Despite the fact that in many parts of the country I’d be considered a bomb-throwing radical lefty terrorist, I’m actually a pretty patriotic person. The United States of America may have a flawed system of government, a dementedly warped appreciation for capitalism, and completely wrong ideas about human rights, but on the other hand we invented rock & roll, hip-hop, house and techno, and the very concept of being cool, and I think that’s definitely worth waving the flag for.
My deep love for American pop culture hasn’t made me biased against cultural exports from elsewhere, but I’ll admit I have a longstanding bias against European music. Outside of minimal techno, Swedish pop, and that brief time during the krautrock era where Germany somehow briefly jumped 50 years past every other country in the world, I think most pretty much all non-classical music made in Europe outside the UK is laughably bad. If you’ve ever heard someone try to make rapping in German sound cool you probably know the feeling.
After my weekend at Primavera Sound in Barcelona I’m willing to admit that while I haven’t necessarily been wrong all these years, it’s maybe time to start taking Europe seriously as a musical exporter. The festival squeezed an impressive amount of locally sourced talent onto the bill, and I made a point of checking out as much of it as I could. Here’s some of the talent that’s helped to change my mind.
I’m obviously not the first person to get their wig blown back by this bunch of Spanish teenagers. Music blogs have been all over them recently, and Pitchfork gave them a prime spot on the stage they curated at Primavera. Despite the fact that they’re high schoolers playing what sounds like 120 Minutes-era alt-rock they’re not a novelty act. In fact their slanted take on the sound and their precociously strange lyrics–their biggest hit’s called "Your Brain is Made of Candy" and it sounds like a young PJ Harvey after downing seven Red Bulls–make them one of the few bands working to bring back a ‘90s sound that’s actually doing something interesting with it.
I didn’t actually get to see this Spanish group play, but despite my reservations over their name (which sounds like a college town grunge band that I would actually pay not to hear) I checked out their Bandcamp page and found a bunch of songs that were as unexpectedly weird as they were unexpectedly good. Their AHÁ EP is an idiosyncratic collision of lo-fi psych pop and aggressively dark electronic postpunk that’s aggressively noise-filled and ugly but totally easy to find yourself putting on repeat.
In the 90s, Barcelona group Aina was one of the only bands in Europe doing a respectable take on the D.C. sound of the time. After they broke up some of the members went on to form Nueva Vulcano, which has returned from what seems to have been a period of inactivity just in time to catch the emo revival wave. At Primavera they played on one of the bigger stages to a crowd of Spanish kids who were losing it over their combination of Hot Water Music’s epic sweeap and the Replacement’s ragged edge. The best part was all the big, sweater-clutching hooks, but the auxiliary player wailing on a xylophone was a close second.
Spain has just as many garage rock bands as anywhere else at this point, and when these guys hit one of the side stages for an afternoon set they looked like just another one (aside from the bassist, who looked like he’d been dragged out of a gutter on the Sunset Strip in 1986). But when they plugged in what came out was punchy, unabashedly brainy power pop that’s somewhere between Big Star and Blur, with enough Black Lips in the mix to make it snarl.
From what I can tell Spain is totally crazy over jangly indie guitar pop on like a Portland-circa-2008 level, judging by how many of the amount of the stuff that went down at Primavera. At this point that sound’s been pumped dry, but Madrid’s Los Pusentes manages to make it work by making it weird and injecting it with the same kind of giddily eccentric energy that the Sugarcubes had. Their official bio, which I’m pretty sure was translated by Google, calls them “a battering ram with which to attack contemporary indie,” which not only sounds cool but is pretty much on the money.
THE SUICIDE OF WESTERN CULTURE
I mentioned these guys in my first Primavera writeup, and they’re so good that I need to mention them again. They played at 3 AM on the first night of the festival, at the point where things had shifted over into full-blown rave mode, and this Barcelona duo’s kraut-dipped techno sound threw a streak of aggression into the party that turned things inside out. People were absolutely losing their shit over them, and I was right there with them.