Live Review

Primavera Sound 2012: Day Three

Such is the Mediterranean schedule you can sleep late, have a three-hour lunch, do a spot of sightseeing and still catch the first few bands of the evening.

By the last day of most festivals, the festivities and refreshments on offer start to take their toll. Eyes look bleary and bloodshot, hair becomes bedraggled, and fashion choices are dictated by whatever’s close to hand and smells the least. Not here. Unless you’ve opted for the hardcore option of guerrilla camping, you have a bed somewhere in the city, a luxury that wouldn’t be lost on those who’ve endured five days in a field at the height of a typical British summer. Sure, some look like they were going strong at the end of AraabMUZIK and beyond, but such is the Mediterranean schedule you can sleep late, have a three-hour lunch, do a spot of sightseeing and still catch the first few bands of the evening.

The sun is slowly starting to fade as Sharon Van Etten picks up her Fender and softly coos ‘The sun is at stake / And I’m at your window / Beyond all sleep / and I can’t speak’. It’s a helluva sentiment to open with, but those familiar with Van Etten will know the way she can tug at the heartstrings and play on weakness. As the band wind tighter and tighter through the crescendo of ‘All I Can’, at the very point you want it to sweep you away the power is lost amidst the vast space of the main stage. She seems to realise this, a semi-scowl etched on her face for the duration of her set. Banter is kept to a minimum, save for an only half-joking ‘This is the ugliest place I’ve ever seen!’ – casting a glance over the (for her, not insubstantial) crowd to the still-filling concrete wasteland of Parc del Forum, it’s hard to disagree. ‘Warsaw’, ‘Give Out’, and a magnificently moody ‘Ask’ are wrought with beauty and tension, but it’s hard to escape the feeling the band are fighting a losing battle with the elements. Not everyone can win the scheduling war, I know, but Van Etten and her heart-felt tales deserve better.

At times in 2011, we seemed to be drowning in chiffon, polka dots, and shop assistant-inspired twee-pop; ‘nufuzzwurld’ as someone coined it. Veronica Falls were very much to the fore, all trebly guitars and floor tom, their mildly gothic tendencies clear from titles like ‘Found Love In A Graveyard’ and vaguely emo lyrics. That track is aired here, along with most of their debut, but while everything jangles and bounces along pleasantly enough, they lack zip and drive. Spread out across the stage, the physical space between Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare stretches the music beyond breaking point; what comes across as tight and focused on record drowns in the emptiness. Patrick Doyle’s drums dominate throughout, providing ample backbone that the others, try as they might, fail to flesh out.

Bradford Cox loves this part of the world. He tells us so mid-set, adding that this yearly pilgrimage is his annual vacation. He’s also lucky in that he gets to turn up in various guises – with Lockett Pundt presumably busy promoting his own solo LP, Cox is here as Atlas Sound, the outlet for his more personal, experimental music. There are a few puzzled glances as he gets straight down to a no-frills acoustic rendition of Hank Williams’ ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’, although the sly grin and contentment etched on his face suggests he’s enjoying the temporary confusion. With a curt ‘I’m now going to play some of my songs – thank you for listening’ he’s off into familiar territory; tugging at his guitar, stamping impatiently at various peddles, building walls of loops and effects that ebb and flow like the sea. He’s become expert at knowing exactly when to break the crescendo into something softer or, occasionally, one of his more lucid tracks, with pace and tone the key. ‘Walkabout’ drops anyone lulled into a trance straight into a pop wonderland, a trick he repeats later with ‘Shelia’. Even the odd equipment malfunction fails to dampen his spirits; glossed over with a pithy aside, he goes right back to jabbing and scratching his strings. The paucity of the stage setup is in complete contrast to the musical complexity, a wondrous sonic exploration that will surely lead to higher billing in years to come.

For proof, he could just ask Beach House. Their rapturous 2010 set, where seemingly half the festival crammed into the amphitheatre-like ATP stage, followed ‘Teen Dream’ breaking big. With ‘Bloom’ attracting equal acclaim, they’re handed a challenging, late-night slot on the Mini stage. Any doubts about their haunting sigh-fi being up the task are blown way by the wall-of-sound drone that opens ‘Wild’, a relentless buzzing that soon gives way to booming drums and Alex Scally’s shimmering guitar. Unusually for dream-pop, both Scally and Victoria Legrand position their vocals high in the mix – their voices gliding clear above hazy melodies and a taut, expansive sound that belies their roots as a duo. The extra beef adds nuance to ‘Zebra’ and ‘10 Mile Stereo’, but it’s ‘Myth’ and ‘The Hours’ that really shine, demonstrating their ability as composers and masters of emotional scale.

For all the fuss over frictionless sharing, the power of Twitter, and digital marketing, it’s interesting – not to mention heartening – that word-of-mouth can still serve to bring an artist to a wider audience. From a standing start and a position of relative obscurity, Johnny Jewel suddenly finds himself as man-of-the moment. Part of that is undoubtedly down to his work on Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’, stylistically a perfect fit for his dark, noirish synth-pop compositions, but it’s also due to ‘Kill for Love’ being an early contender for album of the year. The palpable excitement and buzz as people scramble to the packed Pitchfork stage suggests that Chromatics are this year’s alternative, must see, were-you-there? moment and, semi-submerged in dry ice and muted lighting throughout, they don’t disappoint. From the slow-glide funk of ‘Lady’ to the euphoria of ‘Kill For Love’, it’s a masterclass in pace, tone, and living up to expectations. It’s a compact set, and stripped of the interludes that make up much of ‘Kill”s hour-and-a-half run time, their pop gems become even more accessible, 3-minute mini-hits of glacial splendour that provide an immediate fix. An acid test for any band, especially live, is to inhabit covers with their own, distinctive personality without stretching their boundaries beyond a comforting familiarity; the cocksureness of wrapping up with two straight – Ruth Radelet’s clipped, restrained vocals allowing the sentiments of “’Running Up That Hill’ and ‘Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)’ to dominate – feels like the moment Chromatics step out of the shadows and into the light.

We live in turbulent times, and most people would quite happily wind the clock back to safer, more prosperous times; say, 2007? Justice seem intent on doing exactly that, delivering a set that borrows heavily, both sonically and aesthetically, from their late noughties heyday. Stationed behind the by now familiar illuminated cross, it’s clear they know where their appeal lies; the bass blasts of ‘Genesis’ kicks things off and unleashes mayhem, a crowd-pleasing bent that they never relinquish. Last years ‘Audio, Video, Disco’ was considered a misstep by many, and as if by way of confirmation, we get only three cuts here – the title track, ‘Civilization’, and ‘Horsepower’. Justice have always been big on cheese and lacking subtlety, but even their live energy can’t save the latter two from sounding like something David St. Hubbins might compose for a ‘Spinal Tap Embrace The Future!’ tour. No matter, it’s late enough for their decadent disco-rock – and they have plenty – to have the desired effect. ‘DVNO’ and ‘Let There Be Light’ sound amazing, as does a full throttle ‘Phantom’ (parts I and II). ‘D.A.N.C.E’, perhaps their best loved track, is extended to more than 10 minutes, featuring an intimate organ solo by Gaspard Augé – a neat piece of showmanship – before a remixed ‘We Are Your Friends’ slams us back on the dancefloor. It’s a bit sad that after just a couple of albums, they already don’t want to let go of past glories – sooner or later they’ll need a new trick – but this is the ultimate party set, rendering everything else a little anaemic. Knowing and polished, with production values through the roof – the lightshow is simply stunning, one of the best I’ve ever witnessed, anywhere – fans of dirty, bass-heavy grime should make a point of catching them this summer. It’s music to drink and dance and get properly fucked up to, a hedonistic end to Primavera’s suave charm and eclectic taste.

Tags: Justice, Features

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