On an absolutely heaving stage overlooked by a monstrously proportioned solar panel, Brand New are giving Primavera Sound its sudden, strobey awakening. They open with ‘Mene’ - their first new song in six years - and from then on, it’s a pounding runaway train of a whistlestop tour. As live returns to Europe go, it’s quite the fanfare. Across the site, meanwhile, Spiritualized are under a wash of white lights. Sticking largely to older material, they play prism-skewed gospel and blues, and the crowd falls into a spacey cosmo-haze. The set closes with a cover of ‘Walkin’ With Jesus’ - originally by frontman Jason Pierce’s previous band Spacemen 3.
Nobody knows what the hell is going on with Odd Future, but tonight collective ringleader Tyler, the Creator is on top form anyway. “Let’s groove,” he announces, before throwing down some bizarre shapes and cuts from new record ‘Cherry Bomb’. Predictably, it’s the unchained, provocative ‘Yonkers’ that goads the crowd into peak frenzy.
Under a panel of pulsing LEDs, Australian electro-maestro Chet Faker is revisiting his breakthrough moment, with a cover of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’. Live, Chet Faker is very focused, if a little too introspective. On the other hand, James Blake, who has built his entire schtick on quiet, absorbed performance, is on the main stage, also starting - Sound of Music style - at the very beginning of his career. ‘CMYK’ skitters and splutters into life, and ‘I Never Learnt To Share’ tumbles out in a jostle of vocal manipulations. Increasingly the influence of Blake’s other pastime 1800-Dinosaur is starting to show, live, too. James Blake has already proven time and time again that he can hold the attention of a darkened basement or a concrete cavern - tonight he proves himself as bonafide headliner material, too.
Its almost like a secret memo was passed around in the run-up to Friday at Primavera, because today a specific crop of closely interlinked American bands keep popping up across the site and taking over. “We are Ex Hex,” says Mary Timony, “we’re from Washington D.C. and we’re gunna play some rock tunes.” Those rock tunes never let up, and Timony and bassist Betsy Wright playfully stalk the stage, bouncing solos off each other and grinning like Cheshire cats. Anybody who doesn’t want to get on stage, pick up a guitar and join Ex Hex by the end of the set is out of their mind.
Later on, on the same stage, Perfume Genius switches things down several gears from rock tunes, to sandblasting emotional pop songs. Striking poses, and hitting soaring melodies head-on, it’s a rare moment of reflection. Bringing things back to the breakneck setting, however, is Kathleen Hanna. These days she has firmly moved on from her riot grrrl Bikini Kill beginnings, and like Ex Hex, and Sleater-Kinney in their recent incarnation, she’s pushing new boundaries with The Julie Ruin. “La revolución sera feminista, o no será” she shouts - or at least attempts to shout - in Spanish. “The revolution will be feminist, or not be”. With The Julie Ruin in charge, the revolution is in full swing.
The takeover is capped off by Sleater-Kinney. Chat is kept to a minimum, mainly to make more room for an ambitious, relentless, and totally perfect set. Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss tear through pretty much every iconic moment - ‘Jumpers,’ ‘One Beat,’ ‘All Hands on the Bad One,’ ‘Dig Me Out’, and ‘Entertain’ all present. Material from their first record in eight years, ‘No Cities To Love’ stands up equally tall, and Katie Harkin of Sky Larkin is once again on hand to beef out the band’s sound even further. As things reach a head, Sleater-Kinney feed off their audience, using each other as head props, and exchanging amazed expressions as the crowds sing along to every lyric. Carrie collapses to screams and raised arms, right in the middle of the stage during ‘Words and Guitar,’ and Sleater-Kinney are triumphant. Don’t call it a comeback - they’ve picked up right where they left off.
Across the site in stark juxtaposition, Run the Jewels are also bouncing off their own chaotic, swirling crowd. “I broke my shoulder, but I don’t give a fuck,” booms a nonchalant Killer Mike. “I don’t know what the fuck’s gonna happen,” adds El-P, “but its gonna be a motherfucking party bus, kids.” He’s not wrong. ‘Banana Clipper’ amps up the insanity, with Killer Mike holding out his mic to the audience who dutifully finish every line for him. They’re having the time of their lives. Run the Jewels are exciting, magnetic pioneers, and their electrifying show tonight cements the deal.
Death From Above 1979 meanwhile, wreak flashlight chaos. “We’ve come here to destroy your stage,” smirks Jesse F. Keeler, while Sebastien Grainger urges the pace forwards like the inferno’s own conductor. DFA, as promised, bring the destruction. Tonight there’s no let-up from the loud, ferocious kind of live rock that makes ribcages shake, and they wring out every last drop of possible energy.
It’s then left to Alt-J to bring the night to a head, and on a ginormous stage, they step effortlessly into headlining boots. The weirdo-engineering of ‘Hunger of the Pine’ is practically custom-made for such a large, expansive space, and ‘Left Hand Free’ - which undeniably has a touch of parody about it - becomes brilliantly ironic performed from a festival main stage. “Good evening,” Alt-J say politely to the assembled masses, fully in on their own joke. Their progression from a low-ceiling venue support band, to this, has been alarmingly quick, and fully deserved.
Watched by a side-of-stage Sky Ferreira, DIIV throw out new material like free sweets at a pantomime during their Saturday evening set. Zachary Cole Smith, wearing a Mickey Mouse nightie for whatever reason, navigates through the hazy, wandering guitar lines, and he’s a quietly captivating frontman. A newly returned American Football also play a modest, but goosebumpy show, passing about intricately crafted rhythms, mingling guitars, and Mike Kinsella’s distinctive, Illinois-flavoured vocals like an effortless afternoon kickabout.
Mac DeMarco is playing one of the biggest stages of his career today, not that he seems especially intimidated. Ambling onstage holding a flute of cava, with a cigarette dangling lazily out of his mouth, he and his bandmates repeatedly address the huge crowds like close pals, asking them to invest in gold deals, and announcing the imminent arrival of guest Anthony Kiedis. The Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman isn’t actually here, and their stand-in lookalike is comically bad. The music, on the other hand, is ludicrously good, and performers don’t get more charismatic than Mac, who rattles through the likes of ‘Salad Days’ and ‘Cooking Up Something Good’. Two snapped strings could easily throw a show into chaos, but DeMarco’s bandmates save the day with an extremely impromptu cover of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’. When Mac DeMarco’s time is up, it’s hard to process what just happened to Primavera.
Bringing similar amounts of archness to the main stage, it’s Foxygen. “I’m not doing so hot,” announces Sam France woefully, “I broke up with my girlfriend today.” He’s pacing the stage melodramatically. “And my boyfriend…they’re pieces of shit,” That’s just a taster of the theatrical madness that ensues. Foxygen break up and reform on stage at least twice during the course of their set, cover The Beatles ‘Let It Be’ for about ten seconds, and bizarrely, they bring on a fleet of “beautiful ladies” who later turn out to be backing singers. Like class clowns goofing about at the back of an interesting lesson on 60s psychedelia, their put-on lack of sincerity becomes distracting, and slightly grating at times. When Foxygen hone in on songs like ‘Shuggie,’ though, they’re untouchably good.
Interpol, on the other hand, sweep aside messiness in favour of a polished, no-frills set heaving with classics. Once ‘Evil’ kicks into life, people are running at full pelt across the site screaming along at the top of their lungs. Bringing a slice of glassy, stalking New York to Barcelona, Interpol seem to have recovered from the 50 hours they spent together trapped in six feet of snow late last year.
Julian Casablancas is sporting a bizarre mullet somewhere between a red and black skunk and a lost 90s raver tonight. At least he and his band sound flawless. In the not-too-distant past The Strokes seemed slightly like they might be going through the motions, but tonight, clattering straight into ‘Machu Picchu’ and ‘Someday’ without a pause - Casablancas almost drowned out by the crowd’s backing vocals - The Strokes are true headliners. ‘Juicebox’ makes its first live return for four years, and tracks from ‘Comedown Machine’ get their first European airings. Just when it looks like The Strokes are settling into a plateau of newer material and leaving quietly, they race back into ‘Is This It,’ followed by, well, just about every Strokes song worth playing. Then, there’s the encore to end all encores. Tonight at Primavera, The Strokes are pure magic.
Across the site, Shellac are thanking the crowds for making the long walk over. Their lighting is deliberately simple - in fact it doesn’t change a flicker. There’s no need for stagey showboating with an outfit as tightly interlinked as they are, after all, and each asymmetric, muscular drum beat collides with Steve Albini’s sparse, unpredictable delivery, and Bob Weston’s bare-bones bass-lines in rhythmic fission. Their minimalism is in stark contrast to stage neighbours HEALTH, who are lost in a haze of machine-gun speed lights and flailing mops of hair. They might not have much in the way of nuance, but they’ve traded it in for one-setting noise-rock, drowning out the final hours of Primavera 2015 with a sea of bleep-covered feedback.
Photos: Emma Swann
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