A$AP Rocky (Pitchfork stage, Thursday)
The next young Harlem big thing is the consummate rap chancer at Primavera, laughing all the way to the bank that’s been beefed up by a $3m advance for his upcoming debut album. He’s jumping off monitors and high-fiving the front row while his two hype men shout “A-FUCKIN-SAAAAP” and the ‘DJ’ drops backing tracks from his Live. Love. A$AP mixtape. The intricacies in his spacey cloud rap productions is bullied a bit by A$AP’s posse hollering, but it’s infectious alright, even if it falls short of last year’s Odd Future Primavera riot. He summons a bit of Wolf Gang spirit though, crowd surfing over Big Tymers’ Get Your Roll On, and Goldie, but the biggest cheer goes out for the dumb ode to bling, Peso. There’s no Wassup though. Eh, Rocky, Wassup with that?
The Experimental Tropic Blues Band (Adidas Originals Stage, Thursday)
These feral Belgians were the surprise discovery of the festival – coming on like a grubby gangbang with the Cramps, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. They were a tip-off from a mate, who thought he’d backed a dud when the trio walked on stage to 30 stragglers at the barrier. It only took a few songs to fill the mini amphitheatre though, as hundreds of passers-by latched on to their primitive rockabilly riffs and cock rock posing. Singer Dirty Coq rolls around the front row for most of the set, short circuiting the amps by rubbing the jack from his guitar lead on his nipples and girls’ tongues, while his partner in (sex) crime Boogie Snake howls like Tom Waits fronting Napalm Death. All hail the stupids.
The xx (Mini Stage, Thursday)
Reformed hardcore legends Refused are going off like Semtex in the Ray-Ban amphitheatre, so it’s a big gamble to sprint to the Mini Stage to catch the xx’s biggest ever gig. It’s a gamble that pays off we reckon. After a two-year live break, The xx have ditched the dry ice for a stunning minimalist light show – the full moon over the Mediterranean is facing off with the single ‘X’ that marks the mood-changing spot on the backdrop – sombre blue shafts on the delicate Islands, shifting to red bursts on Heart Skipped A Beat . Bar a few secret shows and club dates, this is the first time they’ve aired their new songs, which mix deft comfort blanket house piano, steel drums and handclaps among the sparse clean guitar lines and hushed vocals from their debut album that everyone knows by now.
Jamie xx may be scorned for nabbing every festival, club and village fete gig he can get his hands on, but his non-stop DJ and remix work over the last two years has added a deeper electronic vibe to the live show, which pulses and throbs without stamping over the The xx’s sense of space between the notes. His remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s I’ll Take Care of You wafts into the night sky to an ovation, a poignant reminder that Gil died when we were at Primavera last year.
Unicornbot (Vice Stage, Thursday)
Who knows if Blue Peter is big in Spain, but full marks to Unicornbot for their ‘costumes’ made from everyday household objects. In the manner of the thrifty kids’ TV show, they’ve fashioned face masks/helmets from tin foil, complete with a magical horn (we’re guessing Unicornbot = unicorn + robot). We’d planned to wander around the site to get our bearings, but the post-hardcore act from Galicia reel us in to Primavera 2012 at 6pm, playing pied piper with frantic stop-start guitar riffs, jazzy tangents and a drummer who’s always a step ahead of the other three, even when he’s standing on his drum stool. Think Adebisi Shank meets Mr Bungle and you’re close.
The Cure (San Miguel Stage, Friday)
We were facing a clash dilemma until Melvins pulled out at the last minute, leaving a clean run-in for The Cure. Robert Smith and co end up clashing with half the bands on Friday, as they play the longest festival set we’ve ever seen, more than three hours. We praised the goth-pop heroes’ two-hour greatest hits Bestival set last year, but they’re in Grateful Dead territory now. They were probably still playing in some corner of the Parc del Forum when the stage was being dismantled on Sunday. Over the course of 40 tracks, you know they’ll play your song, from the jangly indie disco hits like Push Friday I’m In Love and Just Like Heaven, to dark dirges from Pornography and obscure album tracks and songs they haven’t played in 20 years. Our Robert – who’s morphing into Jo Brand these days – doesn’t say much, but just because he plays all night doesn’t mean he has to do a Springsteen. After three encores including The Lovecats, Let’s Go To Bed and Boys Don’t Cry, we wander from the San Miguel stage and check the timetable to see which bands we’ve missed.
Chromatics (Pitchfork Stage, Saturday)
With its 6am finishing times, Primavera is a festival fit for night owls, and they don’t get any more nocturnal than Chromatics. Johnny Jewel’s dreamy synth act hisses and pulses like a slowed-down italo vinyl at the end of the night, the soundtrack to the fuzzy after-party and the long walk home. It’s only just after 11pm on the Pitchfork Stage but Chromatics usher in that lysergic 3am buzz with Hands in the Dark and In the City, with Jewel’s keys bolstered by subtle guitar tension, unobtrusive snare rattles and Ruth Radelet’s bewitching vocals. Chromatics’ Kill For Love is a personal top album of 2012 so far, and these songs seal the deal at Primavera. Back from the Grave, the title track and the eight-minute vocoded lament These Streets Will Never Look the Same has the crowd swaying in a trance before the twin covers of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill and Neil Young’s Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) sends us away with a warm glow.
Godflesh (ATP Stage, Saturday)
Until last weekend the heaviest show we’d ever seen was Swans’ final night performance at Primavera 2011. Exactly a year on, Godflesh dissolve that record in a vat of toxic industrial metal. Justin Broadrick and C.G. Green are nearly static in silhouette, nodding to their drum machine’s blast beats, as visuals of molten lava, cracking skulls and details from Bosch paintings compound the intensity. Opening with Like Rats and Christbait Rising, they dredge most of the set from their early 90s albums Streetcleaner and Pure, with Broadrick’s growls almost as low as the Earth’s core bass rumbles. Godflesh have only played a handful of gigs since reforming after an eight-year break, but they may crack a few venues’ ceilings if they decide to go on tour again. And a culinary aside: the Godflesh burger at the Pitchfork stage was pretty damn serious too.
Justice (San Miguel Stage, Saturday)
Festival texts are mainly garbled versions of “right speaker, front”, “sound desk to left” or “where r u?” But I get a few “At Justice, HOLY FUCK!” texts as the French duo crank up their Marshall amps and neon cross for a bout of dumbed-down chainsaw synths and jackboot kickdrums. Post-punk terrorists the Pop Group are on at 2am so we decide to check out Justice at 1.45 for 10 minutes. This snowballs into the whole of their hour-long set, so bye-bye muso hipster credentials. In our defence, Justice play a blinder – heavy on headbanger riffs, with all the money shots from their albums † and a nosebleed version of Helix from Audio, Video, Disco. They ditch the build-ups for a drop every minute, bar the nervy Stress, that plays out like a horror flick chase scene. It all gets a bit student disco for We Are Your Friends, but you can’t be too cool for school when thousands of heads are losing the plot for an hour, in the best possible way.
LFO (Mini Stage, Saturday)
One of the most blinding sets of the weekend is also victim to the worst scheduling. The remaining half of LFO, Mark Bell, is up against Jamie xx at 2.30am, and he’s been dumped on the Mini stage, 15 minutes’ walk from the festival’s engine room around Ray-Ban/Pitchfork/Vice that hosts most of the closing sets over the weekend. The sheer expanse of the area doesn’t help either – it’s about one tenth full, with diehards among the all-too noticeable detritus of crumpled beer cups and ripped-up festival programmes. Still, Bell knocks out relentless jabbing techno, rooted in no-nonsense 4/4 kickdrums, vocoded messages and acid squelches that twinned Sheffield with Detroit as the Warped city of the future back in the early 1990s. Framed by a screen spewing out bold shape-shifting geometric patterns, Bell weaves in LFO, We Are Back and Freak, among rave snippets and basslines that very nearly matched Godflesh on the Richter Scale.
Yann Tiersen (Arc de Triomf, Sunday)
It feels like we’re chasing the Primavera dregs up to the Arc de Triomf on the Sunday night for the final party. For the first time over the weekend it’s pissing rain, drunk teens are up to their ankles in puddles and we’re taking a chance with dodgy mojitos from even dodgier street vendors. After huddling in an underground car park out of the storm, we emerge as Tiersen and his five-man band give the fingers to the raindrops with a spacey post-rock set, heavy on vintage synths, droney guitars and virtuoso violin. Flitting between the quiet-loud-quiet indie dynamic and all-out Bad Seeds intensity, the Frenchman and his cohorts tear through Momentum, Skyline and Fuck You (“a song about love”). As the sun sets on the festival, he’s breaking violin strings on Sur le Fil, guiding us back into the cobbled streets of Barri Gotic, drenched to the skin, but floating all the same.
Originally in State