While Americans kicked back this weekend for Memorial Day, revolution was in the air in Spain – and Barcelona's San Miguel Primavera Sound Festival was no exception.
The powerhouse of an event originated as a small gathering at the Poble Espanyol courtyard and has since grown to a five-day event spread across three venues, drawing over 40,000 attendees from around the world for its 11th year. Combine that, its 200+ artist lineup–including standout performances from the likes of Pulp, John Cale and Odd Future–and an air that smacked of dissident, politically-fed up youth, and you have a one hell of a recipe for the right place at the right time.
Our rundown of the Most Memorable Moments of Music and Mayhem at San Miguel Primavera Sound 2011:
10. El Parc del Forum – Here's something you don't see at every festival: the crowd cheering for a band's set, then literally turning around and cheering for the boat honking at 'em as it sails past. The undulating, concrete Parc del Forum festival ground on the beach of downtown Barcelona proved itself to be a sort of big kid playground by the sea.
When not gathered by one of the nine stages, festival-goers could be found climbing on the actual playgrounds in and nearby the Forum or on the curved walls lining its paths, which for some reason endlessly compelled concertgoers to attempt running up them.
9. Caribou – There are two kinds of bands: those who build on the musical traditions of others, and those who unlock the sonic secrets of the universe. Caribou is the latter. On record, Carbiou is the moniker of Canada's Dan Snaith, but when it comes to live shows, they're undeniably and necessarily a quartet. And amidst a slew of electrifying frontmen at Primavera, they set themselves apart as the most compelling full band to watch at the festival, packing both the Poble Espanyol amphitheater Wednesday night and the Forum's ATP-curated stage on Thursday. Take particular note of drummer Brad Weber, whose ruthless, full-body playing style sends shockwaves into more tempered tracks like “Hannibal” and “Found Out.”
8. John Cale performing “Paris 1919” – An unusual but well-suited choice on the part of the festival planners, Cale and his orchestra brought the festival indoors to perform the landmark album in the elegant concert hall located on the Parc del Forum festival grounds, and the acoustics couldnt've been more sweeping. At his keyboard in a kilt and skinny tie, Cale himself was an unusual pop contrast to the classical horn and string sections behind him–a fitting metaphor for the album and his orchestrations.
7. Suicide performing their first LP – Garnering “We're not worthy!”-level praise onstage from the likes of Nick Cave, Wayne Coyne and Jarvis Cocker, the protopunk legends plowed through the entirety of their 1977 self-titled album in what was debatably Primavera's tooth-shakingly loudest set. Going on 73, singer Alan Vega's howl is manic and haunting as ever, perfectly underscored by Martin Rev's thunderous keyboards. The cherry on the sundae? An encore featuring 1978's “Dream Baby Dream.” Oh, how we will…
6. Grinderman – Headlining the first night of the festival, Nick Cave and the boys officially revved the engine of Primavera Sound 2011. There wasn't a bad spot in the house to watch the band school the crowd in rock n' roll with classics like “No Pussy Blues” and “Grinderman,” while Cave howled and hurled himself across the stage in a pinstripe suit. He can be our solitary man anytime.
5. 40,000 people dancing to Girl Talk on the beach at 5 a.m.. – 'Nuff said.
4. The return of Pulp (and their minion) – A marriage proposal, impromptu political protest and the sexiest dance moves this side of Prince? That's what we call a comeback show. The crowd, a significant portion of whom camped out for hours in front of the stage to secure the glorious Front Row Spot, devolved into a heaving, inescapable sea of bodies during the first part of Pulp's set–moshpit doesn't even come close (we've got the cuts and bruises to prove it). But Pulp fans aren't drunken jerks, they're just excited; the stampede soon calmed into one of the most memorable dance parties of the fest.
3. The fans – Maybe it's the international scene, maybe it's the selection of bands whose fans are especially music-nerdy, but the community and warmth exhibited among those in attendance reminded us what festivals are all about. In the months leading up to Primavera, social media sites like Facebook and Last.fm brought together over two hundred fans from the likes of Israel, Dubai, the U.K, and Russia (not to mention a surprising contingent from L.A.) to plan pre-festival meet-ups and share in the excitement. Journalists, med students, teachers, and more gathered during the week of the fest for a plethora of self-organized events, including a geek-out night for Pulp fans at Barcelona's hip Manchester Bar, daily pre-festival siestas at the laid-back Michael Collins Pub and designated meeting points at each stage so you never had to go any set alone. Maybe it felt a little like adult summer camp, but maybe more things should.
2. Odd Future – What better way for a pissed off, rambunctious group of young rappers to kick off their first European tour than to play to a crowd of pissed off, rambunctious young fans? In that sense, L.A.'s own OFWGKTA could not have been a more perfect way to round out the festival Saturday night and fan the flames of a fire lit by police-on-protester violence and city-wide riots following a victory against Manchester United.
“Odd Future! Fuck the police!” went the call-and-response between Tyler, the Creator and co. and the crowd gathered at the Pitchfork-curated stage for the 1:45 a.m. set. Despite clashing with Animal Collective's headlining slot, the show was nonetheless impressively attended. Tyler was ever-sure to bite the hand that feeds–“Is it just me or is it ironic that I diss the fuck out of Pitchfork and they still ask me to come here and perform?”–but he also shyly thanked the Spanish fans for knowing the group's lyrics. “Wow, I wish I knew Spanish, then I would rap in Spanish!” exclaimed Hodgy Beats.
For all of Odd Future's snarling, disrobing and stage diving during the set, there was no missing the expressions of wide-eyed joy that flashed across their faces. And maybe that's why the horrorcore collective delivered what was one of the most riveting, moving and memorable sets of the entire festival.
Their growling beats and vicious rhymes couldn't help but bring out the Wolves in the crowd, evoking a solidarity between band and audience so strong it culminated in the audience literally breaking down the barrier between them: Hundreds rushed the stage in a deluge of bodies that overpowered security, mooned the photographers, and wreaked a lil' well-deserved havoc.
Tyler's right, the devil doesn't wear Prada – he's clearly in a Barcelona FC tee.
1. iViva La Revolution! – The festival is Primavera Sound, but the primavera sound is the inextinguishable outcry of the young folks gathered in Barcelona for the weekend. Above all, the festival was a crossroads of punk rock, patriotism and political strife, the latter the result of ongoing nationwide protests against unemployment and other social ills. For many young people, young Americans at least, a music festival might be a welcome opportunity to escape reality, but in Barcelona it was a tool to amplify their voice. Already prevalent on the first day of the festival were signs expressing solidarity with protesters, both hung around the Forum and held up in the crowd during Flaming Lips' headlining set. But the real spark was struck Friday, when Spanish police clashed with unarmed protesters in Barcelona's Placa Catalunya, resulting in 121 injured. From the enormous banner wading through the crowd during Belle & Sebastian's set to Pulp's shoutout to the common people to the free-floating rage of Odd Future's set, a rare synergy was born between the artists and their audiences.
Conversely, Placa Catalunya itself looked like a scene from the festival, with attendees chanting and pumping their fists in the air. We even ran into Animal Collective's Deakin, who was checking out the protest with bandmate Geologist and members of Gang Gang Dance the way tens of thousands checked out their sets the night before.
Deakin told us there was indeed a buzz among the bands backstage about the protests, but wanted to come down to learn about them firsthand. He admits that while Animal Collective is far from political, the group's widespread popularity has forced him to reconsider the role of his voice in society, and whether bands like Animal Collective have a responsibility to speak out–if, he added, the public would even listen.
“You have guys like Bruce Springsteen doing songs like 'Born in the USA' and people in the audience will go 'Hell yes, America!' and completely miss the point of the song,” he said. “It's awesome that maybe Primavera is proving otherwise.”