Saturday 21 October 2017

Thank heavens for Primavera

Thanks to Chelsea's unexpected heroics, FC Barcelona aren't European champions, but if there was a Champions League-style tournament for music festivals, the Catalan capital would boast a clean sweep of recent trophies.

Back in 2010, the Washington Post declared that the city's Primavera Sound event was the best music festival in the world. Having attended every edition of the event since 2009, including this year's recent instalment, I'd say it is without doubt the best live event I've had the pleasure of attending.

Primavera is even better than the rather overhyped and overrated Glastonbury, which, of course, is not taking place at the end of this month.

"It's on the way out," celebrity farmer-turned-promoter Michael Eavis opined last year. "We've probably got another three or four years. Womad and Latitude are not selling out. Partly it's economics, but there is a feeling that people have seen it all before. We sell out only because we get huge headliners. In the year Jay-Z played, we nearly went bankrupt."

The iconic Somerset bash is not the only high-profile casualty of the summer. Closer to home, Oxegen is also taking its first break since its inception in 2004.

However, the downward festival spiral is not echoed all over Europe. Spain dramatically hit the headlines this week as it negotiated a €100bn bailout. Youth unemployment levels are staggeringly high, but paradoxically, the volume of music festivals has actually increased this year.

Spain is hosting more music festivals this year for a very simple reason. The Spanish tourism industry is the second biggest in the world. Its music festivals are increasingly aimed at tourists wanting to combine a sun holiday with a festival fix.

Primavera Sound expanded this year in two ways. Firstly, it staged free public concerts at Barcelona's Arc de Triomf. Hence, the likes of the Wedding Present, The Walkmen, Black Lips, Richard Hawley and Girl's Names -- from Belfast -- performed to 15,000 people. Secondly, Primavera hosted a sister event in Porto last weekend. Even though Bjork pulled out, both events performed very well at the box office.

The Barcelona edition even matched its 2010 attendance peak, helped in part by the appearance of Electric Picnic-bound legends The Cure. Tellingly, at the closing press conference, festival director Alberto Guijarro revealed that overseas ticket sales had accounted for an impressive 37pc of the total attendance.

As for the music, the buzz band of 2012 wasn't Robert Smith and company, despite playing an epic three-hour headline set laced with hits such as 'Lovecats', 'Why Can't I Be You?', 'Just Like Heaven' and 'Boys Don't Cry'.

The band everyone was talking about were M83, a French electronic band that didn't just take the festival by storm on Friday night, but brought the concept and execution of live electronica to a whole new level.

Runners-up were Refused, a 1990s Swedish hardcore punk outfit who reformed especially for Primavera. Their blistering brand of insurrectionist noise rock is a sight and sound to behold, as vocalist Dennis Lyxzen commands the stage and spews out the band's anti- capitalist lyrics. These guys make Rage Against the Machine look like a dull-as-dishwater pub rock band.

In third place, Warren Ellis's Dirty Three also put on one hell of a show. Led by the idiosyncratic Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds violinist, Ellis also specialises in hilarious song introductions. Honourable mentions must also go to Justice, Lee Ranaldo, Other Lives, Saint Etienne, Spiritualized and Richard Hawley.

It wasn't all sunkissed bliss. Three of the most hyped reunion shows were bitterly disappointing, namely Archers of Loaf, Afghan Whigs and Mazzy Star.

But these were minor blips over a weekend that featured over 200 artists from all over the world. This summer festivals are dropping like flies all over Europe, but Primavera Sound is spectacularly bucking the trend.

Regardless of the ebb and flow of fads and fashion and testing economic conditions, there'll always be room for carefully curated outdoor live events in the sun. See you down the front at Primavera 2013!

M83 and Spiritualized play the Body & Soul Festival at Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath, on June 22-24. San Miguel Primavera Sound 2013 takes place at the Parc Del Forum, Barcelona, from May 29-June 2, 2013.

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