Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Primavera: a belated and exaggerated summation

DISCLAIMER: this will devastate you, but I am not going to describe the entire holiday. Adventures were had. Adventures that can be found in the fractured runes of what's left of our memory banks. Also in photos. But this will be a straight festival description, because what I would say about describing the entire ten day holiday is that THAT WAY MADNESS LIES.

Day One

Earlier - we were operating under the somewhat flawed belief that the festival was going to be so chronically expensive that we wouldn't be able to afford to drink, and had thus got mildly tanked before turning up. This would arguable come back to bite us later.

The Notwist - However, we kicked things off just the right amount of sozzled, and The Notwist's early set was a lovely way in... a nice warm sun, happily burbling machines... don't think I'll ever think they're an amazing band, but in this context very very nice... mmm... yeah... ahhh...

HEALTH - In my memory it somehow conspired to get instantly dark the moment HEALTH began. It's probably a false memory, but it's certainly fitting... if The Notwist are glowing, fading of the light twinkliness, HEALTH were the festival getting properly underway. They've been accused of being a sort of Argos Liars by some, but I though this was great... the album is essentially lots of little bits of idea, bolted together a bit weirdly, but propped up with a properly theatrical show (matching costumes, frenzied front of stage drum beatings) it's good, dark, vicious, silly fun. As a side note, the clashing Edan was apparently brilliant, only actually clash of the weekend I was particularly annoyed about. Wigs, flowers, rocking chairs... yeah man.

Public Enemy - Definitely pretty drunk now, but yeah... they did It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (not in order) and it was really good... I was quite gobsmacked that Flava Flav was actually, like, really good. I mean, I know intellectually he is, but the man's turned into such a trainwreck in recent years it's pretty hard to square it. Also they finished with a song off their last album, which turned out to be really good. And also Terminator X was there for some reason. So in conclusion Public Enemy both surprised and delighted me.

Portishead - Right so what happened was, I was now really, really drunk, I lost the others because I walked ahead too far, got a nice text message from Mark (a rarity in itself) that said they'd meet me at the end of the set. Logically what I should have done was enjoy the set on my own. What I actually did was somehow convince myself that they'd abandoned me deliberately WHILE AT THE SAME TIME being fully aware that they hadn't. Doublethink in its purest form, basically. Anyway, a further paradox of the situation was that due to the rather, uh, maudlin nature of Portishead's music, I actually thoroughly enjoyed myself, or at least the new stuff, which is blatantly better than 'classic' Portishead. In fact I spent most of the 'classic' Portishead bits being rather grumpy. As opposed to being sublimely melancholic. Which is what I was in the new stuff. Important distinction. Oh yeah, and Chuck D came out and did a guest rap during Machine Gun, which was pretty cool, though I can't really , y'know, remember anything about it other than it happened. I'm sure it was dead political, like.

De La Soul - So I met the others, and spent precisely five minutes continuing to freak out, possibly exacerbated by the fact they (possibly jokingly) confiscated my precious stash of recreational chemicals. Then (and really I'm saying all this based on the testimonies of others) I cheered with a rapidity as swift and illogical as the onset of my original grump. Was thus ship shape and Bristol fashion for a thoroughly bouncing De La Soul gig. Again, memories are relatively non-specific, though this time mostly because we were right at the back of the crowd dancing like bastards or, as it was put to Laura, with 'a large circumference' (see right). Having had my moment of the darkness earlier that night, it was then sort of Tamsin's turn... not that she exactly went dark, it's just that she'd bought €220 worth of drink vouchers. That is a lot of drink. It must also have been quite the operation for the poor people responsible for the (admittedly ridiculous) operation of changing cash into €1 paper tokens. In Tams' defence, she didn't actually work through all of them. She did, however, work through enough. She left. In fairness, none of us have particularly lucid memories of any music after this, so maybe not a terrible thing.

Vampire Weekend - MASSIVE crowd, many of whom appeared to be utter dicks (naturally we were wearing sunglasses at night, but, um, still), again, pretty out of it but didn't especially rock my world. Think I've sort of gone from only liking the VW songs that have good bits in them to only liking the actual good bits. Screw 'em. Around this time I did something bad, though quite funny if you have a crass sense of humour. I shall not mention it in a public blog so as to protect identities from the huge public traffic that flows through here. With great power, etc etc etc.

Later - Oh god, I dunno, I think I watched somebody called Berlinbattery, fuck knows what they were like, lager, vodka and MDMA were now coursing violently through my body like triple tributaries of some erratic tropical waterway. As is my way I eventually came to all in one burst, though not so much that I didn't turn to Emma, who it turned out I was with, and demand we go see Midnight Juggernauts. Which was fine, only I hadn't, y'know, checked the time... basically they'd finished a while ago, so I dragged us back over to the Vice Stage to watch the end of Berlinbattery. Who now seemed okay. I then took advantage of my now vague acquaintance with reality to reassemble the troops, all of whom had had adventures of their own it seemed.

Again, it would be unfair to go into too many details on a public blog, but um, well, Laura's were relatively wholesome - she'd attempted to mother a really fucked Manc, who'd traded her a lollipop in exchange for her number (on day two it transpired he'd been thrown out of both the festival and his hotel and got an early flight home) then shambled off, and then having lost me during Vampire Weekend, spent two hours playing with a dog. One of the others did something very naughty with a man called Nacho. I shall not say who. I also slowly realised that I'd lost my shades and broken my camera in a weird way that meant all the buttons worked backwards. Pah. Erm, anyway, we managed to reconvene with relative competency, and then realising it was just after 5am, got the Metro back to our apartment and had a few beers on the roof before bed. Thoroughly civilised.

Day Two

Earlier - We kicked off the day with a spot of needlecraft. And when I say 'we', I mean everyone else, I was off scoring chemicals in true hunter gatherer fashion. But yeah, some back story.

We enjoy the music of Fuck Buttons. A lot.

Furthermore we share a fair whack of mutual friends with Fuck Buttons, and I think the combination of these facts - i.e. our love of the music combined with a slight amusement at the fact they're in no way the aloof rock gods we sort of want them to be - has made us slightly obsessed with them. So what we (it was Laura's idea originally) of course decided was that we'd sew the word 'fuck' into our clothes. In buttons. Genius. We are geniuses.

So the others did that, and they did that well. I purchased bad things, also competently.

Then 'twas off to the glorious seaside carpark that is the Primavera site. The one unfortunate thing about the festival is the weird amounts of bureaucracy they occasionally put you through. Much of the morning had been devoted to frisking Ms Curry for booze tokens, which annoyingly were Thursday only, and thus we had to queue again to trade them for Friday ones. That done, we attempted to queue to see Bill Callahan, who was playing at the indoor Auditorium venue... some ten minutes after he was supposed to have started, the queue hadn't moved at all, so we sacked it off, much to Mark's disgust. As it turns out they ran a completely mental policy of clearing out the Auditorium between acts, then not actually letting people start filing in until the band started. Which basically meant it was physically impossible to see a band all the way through. Which is silly.

Oh yeah, my friend Charlotte Annat. We saw her just before Bill Callahan, which I believe she did get into. Anyway, having already had to fork out for three festival tickets after misplacing the ones she'd originally purchased for herself and her friend, Charlotte got so 'refreshed' before her flight to Barcelona that she never actually made it to day one. And when she did eventually make it she decided she didn't actually really enjoy it, thusly sacking the whole thing off to go clubbing. There is probably some sort of moral in this, though I doubt it can be condensed particularly pithily.

The Strange Death Of Liberal England - For some stupid reason me, Laura and Tams decided we'd be broad minded and go and see a band we didn't know much about. Crock of shit idea, obviously. They're okay, but I was sort of under the impression that they were like a post-rock Arcade Fire. Actually they were like a slightly overblown Brit indie band. They didn't even hold up the funny placards I'd heard they used. Gah.

No Age - Why oh why didn't we just go and see No Age instead of TSDOLE? Oh yeah, because they sort of fucked up at ATP, even if it was kind of muddy, unsubtle fun. Anyway, we wandered along for end and were very glad we did - glorious blue sky, stage next to the water (the Vice stage really was pretty, I'll give them that) and the songs weren't murdered in feedback - Sleeper Hold, my favourite track off Nouns, sounded lovely. Oh, and we found some glittery stars on the floor, which we promptly attached to our faces with Vaseline.

Incidentally by this stage me, Tams, Laura and Natalie had all been asked if we could have our photo taken by people who - if not exactly official looking - did appear to be genuinely working for actual publications. We were sort of chuffed that our ploy of dressing as ludicrously as possible had made somebody or other think we were superfly hipster types, until we remembered Vice were out in force. All I'm saying is I wouldn't be surprised if we end up in that 'worst dressed' bit, very soon.

The Sonics - Natalie referred to them as 'shitus quo', which was maybe a bit harsh, but wouldn't exactly go on a limb to disagree with her. They've done some classic, maybe all time classic pop songs, and if I'd been around in their heyday and actually been cool enough to be disaffected about shinier, more mannered pop I'm sure one of their gigs would have been great. But this incarnation... I dunno, I can see how these type of shows can work sometimes, but The Sonics restored as something verging on an arena rock act just didn't really make sense... these are guys from the 60s, in their 60s, doing a slightly cheesy, slightly session musican-ish take on some great songs they wrote. Which would be fair enough if the Stooges reunion had been shit, but, um, well, it wasn't, was it? Pleasant, maybe even toe-tappin', but no more...

(saw little bits of Bob Mould and Sebadoh - both pretty dull, former less than latter)

Why? - Really glad I saw them/him, not least because I'd vaguely thought I might sack it off in favour of somebody else as I'd be able to see them at Venn, only for them to pull out of that due to illness. Anyway, I'm not cool enough to be massively familiar, but a sort of warm, wafty, psychedelic haze that made me feel good about more or less everything.

Devo - Saw a bit of Devo from afar. Seemed a bit lame, to be honest. I dunno, we only showed up for five minutes, and a lot of that was taken up by me and Laura doing the whole hold hands and spin around in a big circle thing. Which was predictably disastrous - we smacked into a faintly inexplicable bollard, took a tumble, I ended up bruised, Laura tore a gash in her knee and stubbed her toes so badly she thought she might have broken them. Nay mind. It was time for Fuck Buttons.

Fuck Buttons - In next month's edition of a popular niche indie mag, you'll be able to read a medium pretentious review of Fuck Buttons' Venn set by moi, which basically makes the point that all their gigs are basically identical, but then that's sort of the point, it's like a ritual or a summoning, and you can't be doing that shit out of order.

Anyway, I'm not going to repeat myself, though I would like to reiterate the point that the untitled new song they're playing at the end of the set is probably the best thing they've done (I believe I used the phrase 'roar of trancey light') and here is a link to a badly recorded version of it from a different show:

So back to us being idiots. Laura threw her embroidered t-shirt at Benjamin John Power. It missed. For reasons it's best not to go into, she has his phone number. She texted him to tell him where it was. Twice. Unsurprisingly, he did not interrupt the set to look at his phone.

In the meantime, I had doled out the chemicals. They were intended for all, but were in fact entirely snaffled by myself, Laura, Natalie and Arike. Arike had never done them before, and being a bit drunk, I came to the conclusion that we'd split them exactly four ways, and that newbie Arike would go mental at some point very soon. I voiced the fears to the others, which sort of ended up getting Chinese whispered to 'oh my god, Arike had all the drugs'. She'd barely had a dab - administered by Natalie, who I suspect had actually had all the drugs - and friction of the night came from her getting incensed at the fact she thought I was accusing her of being some sort of thief. I would never do that. I am fairness and non-judgement incarnate.

Not that this really mattered, because it would be some hours before I would see her again, or indeed, have a clue what was happening. But back to the others... me and Mark left to go and load up on German minimalist techno. The girls stayed behind and gesticulated wildly at Fuck Buttons as they took their equipment down, eventually I believe persuading a bouncer to give Andy Hung the t-shirt. Andy Hung looked scared, apparently. Then they phoned Ben Power, leaving a message which apparently said something along the lines of 'we're not stalkers, but we really think you should meet us as we'll get on really well'. Apparently they then rounded off with monkey noises in the style of the FB song Ribs Out. He did not phone back, though this did not deter Natalie from texting him several times over the course of the night.

(errrrrrrrrrr) - I've never done ketamine before. And certainly not ketamine and MDMA at the same time. But what it apparently does (or at least the two in tandem) is give you an enormous feeling of well being and euphoria combined with general oblivion to one's surroundings. Walked with Mark to see Robert Hood, lost him within about one minute (though despite his grumbles to the contrary I did text him to say where I was, I noted from my outbox ahem ahem), danced I assume on my own, can't really remember anything apart from the music, which was, like, bostin'. Um, then I guess I probably saw Ellen Allien. I have no fucking idea. It felt good, whatever it was. I was so screwed that I sent an quite catastrophic sequence of texts to Holly, wherein I sent four and didn't manage to form one single word. That's the good shit.

Holy Fuck - Again, I sort of came out of my blissful oblivion over a fairly quick period of time, and remembered that it was imperative I saw Holy Fuck. I am sincerely grateful that I did. I went over there on my own, stood front centre, and impressively Emma and Natalie had exactly the same idea and we just found each other there (er, it is possible Emma had been with me already, fuck knows). Basically Holy Fuck are an amazing band and they played really full on, whumping versions of their marvellous DIY dance music, and that would have been good enough for all of us. What made this probably the best festival set I've ever seen was the stage invasion that came during Lovely Allen... you know when The Stooges invite 50 or so people to come up at the end of the set? Pussies. People just started filing onstage unbidden during the song... when there were about 20 or so up there me and Natalie sort of looked at each other with a loot that simply said 'well, we are of course going on stage then, aren't we?' My rubbish upper body strength could have seen it end badly, but a booster from ms Milne sorted things and I was up onstage. There's not really any way to describe this without gushing, but the experience was incredible... the people just kept coming, there must have been 300 by the end, and the atmosphere was just wonderful... camaraderie and dancing and Holy Fuck - who I'd always thought were kind of surly characters - looked stunned and ecstatic at the whole thing. And Les Savy Fav were wandering around banging drums. It was hugely surreal, incredibly uplifting, the music was amazing, but I suppose moreover it was by the far the most communal thing I've ever experienced at a festival, and surely communal things are essentially what festivals are about. Some nice pix here:

Later - the others had all been 'watching' Om and then Supermayer, and were holed up in the Electronica stage, which had by this stage (must have been around 6am) been sealed off. Me and Natalie were hardened stage climbers, and, er, busted (climbed over a low table past some unconcerned catering staff) our way in. Full of piss and vinegar at the fact we'd been onstage with Holy Fuck, I was a little deflated at the fact that Mark was almost psychotically unimpressed, declaring that what was much better was the Minimalist Techno Tango, a new, er, entertainment that involved him and Laura tangoing to - gasp - minimalist techno, and asking strangers which one they'd like to kiss on the cheek more. Each to their own. Anyway, matters simmered down eventually, and we left, as a group this time. Journey home was somewhat interrupted by our wandering through the Place Realle... there is a big fountain there... I sort of went to lift myself up into it, but then I saw it was full of rubbish and didn't bother. Natalie called me some sort of wimp, hoiked herself up, then shouted 'urgh! there's a dead pigeon in here!' I felt about a second of validation. Until I heard a thump, and realised Natalie had thrown the dead bird out onto the square. Me and Mark posed for pictures with it. Passing Spaniards were horrified. We were (and are) bad, bad people.

Day Three

Times New Viking - Despite it being day three of the festival, we somehow managed to drag ourselves out for our earliest start yet. Though when I say 'we' that was us without Natalie, who stayed in bed, having not slept for the previous nights. And when I say 'earliest start', that's not to say we were bright eyed and bushy tailed - Mark and Tamsin could barely speak and looked sort of angry at the world, and even mine and Laura's puppydog like cheer was dented somewhat. Anyway, like a quartet of dysfunctional ghosts (Arike had wandered off to see something or other), we slunk over to watch Times New Viking. In the rain. Tamsin sat on her own, looking much like a disconsolate ghost. Mark wandered into the crowd on his own, and looked quite angry, though that's sort of what he does as a rule.

Fortunately mine and Laura's aforementioned houndlike enthusiasm was restored by bumping into the always charming Nathan from Dogday, the spectacle of an absolute mentalist in the crowd twitching like one of those loons from old videos of Wigan Casino to TNV's not especially dancey music, and TNV themselves. They sort of make more sense live anyway, insofar as their records sound like somebody accidentally recorded a really, really, really drunk rehearsal, but yeah, a nice surge of rough, melodic noise, and the band themselves were hilarious, seemed almost totally out of it - drummer made shout outs to 'Heath Ledger, if he's here', 'Bilbo Baggins, if he's here', they took five minutes to change a broken guitar string, during which time he muttered something about how he was going to jump into the sea, and brilliantly he was using a festival programme to work out how long their set should be. After about twenty minutes he asked a completely bemused sound guy if they had time for a couple more. Er... yeah.

One explanation for their behaviour may lie in the alleged existence of an extremely well-stocked 'cocaine tent' in the guest area, which apparently was so popular that they had to introduce a fee to use it, just to reduce the queues. In retrospect this is patently untrue, as some of the smaller bands would probably be able to slyly toot more than their actual appearence fee. But I would like to believe it, plus the guy who told us this said he'd met Beth from TNV and she was physically quite dirty, which I'm certain is true.

Atlas Sound - If Holy Fuck was the best set as an actual experience, this was the most purely perfect in the sense of being like an actual gig. The gloomy weather helped, and the start of the set just felt perfect with it, pale waves of misty, shimmering electric loops. Thought Mr Cox wasn't going to say anything for fear of breaking the spell or whatever, but then about 15 minutes in he just switched into the chattiest man ever, blitzing out a selection of filthy, hilarious anecdotes, cranking up the camp so heroically far we were wondering whether perhaps he actually wasn't gay and it was all a studied act. After that he started playing really quite loud, which has made me listen to the album in a totally new light, there's way more going than mere ambience - it actually uses ambience as a weapon, and a violent one at that. He also played a song which he introduced merely as 'African Jam'... I've only heard it once and thus can't really remember it, beyond that it was thundering and dense and it was the best thing we heard all day and we were dancing, dancing, dancing, dancing. Definitely recommend you get over to and download some of the free Atlas Sound stuff, hopefully African Jam will make an appearence soon.

Silver Jews - A lot of people raved about this set, but think me and Laura were too buzzing from Atlas Sound to take in the couple of songs we saw, which was kind of a shame. But even being distracted, it's pretty clear David Berman is a born frontman, which is kind of mad considering his prior aversion to touring.

Young Marble Giants - Grumble grumble the queueing system blah blah, but once we got in I LOVED the ambience of the auditorium - great lights, great acoustics, thought it really suited YMG, who just sounded perfect, really... I dunno... cooling? They're such beautiful songs and they seem to come from such a different time and headspace, childhood and nightwhispers and sad sad lullaby melodies... loved it, better than I could have hoped. Also they made a shout out to 'auntie Natalie', something not lost on the now present Natalie J Milne.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Now high on music, me and Laura ran to see Stevie boy. Ran to the wrong stage. Then ran to the right stage. Caught the last, er, eight minutes or so of Real Emotional Trash. Sounded good. Oh well.

Deerhunter - Me and Laura decided to sack off Throbbing Gristle's by all accounts suitably gruesome set because we now officially loved Brandon Cox and all he does. Wasn't as perfect, or as in tune with the weather, the time or our moods as Atlas Sound, but still chuffing maaarvellous... again, totally amped up, ambient sections loud and dangerous, like a burning fog. Lots of new stuff from the forthcoming Microcastles album, sounded great... as I drunkenly observed to Laura 'the outros are all fucking incredible'. A bold, controversial statement, but one I stand by entirely.

Shellac - In many ways this seemed pretty much identical to the two sets I saw at ATP last year, but fuck it, Shellac are just one of those bands so singular it'd be disappointing if they were reminiscent of anything other than Shellac. Love the way they set the stage up, love the way they take Todd's drumkit apart at the end, love the Q&A session (this time with a smirking Scout Niblett - too noisy to really work, but whatever; think Natalie shouted out something like 'is Steve Albine really that much of a dick?'), love The End Of Radio... for some reason they remind me of somebody very strong, building something metal.

Getting pretty drunk and a wee bit high here, no real idea what we did prior to Animal Collective, may have just had some pizza, which seems quite sensible by our standards, but, like whatevz. Think we saw some of DJ Funk/DJ Assault, but just passively.

Animal Collective -I kept referring to them as 'Primavera's Coldplay', mostly in an attempt to wind Tamsin up about Glasto, but 'twould be fair to say expectations were pretty high, their 5am set a couple of year back is sort of talked of in hushed tones... um, yeah, again, my perceptions of stuff were a bit altered by now, but what I mostly remember is blinding floods of multicoloured light, much dancier than I'd have though, like a rainbow rave, definite lull in the middle, but fuck it, they played Panda Bear's Comfy In Nautica and it were reet sublime, I tell thee.

Simian Mobile Disco - Were supposed to play live, but couldn't, for reasons we probably speculated over for FAR too long. Anyway, it was fun, they had a man dressed as a rabbit onstage, the doubless inevitable fetsival airing for Ready For The Floor insinuated its way out of the speakers, they played a song off the Charlie And The Chocolate Factory soundtrack, and it was all a lot of fun until the quasi biblical torrents that had been doing their thing for the last hour so finally encouraged us to go and watch some pounding electro house.

Tiefschwartz - I think Laura put it best when she said 'I can't really tell if I like this or not, because I'm so fucked I've loved every single thing I've heard for the last three hours'. Er, yeah, pounding. We were dancing, but I'm not actually sure it was actually to the music. By the end it definitely wasn't, as having dispatched Mark and Arike to the bar with the last of our token to get a round of Jaegers, the rest of us got involved with a session of dinosaur aerobics, which, um, involved shouting out the name of one of the legendary reptiles and then jumping into a pose which resembled it. We quickly realised we only actually knew about four different types of dinosaur, which was a problem. So we threw prehistoric mammals into the mix. And a beautiful thing happened... when we did giant sloth, we all did the same slo-mo action and realised that it was now over, this was the perfect moment to stop. Either that or our bodies had simply gone on an across the board strike because they were sick to the back teeth of how much of a bunch of dicks we were making them look.

Yeah, it was probably that.

When we left the site there were some people outside the gates banging some things and blowing a harmonica. Our faculties were now so shot that we had no idea whether they were good or excerable, but we danced anyway.


We would have many more adventures before we left Barcelona. Many many many more adventures. Manymanymanymanymanymanymany more adventures. Some of them believable, some of I now begin to doubt whether they really happened.

I shall sign off with one vignette only, which is to say that on Mark's last night, what he decided to do was snort a line of soap powder. As a result he screamed in massive pain and reeled around in deserved agony for a bit. It all quietened down soon enough, but apparently hours later, his mouth tasted like detergent. I am not saying Mark Ward is an idiot. But let's be honest, it's pretty hard to avoid that conclusion.

However, if we had lost at least half a pound of brain cells between us, they died soldiers' deaths, sacrificed for a worthy cause. And we all survived and we're all still friends.

So basically the moral of the story is that snorting soap powder and stalking noise bands is just groovy.