Primavera Sound 2010: In Review

Kev Kharas floats twenty feet above Barcelona as the new indie mainstream sinks beneath the power of Wire, Pet Shop Boys, Atlas Sound and the Joker. Primavera picture by Lucy Johnston

When the Mediterranean waves roll upon the beaches of Barcelona, the momentum in them detaches, becomes air to be inhaled into lungs, drink to slide down throat pipes, awe to slip into short pockets. I’ve never had a better time than I had in Barcelona last week. The combination of palm trees, loud music, friends and MDMA does funny things to time. It slows and slurs it, until seconds and minutes can be traced in uneven facial contortions and odd, infinite gurn. Hours drift by. Everything I ever knew seems to feel so sore. I make no apology if this reads like a diary entry dripping with jizz. It really was like that. Idiocy and privacy have been found, trapped in twilit holiday snaps, and illicits’ golden glimmer has warped whatever lurked beneath skull bone before, diffusing slowly into suffering brain matter until you end up confused on the beach again, beaming as if this was the first time you ever saw the sun come up.


For an hour or so Mark E Smith was the compere that the Primavera officials were always bound to kick off. A belligerent, yelling man too crumpled to be anything other than a fossilised warning. Before he appeared, ‘Fall Sound”s slow and grinding synth slime writ havoc into the proceedings like a spell cast, and then they all arrived, the band and the wife. Then the song (‘O.F.Y.C. Showcase’). Then Smith, last, as usual: suited and chin raised to the sun. The entrance was the highlight, ‘O.F.Y.C.”s honking charge no more or no less compelling than a thousand other Fall songs, which is precisely where the thrill comes from now – that, and seeing an attempt at an encore thwarted by eager Catalan stagehands. Good evening Mr Smith, I hope you enjoy your sangria and your salmon burger before they return you to your brine.

There were others before Smith, actually, but they only served to highlight want an antidote the man is – Bis vomiting their pointlessness at people, Wave Pictures being overly friendly without offering much more musically than a lukewarm cup of tea reheated in the microwave. The xx’s sombre tones, as helpful as they are when it’s 5am and you can’t sleep back home in your hovel, were no match for the sure, slow surge of our going guts, so we guided them away to watch The Smith Westerns help their gaudy glam-rock limp towards the surf. They made the light seem plum-coloured and I think they were wearing Barrymore collars.

Wasn’t much thinking to be done about what followed. Someone gave Wild Beasts a code, and they tapped this code into their frets, then – with the restless chatter of trebled guitars – out, into the air, so that the stars heard and agreed with what they heard and put on their own private light show. Glimmer was what was needed at this point, and Hayden Thorpe and Ben Little have that in abundance, tangling theirs together in wailing, keening knots of import. Things reached a crux, as they always tend to, with the chiming into life of ‘Devil’s Crayon’. Often painted as a provincial pantomime band, there’s something cosmic about them on nights like tonight. It lurks there in the spaces.

Pavement felt rather pointless at this stage, and so we leapt around for a while to Mission Of Burma’s ‘…Revolver’ before collapsing on the bleachers in front of Fuck Buttons. They started making noises that proved impossible to resist, and with bellies firing again we made our way front enough to peer up at the two men from home who always seem to cling onto their tiny machines for dear life. They always look like they’re amid storm weather. Strange and strong winds swirled all around them. To the deaf it might look like a scene taken from the pages of The House On The Borderland, but those winds were noise, blissful noise: much louder than this stage had produced in the past. And the surge had never been stronger – Fuck Buttons sounded like a fleet of jets crashing into a planet made out of sherbet. Pilots collided so hard they had their eyes replaced with melted rainbow crystals.

Then they went to bed.


Most of the early part of Friday was spent avoiding the plod of the main stage; The New Pornographers, Spoon and Wilco lining up one after the other in what was, admittedly, a noble attempt to turn this setting tedious. If anyone can freeze sunshine… don’t let them back in, or at least anywhere near me.

Wire were great, though – contrary men, warping old favourites into new shapes in various acts of treason against their own history, playing a lot from Object 47. Fucking everyone off, essentially, until everyone was appeased with a blistering and brilliantly bitter parting shot of ’12XU’.

Les Savy Fav were a few hundred metres away, playing the same set they always play to the same people on the ATP Stage, Shellac’s claws lashing out from there later as Panda Bear’s set very gradually turned from ebbing nothingness into kaleidoscopic trance sound. Wire and Panda Bear share the same self-inflicted, memory-fatal flaw – they both refuse to give the crowd their Kodak moments, easy clutches for attention to grab a grip of. As such, hordes drifted as soon as it became clear that Lennox’s visuals weren’t working. Idiots gone, the perspective of the Animal Collective man’s set fell into place, and all the tiny sounds became the middle ground, his rounded out howls vast and sudden totems, silence turned into pointless detail only his noises would let us escape from.

Spoon, Wilco, Les Savy Fav, Shellac, Panda Bear and… Joker featuring Nomad. If this year’s Primavera’s seleccion had a let down, it was the lack of acts prised from that diasporic post-dubstep pool that’s contributed so much thrill over the last 12 months. I guess organisers must have resolved to leave club highs to Sonar, but the sound of Nomad’s voice goading on those gathered by Pitchfork’s stage was all the more rare and exciting for its lack of comradeship. With peels of the young Bristolian’s purple sound strafing off out the tent towards the horizon, and sub bass swells rumbling the concrete beneath, Nomad’s voice sounded like the coxswain of some invasive alien fleet. Miraculous. Wonder what the backstage banter was like.

Next up was Diplo and there’s never much to say about Diplo, except that he’s a good guy to have around when you’re high and intent on having fun.

And then on going to bed, eventually.


Two years after I found it out for the first time, I find it out again: there is no better comedown kicker than Atlas Sound. The shimmering shades Bradford Cox is able to wring from his guitar somehow manage to sooth and jolt simultaneously. It’s like settling into a hot bath, which is probably a soothing and jolting thing to do if a six foot five man with Marfan Syndrome and an electric guitar is already in there waiting for you. A rendition of ‘Walkabout’ reminds of the first time I heard it back when I didn’t know its name, and then the truth hits about how far Cox has come in his short time in mind’s eye and ear. If his trajectory stays true he’ll be eyeing up more generations than this one to lord it over. Bradford is loved and everyone lets him know how much he’s loved with several rounds of applause sustained far longer than any other I’ll be able to remember this weekend.

I’ve never seen Florence and the Machine before but I know she’ll come onstage in her stupid white dress with no shoes on and start wailing over pop music that’d be pretty decent, actually, if it weren’t for the fact she was wailing all over it. We somehow remain perched on the hill that juts out into the sea for the duration of her set, before trudging off to fall asleep listening to Grizzly Bear’s performance of auditoria indie-rock. It’s not bad, and – again – it’s decent, and melancholic in a self-satisfied kind of way, but we haven’t really been moved for a while now, so the immersive oceans of noise No Age plough headlong into are welcome, forever. If the first new song they play four in’s anything to go by, Dean Spunt and Randy Randall won’t be headlining their own show at the Barbican any time soon. We dab. Things look up.

The sight of everyone flooding away from Gary Numan like bad friends as soon as he’s played ‘Cars’ is too depressing to tolerate, so it’s a return to the main stage for Pet Shop Boys.

Frankly, it’d be unfair to expect me to sum up the next two hours of my life. They’re two hours that will only really ever make sense to those there, and as such are only communicable in facial expressions and the wry, shared angles of eyes. Suffice to say I never realised that being snatched up by my friends and paraded like a gurning fool down a hill full of dancing people as ‘West End Girls’ rang out across Catalan tarmac would be so incredibly vital to my existence.

With hindsight those two hours seem to have gained a corona. The whole thing’s become a mural surrounded by white light, daubed in the incommunicable and previously unseeable colours of joy. I still can’t think about it too much because my brain starts to hurt and everything I ever knew begins to feel so sore. But you don’t need Kodak when you have palinopsia. You don’t need memory when you’ve got scars. Light and time trapped forever in that skull zone: bliss bruises on the bone.

Got to get back somehow.

…so The Field send us careening back.

When I got home it felt like I’d been away months.

What a refreshing experience.

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