Live Review: Primavera Sound

Parc Del Forum, Barcelona, May 26th-28th

This is not about ancient history,” states [a]Jarvis Cocker[/a] flatly, eyeballing the crowd from behind his thick frames. “We are going to make history.” Here to rip reunion fatigue from your mind like a flimsy nightdress, [a]Pulp[/a’s long-dreamed-of comeback takes place in a city with which, Cocker notes, they have some association – fondly recalled DJ sets, the site of Russell Senior’s last gig with the band – but not the woven-in links of, say, Glastonbury or Sheffield.

“Why here, why now?” Jarvis Cocker sings in [b]‘FEELINGCALLEDLOVE’[/b]. The answer’s simple: it makes perfect sense that their reactivation takes place not in Blighty, but in a concrete field, somewhere in Catalonia. [a]Pulp[/a] were never about English parochialism: that was something they fought, just as [b]‘I Spy’[/b] uses song as a weapon in class war. Their electric, joyous set is a lesson in keeping it fresh that could well be heeded by Of Montreal, who, as ever, look like a [a]Roxy Music[/a] tribute band on a budget. It’s fun, but their shtick needs updating, and the contrast with Sufjan Stevens couldn’t be more pronounced.

The lights in the dark indoor Auditori go up and there he is, white wings on, bobbing like a courting cuckoo, band driving to a Day-Glo crescendo. Stevens recites a speech in halting Spanish that might translate as “I used to play folk music, now it’s ‘el cosmico’”. Outer space music this is, as he says, “love songs to the apocalypse” in a Studio 54 disco orbiting an as-yet-undiscovered star. A severe PiL set gives lie to the notion that John Lydon has sacrificed all fora butter-churn of lucre, and, as he sneers, a Spanish gull out to sea probably thinks she’s being serenaded by one of her own kind. Oneohtrix Point Never, by contrast, deliver warm synths to massage the psyche into a stranger place.

Grinderman’s music is like their style, superficially smart but fucking ugly underneath. Nick Cave flings a guitar to the ground like trash. Bearded mad bastard Warren Ellis waves maracas as Cave screams “I’m just trying to relax!!!!” at the crowd. Grinderman have a rum but brilliant way of doing it. Suicide are billed as playing their 1977 debut album, but they show scant affection for it: the sound is insidiously loud, the songs hammered to pieces. At the same time, [a]Interpol[/a] play their odes to New York on a different stage but Suicide do what they’ve always done: take the grit of the Big Apple and spit it back in our faces.

[a]Factory Floor[/a], collaborating with Chris Carter of Throbbing Gristle, also prove that electronic assault tactics can provoke a frenzy of dancing, even at 5am. [a]Ariel Pink[/a]’s Haunted Graffiti are the perfect Primavera party-starter for Friday, smooth sun lounge piña colada pop. One of the day’s stickiest gurn-fests comes from Daniel ‘Oneohtrix’ Lopatin and Joel ‘Tigercity’ Ford (as, er, Ford & Lopatin) who bring ’80s synth melodrama to the gram-up-the-bum generation. By contrast, [a]Belle & Sebastian[/a] have as much life as a fish counter in one of Barcelona’s excellent markets.

The main event of the festival couldn’t be more full of life – anyone worried that Jarvis Cocker’s National Institution status might make Pulp’s return rather too cosy have their fears dispelled as the opening notes of [b]‘Do You Remember The First Time?’[/b] ring out, and Primavera’s largest crowd melts. Jarvis dedicates [b]‘Common People’[/b] to the young protestors in Plaça De Catalunya, who earlier today were attacked by the police. It reminds us that just as they can do the personal (a proposal of marriage in the front row of the crowd before a comically inappropriate [b]‘Underwear’[/b] – “Michelle’s going to have a think about that while we play this next song,” Jarvis tells us) Pulp are still cheerleaders for the misfits and the put-upon, and in these times of cuts and fees, that’s all of us. Their return is a rallying cry.

Saturday, and someone seems to have forgotten to tell [a]Fleet Foxes[/a] that it’s the 21st century. Sure, their melodies glow like the sunset over the Mediterranean, but there’s something depressing about music that, though recently written, sounds so antiquated. No such naiveté from Einstürzende Neubauten. They resemble a recently busted paedophile ring, and singer Blixa Bargeld’s unearthly scream makes him sound like a Black Rider from Lord Of The Rings. Their junkyard rave attracts one of the weekend’s most excitable crowds. [a]Gang Gang Dance[/a] aren’t a million miles from that cross-border futurism, heavy percussion welded to space-age synths and high vocals.

It’s the soundtrack to imagining the huge luxury yacht moored behind that stage suddenly lifting out of the water and, engines glowing, heading off past the fireworks saluting FC Barcelona’s Champions League Final victory over Manchester United. [a]No Joy[/a]’s [b]‘Hawaii’[/b] video reveals a group partial to running around, in the nuddy, covered in mud. Primavera offers little to satisfy them in that respect, but they do help us with a dirty take on shoegaze revivalism. [a]PJ Harvey[/a], in a flowing white dress, derives her power from the simplicity of delivery that holds up her wonderful, intelligent songs. Like Jarvis, she’s one of the finest songwriters England has produced, even as her lyrics question her national identity.

Primavera 2011 is dominated by groups who use difficult music and grey matter to make their artistic point eloquently. What, then, do [a]Odd Future[/a] offer with their dull nihilism and tinny, clip-clop laptop set? When they holler “fuck the police” it feels like a box-tick; brutish, male and dim, any radical sentiment is undermined by a predictable “all you girls show your titties” before [b]‘Kill People Burn Shit Fuck School’[/b]. This childish tantrum (from a group in their twenties) provokes a stage invasion of boys and girls. Why? Have they got out of doing the washing up? It’s a long way from the bravery of the Spanish youth up the road. These boys need teaching a lesson: ponder the rest of the festival, the high camp and the joy, the angst music for sex people, and imagine a glorious threesome of [a]Tyler The Creator[/a] with Sufjan at one end, him from Of Montreal at t’other and Jarvis watching, writing a song, chuckling quietly.

Luke Turner