Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Primavera: Dance of Spring and Kool Thang

By DJ Ola

Here in the UK, many herd themselves off to Glastonbury for an extortionately priced festival of uninspired line ups, usually rank weather and a 3 day state of unwashed camping. There is an alternative, Primavera Sound; a well kept secret in the European Union. In Spanish, Primavera means spring and is an appropriate title for this special music fest in Mediterranean hot spot, Barcelona, at the end of May. As a frequent flyer to Primavera, I’ve seen wide array of great acts in the past such as New Order, Iggy Pop, Public Enemy and The Pixies (which was a total thrill as I missed them the first time around). It’s not just golden oldies, the line ups fuses great new music about to break such as Bon Iver with diverse genres like dance, electronica, post rock, alt rock, and hip hop all hanging together like old friends.

Radio 23 covered this years’ festival and I went out there to capture the sounds and interviews for this recently launched eclectic internet radio station. The festival has 6 main stages at the primary site and has various other events spread out over Barcelona. Set in the city, with no camping and the glorious Spanish sunshine and the sea front nearby, Primavera promises a most civilized setting to enjoy the music. This year was no exception as I began my three day romp amongst some fantastic musical acts.

On Thursday my first stop was to record The Magic Markers. On last FM they sounded great and signed to Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label they seemed like a great audio catch. Unfortunately, their performance was obfuscatory and they never seemed quite able to rise above this level of murkiness.

The Vaselines, like the former couple they were, bickered about prostitutes and how crap the other one was in bed in an otherwise engagingly off kilter set. Later, I slipped backstage to meet up with former Spaceman 3 and Spectrum front man, Sonic Boom aka Peter Kember. Before the interview, to give him a bit a breather, SB asked me to bother a curly haired chap as a bit of a lark. I did, only to find myself trying to laugh this off with Yo La Tengo. It didn’t work, so I concentrated on pouring my drink, finding my merry prankster and getting my story. Mr. Boom was having a great time at the festival as he talked about collaborating with MGMT, drugs and kids TV programs.

My last recorded gig of the night was Andrew Bird. His solo set was inspired and somehow his use of whistling and violin stays away from the annoying, what I like to call, hoe-down sound and travelled into a new territory for rock based indie as he flitted between instruments.

After too much celebrating, Friday morning found me hung-over rushing to catch Damien Jurado for an interview. We started on his fear of breaking chairs and talked through violence, jealousy and finished on whether humanity was basically evil and just did good things occasionally. These marvellous philosophical musings wrapped up in 30 minutes, I hurried to record Mr Jurado’s set. The Auditori is the most unusual site at the festival, an indoor seated venue that you have to queue for entry. It was a cool comfortable slab of luxury to take in Damien’s atmospheric musical experience. It was a one man acoustic show, haunting and heavenly, the audience in darkness except for the thousands of pin lights in the ceiling feigning a night sky.

I walked out squinting into the sunshine having forgotten it was still daylight. I searched out The Vivian Girls, a Brooklyn based all girl band combining punk, 60’s girl groups and the messy look from the 90’s. They explained The Vivian Girls music was like the soundtrack to the film Ghostworld. I went on to see it for myself and couldn’t help being reminded a little of The Shags.

Jason Molina from Magnolia Electric Company was doing a record signing and I snagged him for a quick chat. Articulate and serious, Jason expressed a love of collaborating with new musicians and history, particularly World War One. A man from another time, he seemed at odds with the super slick modernity of the 21st century. Magnolia Electric Company’s performance reflected some of that; their soulful sounds seeming to come from a bygone era, beautifully painful in its unattainability.

Spiritualized brought in the sunset with morphine drenched sounds of pure pleasure. Jason Pierce would tell me later that night he was unhappy about the timing of the gig, which should have been at night. I totally disagree; they were the perfect sound to usher in the transformation of day unto night.

The Throwing Muses followed, playing old songs with a new fierceness. I went backstage afterwards to speak to Kristin Hersh. She explained that Primavera was a special festival,
uncompetitive and not prone to trendiness. Topics drifted, from how suck sells in the music business to why she would never throw away music that was given to her by aspiring musicians. Before recognition found them, The Throwing Muses submitted a tape to REM who listened to it and helped them get signed. So now she makes a point of listening to every CD that comes her way.

After another interesting discussion, I decided to remain backstage and party. Jason Pierce from Spiritualized was there with silver sneakers. A perfect conclusion to Friday!

Late afternoon Saturday, I trundled along to the ATP stage to record Ariel Pink. Appearing in a dress AP and the Haunted Graffiti band soaked us in deep fried sun loving vibes. The performance made me think of the Beach Boys but on more acid than they could possibly handle. The Vivian Girls jumped in at the end of the gig, to complete and refine, with their feminine wiles. A great deal of subterfuge lead me backstage to get some words with Mr Pink. Zany with high energy, he explained how his music wasn’t layered in effects but was more of a mosaic of sound. He then revealed an intense interest in Ethiopian music but couldn’t get in to it, as it was a long complex story.

Subsequently, I ran into The Faith Healers as well, which I was supposed to interview but at a later date. I got to talking to my old friend Roxanne Stephen from the band and we reminisced on how The Pixies changed our lives. She told me The Faith Healers had opened for The Breeders back in the day. The Faith Healers are officially broken up but with prompting from Kim Deal they reformed to perform a few gigs that included Primavera. The chat was cut short as they were due on stage and I took my place to record their endeavours. Watching them live was like a refreshing burst of fresh air that was missing in a lot of current popular indie music. As I lurched in that very 90’s way, I concluded Kim Deal was not just a music icon but was infinitely wise in asking The Faith Healers to take to the stage again.

A chance encounter led to an interview with Gary Louris from The Jayhawks. Mr Louris, an American expat living in Spain, explained how his adopted country’s unique history as a very new democracy in the European Union, forged an eclectic national sensibility of musical appreciation. Also he extolled how the timing was right to bring the original line up of The Jayhawks together again after a long absence. When the last sentence was concluded between us it was late at night and my final documentation at Primavera.

Sunday there was more music but in all honesty I stayed in bed all day, it was good.
Primavera is that special little secret amongst discerning music fans that like to think for themselves. I went six years ago for the first time and now it’s like a pilgrimage, filled with the colour, joy and great music. I hope you have enjoyed my personal Canterbury Tales take on Primavera and see you there next year.

If you’d like to hear the auditory accompaniment to this article you can download the highlights from my show Ola’s Kool Kitchen on Radio 23 from


Or you can catch the whole recordings of the bands listed with interviews on Radio 23 Events page here

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