A daunting yet thrilling programme of events begins with the peripheral off-site Sala Apolo show on Tuesday – a Memphis Industries label spotlight with Hooray for Earth before Chairlift capture our attention on Wednesday. They’re a finely-tuned outfit with a handful of pop gems but most noteworthy is focal point Caroline Polachek, a performer so captivating that you’d suspect she was in stage school were she fronting something less artistically valid than this. A day of community-appeasing freebie activities at Arc de Triomf precedes, with The Wedding Present (a Seamonsters album set) and The Walkmen being the major attractions: the latter’s effortless super-cool attitude more apparent than ever.
Thursday opens a triple-salvo of main site thrills; for the uninitiated this means the enormo-complex at Parc del Forum turns into a hive of activity, with seven branded stages of note supplemented by smaller arenas; all somehow co-existing yet never infringing. With the impossibly fabulous billing line-up clashes are unavoidable, though the late withdrawal of El-P rescues us from our first dilemma, giving a free run to reformed indie-rock icons Archers of Loaf, who seize their moment with a spiky sun-drenched set on the Ray-Ban stage.
From there it’s to Pitchfork and to Grimes, a prodigiously-talented young lady who has seemingly occupied column inches in every music mag this year – and justifiably so based on this triumphant and compelling performance alone. Back to Ray-Ban and to perhaps Grimes foremother – in terms of allure and even record label – in Mazzy Star. An untouchable for a whole generation of indie boys, the years have been kind to Hope Sandoval, and even more so to her timelessly affecting music.
Already in the early hours of the next day and Dominant Legs are on the boards at Vice; relative unknowns but not for long judging by the splendid jerky guitar efforts displayed here. Over on the main stage Franz Ferdinand, revitalised and as thrilling as ever, play all the storming crowd-pleasing hits before we hop back to ATP for supreme riff-heavy metal from Wolves In The Throne Room, with native John Talabot’s stadium-sized euphoric electro-house over at the Ray-Ban rounding off a frenetic day. And this is merely an hors d’oeuvre…
Friday’s main stage opener arrives courtesy of Other Lives, throwing in encouraging newbies alongside the meat from last year’s superlative Tamer Animals debut and revelling in their slow-burn mass appeal. Over to the ATP for Constellation folk-poppers Siskiyou, who possess the tunes and a refreshing touch of humour to separate them from their tiresomely-earnest peers. Rufus Wainwright then takes centre stage, or rather that once-in-a-generation voice of his does. Flamboyant yet sincere, he’s the most natural of stars on show this weekend, and seemingly a man who’ll never make a bad record.
It’s then the turn of The Cure, in what is perversely the headline slot (10pm, main stage) regardless of what follows. Milking the billing they play for three hours, we’ll not pretend we stood there for all of it, but what we did catch sounded pretty bloody good, even with the occasional psych jam thrown in.
Having had our fill it’s over to Sleigh Bells – clashing with Napalm Death – but one of the weekend’s non-negotiables. It’s blistering stuff, Alexis making the stage look small with her overwhelming presence while puppetmaster Derek provides the sledgehammer beats’n'guitar screech. Still incredibly exhilirating no matter how many times we’ve seen them.
Taking the energy levels back into negative equity are revived slowcore types Codeine, and it’s hard not to feel totally immersed with their subtle grace; a welcome antidote perhaps, but a thing of extreme beauty whatever the setting.
A couple of stellar tunes from The Drums on Ray-Ban then a trek to the Mini stage – so named due to the unsettlingly blatant sponsorship rather than size – for M83, a band who’ve implausibly become stadium-sized contenders in the last year or so, but who seem to have found their calling, as once more they’re an irresistible force and maybe the band who best summarise this year’s Primavera.
The final day in real terms is Saturday, and we’ve just about reserved enough energy. Hopefully. Sharon Van Etten presents a relatively light starting point, delivered with verve and assurance; indeed, it’s live when her recent album Tramp really blossoms.
Following Shaz we’ve one of the pre-festival highlights in Kings of Convenience, and how they justify the anticipation; Erlend Oye takes the lead in the duo whether deliberately or otherwise, as a man who would quietly draw all of the attention in any circumstance, you suspect. Musically it serves as a reminder of the countless truly classic songs in their armoury, and why their wit and style has endured way beyond the stool-rock non-scene that accompanied their arrival.
Back over to the Mini, and Beach House underwhelm, falling short of the dynamism required to translate their recorded output to such a vast arena. Conversely, Real Estate make it look very easy on the Pitchfork stage; much like the album you can’t put your finger on what marks them out as more than your standard indie-rock band, but something most definitely does – and that’s where their magic lies.
Now, Shellac, on the ATP stage as we approach the final straight, are one of the aforementioned truly unmissables. While Off! would otherwise present an attractive proposition, Weston and Albini are peerless, and it’s no exaggeration to describe tonight’s show as life-affirming. It’s powerful stuff, understated yet considered, and razor-sharp musically, socially, politically and in any other way a band with purpose should be. Yet it’s also frequently funny. The complete package, an honour to witness.
How can we improve on this? This is how: LFO different proposition but as intense an hour of live music as anything we’ve seen, here or elsewhere. It’s Mark Bell flying solo, with startling visuals and a fearsome display of blistering, relentless techno, taking us through over 20 years of LFO and leaving us exhilirated yet thoroughly exhausted.
And we’re done for, well and truly, but it’s a festival that rivals anything before, and one that will provide vivid goosebump memories for a long long time…