Primavera Sound: Sun, sea and shoegaze

So the recession may be biting, but one festival is worth consolidating your debts for. <b>Nick Mitchell</b> looks forward to Primavera Sound.

Preview by Nick Mitchell | 27 Apr 2009
  • My Bloody Valentine

Have you ever returned from a weekend of average live music and draconian licencing laws in an overpopulated, litter-strewn field and asked yourself, ‘how would I do it differently?’ Perhaps you would choose a great location with almost guaranteed great weather, and hand-pick a line-up of totemic musical legends, forgotten indie heroes and exciting new bands. Oh, and let it all run right through the night.

It looks like you’re not alone in your fantasy festival requirements. The people behind Barcelona seaside bash Primavera Sound evidently think along very similar lines. Previous incarnations of the event have seen the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins, Public Enemy and Patti Smith roll up at the scenic promenade site, but this year they have excelled previous rosters to become the Europe-wide festival of choice for the discerning music fan.

Why? Three reasons spring to mind. Neil Young playing a two and a half hour set that by necessity will have to stretch beyond his latest green energy inspired album, deep into his forty-year back catalogue; My Bloody Valentine playing not one but two shows – outdoors for the curious masses and indoors for the shoegaze connoisseurs; and Sonic Youth, finally free from a restrictive record deal, previewing tracks from their first album in three years.

Scrutinize the rest of the line-up and it becomes apparent that the grand squares and winding streets of the Catalonian capital will be clogged with icons of alternative and experimental music for one weekend in May. Kurt Cobain’s favourite Scottish band, The Vaselines, get together for a very rare reunion show, as do 1980s American college rock favourites Throwing Muses. There are further delights for seasoned crate diggers with performances from reformed alt-rockers The Jesus Lizard, defiantly independent noiseniks Shellac, the wildly abrasive Lightning Bolt, not to mention the don of weird-out glitch that is Aphex Twin.

For less challenging sonic pleasures, you may want to head in the direction of the festival’s more accessible corners, populated by the likes of the inconsistently brilliant Bloc Party, the pseuso-mystic Bat For Lashes, French indie-pop outfit Phoenix and perennial New Jersey alt favourites Yo La Tengo.

But the hallmark of Primavera is a curatorial feel that ignores commercial imperatives to focus on some of the most interesting music that the western world has to offer. To this end, the organisers have enlisted the input of two highly respected music bodies. All Tomorrow’s Parties, who organise hipster get-togethers on both sides of the Atlantic, host a stage at Primavera that includes eccentric Brooklynites Gang Gang Dance, scuzzy rockers Magik Markers, and hip hop pioneer EL-P. Revered Chicago webzine Pitchfork, meanwhile, curate a stage that reads like a who’s who of current blogosphere favourites, from the garage punk of Crystal Antlers and The Mae Shi to the more restrained melodics of Plants and Animals and Shearwater, with a gangster rap legend (Ghostface Killah) thrown in for good measure.

By now it should be becoming clear that Primavera differs drastically from the bog-standard festival. Sure, there will inevitably be shameless attempts to muscle in on the action by the sloganeering beer corporations and fashion labels. But with a line-up that is bursting at the seams with head-turning attractions (notice how I didn’t mention Andrew Bird, Liars, Dan Deacon or The Horrors until now, in the final paragraph) it should be easy to lose yourself in the one thing that matters most of all – more than weather, more than setting, more than clientèle, more than underfoot conditions, the one which festival organisers so often ignore at their peril – quality music. See you there?

Primavera Sound takes place in Barcelona, Spain, 28 – 30 May. Visit here  for the full line-up and information. Three-day tickets are priced at 155 euros (roughly £137 at the last check)