Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category

Primavera ’09

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

[Word+Pictures=Pete Hodgson]

Has it been a year already?

Last weekend the blistering Barcelona sun helped everyone warm up this summers festivals with Primavera ’09. Where, as usual we were treated to a feast of architecture, alcohol and alternative music, and along the way discover that obscure bands we like are way more popular than we thought…


‘El Maresme’ is a Spanish term to describe a warm, humid breeze blowing in from the sea, recently the term has entered English parlance denoting a waft of pot smoke drifting through a festival crowd. El Maresme is also the name of the metro stop for the Parc del Forum which has been home to Primavera for the past 5 years and one of the few locations where the meanings merge…

The festival always had some mainstream acts and some lesser known bands, but these days if a band is unknown it tends to be because they suck and this years festival felt distinctly less special. This wasn’t helped by a huge increase in the English quotient of festival goers… (I know, I’m partially responsible, sorry). It was a smaller line up this year too, which sprawled over the preceeding days (meaning I missed the ambient, dark and dissonant hiphop of Dalek). Additionally the brilliantly conceived Jagermiester stage…


… was replaced by the terribly planned Ray-ban stage which was best avoided, save for an excellent set by Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle


Despite the fact that the festival is clearly going downhill, I still had a great time. Here’s a few personal highlights, firstly the weather was awesome…


New York quintet Sonic Youth returned to the festival for the millionth time but with a new album this year they offered more than nostalgia…


Rhode Island duo Lightning Bolt, energized the ATP stage with their brutal reduction of punk and hardcore…


Dark sound extremists Sunn O))) celebrated their 10th anniversary by returning to their first recording of bowel shaking torture and successfully ‘out-avant-garde-d’ everyone else at the festival…


Hiphop was under represented this year but Wu tang’s Ghostface Killah did what he could to redress the balance, with great performance that got the whole of the Pitchfork stage jumping…


DJ Feadz played an interesting set although many of us were left wishing that Uffie wasn’t so pregnant…


Tom Jenkinson’s experimental Squarepusher has taken a slightly more ‘bass happy’ direction recently which went down very well but did feel a bit self indulgent by the end…


North American three piece, Yo La Tengo returned to Primavera for a third time but restricted themselves just the one cover compared to last years ‘open request’ performance at the Apollo venue…


One of the best sets of the festival was from the four New Yorkers who make up the poetically named, The Pains of being Pure at Heart. They produced a fantastic atmosphere with their melodic indie and genuinely infectious enthusiasm…


Natasha Khan’s solo project Bat for Lashes was the perfect complement to the Catalan sun as her crystalline electro rock marinated into the crowd…


Simian Mobile Disco tweaked the mainstage on the last night giving us the chance to expend whatever energy we had left…


The real maestro was Cornish born electro deviant Richard D James AKA Aphex twin, who pulled a visually stunning epic from his laptop and left no one in any doubt that being kinda twisted can sometimes yield awesome results…


Honourable mentions go to: poster boys of the Chinese underground Carsick Cars, eclectic French hiphop collaborator Dj Mehdi and unpredictable LA boys The Mae Shi, all of whom put in outstanding performaces.

So what’s left to say, Barcelona is an amazing place and I urge you all to go, but through lazy band selection and bizarre organisation Primavera just doesn’t live up to its potential. This year’s Sonar line up looks pretty good though…

Adios, Pedro.

Hydro Connect ‘08

Friday, September 5th, 2008

[Words & Pictures: Pete Hodgson]

Last weekend I was kindly invited round to play in the Duke of Argyll’s back garden, there were already some 9,000 people there who had come for the Connect festival 2008, which was pretty awesome.

Sitting patiently on the edge of Loch Fyne, the fairy tale Inveraray Castle solemnly watched over the enthusiastic hoards, who descended on this year’s Connect festival to make mud, merriment and leave some miscellaneous camping paraphernalia for the Duke. In its second year, the gathering seems to have doubled in size since its conception, a trend which the organisers will presumably seek to emulate in the future, (although improved drainage and durable paths are necessities). The festival is held in the castle grounds surrounded by splendid mature woodland in Scotland’s dramatic coast, with the nearest civilisation of Inveraray town a few miles away (which seems quite happy with the lucrative incursion).

The festival was very proud of its low impact eco-credentials…
very proud. In fact the site was festooned with large signs to inform us… I hope they were recycled.
However, we can forgive this environy (Do you see what I did there?), because there were some things that this festival did outstandingly, most notably the food. In addition to the typical trailers there was an amazing selection of locally sourced treats, which were understandably expensive but truly superb. The venison burgers, carpaccio of beef and steamed mussels were just a few of the finest, and for £1.50 a pop (50p annual increase) you could have an oyster from the loch, which were mind blowing.

When you have a few oysters for breakfast it seems appropriate to wash them down with a glass of champagne and that crazy dream could become a reality… the champagne bar even had clay pidgins for ashtrays. Obviously, there’s some normal bars at festival prices (£3.50 pint) or the Kopparberg tree which provided some refreshing ciders (pears can make cider too, who knew?) and hosted a few acoustic sets, plus individual tents purveyed some local ales and some exceptional whiskeys. There was even a spa tent in case you think rehab is a more sensible choice, and a Speakeasy Cafe which hosted some decent (but unoriginal) comedy performances from the likes of Phil Kay. Additionally, there were various impromptu acts playing with fire or energetically beating out some polished percussion.

It was of course a music festival, and attracted a decent line-up for it’s size with mainstream headliners like Franz Ferdinand who were obviously well received, but I tend to enjoy smaller, more atmospheric live music (hence my attraction to small festivals). That said, the elements and environment did conspire to produce some excellent main stage performances.

Saturday night saw Bloc Party play a masterful set, conducting the effervescent assembly with a playful confidence ‘’I didn’t think I’d have to ask a Scottish crowd to go crazy twice!’’ pointed out frontman Kele Okereke. With a refreshing saline breeze drifting in, the visually rich set reached a crescendo with a light show which illuminated the gentle drizzle of rain, leaving the night sky bejewelled with a myriad of phosphorescent gems…

Unicron was more amazed than most (Photo by Phoebe Webber)…

Alison Goldfrapp’s spontaneous combustion was quite exciting…

Oddly there was hardly anyone there for the performance of the festival by adolescent four piece Late of the Pier who belted out bassy synth pop with the energy and insouciance of youth but timing of seasoned professionals.

These guys (Late of the Pier) have songwriting talent way beyond their years and are definitely destined for greatness. I also enjoyed some nostalgia in the ‘Unknown Pleasures’ tent which welcomed Philadelphia based hiphop legends The Roots who shook the tent with their jazzy, low frequency beats and exemplary lyrical prowess.

The tent also welcomed Los Angeles based weirdos Sparks, who opened eyes and raised eyebrows in equal measure.

Also in fine form was ever popular beatboxer Darren Beardyman Foreman, who is a particularly nice guy with a great sense of humour which always comes across at his live gigs…

Of course being Scotland the weather is unpredictable… Sunday’s perpetual rain was a dirty inconvenience and there’s a host of areas where Connect falls short when measured alongside other UK festivals. However, if you the gauge the experience by the unique positive memories it delivers then this year’s festival was both a great success and a tough act to follow.

Latitude Festival ’08

Friday, July 25th, 2008

[Words & Pictures- Pete Hodgson]

Last weekend a well selected section of the Suffolk countryside was again home to Latitude festival. In its third year, Latitude has rapidly established itself as one of the best UK gatherings, pioneering the diverse, laidback feel which numerous festivals are now attempting to emulate. The secret of Latitude’s success is the integration of creative arts with the more traditional music festival hedonism, neatly encapsulated on a small site with a family friendly atmosphere.

Projections over the lake charmingly enhanced the late night ambiance and the site was embellished with all manner of elegant constructions. Packed with Film, Literature, Theatre, Dance, Poetry and Comedy stages alongside the 4 main music stages-  only the most hardened cynic could be bored at Latitude ’08. 

The Obelisk Arena welcomed the music headliners, led by Franz Ferdinand who went through the motions in an enthusiastic and precise but somewhat uninspiring, automated manner, perhaps they were robots all along. The main stage was well laid out for observation but at close quarters the design proportions gave it a detached feel, which for me, emphasised the poor audience interaction and unremarkable sets which characterised many of the headline acts.

The Go! Team as always produced an energetic performance but noticeably missed bassist Jamie Bell (so they do need all six members!) which appeared to limit a set list already stale from the festival circuit.

Hopefully band mastermind Ian Parton, will attempt to rekindle the insouciance which characterised earlier gigs and perhaps perform some jolly tracks with gang vocals like ‘Milk Crisis’.

Death Cab for Cutie drew a lot of people for a strong set culminating with an epic rendition of ‘Transatlanticism’, but as it clashed with Crystal Castles, the cool kids were preoccupied.

Sigur Ros took over the festival with their inimitable, powerful soundscapes, providing festival goers with the opportunity to experience them at the requisite (Richter scale) volume.

The enigmatic Icelandic fruitcakes appeared to attract the biggest crowd of the festival and opened a lot of eyes with an atmospheric epiphany of live percussion and transcendent ethereal vocals.

Oxford boys Foals educated a few folks in the merits of math rock, but were somewhat blunted from travelling having been in Spain the day before.

Frontman Yannis Philippakis took the time between songs to explain that in Spain they had got into a fight with John Lydon and dedicated the next song ‘’To Jonny Rotten and his meathead friends’’ before launching into the ever popular track ‘Cassius’.   

However, the main stage was not the heart of the festival, the spirit resided in the woods. Nestled in the trees sat the diminutive Sunrise Arena which saw some of the most inspired and exciting performances.  It was here that the festival defining sets were witnessed and the atmosphere unique to Latitude could be found.  

Joseph Mount’s Metronomy ignited the tiny tent (metaphorically) on Saturday night with his talented live band of Gabriel Stebbing and Oscar Cash who added live sax to the intoxicating electrosynth mix.  

Seemingly naive Soko (Stephanie Sokolinski) charmed a lot of people with her bittersweet acoustic set as the weather went from torrents of rain to bright sunshine. 

The 21 year old French actress turned singer was evidently unaccustomed to tuning her guitar and playing in front of a large audience but her emotive melodic style won the hearts of the audience.

West London based Jeremy Warmsley graced the Sunrise tent on Sunday afternoon (exactly the same slot he occupied at last year’s festival).

The gifted singer songwriter, who recently toured with The Shins, energised the crowd with his unique and accessible indiepop.    

The most eagerly awaited and thrilling performance of the festival was Crystal Castles,

the Toronto based postpunk 8-bit electronica duo made up for the Glastonbury set (which was cut short) with an incredible and visceral performance as those clamouring to touch unpredictable vocalist Alice Glass will testify.

 This year’s comedy line up was stellar with Bill Bailey, Stewart Lee and Frankie Boyle to name just a few. Unfortunately, the organisers did not learn from last year and the popularity of these performers far exceeded the capacity of the comedy tent creating an unnecessary bottle neck on site. Russell Howard’s stand up routine is particularly good and was eminently relatable for the festival crowd- who gave him a fine reception. Ross Noble’s pseudo-contemporaneous routine went down very well and ended with the audience singing bohemian rhapsody then leading the thousand strong crowd on a frenzied rampage around the site before being enveloped by the hoards.

‘’This must be how Jesus got started’’ a sweaty Noble commented.

In the cosy Literature tent, early risers could be treated to Marcus Brigstocke reading them the morning papers with the likes of Phil Jupitus– who also returned to his first passion in the poetry tent.

The literature tent also saw Mark Steel give an interesting lecture on the life of Karl Marx,

Mark Thomas also gave an engaging talk centred around his upcoming book about Coca-Cola, entitled ‘’Belching out the Devil’’. A personal highlight was an entertaining extract from “Submarine” by Joe Dunthorne, recited by the excellent Richard Ayoade.

Admittedly, these days there’s nothing groundbreaking about Latitude, the acts are pretty mainstream and this year saw a handful of festivals from a similar mould. So the real measure of the festival is the people it attracts and Latitude continues to entice a diverse collection of interesting and open minded individuals, maintaining its well earned reputation for another year.        

Some Reflections on Primavera ’08

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

[Words and Pictures- Pete Hodgson]

The beginning of June marked the closing party of Primavera Sound Festival ’08, but fear not if you missed it, the annual music festival will not be needing a lengthy clean up or fallow year to recover. Each day of the festival saw the sculptural concrete architecture of Parc Del Forum sparkling in the Barcelona sun once more.

While festival goers explore the culinary delights of the vibrant city centre or enjoy a siesta on the beach, computer generated lizards set about removing all traces of the previous night’s hedonism…apparently. The regular clean-up leads to an odd dichotomy; each day has the aesthetic of a pristine beginning but the atmosphere of the very end of a festival… you know, when everyone’s a bit more friendly and comfortable with one another. The bands maintained this ‘last night’ theme with some amazing high energy perfomances, each feeling like the zenith; most notably a great set by Holy Fuck culminating at about six on Saturday morning with hundreds of people joining them on stage.

With an eclectic line-up of around 100 bands including earthshaking Tokyo trio Boris, seminal Bristolians Portishead and high flying Brooklyn pair MGMT, who kicked off the festival for most people on Thursday in the baking Catalonian sun. Nestled on the Barcelona coastline like a slumbering concrete leviathon, the Parc Del Forum attracted people from around the globe to the five stages of Primavera ’08. Most excitingly, All Tomorrows Parties returned to curate a stage at the festival for a second year; bringing the cream of the ATP crop honed from the two UK ATP festivals, one of which returned to it’s original home of Butlins this year (‘Barcelona or Butlins?’ was not a decision I struggled with).


The ATP stage produced some of the most mind-blowing performances including a mesmerising set by the atmospheric Explosions in the Sky and an incendiary adreneal performance from the Rhode Island quartet Les Savy Fav which saw lead singer Tim Harrington taking regular excursions throughout the frenzied audience, wearing a costume which redefined the word unitard.

The festival was also graced by hiphop legends De La Soul and Public Enemy who each drew huge crowds, but for me the more outstanding MC was bronx artist Keith Thornton AKA Kool Keith performing under of his most well known alias Dr Octagon with old partner Kutmasta Kurt.

In addition to being one of the most creative and inventive lyricists around, Kool Keith is one of the few rappers that can spit rhymes on stage to the same standard as the comfort of the studio.

One of the highlights of the festival was The -ever energetic- Go! Team, whose six multi-instrumentalists always provide an uplifting and hugely entertaining performance.

Having only seen them in small intimate venues, it was fantastic to see them command the huge Barcelona crowd with the same accessible enthusiasm. With so many huge bouncing beats, the congregation remained effervescent throughout a relentless set which saw primary vocalist, Ninja, freestyle herself hoarse.

Barcelona’s City centre should not be overlooked, Catalunya has an incredible cultural heritage with the likes of Picasso and Gaudi “who done funny pictures and melty buildings, respectively”.

Being a cosmopolian destination with many contemporary western influences, the aesthetic style is often an elegant fusion of new and old; a juxtaposition paralleled in many aspects of Catalan identity.

This can also be appreciated in gastronomic terms with some superb pioneering eateries alongside the more traditional Spanish restaurants and tapas bars. I was particularly impressed by Sitges a fusion restaurant near Las Ramblas which skillfully exalted some diverse world cuisine dishes with rich complex flavours and the Spanish passion for good meat.

Despite limited promotional work, this year’s festival attracted record numbers whilst pleasingly maintaining a diverse and enlighted clientel; it has so far remained pretty much scallywag free….. For anyone reading who finds alcopops more stimulating than architecture, or takes the Ricky Gervais approach to foreign relations (“speak loudly and if they still don’t understand you, smash the place up”) this might not be for you.

However, if you embrace and explore the Catalan people (metaphorically), it can be an inspirational experience. With some superb performances from an eclectic line-up, Primavera must be one the most interesting and rewarding festival excursions I’ve made… although admittedly my next stop in Denmark was hampered by a large robot…But I guess that’s another story for another day…