Primavera Sound Festival, Day 1, May 23, 2013
Words by Jakob Ross, Pictures/Videos by Scott Ross
“The day has finally come,” I thought upon waking up in my hotel room on Thursday, May 23. Washed up, grabbed breakfast, got dressed, etc., etc. You know how it is.
Next thing I knew, my father and I were riding a very dirty feeling subway train from our hotel to Parc del Fòrum—that’s Forum Park for those non-Portuguese speakers out there—where I’d take part in three straight days of late nights, loud bands, and the painfully bitter smell of Heineken and urine pervading my nasal cavity.
Before I get started on recapping my first day at Barcelona’s best independent music festival, let me start by saying: Hi. I’m Jakob Ross. I’m 16 years old, and last year I moved to Germany. You’ve already heard about the time I saw Sigur Rós in Munich, and you’ve probably read about all of my exploits in Atlanta and Seattle and Bonnaroo. But you’re about to read about my experience at Spain’s most well-known and most notoriously well stacked festival, Primavera Sound. Lineups for this festival over the past 10 years of its existence have included the likes of Aphex Twin, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, LCD Soundsystem, Mogwai, Television, Sonic Youth, Jay Reatard, El-P, Black Lips, Jesu, Sunn O))), Yo La Tengo, Low, Japandroids, Pavement, Sunny Day Real Estate, Pixies, The xx, Wire, Battles, Das Racist, Grinderman, Yuck, Sufjan Stevens, Suicide, Public Image Ltd., PJ Harvey, Mercury Rev; the list goes on and on and on into eternity. And this year’s lineup was as impressive (if not more impressive) than every major American festival combined, and comes with a guaranteed “Those ‘Big in Europe’ Bands Will Draw Big Crowds” that Coachella couldn’t deliver.
So, of course, upon seeing 2013’s expansive and “spend money to fly to Spain”-worthy lineup, I felt like I had to go. And with a wave of a magic wand, it seemed, I was there. I had my wristband after visiting the venue the day before and was preparing myself for an exciting weekend.
Author’s Note: As much fun as attending Bonnaroo last year was, it was really nice to have an air conditioned hotel room with a bed to come back to after a long day’s rocking.
The first band I expected to see at the festival was British post-punkers Savages, although I decided to watch the band before them just out of curiosity. My dad and I were among the first people to make it to the Pitchfork Stage (curated by the infamous website), and we got there about a half hour before Portuguese garage rock duo L’Hereu Escampa took the stage to deliver a short set of raucous, energetic songs that reminded me somewhat of mid-to-late 90s post-hardcore and emo. Think The Dismemberment Plan meets La Dispute meets Japandroids meets the Portuguese language. Obviously I knew literally nothing about the band and couldn’t tell you what songs they played or what lyrics they sang, but I can tell you they impressed me. Being in a largely Portuguese-speaking part of Spain, there were many people in the audience who knew most of the words and had prior knowledge of this band’s existence. But by the time their set ended I’d noticed a significant increase in crowd size. Perhaps a lot of people wanted to get their early for Savages, but it’s good to see bands like this get attention from an audience who’d otherwise never know they exist.
Also, quick shout out to the guy wearing the Snowing t-shirt underneath the Have A Nice Life zip-up hoodie.
So, you might not know about a band called Savages. You should probably change that. Savages are a British all-female post-punk group who just put out their debut album “Silence Yourself” earlier this month, and it’s one of the best releases of the year. They’re currently coming off some hype that’s built around them ever since the release of their debut EP, as well as some very well received performances at SXSW.
Considering the fact that their album was very well reviewed on Pitchfork’s website, it should be no surprise that they’d be playing this particular stage. The crowd slowly increased in size in anticipation for Savages’ first performance at the festival. They sound-checked and prepared their equipment, and soon enough they came on stage and opened up their very intense and fun set with “Shut Up,” which is even more “punk” live than it is on record.
Savages, in my opinion, sound like what would happen if Joy Division replaced Ian Curtis’ dead body with Patti Smith. Thankfully that never happened, otherwise Savages would sound like a cheap knockoff, and not the fresh take on dark punk that they currently are.
The band is fronted by insanely charismatic frontwoman Jehnny Beth, who is apparently from France and not England like her colleagues. She sang with the same ferocity and passion that she sings with on the album, and plus she does these really cool downward fist-pumps that look like she’s about to roll dice, but she never actually does roll any dice.
If there was anything especially wrong with the set, it’s that guitarist Gemma Thompson’s guitar stopped working about halfway through the set. The rhythm section repeated the same phrase for a good 10 minutes or so while Gemma and the sound crew tried to figure out the problem. Although the band members were obviously a little frustrated with the situation (thankfully they did finally solve it and continue with the now abridged setlist), their ability to soldier through the technical difficulty and leave no band member behind was truly admirable, and probably won them many fans that night.
Their set eventually finished with the almost dance-worthy track “Husbands” as the friendly looking mosh pit near me grew in size. They thanked us and were treated to a long standing ovation, which was probably half praise for their incredible music and half praise for their ability to work through a technical difficulty with grace.
I don’t know what it is about Metz’s set that compelled me actually join a mosh pit, but something about the Canadian noise punk trio’s 2-minute bursts of feedback-driven sugar rush essence made me decide that moshing would be a good idea. And you know what? It really was. It also helped that the mosh pits in Europe were exceptionally friendly and not nearly as rough as they are in the States.
So Metz took the stage at 8:45 PM on the Pitchfork stage (which also makes sense considering the fact that Pitchfork reviewed their debut album very highly last year) and the crowd immediately went insane. Metz were playing loudly and energetically, and for a moment it felt almost as if I was in a punk club in downtown Whateversville, and not right next to the Mediterranean Sea.
Oh, did I mention that Parc del Fòrum is located right on the Mediterranean Sea? Because it is.
Metz sped through the rest of their 40-minute set with great ease, maneuvering in and out of different time signatures and even taking the time for some two-part vocal harmonies.
To be completely honest, not much more can be said about the set that I haven’t already said. Loud, check; noisy, check; mosh, check; trio, check; Canadian, check. All that I can say is that if you enjoy acts like Big Black, The Jesus Lizard, or even Nirvana, then I highly recommend you listen to their music.
Come on. Don’t pretend like you’re reading this website and you don’t know who Dinosaur Jr. are. Okay, well, Dinosaur Jr. are a North American alternative rock trio most famously consisting of lead singer and guitar god J Mascis, bass player Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph. Dinosaur Jr. would spend their career merging noise rock, punk, alternative rock, grunge, and even a touch of shoegaze into an impressive discography of well-received releases that would certify the band’s place in rock and roll history. The slowly-falling-apart band broke up in 1997 (with J being the only remaining original member) but reunited in 2005 with the three original members. I would finally get the opportunity to see one of my favorite touring acts live, although they’d have to play the show without Murph, since he couldn’t make it that day.
Dinosaur Jr. gloomily (are they capable of expressing any other mood?) played their career-spanning set that included classics (“Budge,” “Freak Scene,” “Sludgefeast,” “Feel the Pain”), covers (The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” J and Lou’s first band Deep Wound’s “Training Ground,” a song by Last Rights performed with Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham), and songs from their excellent new-ish album “I Bet On Sky.”
J and Lou stood on opposite sides of the stage and rarely interacted, which I guess is usual, but aroused a bit of suspicion from me. Either way, Dinosaur Jr. delivered an amazing set that would both impress the longtime fans and give newcomers something to talk about.
And back to the Pitchfork Stage I went to catch Atlanta rapper Killer Mike promote his excellent 2012 album “R.A.P. Music” and build up hype for his upcoming El-P collaboration “Run the Jewels,” which will be released for free. Mike and El-P have worked a lot together over the past year, and although El-P wasn’t able to actually appear at the festival with Killer Mike, he was there in spirit, as Killer Mike dedicated song after song to his newfound brother in arms.
At 11:20, 5 minutes before Killer Mike was to take the stage, the crowd was looking rather thin, and I was somewhat worried that the few of us in the crowd would need to be as loud and energetic as humanly possible to keep Mike’s spirits up. Fortunately though, the crowd had thickened and grown considerably by the time he took the stage. Killer Mike smiled and launched into “Big Beast,” proving that he had an incredible amount of energy and live capabilities despite being a somewhat overweight gentleman.
Killer Mike continued into a nonstop flow of energy that I did not at all expect from him, whether it was his bombastic song “Untitled” or his political masterpiece “Reagan,” the latter of which had the entire crowd, including yours truly, chanting “I’M GLAD REAGAN’S DEAD.”
The set continued through what were mostly songs from “R.A.P. Music” and Killer Mike never lost an iota of energy. He sweat like crazy but continued to deliver his lyrics with perfection and clarity, even coming down to the crowd to preach an uplifting pseudo-Christian sermon. He also had his wife sit on the side (she was even mouthing some of the words), and Mike introduced us and has us all say hello. He was easily one of the most surprisingly great shows of the entire three days, and I left his show feeling incredibly happy.
Rick Froberg and John Reis have had one of the most important partnerships in punk rock history. Froberg and Reis first collaborated in 1986, when they formed the band Pitchfork, one of the first post-hardcore bands in existence. Pitchfork broke up in 1990 just after the release of their debut album, and right around the time that John Reis formed his long-lasting garage rock/punk group Rocket From the Crypt, and John and Rick joined forces for yet another band, Drive Like Jehu. Drive Like Jehu stuck around for about 5 years, releasing two incredible albums that blended math rock and post-hardcore, being one of the first bands to do so. John and Rick took a bit of a break from each other while Rocket From the Crypt continued to release music, but during a period of inactivity in the late 90s, Reis and Froberg decided to form yet another band, Hot Snakes. Hot Snakes would incorporate all the musical styles that John Reis and Rick Froberg had worked with in all their previous bands, including post-hardcore, garage rock, and math rock. Hot Snakes and Rocket From the Crypt both broke up at around the same time, the mid-2000s, but Hot Snakes eventually reunited in 2011 and continue to perform festivals and small tours to this day. And that brings us all up to speed on John Reis and Rick Froberg.
Now due to a scheduling conflict with Killer Mike and Hot Snakes, I had to decide who I’d want to see more of. A few songs into Killer Mike’s energetic set, my dad and I both decided to watch Mike’s entire setlist and catch the last few songs of Hot Snakes’ set. So after Killer Mike was done, we headed all the way over to the other side of the festival ground to the All Tomorrow’s Parties Stage (which I assume was curated or at least sponsored by the famous festival) to watch punk legends perform some intricately strange tunes in the form of Hot Snakes.
To be honest, I’m not completely well versed on the music of Hot Snakes, so I’m not entirely sure what songs they played and didn’t play. But I do know that they played loudly and proudly, and John Reis and Rick Froberg both looked excited to be performing together again. Their partnership has been going strong, then nonexistent, then strong, then nonexistent, then strong again for over 25 years, and it really shows in seeing how in sync these guys are. The few songs of their show that I caught were a lot of fun to watch, and I’m glad I got the chance to see some legendary punks in a live setting.
So… Do you guys like Death Grips? Chances are that, if you’ve heard them, you either love them with a dedicated fan’s passion, or you have a strong dislike for their loud blend of punk, hip-hop, electronica, and noise. Whatever your opinion of Death Grips is, if you’ve actually listened to them, they’re an elusive group with a very dedicated fanbase and one of the most intense and cathartic live shows in the world of music.
Death Grips consists of mysterious lyricist and vocalist Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett, producer Andy “Flatlander ” Morin, and drummer Zach Hill, but Zach Hill would be sitting out of this current tour to focus on writing the screenplay for a film as well as working on some new Death Grips music.
At around 1:15 AM, on the same stage as Hot Snakes, MC Ride and Flatlander graced the stage with their rather disturbing presence. Ride looked as if he was possessed by some sort of demon (which he could be for all I know) and Flatlander prepared to unleash electronically produced hell on the gathering of people who came to watch. They opened up their set with “Lost Boys,” before diving right into fan-favorite “Guillotine.” One thing I noticed was that Flatlander was actually playing the beats using samples he’d collected and imported onto the keys of a keyboard. He was actually composing and playing the beats, not just letting them play on a laptop.
The crowd was extremely energetic, as I anticipated, and I shouted the lyrics until I had no voice left. My head thumped with a dull headache but I ignored it, because I was seeing Death Grips, one of my favorite bands. MC Ride danced on stage and shouted the lyrics at near perfection. It’s crazy that this guy gets on stage almost every night and shouts for an hour and can still have enough energy to do the same thing the next night.
MC Ride looks something like an anorexic Rick Ross, and he sounds like one too, but in a really good way. I just wanted to point that out but didn’t really have anywhere to put it.
Death Grips went from song to song with great ease, not taking the time to speak to or thank the audience (as if anyone actually expected that). Although I’m not sure of the order, they played songs like “Takyon (Death Yon)”, “Get Got,” “The Fever (Aye Aye),” “I’ve Seen Footage,” “System Blower,” “Hacker,” “Come Up And Get Me,” “Lil Boy,” “No Love,” and the set-closing “Lock Your Doors.” Death Grips were very loud, very intense, and at times somewhat frightening to watch. MC Ride has the looks of a homeless man and the skillful grace of a ballerina on DMT; and while Zach Hill’s presence was missed, it was still awesome to see one of my favorite bands live. And that’s all there is to it. Stay noided.
The last band I saw that night was Animal Collective, a.k.a. Exactly The Kind of Hipster BS That People Under The Age of 25 Pretend To Enjoy Ironically. I’m kidding, Animal Collective rules.
I got to the Primavera Stage an hour early and saw all four members sound checking their rather complex equipment, as well as setting up the stage, which would include a ton of balloons that formed the shape of a mouth. An hour later, at a little bit past 3 in the morning (yeah, these shows ran very late), Panda Bear, Geologist, Avey Tare, and Deakin all took their respective spots on the stage to perform their psychedelic brand of synthesizer based indie rock and folk.
AnCo opened up the set with “I Think I Can” which comes off their “Fall Be Kind EP,” before going into “Today’s Supernatural,” “Wide Eyed,” and “Applesauce,” three songs from their most recent effort “Centipede Hz.” Although “Centipede” didn’t exactly get the same amount of critical or commercial praise that 2009’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion” got, I still think that a lot of the better songs from this album translate extremely well in a live format, especially the song “Monkey Riches” which would be the second-to-last song.
Some might complain that this set leaned a little too heavy on the fan favorites—including “What Would I Want? Sky” and “My Girls”—but I feel like Animal Collective jammed from one song into another with great skill and ease, and what specific songs they play doesn’t matter. Their live setup is so intricate and huge (excluding Panda Bear’s minimalistic drumset) that watching them actually navigate this complex equipment is a sight to see, whether you’re a mild fan, a fanatic, or you’ve never heard them before.
They ended the set with “The Purple Bottle,” a song from 2005’s excellent “Feels” album, which was pretty much their last guitar-driven indie folk record, and left the stage at a bit past 4 in the morning, making this an hour long set that would give us just enough time to sit outside in the cold for a half hour waiting for the subways to open (which it does at 5 am).
Overall, the first day was a success that left me with ringing ears, stinging eyes, and a pounding head. The subway ride that night would be extremely crowded and definitely suck, but the resulting sleep would bring me absolute tranquility. I slept from 6 am until noon and prepared myself for Day 2.