than they are giving us – the live interpretation of 2010's album of the year King Night has most commonly received the reaction of "Turn it up!" since the band started doing the circuit last year. It is a record that should be wreaking havoc with your gut when witnessing it brought to life: it should floor you. That it doesn't isn't a wholly bad thing, though, just a reminder that this band are not as fully-formed as their expertly home-produced aural-inferno suggests. While Jack Donoghue does his camp rap thing and Heather Marlatt affects her WTF-do-I-care-stare, more dry ice than you'd need for an O2 Arena show filled the stage. It is hilarious – not in a condescending way, you understand, more in a "We're losing it at 3am and this is what they choose for us?" way.
Someone, somewhere must be making plans to install Factory Floor permanently within a gigantic structure and instruct them to play forever. Naturally it would be shift work – not even Gabe Gurnsey, FF's erstwhile slave-to-the-rhythm, could pull it off eternally. Members could clock in and clock out. If this is the case – and I'm sure it is – the band couldn't have chosen a better new co-worker with which to start this brave new project than Chris Carter, who tonight fills the void left by Dominic Butler, who has clocked off on paternity leave.
It seems Carter has brought a new dynamic, making the show somehow tighter, stricter: Nick Colk's ghost-vocals seemed more frequent, and the evolution of sound became more geometric, fitting in with the moving blocks of colour behind them. It takes us to the magic time of 5am – when the metro starts running again – with minimum fuss, inspiring maximum movement.
The next evening at 9pm, high above the intense mutterings of the pushers of Barri Gòtic, windows are opened and pots and pans whacked by residents. The Quietus has been expecting it, told by a local friend that tonight there would be a display of cacerolazo, a noisy form of protest, after 100 or so peaceful protesters taking part in the ongoing M-15 demonstrations were attacked and beaten by police at the Placa de Catalunya. In Barcelona around 20 percent of the population is unemployed (as opposed to the UK's 7.7 percent). More shocking still is the youth unemployment figure of 45 percent.
Spain's current political upheaval had been a subject of quiet contemplation the evening before, while tramping over the tessellated half-moon slabs of concrete that cover much of the site, and taking in the odd structures that popped up out of nowhere, such as the enormous solar panel en route to the Pitchfork Stage. The Parc del Forum, where the bulk of Primavera is held each year, was built as an indirect result of the 1992 Olympic Games which were held in the city. It was opened in 2004 to hold the Universal Forum of Cultures, a 155-day cultural event organised to fill the void left after the Olympics. The people, it was claimed, loved the Olympics, and were hungry for a similar event.
This northern, coastal area of Barcelona was once home to industry: today it entertains a global influx which Primavera plays a part in attracting. Since the Olympics, beaches were recovered as factories situated by the sea were relocated. Communications services, international investments incentives – the kinds of things that fund, that legitimise, internationally-renowned cultural events these days – were poured into the surrounding area like so much cement: it became a gigantic building site, supported by Unesco, and delivered by Hines, the international real estate firm based in Texas. Hotels appeared, such as the Princess, where many of the musicians who perform over the weekend stay. There's a giant shopping mall which boasts a Primark, high-rise offices and yet more hotels attracted transient wealth. Yet the official line that this is what the locals wanted differs from the opinion of many people. Contrary to claims that the undertaking was for them, there was visible rejection of the project from many Catalans. "If this were Disneyland it would be nice," one local protester told the press in the run up to the 2004 event. "But they call it a forum, and this is wrong. They have stolen concepts and language from the social movements."
There may be no better band to meet the requirements of a night that seems to belong to Spain's dispossessed than a resurgent Pulp, the pop band that has most consistently sung to and for the destitute and financially put-upon, those who had tried to follow dreams while funding them through grubby means.
At 1.45am in the still-warm coastal air of the San Miguel stage, it's immediately clear that all Pulp's elements– Candida Doyle's bright synths, Russell Seniors ruffneck violin wisps – have survived intact. The return of Jarvis Cocker, the man who coined the term 'Cocaine Socialism' to describe the New Labour-era and who wrote the song 'Cunts Are Still Running The World', seems an uncanny act of foresight by the Festival bookers. He dedicates 'Common People', his most famous and most rage-filled song, to the protesters, or indignados, while apologising for interfering as a visitor to a country whose specific problems he might know little about. Though that may be the case, by the end of the show, Pulp's political concerns, as much as the band's sparkling glam/gloom pop, are emphatically reaffirmed.
If the drama and lyrical matter of Pulp were boiled down to one song, it would be 'I Spy', which was always a live highlight and does not disappoint here: "It's not a case of woman v man. It's more a case of haves against haven'ts. And I just happen to have got what you need. Just exactly what you neeeed". Potent, pregnant lyrics are complimented by his movements, which amount to an exercise in muscle memory: much shimmying, strutting and climbing on amps. The singer's elasticity was the hallmark of Pulp gigs during the 90s and it has survived undiminished, even amped up in the sheer excitement of this return. Based on this single, stunning reawakening of Jarvis the Entertainer, it is surely clear now that it is within the confines of this band that he finds the extra something that makes him a star performer.
The next evening, Warpaint are exposed as a band with no songs, only mid-70s-style guitar jams, so we flee to the warm glow of tUne yArds who most definitely have songs, and ingenious ones at that. New Englander Merrill Garbus's vocal style should not work, based, as it seems to be, on a crazy hybrid of odd singers past – a kind of Odetta/Bjork/Sting cross – but it bobs and soars along beautifully on top of ukulele strumming, simple bass lines and a double sax attack, which might sound very horrible to some written down on the page but is pretty sublime up on stage.
As fans of Barcelona watch their charmed team embarrass Man Utd's (vice) squad of players on the other side of the park, Einsturzende Neubauten take to the amphitheatre of the Ray-Ban Stage. Blixa Bargeld is in a rascally mood, singing an off-the-cuff ditty about the photographers in front of him, who, as protocol dictates, have to leave the pit after three songs. The big German is toying with them; he seems the kind of man that might toy with anything given half a chance – with his band mates, with his friends and enemies, with his home city, Berlin, where he lives only every now and then – it having changed beyond recognition since unification, from the squatter's paradise he once enjoyed.
He must have toyed with the idea of putting 'Neubauten to bed at various points through the years, but you feel he might never do it voluntarily. If you have the capability of keeping going with this insane project that has made a virtue out of the recycled to make noises you just don't hear anywhere else, and can still pummel out such an intensely loud and vital version of 'Headcleaner', then why would you stop?
After the gentle derangement of PJ Harvey playing songs from Let England Shake, and a few from further back, Swans give an hour-long example of the intricacies a band can achieve while still whacking the shit out of their instruments, playing rock music so loud, so detailed, that it becomes nothing but art and as such a kind of polemic. After Michael Gira instructs the Spanish people to "Overthrow your government now!" all that is left is to head over to the Pitchfork Stage to witness excitable audience members flood the stage at the end of Odd Future's furious-paced set to do a gleeful pogo to the similar if more youthful sentiment of 'Kill People Burn Shit Fuck School', that follows a heavy run-through of Tyler's 'Yonkers'. That most of the invaders (and the OF members themselves) had left school years ago provokes a similar stirring that might have inspired a Pulp song, namely the identifying of a certain kind of tourism – the white hipster buying into this other, seemingly more destructive lifestyle. But maybe that's unfair – we're all tourists after all, whether you're broke and wanting to listen to Stravinsky, loaded and wanting to slum it, or in the middle, wanting something, anything, to change.
OF live are nowhere near as exciting as the Wu Tang/Sex Pistols comparisons suggest, and on the night the pretty glib repeated phrase "Fuck everything maaaaaaaan" doesn't exactly attack any kind of problem specifically. Perhaps it is directed at the "everything" of the internet, within which Tyler currently exists as its chief goofball attention seeker, incessantly filmed by his record company and the music press, prodded to say sumthin' stoopid for the camera or mouth off on Twitter. OF are leading the Charge Of The ADHD Brigade into a battle with itself: "I'm a fuckin' walkin' paradox – no I'm not".
What their performance does display is that "Anger," as John Lydon (whose PiL played so effectively two nights before) sang, "is an energy": however incoherent, dubious (and downright intolerable when it comes to their relentless gay-bashing) OF's energy is, it is an energy all the same, one that draws these people to rush the stage for cheap thrills 'n' shit.
It is an energy, too, that was responsible for filling the warm night air with the noise of banging pots, and the sound of the UK's greatest politi-pop group dusting off their lyrical attacks for a generation that was too young to really understand how it feels to live their lives with diminishing meaning, and even less control.