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Things Learned At: Primavera Sound 2017
Brian Coney , June 8th, 2017 15:40

With performances from Slayer, Mogwai, and Grace Jones – and lessons learned on the burden of choice and the joy of sleep (and Sleep) – Brian Coney takes to Barcelona for this year's edition of the inimitable Primavera Sound. Photographs by Jan Rijk at Dutchpix.com

Swans bow out in style.

Like slowly progressing through the progressively baleful panels of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, Swans' final Barcelona show in their current guise proves a masterfully possessed journey of solar plexus-bruising proportions. Commanded by High Priest Michael Gira and Phil Puleo (whose drumming is nothing short of sorcerous at points) their set is carefully littered with the best litany-like climbs and unrelenting symphonic barrages from their four studio albums as a unit. Forsaking Arab Strap – as well as the start of the Make-Up – isn't an easy decision to make, but framed by the headlong roars of "yes!" that erupt left, right and centre amidst Swans' present-day flameout, the Pitchfork stage late on Friday night is a unforgettable "holy fuck" soiree of nigh on mystical heft, coil and release. 

Sleaford Mods steal the show.

As per slightly frazzled tradition, Sala Apolo throughout Sunday makes for one final grasp at the sole-hardening, siesta-necessitating, liver-quivering magic of Primavera Sound. Lodged betwixt the jubilant punk of Canadian duo Japandroids and Shellac (whose seldom hyperbolic main man Steve Albini calls the duo the "best band in the world") Sleaford Mods deliver an almighty pay-off at the off-site, 1100 capacity venue early on Monday morning. 

Having mustered something similar following Arab Strap at Parc del Fòrum two nights prior, Andrew Fearn and a particularly on-form Jason Williamson up the ante tenfold via a set that spontaneously combusts with a young English stage-invader grabbing Williamson's mic and screaming "Fuck Theresa May!" Pedestrian? Possibly. But the rabid, tympanic membrane-rumbling racket that follows captures the extant disquiet back home and beyond perfectly. Better still, Williamson doesn't offer any comment at this juncture – his words, booming and clear, unfurl the sentiment into realms of perfectly-wielded indignation throughout. 

In short, a spitting, show-stealing, festival-defining performance worth it for the shifty looks of confusion from itchy-footed Japandroids fans during Williamson's immortal refrain of "and a king-sized bag of Quavers" alone.

Choice is something of a burden.

Having to opt for either a pop-up set from Mogwai or Shellac, Death Grips or Slayer, Thurston Moore or Royal Trux, Converge or King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Teenage Fanclub or Metronomy etc. are first-world quandaries I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy. Whilst last year's bill was all but defined by its unfortunate clashes, I spent at least 25% of this year's festival simultaneously delighted at my immediate surroundings and quietly dreading that I wasn't kicking back watching a different act elsewhere. Legitimate cognitive dissonance or classic festival asshole privilege? Probably somewhere slap-bang in the middle. Either way, here's hoping for a more forgiving schedule next year, please and thanks.

Grace Jones owns us all, obviously.

From the moment she skulks out on stage, all extravagant gold mask and tribal body paint, Grace Jones is, as expected, an unmitigated revelation. With more mercurial élan and fearless cool in her little finger than the combined attendees of Primavera combined, her set is a reggae-heavy tour de force that sees the sixty-nine-year-old command with the vitality and force of someone at least a third her age. Crowning on a closing triad of Roxy Music cover 'Love is the Drug', 'Pull up to the Bumper' and 'Slave to the Rhythm' (featuring some outstanding hula-hooping from our Queen) and you have a breathtaking festival highlight that pretty much doubles up as one long Wayne's Worldian "we're not worthy." Truly, we are not.

Ian Svenonius delivers an education.

From Kate Tempest and Killer Mike to Grace Jones and Converge's Jacob Bannon, this year's line-up was never short of a charismatic frontperson or tow. But quite literally head and shoulders above the rest (as Jan’s photo here duly attests) Ian Svenonius of D.C. post-punk heroes the Make-Up re-confirms his inimitable situationist zeal both on the Primavera stage on Friday night and Sala Apolo on Sunday. As a fan nearby parted during the former performance, "man, they don't make them like that any more". Debatable, of course, but even if they do, they'll likely never look as effortlessly boss as Ian Svenonius when he's fully in his element.

Weyes Blood delivers "the" moment.

If there’s any justice in the world, someone will coin a word for that evanescent few seconds at Primavera Sound when everything – the sounds, the beaming faces around you, the seabirds gliding towards the yacht-speckled coast – synchronize seamlessly. For me, this (in fact, “the”) moment happens by way of the timeless symphonic-pop glory of ‘Do You Need My Love’ by Natalie Mering AKA Weyes Blood at the Primavera stage on Saturday evening. Preceding a cover of Can's 'Vitamin C' no less, it proves not only a peak of her own set but also the festival as a whole. Mering – just like Mitski the day before – is the real deal, and precisely where cathartic U.S. alternative pop is thriving at the minute. This song – and this moment – sees that fact burst into sharp focus.

Mogwai’s surprise set really pays off.

Although it resulted in the aforementioned last-minute clash with Shellac on Saturday evening, Mogwai popping up to play a world exclusive of their new album, Every Country's Sun, over at the palm-tree and beautiful people-heavy Bacardi Live area is well worth the mild trauma that loss incurs. And although the shock-and-awe of their appearance lends to the sense of occasion here, these songs hold up on their own terms and then some. Conjuring some of their best efforts circa Mogwai Young Team and Come On Die Young, the material bounds with purpose and spirit, depth and intelligence, quiet triumph and (particularly toward the end) emphatic weight, promising a record of cleverly-woven instrumentalism that slays and sates in remarkable unison. Mogwai – spearheaded by Stuart Braithwaite, who seems particularly pleased to be returning to Parc del Fòrum – treat the relatively tight-knit crowd to a one-off spectacle that is well worth the winding queues and Shellac-shaped hole in all our hearts.

Slayer – Just… Slayer.

Maybe it’s having to endure the ever-needless deference of Bon Iver across the way beforehand but the appearance of Slayer on Friday night makes for a whiplash-inducing major festival godsend to end all whiplash-inducing major festival godsends. With Tom Araya introducing the band by way of, "I know we aren't the kind of music you’ve been hearing all day..." their career-spanning, fourteen-song set – which culminates via the time-tested triad of 'Raining Blood', 'South of Heaven' and 'Angel of Death' – is a breathless, pit-provoking masterclass that gives some semblance of hope in a world where several root canals sans anesthesia is almost preferable to standing through the insipid drudgery of Yawn Iver ever again.

Tactical siestas are paramount.

Maybe I'm showing my age here but, if you’re not careful, future you might have no choice but to pass on some must-see acts later in the night at Primavera due to neglecting the most gleaming of golden rules: tactical siestas. Grab any and all opportunities where and when you can. I repeatedly failed to do so and, as such, missed out on the likes of Wand, Flying Lotus and Skinny Puppy summoning reportedly stellar things in the wee small hours across the weekend. Either heed that sound advice, stay precariously wired enough until the very end or – worst comes to worst – execute a makeshift version of the Ludovico technique with matchsticks.

Sleep douse Arcade Fire.

Truth be told, you would need to have a ticker of cold stone to make your way past the packed-out Mango stage area just as Arcade Fire kick off their set with 'Wake Up' and not be at least mildly tempted to stop in your tracks and cut a few celebratory shapes. That said, if you consciously, knowingly and earnestly opted for Win Butler and co. over Sleep over at the Primavera stage at midnight on Saturday you must immediately locate a room with a nice corner in it and have several words – perhaps a sentence or two – with yourself. Whilst it doesn’t pack the outright, life-alteringly imperious might of their recent Desertfest London headline slot, Al Cisneros, Matt Pike and Jason Roeder blast through the likes of 'Holy Mountain' and the infinitely satisfying 'Dragonaut' to a relatively modest yet avid mass of bobbing heads and toothy, high-as-absolute-balls grins. 


Royal Trux is a perfect disaster.

From the moment they stumble onto the Primavera stage on Saturday evening, it's quickly obvious that Royal Trux is going to be a “holding on for dear life” kind of show. With Jennifer Herrema, in particular, several hundred sheets to the wind, it makes for a boundlessly disorderly – at times impeccably aimless – set peaking on fuzzed-out, ultra-loose renditions of ‘I’m Ready’ and ‘The Banana Question’ from Accelerator. Despite just about clinging on until the end, it’s a compelling, unutterably madcap set from one of the last true, no-fucks-given rock n’ roll bands.

The Descendents aren’t cool and that’s ok.

"I know one thing: I'll never be cool." 

The words of the Descendents frontman Milo Aukerman, proudly uttered half-way through the Californian punk rock legends’ breakneck, thirty-song set on Friday night. With every baseball cap and Fjallraven Kanken backpack-flaunting attendee huddled around the Mango stage to bear witness to millennial overlord Mac DeMarco, Aukerman’s words – brilliantly bolstered by his band’s breakneck, career-spanning set – transmits an inalienable truth that thrives far beyond any notion of chill or access to VIP areas. And perhaps even above Slayer, their appearance on the night as part of their Hypercaffium Spazzinate tour makes for this year’s finest old-school set. Descendents aren’t cool and that’s more than ok.

Photographs by Jan Rijk at Dutchpix.com

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