Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Routinely cited as the perfect festival – dream line-ups, a stunning and easily-traversed setting within one of the world’s great cities, no bloody camping – Primavera Sound sold out of weekend tickets noticeably early this year, as if some last section of discerning festival-going society had finally taken notice of the yearly round of breathless reports from attendees.
The heightened clamour for tickets certainly wasn’t down to any sea-change in booking policy – where Sonar has of late created a faint whiff of an identity crisis by going down a far more commercial route, Primavera has stuck solidly to its guns. Where this year there was Blur, in previous years there’s been The Cure or Pulp; this year Glass Candy, previous years Chromatics or Grimes; this year Nick Cave, previous years, well, Nick Cave. Always Nick Cave, and thank goodness for that.
Hopefully the hordes didn’t just come for the stunning weather – Barcelona’s normally unstoppable march into summer has been reduced to an inebriated shuffle this year, and overcast, breezy conditions ruled for much of the festival, though mercifully the rain stayed away. The idea of renaming it Invierno Sound was a much-circulated joke all weekend.
“Savages’ gritty goth-rock/post-punk might have been tricky for 7.30pm on the sunniest day of the festival, but their set proved an excellent fit, with crop-haired vocalist Jehnny Beth a tightly-wound, compelling focal point.”
Months of pent-up festival anticipation couldn’t quite be satisfied first thing on day one by a long-distance squint at Neko Case and what looked like a couple of stray members of ZZ Top on the main stage, so we cut early and headed to see Savages. The London quartet’s gritty goth-rock/post-punk might have been tricky for 7.30pm on the sunniest day of the festival, but their set, on the Pitchfork Stage in the shadow of the iconic, giant roof of solar panels that is Parc del Forum’s architectural signature, proved an excellent fit, with crop-haired vocalist Jehnny Beth a tightly-wound, compelling focal point.
Savages – I Am Here live at Primavera Sound 2013.
A trip to the Boiler Room for Simian Mobile Disco’s excellent 40-minute DJ set yielded this Nobel Prize for Literature-worthy insight on watching the web-stream recording: “Jeez, me and my friends don’t half talk a lot when we’re dancing” – and then it was time for Jessie Ware. “I’ve been warned by the band to keep my stage banter to a minimum”, she said early in her set, and, without wishing to be unkind, you could see why. It’s hardly a problem unique to Ware, but the smoky majesty of tracks such as Wildest Moments and Still Love Me is sadly unmatched by screechy patter about the security guards being “really cute”.
Next at Pitchfork was Killer Mike, who managed to take us from the worst stage banter of the weekend to the best in the space of a few minutes via the likes of this big-hearted, outright delightful monologue, which is worth reproducing in full: “I am Killer Michael, and I am so very happy to be out here tonight. I don’t know if you ever fell off a bike, if you ever didn’t make the team, if you ever fell and bust your ass, but if you have, then you know it’s hard getting the fuck up and working your ass off. I have worked my ass off to be on this stage with you tonight. So what I need you to know is, I appreciate you so much, and I appreciate you for appreciating me and having rap music. So thank you, thank you, and motherfucking thank you!”. A wonderful mixture of jovial, gregarious underdog-come-good, establishment-baiting polemicist and – lest we forget – highly proficient and entertaining rapper, Killer Mike united his crowd in goodwill like almost nobody else I saw all weekend.
Killer Mike – Untitled live at Primavera Sound 2013.
“The only plausible way Jackmaster can become more fun as a DJ is to start handing out space hoppers and canisters of nitrous oxide before his sets”
The arrival on the ATP Stage of Fuck Buttons was one of the most genuinely spine-tingling moments of the festival for me, and their set was a monolithic, intense revelation. Standing facing each other, side-on to the crowd, Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power played what in a more perfect world would be their “hits” – Surf Solar, Olympians – as well as several tracks from their predictably fantastic new ‘Slow Focus’ LP, including Brainfreeze, as pulverising and immediate an album opener as you’ll hear all year.
Jackmaster’s Tweak-A-Holic set seemed the only appropriate dessert after Fuck Buttons’ glorious walls of trance-inducing noise, and as we grooved away to Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere at 4.30am it occurred quite forcefully that the only plausible way Jackmaster can become more fun as a DJ is to start handing out space hoppers and canisters of nitrous oxide before his sets, so look out for that at Primavera 2014.
Fuck Buttons live at Primavera Sound 2013.
On Friday the weather took a chilly turn and cockles remained unwarmed by Django Django’s strangely lifeless set on the Heineken Stage, so we moved over to see yearly Primavera fixtures Shellac grind pleasingly through He Came In You and Crow. “Look at the ferris wheel”, Steve Albini said, and we all did, because it feels good to do what Steve Albini says.
By this earlyish point in the evening the wind and cold were making watching any set on the most exposed seafront stages (Heineken and ATP) feel like a major and potentially regrettable life decision, but I pulled my sleeves over my hands like a disheartened emo kid and headed to the Heineken Stage for The Jesus & Mary Chain’s set, during which My Bloody Valentine’s Bilinda Butcher contributed a highlight as she softened the rougher edges of Jim Reid’s voice on their Just Like Honey duet.
Back at the relatively sheltered Primavera Stage James Blake then turned in one of the standout sets of the weekend. A bare description of Blake’s music probably wouldn’t create the impression that this was main-stage-at-a-festival-at-1.30am material, but his shimmering, regally-paced compositions worked beautifully. A sumptuous and rapturously received version of Retrograde typified this, while the likes of CMYK raised the tempo at the right moments.
James Blake – Retrograde live at Primavera Sound 2013.
After that it was a short journey to the Pitchfork Stage to catch part of Glass Candy’s set. I’m a total sucker for the gleaming romance that imbues just about everything Johnny Jewel touches – he is of course also the guiding hand behind Chromatics and Desire – and his masterful synth work coupled with Ida No’s Nico-esque vocals hit me in all the right places as ever.
“Another report I’ve seen opined that the group were “inexplicably” missing members – this being a Wu-Tang Clan festival date in Europe it would surely have been more inexplicable if they hadn’t been missing members.”
Jewel’s band had the misfortune of being scheduled against Blur, so halfway through their set we ruefully turned and headed off to see this Primavera edition’s Venerable British Guitar Band Of Choice in action. Damon Albarn and co were surprisingly placed on the out-of-the-way, if still enormous, Heineken Stage, rather than the traditional main stage on which Venerable British Guitar Bands Of Choice The Cure and Pulp have appeared at the last two festivals, and it was probably this move that left their set feeling like less of a festival-defining set-piece than might have been expected. There’s nothing wrong with that though, and their hits set, which finished with The Universal and then a riotous Song 2, was no less enjoyable for it.
Wu-Tang Clan live at Primavera Sound 2013 (one of three videos available at PrimaveraSoundTV)
First up on Saturday was a potential hands-over-the-eyes moment in the shape of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Primavera Stage set, but in fact it turned out to be a highlight of the weekend. Another report I’ve seen opined that the group were “inexplicably” missing members – this being a Wu-Tang Clan festival date in Europe it would surely have been more inexplicable if they hadn’t been missing members. Method Man and Raekwon were the evening’s absentees, but the greatest hits show turned in by RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah and the rest was blisteringly great fun, with the yearly pleasure of hearing thickly accented Catalan voices shouting very un-Catalan lyrics in full effect (see also: Blur’s Country House, Nick Cave’s The Mercy Seat).
Talking of Nick Cave – Christ, Nick Cave was fantastic. A sleek, prowling presence dressed, as ever, in black, he led The Bad Seeds through a fan’s wish-list of songs: Red Right Hand, The Weeping Song, From Her To Eternity, Stagger Lee and Jack The Ripper all came and went in a spectacular whirl of lights and pure showmanship, as well as Jubilee Street, Push The Sky Away and several others from the new album. The only disappointment was the set’s relative brevity – it’s hard to imagine anyone complaining if he’d played all night.
Nick Cave – Mercy Seat live at Primavera Sound 2013.
That not being possible, however, we headed to the Pitchfork Stage for Hotflush Recordings boss Paul Rose, aka Scuba. Whatever your feelings on the term “live” being applied to a guy triggering track parts on a laptop and a couple of black boxes, Rose’s masterful, genreless, bass-heavy jams were perfect for this point in the festival, with Feel It and If U Want being highlights before closing with the highlight-of-highlights, the joyous, hands-in-the-air rave-era happy pill that is NE1BUTU. That left DJ Koze’s set on the same stage to round things out for a still-healthy crowd of profoundly exhausted, profoundly satisfied festival-goers.
So why did people flock to Primavera Sound like never before this year? It might simply be that, pound-for-pound, it’s the best music festival on earth at the moment. If there’s a better one anywhere I’d very much like to hear about it.