Triumphant sets from the likes of Arcade Fire, Run The Jewels and Haim led to an unforgettable 2017
Chris Taylor

14:19 9th June 2017

Set by the sea in the wonderfully brutalist Parc del Forum, itself an essential part of what makes Primavera so special, the air is electric with shared special moments and a real love for musical discovery that you don’t get anywhere else. It’s a place where even Jarvis Cocker is wandering around watching bands among the masses.

It’s incredibly easy to build your own mini festival each day with acts as diverse as Pinegrove, Slayer and Solange on the bill. Fancy getting your mind melted by the best electronic music around? Flying Lotus and Aphex Twin are over there. Want a little cry? Bon Iver and The Magnetic Fields have you covered.

Whatever you’re into, Primavera has it in spades. Even without Frank Ocean, who dropped out of a headline slot at the last minute (“Fuck Ocean” t-shirts were in abundance across the weekend), everything from the most esteemed legends to the small print on the undercard is carefully curated to build a weekend jam-packed with stuff to see.

Thursday was already off to an impressive start, with Pinegrove arriving early doors (they were also playing at 4am but our beds were calling long before then) to bring their New Jersey Americana to the Firestone stage. Looking more like a petrol station than a stage, it seemed to suit the band’s folky roots perfectly, whisking you away on a road trip with the impressively sizeable crowd.

Early on something start happening. Phones started buzzing and whispers were passed. While catching a brilliantly riotous Cymbals Eat Guitars, after the queue for nearby Jens Lekman in the Hidden Stage proved too much, all eyes were on a mysterious new 360° stage that was being erected. What could be happening?

Adorned with “EN” logos, the word was that Arcade Fire had arrived early to put on a little treat. Suddenly all plans were out the window (sorry Broken Social Scene and Miguel) as we raced to this new stage. Arriving in dribs and drabs to start, suddenly crowds descended as word spread, ready to see the band unveil new material.

As the sky turned a burnt orange, Win Butler and crew arrived on stage and powered through a quick warm-up set for their Saturday headline show. That headline set was a more bombastic version of this secret gig, featuring rarely played 'Neon Bible', but there was something so unique about this as people clambered for a glimpse of what was going on.

Here, classics like 'No Cars Go' and 'Ready To Start' were in abundance, as well as the brand new 'Everything Now' which set off a disco party under the Spanish sunset. A perfect reminder of the heights the already incredible 'Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)' can be lifted to when there are hundreds of people singing along.

This was Unexpected Primavera, which saw Mogwai and HAIM play secret sets across the weekend too. Secret sets aren’t new of course, but there’s still something so great about the atmosphere when everyone catches wind of what’s going on. The festival becomes a community, as people try and shift their already packed schedules around to fit in the latest whisper.

There was still so much to see, however, with Solange, bathed in red, proving she’s worth just as much hype as her sister. With tunes like 'Don’t Touch My Hair' and 'Losing You', it’s hard to not get swept up in the magic as she and her backing band all danced in sync.

Not ready to let the party end just yet, we opt for Canadian jazz mavericks BADBADNOTGOOD over Bon Iver, who whip the crowd into such a frenzy that it was easy to forget Justin Vernon was at the other end of the park. But sore feet and tired bodies, which started by the beach with Alexis Taylor blasting Dimitri From Paris’ re-edit of 'I Wanna Be Your Lover', were more than ready for bed by the end so we pass on Slayer and Aphex Twin for a bit of R&R.

Mitski kicked off Friday and, though her intimate and ferocious tracks might not have the same impact on a festival stage facing the sea as in a dark, sweaty room, there’s no denying that Puberty 2 highlight 'My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars', all fire, fury and anguish, sent a shiver through the modest-sized crowd.

Meanwhile, Sampha showed his transformation from behind the scenes shy guy to a real festival force. We took a seat on the Ray Ban stage auditorium steps but soon found ourselves throwing shapes as much as Sampha himself, as he flicked between thumping beats and introspective soul.

Less impressive is Mac DeMarco who, live, feels more like a performance artist than a musician. Of course, his hijinks are part of his personality, but when tracks from Salad Days and this year’s This Old Dog are taking a backseat to leg hair burning antics and stark bollock naked drumming, it’s a lot less fun.

Maybe the atmosphere just wasn’t right; his sun-dappled tracks just don’t feel right once the sun’s gone down. Luckily The xx were perfect for the clear night sky. With Jamie xx having something of a Sampha-esque transformation from the reserved shadow at the back to a force to be reckoned with too, The xx now feel like something a whole lot more. Classic tracks like 'Islands' and 'Intro' are given a new lease of life, while 'On Hold' and 'Replica' (in a rare live performance which they manage to endearingly mess up) have the power to enrapture the incredible sea of people.

Jamie xx later returns to fill in the absent Frank Ocean slot, beginning with a cheeky blast of 'White Ferrari' and closing with an impressive mash up of his own 'Gosh' and Ocean’s 'Nikes'. Now with a different shirt and a disco ball for good measure, the eclectic mix of disco, funk and soul, as well as his own tracks from In Colour, proves a formidable alternative. This was a real “dance your blues away” moment. Frank who?

Run The Jewels, meanwhile, were so loud that they actually blew the speakers. The sound disappointingly never really recovered properly, but the energy was exhilarating as the duo set about promoting love in these increasingly hopeless times. Dipping into all three albums, every hand was in the fist and gun position by the set’s close.

Closing the night with Flying Lotus was probably the best and worst idea simultaneously. Steven Ellison brought his incredible brain-melting electronic/jazz fusion to the Ray Ban stage with awe-inspiring visuals to boot. It felt like a shot of energy just as we were starting to flag, which meant dancing in spite of aching feet was a must. Our Saturday morning selves were not big fans of our early selves for sure.

Saturday was perhaps the most chaotic day, for good and for bad. The day opened with a festival highlight: Swet Shop Boys. The latest project from Riz Ahmed and Heems initially drew a small crowd but, as they rocketed through an impressive barrage of fiery bangers, the crowd began to swell, eager to see what was going on. An impassioned spoken word piece from Riz had the crowd in the palm of their hands.

Where Mitski doesn’t quite work as well on a festival stage as in a club, Angel Olsen seems to be at home at both. Everything from the sparkling 'Shut Up Kiss Me' to the explosive 'Sister' is as captivating as the last, as she jokes with the crowd between songs. The addition of a seaside sunset elevates it to a heavenly experience.

With a quick stop to check the Champions League final playing in the food court, we got ready for Brazilian legend Seu Jorge, performing his David Bowie covers from The Life Aquatic for the first time. Unfortunately, placed next to the incredibly loud Hamilton Leithauser, the quiet and intimate Jorge was practically inaudible.

Disappointed and frustrated, we decided Grace Jones might be a better option. Despite an enigmatic performance from the 69 year old (doing things I, in my twenties, can’t even fathom) body painted like a zebra and with what looks like a strap-on, strong winds spoil the sound somewhat. Still, hearing her electric cover of 'Love Is The Drug' alongside classics like 'Pull Up To The Bumper'as she strutted and hula hopped across the stage was still an experience to remember.

After a second appearance by Arcade Fire, with more incredible visuals and stage antics, Japandroids were ready to blow us all away. Making more noise than just two people should, it’s a rowdy, anarchic treat as the crowd scream the words back at the Canadian duo.

We close the festival with a not-so-secret 3am set from HAIM. A fantastic reminder of just how well crafted those early songs are, finely tuned indie pop in the vein of Tango In The Night era Fleetwood Mac, it brings spirited end to the weekend, with on-stage dance-offs and sparkling favourites like 'The Wire' weaving their intoxicating charm.

You can wax lyrical about Glastonbury all you like, you can recall memories of Leeds & Reading Festivals gone by until the cows come home but really there’s nothing quite like Primavera Sound. It’s the shimmering blue sea, the glorious Spanish sunshine and the killer line up that makes it stand out from the crowd. And not a single bit of mud in sight!

Photo: Eric Pamies