Thursday brought a new experience at the festival, for myself anyway, a trip to the Heineken Hidden Stage; it’s nicely set up in a sort of car park area behind the Pitchfork Stage and over the course of the weekend would play host to Scottish favourite The Pastels and The Vaselines, both of whom I don’t manage to see due to the demand for access to the smaller, but from what I hear never overcrowded, stage.
My first trip is more out of curiosity than anything else to see Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, and the band born out of a refugee camp and made famous through a moving documentary provide a hip moving set full of traditional African rhythms and endearingly disjointed banter; at one particularly hilarious point the band go through their pets, which include a dragon (obviously), culminating in the lead vocalist hissing “I’ve got a shaaaaark” before playing the equally ridiculous ‘Big Fat Dog’.
A lovely way to start the weekend, and the entrance to the stage provides a motion-censored light up wristband making locating your friends in a packed crowd easier than ever before.
It’s an easy skip out front to catch Aussie favourites Twerps, the band deliver a warm dose of spirited lo-fi pop as the sun starts to disappear and easily maintain their position as ‘ones to keep an eye on’ this year.
Over as the adidas Originals stage (formerly VICE) I catch the start of London new shoegaze merchants CHEATAHS, the band, led by Male Bonding guitarist Nathan Hewitt, wash over the Barcelona crowd lushly and it’s a shame that my experience of them is cut short by Viet Cong’s imminent arrival back at Pitchfork.
Viet Cong, who tore apart the Apollo the night previous, are in fine form again, in the open air; yes there’s not as many opportunities to get right amongst it, but their noisy, abrasive brand of lo-fi post punk is enough to have me clocking them as ones to catch next time they visit Glasgow.
Thursday evening is packed full of highlights between these two stages and Mdou Moctar may well be up there with the best of them; he effortlessly modernises African folk with a multitude of sounds and an incredible presence that seems to bypass any noise clashes that might happen between the two, close by, stages.
Back over at Pitchfork, my night is getting predictable now, Quebec formed post-punk merchants Ought are already in action, and vocalist Tim Beeler’s charismatic, yet gawky, presence is as enticing as it was when they smashed Broadcast back in November.
Predictably enough ‘Today More Than Any Other Day’ is a highlight, as the song’s anthemic qualities shine Ought and Beeler’s Byrne teasing lyricisms in their best light – before one of my personal highlights of the festival starts over at adidas Originals next.
Kelela is spectacular, in the last year it seems she has made waves in recreating soul and R&B; she may be a touch too experimental in her sound for the mainstream proper, but is the closest we get to a full on pop queen this weekend.
She commands the adidas branded stage with a overriding elegance that’s full of impact and mystery, the minimalist beats that saw her full length, Cut 4 Me, receive so much praise propel this image and cement her as one of the most captivating performances of the whole festival.
My evening starts with catching the tail end of The Replacements set at the Primavera stage (that’s one of the aforementioned Earth Song efforts), who draw an excellent reception by the fairly large Barcelona crowd and although I only catch the last couple of songs, for a band formed in 1979 they’ve not lost any of their enthusiasm.
Antony and Johnsons open up their set on the Heineken stage with a bizarre dancer/performer, which really sets the tone for a pensive, dark and at times haunting set.
Backed by a full orchestra, Antony’s performance values are second to none; that being said, I find the set to be a bit ballad heavy – regardless, the audience are at times silent, fully engrossed by an excellent performance.
I’ve followed Brand New since… well, longer than I care to remember!
Having seen them in venues of different shapes and sizes over the years, seeing them at 10.55 right by the sea in Barcelona certainly is the most picturesque.
Opening with new single ‘Mene’, my thinking is that the set is going to be mostly dominated by new material, but the band then move to straight into material from Daisy and TDAGARIM, with ‘Gasoline’, ‘Sink’ and ‘You Won’t Know’ huge highlights, while the band also deliver crowd pleasers ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Sic Transit Gloria’.
Brand New are seriously on form; when you consider where they started and where they’ve come to, one can only hope even better things may lie ahead.
I manage to catch the latter half of Tyler, The Creator on the Pitchfork stage and considering all the hype a few years ago, things have certainly changed for both Tyler and Odd Future in that time.
My last contact with Tyler was around the Goblin era; a few people had told me recent album Cherry Bomb was more of a return to form but based on this set I remain unconvinced.
His material remains fairly juvenile in both its sound and content (homophobia, rape, etc.) and it seems to me Tyler has never really fulfilled his potential.
I also catch spots of Brand New and Tyler, but as Brand New were only a very short part of my growing up I’ve not got the same reminiscent vibes as nearly half the crowd seem to have, and while Tyler hits huge levels of energy his own relevance seems to be wavering, and while it gives an early hip-hop hit, before Run The Jewels get the opportunity the blow the whole thing away, it’s only a bit of fun.
I wander in blind to how huge Chet Faker is at the brilliant Ray-Ban stage, the giant bandstand like set up is mobbed, and as their mesh of electronics with soul and jazz twinkle out over the stage it’s easy to see why; a couple of smooth covers down the line and the Melbourne born singer has converted the unconvinced, before they hit the ATP stage to have their eardrums annihilated.
Yes, Sun O))) are next and they catch so many inquisitive festival goers out, this is not a band to wander into unprepared; it’s a barrage of noise and my perch on the grass at the back of the crowd is ideal to lie back and take it all in.
It’s true things are getting slightly more hazy by 1am, and I may have been nattering bonkers hardcore over abyss, but Sunn O))) have a sobering effect as the band, surrounded my a wall of mist, power through a set that terrorises the uninitiated and empowers the rest with a real hit of doom.
Next up is James Blake, headlining the Heineken stage, the largest at the festival; the fact that he’s 26 still continues to blow my mind.
If you consider the career he’s had thus far and the quality of his back catalogue, it is really quite staggering.
Tonight is no different, and headlining Primavera at 1.30am seems like a pretty much perfect setting; playing a range of material from his back catalogue, Blake’s performance is measured, powerful and near flawless.
Across the weekend, I would safely say of all the big hitters, James Blake truly nailed it.
I manage to hang around til the wee hours, but not quite til the first tube, although I probably should have held on as the decision to walk home sees me return after everyone else has gone to bed, still there’s enough time to be underwhelmed by Mercury nominees JUNGLE, before eventually losing the battle to the ungiving techno Andrew Weatherall is powering out.