“Shaking your arse can help you through grief, trauma and anxiety…”
First published in Clash Magazine on 16th July 2019.
“As a great philosopher – James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem – once said, ‘dance yourself clean,’” David Le’aupepe, frontman of Aussie indie band Gang of Youths calls out to his sun-drenched audience between tracks, sharing his discovery that “shaking your arse can help you through grief, trauma and anxiety…”
It was just one of many moments of stage-chat poignancy to befall the 2019 edition of Barcelona’s music festival Cruilla. Celebrating it’s 10th birthday, Festival Cruilla kicked off early this year on Wednesday with Black Eyed Peas and the fast up and coming Norwegian electro-pop artist Aurora while Thursday belonged to hip-hop acts, Natos y Waor, dubbed the “kings of Spanish rap,” twin rappers from Granada, Ayax y Prok plus Catalan trap singer Lildami.
We joined proceedings from the Friday and were welcomed into the Catalonian party spirit with a high energy set from London quartet Bastille. Having last seen saw them perform live at Bestival in 2013 when their first album was released, I was delighted to see that same boyish enthusiasm and pure elation from finding themselves atop a festival stage didn’t fail to charm me once again, as lead singer Dan Smith flung himself off various parts of the stage and bounced around till he poured sweat, jokingly bemoaning their early evening slot in what is famously a nocturnal country: “I know things don’t kick off till later here – have you even had dinner yet?!”
He proudly presented songs from latest album Doom Days, built around the concept of “trying to find escapism” in our a politically tumultuous era, complete with a stage set piece of an old-fashioned sofa we see Smith curl up on in his hoody, and with him later explaining ‘Million Pieces’ evokes the feeling, “when you’re coming up at a party and someone wants to talk politics and you’re like, ‘not right now…’”
‘Good Grief and ‘Send Them Off!’ from 2016’s ‘Wild World’ also made appearances but it was those that first brought them unexpected fame, their mash-up of 90s tracks ‘The Rhythm of the Night’ and ‘Rhythm Is a Dancer’ titled ‘Of the Night’ from a pre-debut album mixtape, ‘Things We Lost in the Fire’ and ‘Pompeii’ from 2012’s ‘Bad Blood’, that got the locals to halt their intense group chatter and jump around in tandem with a gleeful Dan.
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Iconic Scottish singer Shirley Manson was truly on fire, leading grungy rockers Garbage through their back catalogue in a full-throttle gig that coincides with the release of a 20th Anniversary edition of their second album ‘Version 2.0’, from ‘Push It,’ ‘I think I’m Paranoid’ to ‘Only Happy When it Rains’ and ‘Wicked Ways’ cut with Depche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ plus obvious crowd favourites of 1995’s ‘Stupid Girl’ and 2001’s ‘Cherry Lips.’
Cutting a striking image in a silver dress, fishnets and a shock of her scarlet hair against a half-shaven head, Manson delivered a heartfelt mini-speech (for which she gave credit to all the whisky drunk while waiting for their past midnight slot) about the times they had previously played Barcelona and expressing gratitude to all the fans that had stuck with the band over the last 25 years, even “when we were no longer flavour of the month.”
Ahead of ‘Cherry Lips’ which played out over stunning rainbow of colour, she spoke inspiringly of acceptance of the “freakazoids,” “marginalised sexual ones” and those who don’t “fix in a box” as she reflects on learning through life that people “flow in many colours”: “To put it into simple terms, I have bigger balls than anyone else on this stage,” she calls out. “Most of the time I feel like a boy but look like a girl. What does that make me? A freakazoid.”
Foals were reliably high octane from first to last, with a stage closing set that encompassed 2013’s ‘My Number,’ ‘Spanish Sahara’ from 2010’s Total Life Forever’ and 2015’s ‘Mountain At My Gates,’ more than proving their sustained status as one of the UK’s best live acts and continuted presence as festival headliners, plus standout tracks off recent album Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1, such as ‘On the Luna,’ ‘Exits’ and ‘Sunday’ with lyrics, “Cities burn / We don’t give a damn / ‘Cause we got all our friends right here / We got youth to spend,” were sounding anthemic beyond their years.
Frontman Yannis Philippakis’ signalled to the already hyped-up festival-goers to “get rowdy,” ultimately climbing up onto railings to continue rocking out with his legs supported only by the burgeoning crowd. It was simultaneously sweaty, slick, wild and wonderful.
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Saturday we just managed to skip an unexpectedly apocalyptic downpour to hear British synth-pop outfit Years & Years deliver songs from 2015’s ‘Communion’ and last year’s follow-up ‘Palo Santo’. Charismatic lead singer Olly Alexander, clad in excellent red PVC shorts and a sheer red-rose and skull embroidered top, pointed out their last album came out that day a year before, “it’s like a little birthday party,” and the vocal advocate for the LGBTQI+ community was overcome with emotion as someone from the crowd threw up a rainbow flag for him to hold up, even struggling to sing the first couple of lines of megahit ‘King.’
The thousands-strong audience all chimed in on, “And oh, oh, oh / I was a king under your control / And oh, oh, oh / I wanna feel like you’ve let me go / So let me go,” with an en masse sense of liberation seeing dance break out across the crowd.
British folk-singer Michael Kiwanuka carried Cruilla through to dusk under moody skies on the sea-overlooking Time Out stage, him and his band lulling the otherwise noisy groups of congregated mates to a hush with the likes of ‘Black Man In A White World,’ the magnificent ‘Cold Little Heart,’ brought to wider audience by forming the theme tune for Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon starring HBO series Big Little Lies, and closing on ‘Love & Hate.’
An inexplicably unaged Kylie Minogue (I’m sorry what, she’s 51?!) then knocked it out the park with an impeccably professional, joyous and hit-packed live rundown of her 14-album-strong output, stretching from her days as the original pop princess with ‘I Should Be So Lucky,’ ‘Hand on Your Heart’ and ‘Better the Devil You Know’ through to a seriously vibey ‘Slow,’ the perfectly-formed ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ and her year 2000 comeback song ‘Spinning Around.’
The Australian songstress was beaming, strutting and dancing her way through the hour and a half set, plowing through four costume changes and as many sets of torturously high stilettos, with themed backing dancers providing a visual spectacle on par with a story-telling musical. On Nick Cave cover ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’ she brought up a female fan trembling with excitement and emotion who whispered something clearly very personal to the singer, prompting Minogue to say: “I’ll never know all your stories or me yours but we have some shared stories over 30 years – thanks for sharing with me.”
Perhaps still on a high after smashing her recent Glastonbury performance, particularly poignant after pulling out previously due to her breast cancer diagnosis in 2005, this bright, sparkling and vocally on point performance seemed straight from the heart of someone ecstatic be alive.
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Austrian-hailing Marcus Füreder, aka Parov Stelar, then had a thoroughly lubricated late-night audience limbing flinging and pint slinging, with his pioneering melding of 1920s jazz and swing with house and electro beats. New singer Elena Karafizi, brought in to replace former band member Cleo Panther, certainly didn’t let the side down, adding soaring vocals and a bold energy to the multi-instrumentalist band’s contagiously dance-worthy, electro-swing set.
The local-leaning audience meant Cruilla’s line-up focus was shifted away from international artists, as were far more prominent in the big sister Primavera, providing many an opportunity to discover those lesser-known outside of the country.
Main stage slots were dominated by the likes of Madrilenian rock band, Vetusta Morla, who first rose to fame in the Iberian Peninsula in 2008, last year won the Ondas Award in Music for Best Live Show and are currently on tour Mismo Sitio, Distinto Lugar (Same Site, Different Place). They drew a throbbing crowd who joined in on every word of their tracks while lead singer, Juan Pedro Martín, urging fans to also ”support geeks in venues,” explaining: “it’s great being able to watch so many great bands in summer festivals but you also need to support those playing in venues year round as the winter is hard…”
French singer Zaz, real name Isabelle Geffroy, who first self-titled album broke record sales in her native France, lit up the Cruilla Enamora stage with tracks such as Je Veux and songs from latest album Effet Miroir while influential Catalonian electro-pop-meets-indie group Dorian were clearly a favourite among residents, playing hits from their four studio albums.
In amongst the bands there were free flowers being handed out, pint-sized G&Ts being served and some brilliant Burning Man-esque sculptures and installations as well as graffiti art of each of the artists for the eyes to feast on.
This Barcelona festival many not hold the same weight in the international festival calendar and star-heavy line-up as Primavera, but it’s smaller spread and tighter schedule is far more manageable, the crowd-size and temperament far more chilled and it’s more local vibes and artist representation a greater culturally-immersive experience.
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Festival Cruilla 2019 took place from 3rd to 6th July. For more info, visit https://www.cruillabarcelona.com/ca/
Words: Sarah Bradbury