Primavera Sound: On the Beach

Ally Brown
Photo: Inma Varandela

Providing the perfect midway point between British and American festivals, Primavera Sound really is the best of both worlds.

British festivals are grey and muddy, feature huge amounts of beer drinking, and everyone camps. At American festivals (well, Coachella at least), there's sun and baking heat, huge amounts of water drinking, and very few people camp. Primavera Sound is based on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, in a complex of stages in Barcelona, so I was keen to find out whether it would represent a midway point between those two experiences. And it does, in the best possible way -- there's sun and moderate heat, a fair amount of boozing and late-night partying, and a beautiful city to explore too with loads of accommodation options to pick from. Did I even mention the music? Primavera prides itself on its curated line-ups, with stages hosted by Pitchfork and ATP, and a general commitment to putting on interesting and challenging music. Artists I didn't even see a second of included Yo La Tengo, Ghostface Killah, Phoenix, Shellac, Squarepusher, the Vaselines, Sun O))), Gang Gang Dance, and El-P. But what I did see made it one of the best weekends of my life.

The atmosphere in Barcelona before the main events started was buoyed by Wednesday night's success by the city's main football team, FC Barcelona, in Europe's biggest football competition, the Champions League. The match was watched by tens of thousands on big screens erected across the city, and when Barca completed their 2-0 win over Manchester United, everyone went crazy. It was a long night, with thousands of fans celebrating in the streets, eventually having to be cleared at 3am by police in riot gear firing rubber bullets. Barca is a brilliant team, but don't rely on this pre-festival excitement every year.



Magik Markers are the first band we see, but from the offset it's clear they aren't suited to the setting they're playing in. From where I'm sitting I can see hundreds of audience members chatting, thrilled to finally be here and enjoying the sun, while the Mediterranean Sea stretches out behind the stage. Magik Markers are playing dark, imposing, funereal-sounding songs from their new album Balf Quarry, with long droning organ sounds and minimally picked off-key arpeggios. They need to be in a tent, a small dark tent, with a little bit of smoke and red light, not out here on a big stage among palm trees and excited laughter. Four songs in, "Don't Talk in Your Sleep" provokes a minor crowd reaction, but it's just not working. We leave for beer.

Photo: Chus Sanchez

LIGHTNING BOLT @ ATP Stage, 8:45pm

Later on the same stage, Lightning Bolt don't give a fuck what you think about the setting. The duo -- an overdriven, messy guitarist and crazed, caged monster drummer -- play songs that sound like a reinterpretation of Sonic Youth's "Nic Fit", an unintelligible rant, completely meaningless, stuck in primal development. Also, it's pretty loud. Half-an-hour through it's becoming a bit of an ordeal. From any other band we'd be demanding a change of pace right about now, but we clearly can't demand anything from Lightning Bolt. They don't give an inch: They just keep on rampaging, grunting, and flailing, until you're ready to take it again. Or, leave. But as newly born masochists, we all stay, and we burst through that wall.

Photo: Inma Varandela

Later, we catch a bit of the Jesus Lizard from afar, and they're pretty loud too, before leaving for Andrew Bird. He's whistling on-stage, alone, and plucking his violin to new song "Oh No", but clashes call, so we have to depart early again, this time for The Bug.

THE BUG @ Pitchfork Stage, 11pm

I read an interview with The Bug's Kevin Martin a while ago where he described with reverie a memory of feeling his nostrils bulge with bass at a party -- so if it's his aim, to billow our noses with bass, he's succeeding. He's playing with just one MC tonight instead of the usual group, but the duo really know how to work the crowd -- the MC yells "make some noise for The Bug!", and The Bug complies by playing crowd noises, embellishing our own. Then we're asked "who won the Champions League?", and the bass drops, a siren alarms, a backspin reverberates through the crowd, and the bass briefly departs my face to shake my Adam's Apple. Well it's everywhere, really, the low frequencies are all-consuming, charging through the crowd, enveloping us all. It's really good, and kinda tiring.

Photo: Inma Varandela

MY BLOODY VALENTINE @ Estrella Damm Stage, 00:20am

Well, I thought The Bug was loud, but then there was My Bloody Valentine. They're doing two shows this weekend, one outdoors and one indoors, but I plump for the outdoors one to avoid clashes. From about 50 meters away, every kick of the bass drum is shaking my bones. The mid and high frequencies are so loud and distorted it's difficult to tell where the haze of guitars end and the otherworldly vocals begin. After a while of sheer undulating noise, I grab for my earplugs; but there's no point. They just muffle what's already distorted, and the kick drum continues to assault. So I take them out again, and look around. Absolutely nobody is disengaged; it's impossible not to watch, in awe, because of the volume. Then, midway through "You Made Me Realize", MBV launch into their so-called Holocaust section, when the volume rises and they just play brittle, extreme noise for a good 10 minutes (shorter than usual). It's an endurance test so many people have earplugs in, and are pushing them further in with fingers, gritting their teeth. It isn't just the volume that is extreme here -- the noise is so crunchy, so low, it sounds like the air around us is fracturing. It's like a natural disaster is occurring -- the airquake at the end of the world. At the end, the huge crowd erupt in cheers and applause, but I can barely hear it.

APHEX TWIN @ Rockdelux Stage

Although the Estrella Damm stage is officially the main stage, Rockdelux is surely bigger, as it has a large terracing around it for viewers to sit and watch. When I get into the crowd, the bass is so loud it's making me nauseous, so I retreat up to the terracing for a seat. There are thousands of people below, and Aphex is playing a pretty straight techno set by his standards. He's making use of the screen behind him to be subversive, merging giant images of ill children with his own gurning, scary mug. And, it looks really good, but from up here I'm struggling to get into it all. It's been a long day, and my mate's going home, so we head for the bus. As I lie down to sleep an hour later, there's a deafening buzz in my ears.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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