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NOS Primavera Sound : An Appreciation Of Porto

  • Published in Live

A while ago this site contained a few city guides for a handful of places in the UK & what they had to offer for the live music fan. They weren't regularly updated so we dropped them. This piece is though intended, in part, to fulfil the same function for Porto, where the younger & smaller Primavera Sound (NOS being the main local sponsor) event takes place a week or so after the original in Barcelona.

Having popped my cherry at the Barcelona event in 2016 & being possessed of a wish to visit Porto for two or three years it seemed obvious upon the release of the earlybird tickets for 2017 that one be bought as the event must have the same line-up in each city, right? Wrong - the Porto event has only four stages & consequently gets mainly the middle tier acts so no underexposed newbies or headliners such as Arcade Fire. Still, 85€ for the event was fine with me.

The city itself offers a very cheap and enjoyable holiday experience. Given that Ryanair only fly there from Edinburgh on Tuesdays & Saturdays I naturally had to plump for a week of sunshine with temperatures around the 30 degrees centigrade mark, rather than mist the final day of the festival. There's more than enough to keep you occupied aside from the festival, whether it be the art collection of Serralves, visiting as many churches as possible, doing one or more of the tourist tours or just crawling the bars drinking either the very cheap Super Bock or sampling the local wares of the city's newer brewers, seeing as it's experiencing a growth of those the same as most other places. There's also the wine. And the coffee. And the 1€ cakes and sandwiches although full meals cost far less than at home too.

Travel is cheap too - an hour on the train south to picturesque Aveiro set me back 4€ each way and the Metro around the city & out to the park where the festival takes place is in the main under 2€ for a single journey. There's an Oyster-like system in place so once you have your smartcard from the machine at the airport you merely need to top it up with the right fare(s) and step on and off buses & Metros as your needs dictate.

As mentioned NOS Primavera Sound takes place in a park, which gives it the edge over the Barcelona event in terms of comfort. At no time are you walking across a dusty, concrete desert and the hillsides allow for clear views of the stages from a prone position. As the overall site is though smaller there are far fewer art, clothing etc. stalls (my poster tube was a redundant piece of luggage this year) but, particularly if you're female, you can get a good fix of second-hand clothes shopping done in the city and the quality of prints, badges, cards & other artwork for sale (particularly around Rua de Miguel Bombarda and at the Circus Network space) is very high.  

So who was actually any good at the festival? Swans were a revelation to be honest. Not a band I've ever given much time to and I opted to chat to a site contributor over seeing them at Le Guess Who? a couple of years ago but this weekend their two hour set held me for the duration. I'm pleased to say I've finally seen Arab Strap although they maybe want to give themselves a rest from 'The First Big Weekend Of The Summer' and Teenage Fanclub were a solid presence on the Friday evening. 

Shellac were better than in Barcelona last year, possibly down to the Palco stage being head height rather than half that again. Mitski was good fun, Hamilton Leithauser was emotive, Against Me! were rock and roll, The Make-Up were infectious although having Ian Sevonious stand all over you was probably not what many in the centre of the crowd had bargained on, Wand were a great blast of energy & infectious guitar work (what King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard failed to be) and the tail end of the Evols set gave a hint that I'd missed something epic by being a tad late that day. Metronomy, who I see in a new light following Joe Mount's recent dismissal of The Flaming Lips, Japandroids and Pond were also great crowd pleasers.

Elsewhere Aphex Twin was a slow burner which I left for more immediate pleasures, Cymbals Eat Guitars seemed either oddly placed in the bill or are virtually unknown in Portugal, Cigarettes After Sex were nothing special (& what's with that REO Speedwagon cover?), Sleaford Mods were as bombastic as expected but if you've seen five minutes of them you've seen the whole show (which kind of goes for Death Grips too), Songhoy Blues got a good reaction from the crowd and Royal Trux were as ramshackle as when I last saw them 20 or so years ago. Sure they walked off about 20 minutes earlier than they should have but fair play - for all the drivel spouted between songs they didn't forget any of their lyrics, much as that constantly seemed a possibility. The Growlers failed to live up to expectations, sounding oddly one dimensional compared to on record.

Homegrown acts Samuel Uria, Rodrigo Leao & Scott Matthew and Miguel unfortunately made little impression on me. On the whole though I'd say the event for me came out ahead of its bigger brother, not least for the better quality food on offer but transport away from the site (the closest Metro ceases at 22:00) was better organised & information about it more readily available.

NOS Primavera Sound is for a weekend, not for life though & the city's live music scene continues after it's all over. To that end I headed along to the Cave 45 venue on Monday night to see Cleveland's Archie & The Bunkers, ably supported by energetic & entertaining local garage punks The Magnets. Two rather unorthodox acts - the latter field a bass/drum/organ & singer formation whilst the youthful headlining duo share vocal duties and play just a drumkit and an organ, albeit with gobs of energy & passion. The venue itself has good sound and two decent bars so provided a fine location to see out the end of this Portuguese live music experience.

Cheers to Eduardo & Francisco for excellent Couchsurfing, Ana for driving and Chris for the banter.

Further event photographs here.


Primavera Sound Part 3: The Non-Headlining Artists That Impressed

  • Published in Live

The festival site of Primavera is a marvel.

The Ray-Ban, with its seating like an amphitheater,

The DJ site that can only be reached by bridge.

The Pitchfork and Adidas stages at the bottom of a steep staircase that overlooks the Barcelona coastline beautifully.

The Primavera Stage smack down in the centre of things yet blocking absolutely nothing.

And then we’re not even talking about the large field with the two main stages a bit further off.

But even if you don’t head to that field, there are still some quality acts to be found. One of them starts early at the Primavera stage. Sinkane I’ve seen before, just coming off his album Mars. The vocals on that were a bit aloof, distant, singing over hypnotic guitar lines.

Now, not so much.

The band has turned into a full-fledged band for World Music, taking cues from African rhythms, blues and funk sounds, and a bit of that going to church gospel. Sinkane isn’t even really the main vocalist anymore, having enlisted a woman who, next to having that big voice, also keeps working it, keeps dancing, and also keeps on smiling, to make sure those feel good vibes transcend right into the audience.

The growth isn’t only in terms of band size, but it is also evident when he turns to one of his Mars tracks, ‘Jeeper Creeper’, which already was amazing in its recorded format. Now, live, it still thrives on the same funky rhythm lines, but especially when they slide into the new second part of the song, where the female vocalist gets to work it, the audience witnesses not only a transition within the song, but also from a young artist back then, and a more complete band a good five years on.

Angel Olsen has a way to wrap the audience around her finger.

To someone shouting “We love you”, she, with a Steel Magnolias wit, asks when she and the audience are getting married.

There’s something loveable and strong about her at the same time.

The same goes for her vocals and songs, which combine the vulnerable with a palpable strength. She makes sure all that is in place when she sings a number of songs from her well-received album Woman, which came out last year, ending with the titular track.

Dan Boeckner leaves it all out on the battlefield.

Whether it be with Handsome Furs, with Wolf Parade, or, as on this year’s Primavera, with Operators. Him, someone behind synths and assorted electronics, and a live drummer, get started late at night, but tired they certainly are not.

He spouts the lyrics out as if he is leading the protest march of a life time, in the meantime taking care of a synth and sending out some mean guitar riffs to boot.

In between songs he even tinkers around with which graphics are projected behind them.

Energetic, strong, and charismatic, the set list moves from one power synth track to another. And, as ever, he seems grateful for being allowed to do this.

Like, genuinely.

And we believe that, as he puts it all out there, no punches pulled, no holds barred, as if it is the very first time.

Alexandra Savior and her keyboard player have the atmosphere down pat.

Both dressed in black, with a hint of nostalgia, they seem to be in their own dance macabre.

The way she hunches over the microphone, her voice sounding in between bored and the not-there, and from there on occasion descending into madness.

The rest of the band doesn’t entirely play along. All the men are casually dressed, and the bass bleeds into the rest of the sound and, at times, obscures the vocals.

Which is a pity. Because the vocals and the tone they set are the central hub the rest needs to work around. It seems she would be better served with a more clinical backing sound, a more complete control over the stage set, and maybe some visuals too.

Later that day Solange would play, and the togetherness of every element (sound, movement, visuals; everything) is what could’ve made Savior’s performance one of the more memorable highlights of the festival too.

Even without, the potential is palpable, and the performance, as is, is still very much worth the time there.­­

Sometimes, the coattails one chooses has a lasting effect on everything.

SURVIVE members made the soundtrack to the major Netflix hit Stranger Things.

And so, suddenly, you are famous.

The four of them have their electronic hardware lined up next to each other, and then an hour of b-movie horror soundtrack begins, fitting in with the Stranger Things aesthetic.

Certainly, at the end, I am reminded why I love that sound so much. It’s heavy on the atmosphere, on the hypnosis, and it certainly conjures up images in one’s mind like this kind of music is supposed to do.

The urge to put similar artists back on my iPod is both praise and a small point of criticism on the band. Yes, they have put that sound back at the forefront of my mind. And, yes, there are artists out there who combine that sound with tracks that are closer to my specific preferences. Songs that last a bit longer, and which have a steady beat/drum underneath it that gets that feel of being chased right into you, translating into the physical movement of dancing, not running.

But this, late at night in the Primavera darkness, it certainly ends the day in fitting fashion.


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