Animal Collective, Cat Power, The Cribs, Public Enemy, MGMT - GIITTV@Primavera Sound 2008: 29 May – 01 June
Gareth Lloyd 08/06/2008
MGMT kick things off on Thursday afternoon with a lively, surprisingly proggy set; it feels a little odd to hear them switch between this brand of rather psychadelic rock and the more straightforward electro of their singles, and it's the latter that get the first ripples of movement through the crowd. Following this, a quick taste of The NoTwist (whose sparsely layered glitchpop takes a little while to get going) before making a quick sortie of the site itself. It's a world away from the traditional British festival; the vast swathes of concrete may sound a little soulless, but the tradeoff is stunning views of the ocean from most of the stages. Cyclopean-looking stacks of blocks sit just off the shoreline; a starkly massive solar panel covers the walkway to the Vice stage; the indoor stage, the Auditori, is an eerily suspended textured rectangle. It's all a little like one of Lovecraft's lost cities. Well, if said city was filled with beer tents and bedraggled indie kids rather than various unnamed, murderous horrors.
The Rock Delux stage, recessed down towards the waterfront, is a pit that fills up with people. Public Enemy are next up, played in by the Bomb Squad (who, given a blandly noncommital set of dubstep and shout-outs, must be their bessie mates or something). They hit the stage with force, flanked by puffy-jacketed dancers; their run-through of It Takes a Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is boosted by the persistent strength of the material, and it feels like more of a celebration of the album than anything else.
In a strange scheduling decision, Kool Keith is doing his Dr. Octagon thing on the adjacent ATP stage at the same time, so draws only a modest audience; his langorous, lolloping rhymes contrast sharply with the bomb going off next door. Keith seems unfazed however, and shows his appreciation by pulling out a plastic bagfull of porn and doling it out to the audience. Your reviewer picks up a pristine copy of Hardcore Raiders. Thanks Doc!
Portishead are Very Loud. They play a tight, but unadventurous set, Beth Gibbons even seeming a little more reserved than usual. The highlight is undoubtedly Machine Gun, thanks to the sight of that rhythm being banged out and a suprising guest spot from Public Enemy.
We head over to the Vice Stage to round off the night with something a bit more upbeat. The combination of Voxtrot and Vampire Weekend has attracted the fashionista set, and we can't move for skinny jeans and oversized sunglassses. Speaking of skinny jeans, its hard to remember much - that is to say, anything - about Voxtrot other than the lead singer's legwear; or, to be more specific, the prominent outline of his pork and beans. Once you've seen something like that, you can't unsee it. Vampire Weekend seem genuinely grateful for the enthusiasm shown towards them, and indeed the crowd - well-lubricated by one-Euro-per-shot Jagermeister as it is - is now bouncing up a storm, threatening to topple the platform into the briny depths. But there's still something hollow about much of the band's material when absorbed in one go like this; it's hard not to feel a little cynical about this process of polishing and packaging the entire Afrobeat genre into something so blandly inoffensive. We'd like to say a little about Midnight Juggernauts by this point, but it probably wouldn't make much sense by this point given the heady combination of heat, beer and sleep deprivation.
We start Friday with the pleasant Grande Marleska, whose native-Spanish indie pop provides a welcome and gentle start to the day. Same cannot be said for.. well, they're called The Right Ons soulin' Thunder Revue, apparently. They bash out a cringe-inducing brand of cock-block-rock that may or may not have consisted exclusively of covers. Couldn't tell. Instead we opt to listen to an unknown sound guy prepare the main stage for The Cribs; some lovely off-key crooning, then a passable Shellac impression.
We catch the first half of The Cribs' set; they may look like hangovers from a Nathan Barley spin-off, but they're firing on all cylinders this afternoon. We're wondering whether the veins in their necks are going to pop. There are technical difficulties, however, and the area in front of the stage seems to be swamped by an irritating, insistent kick drum that drowns out the rest of the sound.
Pissed Jeans - recently slated by the NME - work some kind of magic. They transform the atmosphere of a bright Barcelona day by the seaside into that of the scuzziest underground venue imaginable. It's nigh-impossible to pick out a hint of melody over the course of their set, but they prove mesmerising. They move around the stage like particles in a vacuum, looking confused and bleary when they bump into one another; they pick up instruments as if never having seen them before. Their frontman twists and contorts his body, conjuring bleats and screams from somewhere deep within; a guitar is disembowelled, its electronics ripped out as in an idiot autopsy. The audience disperses divided; it is magic.
Oh, No Age, what's going on? We're not sure if this is sound problems, or a thing you're going for. But we can't pick out anything from the general mulch of distortion. I've never seen an audience drift off so quickly. Watching The Sonics is an oddly familiar experience: not surprising given their influential role in the development of punk, but also because of more than a few oh-I-didn't-know-that-was-them moments. They're very slick, and excellent fun, but there's a slight feeling of going through the motions. Night falls as we approach the ATP stage for Autolux; they're atmospheric, but unfortunately fairly unexciting too. They remain a curiously unengaging live prospect; isn't it a bit off that this ear-splitting drone-rock can somehow classed as 'nice?'
Why? seem to win over an entire crowd; they turn an initial feel of curiosity into one of genuine respect. Part of this is undoubtedly an understated and classy bit of showmanship on the drummer's part: right hand on the drums, left playing melodies on glockenspiel. But what matters is that this is an intense and captivating performance; their darker numbers summon a shadow that hangs over the stage. And who's this lady doing passable Cat Power karaoke? Oh, it's Cat Power. A few songs in to her set and we're struggling to keep our eyes open. There's a feeling of incongruity; she sings terribly morose tunes, but capers awkwardly around the stage like a spindly Worzel Gummage-type figure. She also disappears stage right every now and then; perhaps she's checking her emails.
Once again, we're now struggling to stay in the game; we manage some time, however, with The Go! Team, who play the exact same show that they've been doing for the last three - four? Five? - years. “I want to see absolutely everyone over there dancing; REALLY, come on now,” uncomfortable-looking instrument swapping, all that schtick.
It's day three now, and Fanfarlo are washing over us with some lush, slightly Beirut-esque layers of acoustic guitars and strings. It's obvious that they're enjoying themselves immensely, and it rubs off on us. Impressively for a mid-tempo, slightly twee indie outfit, they've managed to coax one rather large gentleman near the stage onto a friend's shoulders; he beats out the rhythms skywards with his fists. They set a high bar for Dirty Projectors, who seem to be really settling into their current lineup. Band mastermind and guitar virtuoso Dave Longstreth gurns and gurks his way through a storming set, flanked by the dizzyingly pretty forms of his bandmates (whose diminutive statures belie two frighteningly powerful voices). Not to say that they're the easiest band in the world to love, however; all that raw ability on the stage is often used to create very difficult, unusual, and occasionally unpleasant harmonies and rhythms.
A bit of speedy nipping between stages now; Steve Malkmus & The Jicks sound, well, a bit Pavement-y really. That's no bad thing of course; in fact, they're stormingly enjoyable, and we're very impressed by Malkmus' delivering his mid-song banter in Spanish. We don't speak Spanish, of course. Back again for Menomena; they're oddly evocative of Why? the evening prior. All brooding tension; and for a 3-piece, they create a massive blanket of sound. It's all bassy synth, yelping vocals and complex harmonies, and although it's all very accomplished there's a feeling that they've been clumsily scheduled. It's dark, affecting stuff, none too ideal for a prime slot on a closing night.
We somehow manage to lose a good two or three hours to The Void at this point. We re-emerge, blurry-eyed, into existence during Animal Collective's set on the main stage, and feel like we're pushing our way through a dense wall of frequencies: they are the most ear-splitting thing all weekend, and although their sparse, pounding beats and Beach Boys'-esque melodies possibly wouldn't be the first thing you'd think would work at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning, it's blissful and beautiful.
This is in stark contrast to Simian Mobile Disco who, as we only later find out, have somehow managed to damage a load of their equipment and are limited to a DJ set. Which would have been fine, if they'd whipped the place into the kind of frenzy you'd expect from a pair of electro-house heavyweights. They didn't. No, that was left to Tiefshwarz, who are picking up the lost souls drifting away from SMD's dreary, rained-out performance, and assembling them into a big, wet, undulating mass under the central canopy. Hooray! The final act is saved.
We catch a packed-out metro home, likely freaking out the early-morning commuters, and fall asleep in our clothes.
What else? A post-festival gig at the Apollo (gorgeous venue; all faded grandeur and a faultless sound) featuring The Wave Pictures. They're endearingly earnest, and there's some incredibly impressive guitar work for what initially appears to be your standard angular-indie-rock outfit; but the vocals and lyrics are tough to get on with. Too many cringe-worthy sex references, guys.
Any regrets? We wish we'd seen a couple more of the smaller or more obscure acts on the bill: MV & EE, Moho, Tarantula, The Mary Onettes, to name a few. But we can't be everywhere at once, can we?
Also, we saw a massive statue of a cat with prissy little testicles. Win!
Animal Collective Photo by Srlansky