Primavera Sound 2017: Five key performances

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  • Like Sónar, Worldwide and Glastonbury before it, Primavera Sound was this year's hot ticket among my extended friendship group in North London. More than 40 of us ended up descending on Barcelona. As in most big crews, musical tastes and party modes varied considerably, from diehard house and techno heads who kept battling until the last, through to drug-free fans of indie and R&B who arrived early and left before sunrise. The festival suited both approaches equally well, thanks to a world-class lineup that spanned countless genres and generations. In terms of size and booking policy, it reminded me of being at Glastonbury. I spent an enjoyable Friday evening bouncing from Swans to Front 242 to Flying Lotus, and my feet ached nicely at the end of it. In other ways, though, Primavera wasn't like Glastonbury at all. For one, the weather was perfectly warm all weekend. On a less positive note, it was branded to within an inch of its life. There were activations all over the site. Every stage was sponsored—Solange's performance on Thursday night was spectacular, but it was tainted by the huge MANGO logo overhead. Worst of all were the adverts, which played on the big screens in between acts. Nothing ruins your festival buzz quite like a glossy Heineken commercial. It's also worth mentioning that security was lax, which had its obvious advantages, but it meant that bag thieves were free to roam—three of my friends had their phones stolen. Of course, the difficulty in bemoaning corporate sponsorship is that without it the lineup would've been half as juicy. More than the lively, mixed crowd and the striking Parc Del Forum, with its generous amount of seating, it was the music that gave Primavera its character. In addition to the five performances below, sets by Aphex Twin, Solange, Sleaford Mods and Lord Of The Isles will stick long in the memory. Stages were never too busy, and the sound, on the whole, was good. Overall, it was a very fun weekend.
    Aurora Halal The bulk of the festival's dance music programme took place in the far west corner of the site, which you accessed by crossing a scenic bridge over the harbour. Those who swerved the main stage headliners on Thursday evening in order to see Aurora Halal were duly rewarded. She played in the lower of the two arenas, Desperados Club, a beachside spot notable for its Bowers & Wilkins soundsystem. Darkness fell over the dance floor as the Brooklyn artist played on the high-spec, 12-stack rig, which many agreed pumped out the punchiest sound onsite. It was my first time watching Halal DJ. She delivered the kind of spacious, expressive techno that you'll find in her many online mixes. Channeling the underground spirit of Sustain-Release and her Mutual Dreaming parties, she wove in spellbinding tunes like Zadig"s "Tape 1" and psychedelic heaters such as Voiski's "From Sea To Sea." The latter's swirling melody sent dancers into a fever dream frenzy. Despite the space being a long way off full, Halal's was one of the best sets of the weekend.
    Talaboman John Talabot and Axel Boman take the concept of the back-to-back to another level. On Friday they closed the Ray-Ban stage with a two-hour masterclass in emotional house. Early on, one of them played DJ Yellow's "Goddess," a melancholic slow burner with a pulsating acid line and sirens that hit all the right notes. They weaved together anthems like Larry Heard's "The Sun Can't Compare" and Basement Jaxx's "Fly Life" with lesser-known tunes like "Déboulé" by the Guadeloupean music group Akiyo. Its booming vocals lit up the arena like a street carnival. Towards the end of the set, Talabot dropped what was possibly the tune of the weekend in Alfredo's "Action! (Piano Mix)," a holy grail of '90s Italian piano house. When its electrifying chords came crashing down, the amphitheatre erupted as a Mediterranean sunrise appeared on the horizon. (The following night, I heard him play the same track during his annual disco set to similar effect.) Talaboman closed with a minute-long outro featuring heavy FX and the vocal hook from The Age Of Love's "The Age Of Love." After booming applause, thousands of revellers strolled off into the morning with smiles on their faces.
    Flying Lotus About 15 minutes into Flying Lotus's 3 AM set on the Ray-Ban stage, a young lad climbed onto his mate's shoulders, took off his T-shirt and began swinging it round his head. It was an appropriate response to the scene unfolding before him: FlyLo, silhouetted between two screens, was cutting furiously between low-slung bangers, while psychedelic visuals of skulls, clown heads and bolts of lightning flared up in perfect synchronicity. The music rose and fell in satisfying intervals—as soon as there was a breakdown, you'd start gearing yourself up for the next drop. An edit of Travis Scott's "Antidote" stood out, as did a new track with Thundercat. ("This is the first time I've heard it loud!") I was stood towards the back, just in front of the amphitheatre, and the sound hit hard. All my friends were there. The mood, thanks to FlyLo's charisma and winning smile, was jubilant. To finish, he emerged from his cocoon and beamed at the crowd. "I can't leave without playing this one!" Out soared the warm, organic tones of "Never Catch Me," featuring Kendrick Lamar.
    Grace Jones Primavera's two main stages, Heineken and Mango, face each other, alternating set times so punters only have to turn on their heels and walk a few paces between performances. When the lineup was strong, as it was on Saturday night, it was an incredibly convenient setup. Grace Jones was the first in a trio of killer acts, followed by Arcade Fire and Skepta. The Jamaican icon, topless with geometric white shapes painted all over her body, treated the stage like a catwalk, strutting around, mic in hand, pausing intermittently to strike a pose. Every new track required a fresh headpiece: for "My Jamaican Guy," a simple trilby; for "Shenanigans," a flowing straw mane. During "Pull Up To The Bumper," the set's highlight, she donned an elaborate white number and set off into the crowd. One minute she was on someone's shoulders, the next she was back onstage, leading the thousands-strong singalong. Not bad for a 69-year-old.
    DJ Dustin DJ Dustin closed Desperados Club on Saturday night. In typical Giegling fashion, the stage lighting was turned down low to create an intimate vibe. His set was peppered with subtle emotion. The first hour featured a run of whimsical records, including what sounded like one of S.A.M.'s celestial techno tracks. Soon after came Avalon Emerson's "The Frontier"—the tune's luminous melody had my friends nodding at each other in silent appreciation. The second hour was more subdued and groovy, with melancholic house tracks like Hamsa Intenational's "Endless M.I.E.F." Second-to-last he played Burial + Four Tet's "Nova," which went down a storm, before finishing poetically with "Brueder," a cut from Kettenkarussell's new LP. People swayed from side to side to the sounds of plucked guitar, filling the air with cries of "one more tune" as the track drew to a close. Dustin smiled and looked around, then he was gone. Photo credit / Eric Pàmies - Lead, Talaboman, Grace Jones Nuria Ruis - Flying Lotus James Yorke - DJ Dustin