The European festival curtain-raiser, Primavera Sound has carved out a reputation for bringing the most eclectic, intense line-up of the summer to Barcelona each year. The first full day of proceedings, at the gorgeous, expansive waterfront setting of the Parc del Fòrum, is as jam-packed and genre-bending as you’d expect, then.
Starting things off on the Mango stage, one of two cavernous main stages facing each other in the festival’s main space, is (Sandy) Alex G. It’s safe to say such dizzy heights aren’t Alex Giannascoli’s bread and butter, but across the first half of the set, the breezy likes of ‘Bobby’ and ‘Proud’ more than work in such a setting as an easing into the day. The second half of the set, though, sees Alex swap the guitar for a keyboard, and turn inwards, throwing out extended, jarring jams and losing a lot of the momentum and feeling the first half of the set built up.
Warpaint, meanwhile, have been here before, and bring the brightest, danciest parts of their discography to the Seat stage opposite. Bar a thudding speaker malfunction that shudders the ground and makes the whole crowd jump with fright, Warpaint deliver, and show their somewhat insular cuts can translate well enough to main stages.
Away from the two main stages, a series of other arenas are dotted around the expansive site, and on the Adidas stage, tucked away down by the waterfront, Spanish noise mongers Za! brought a dose of intense energy, melting math and noise and becoming the Catalonian answer to Battles. The Primavera stage then welcomes Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Fresh from releasing new album ‘Sex & Food’, Ruban Nielsen is clearly on a roll right now, so much so that it’s only two songs in when he takes his guitar a plunges into the crowd, barging his way through the amassed throng until he’s at the sound desk, and makes his way back to the stage.
The set is two dimensional; half the set sees Ruban shredding within an inch of his life, throwing out filthy riff after filthy riff. At other times, he’s orchestrating a blissful disco, with ‘Sex & Food’ highlight ‘Hunnybee’ also a standout here. Both guises within a set could prove jarring, but they’re moved between with precision, and the whole thing flows wonderfully.
Bjork then brings her weird, hugely colourful and slightly inaccessible ‘Utopia’ tour to the Seat stage, before Nick Cave proves anything but inaccessible on his set opposite. Throwing out 1994 classic ‘Do You Love Me?’ inside the first five minutes, the veteran’s intentions for the evening are already perfectly clear; he’s an entertainer, if a twisted, po-faced, snarling one. Barely spending any of the actual set on stage, the singer mingles with the front row, maintaining breathtaking eye contact with particular crowd members, while screaming his gospel inches from their faces. For a festival headline show in such a cavernous space, it’s made to feel inconceivably intimate, and one of the most inclusive shows of this size around at the moment.
‘Jubilee Street’ starts as a creepy slow-burner, all set around Warren Ellis’ repeated, winding guitar line, before it folds out into a cacophonous ending, with Nick running between the front rows of the crowd and back to his piano to thrash out a few notes, before diving back into the crowd again. As a spectacle, it’s impossible to take your eyes off. Cuts from latest record ‘Skeleton Tree’ send the field into silence with their delicate, deeply sad musings on life and death. For ‘Deanna’, from 1988’s ‘Tender Prey’, the singer invites a horde of audience members on stage, amplifying the sense of inclusivity even further. At once, Nick Cave manages to be one of the best, most iconic frontmen alive, while also working to blur the boundaries between audience and performer. The beautiful title track from 2013’s ‘Push The Sky Away’ closes the show, with the singer stepping in between the stage full of fans, now seated, and the set’s final message is hammered home - keep on pushing.
Providing respite from the emotional onslaught of Nick Cave are Chvrches, who are bringing new album ‘Love Is Dead’ to its first major festival. The sound - as with every stage at Primavera today - is simply biblical, and there’s a punch to the trio’s sound that feels bigger than ever before. It’s also helped by the recent addition of Jonny Scott on drums, providing the backbone for the band’s chunky synth-pop.
New single ‘Miracle’ is tailor-made for these situations, a massive, bombastic festival song, while ‘Clearest Blue’ remains a partystarter in the truest sense. Closing with ‘Never Say Die’, Lauren Mayberry thrashes around the stage like her life depends on it, still adapting and growing as a frontwoman and completely commanding such a huge stage. On album two, Chvrches crept towards festival headliner status. With ‘Love Is Dead’, they’re going to grab it by the balls.
The first night is then sent off by Four Tet, who brings a glitchy, sample-heavy live set to the amphitheatre-like Ray-Ban stage, with no stage lights or images on the huge screens flanking the stage. It leads to a truly immersive hour or winding, twisting techno that’s as brilliantly unpredictable as Kieran Hebden himself, and Primavera as a whole, as day one closes.