With the country in economic and political turmoil, the Spanish population is always looking for some kind of distraction to escape their difficult reality. Festivals like Madrid’s Día de la Música help, though this year it’s also been hit by the decisions made by a conservative government more concerned with economic affairs rather than the social needs of a tired, suffering country with over 25% unemployment.
Despite being in its sixth year, a growing reputation, and a very successful event last year – which included the likes of St. Vincent, Twin Shadow, Spoon, or Metronomy as some of the highlights – this year seems to have been a step back for the festival. The 21% cultural V.A.T. tax the government has imposed (from the previous 8%) made it not only difficult to book quality acts, but also brought the price of the ticket up a considerable amount. To make things worse, Spiritualized‘s last minute cancellation meant the festival had lost one of its most attractive selling points, and forced the organizers to slash the ticket prices in half.
Still, among the 22 acts performing across three stages at this year’s edition (as opposed to last year’s 34 acts across five stages), there were some notable names that gave it their all to try and make Madrid’s premier festival worthwhile. And the added bonus of starting later (at 8 PM as opposed to last year’s 4) meant avoiding the insufferable heat, even if the 2:30 AM end time had more than one attendee (me included) yawning by the end.
It’s obvious that Día de la Música has a few more steps to go before reaching the point of being a key summer festival. This year was closer to the right direction, and hopefully next year they’ll be able to add a great bill (and better sound technicians, please) to the otherwise great experience.
Deptford Goth‘s Life After Defo is probably my favorite album of the year, so I was excited to see Daniel Woolhouse’s act (not Michael, as the presenter announced) live. Accompanied live by a cellist, rather than simply recreate the delicate songs on the album Woolhouse transforms them to better fit the live setting, and the added punch of a drum machine.
In the just under 45 minutes they were on stage, the duo played practically the entirety of Defo, and even had the chance to throw in a few surprises, like the demo of “People Get Still”, one of my favorite songs from the project, and a few older songs from the Youth II EP – though sadly not “Real Life Fantasy”.
Unfortunately, the set suffered some of the same problems James Blake’s did last year: the time and place wasn’t exactly fitting. As Woolhouse mentioned at one point during the set, they “normally play in the dark”. However, because of the connection I have to his music, I stayed until the end of his set, which ended in the same way his debut LP does, with “Bloody Lip”.
After Deptford’s set we headed over to the larger Radio3 stage to catch Los Punsetes, one of the more energetic Spanish rock bands in the last few years. Unfortunately, my experience watching them was cut short by the deafening levels coming out of the PA system. It was truly uncomfortable, and the band’s singer – dressed rather ghoul-y and who didn’t move an inch all set I was informed – did nothing to make the stay more pleasant.
Autre Ne Veut
Arthur Ashin, aka Autre Ne Veut, was also one of the lineup’s highlights for me. His second album, Anxiety, is another one that’s high on my list of favorites of this year thanks to it’s forward-thinking sonics that still manage to pack a heavy emotional punch thanks to his delivery and lyrics. Live, Ashin is backed by a drummer and a backup vocalist that also controls the instrumentation of the set, but he knows he’s the star.
For me, his 45 minute set was the indisputable highlight of the festival, and his performance was one of the most noteworthy I’ve seen in a while. On stage, Ashin seems to break free from any insecurities or ‘anxieties’ he has on record and gives it his all. Despite the Acciona stage (the biggest of the three) seeming immense compared to him, he commanded it, constantly moving about, even coming down from it at times. His performance was pure passion, and it’s no surprise that he ended up on the floor, seemingly exhausted after several of the songs.
He had time to play almost the entirety of Anxiety (only “A Lie” was left out), though most of the bass-heavy numbers were unfortunately overshadowed by the truly awful sound, which made anything resembling bass seem more like a farty rumble. Still, his energy was enough to keep the audience engaged, and when he went to the piano for the beginning of “World War” (which included a cover of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I know”), unhindered by the limited sound the result was breathtaking.
After popping out to have a bite to eat, we returned to catch The Horrors‘ set, which closed out the first day of the festival. I’ll admit to not being their biggest fan, and unfortunately live there was nothing to convert me, though maybe in part due to the – again – lackluster sound, which unfortunately was the festival’s real disappointment.
The UK five-piece stayed shrouded in mystery throughout their hour and fifteen minute set thanks to heavy smoke, and didn’t stray from their two most acclaimed albums, 2009′s Primary Colours and 2011′s Skying, despite having their fourth album ready for a September release. The band stretched the songs out beyond their already long times, adding lengthy intros that often felt a bit unnecessary.
Despite my aversion to the band, tracks like opening pair “Mirrors Image” and, especially, “I Can See Through You” kept me engaged, which means that I’ll give the upcoming album a shot.
Neither of us had heard much Darkstar on record, but we were intrigued as to what they might bring live. I found the band’s amorphous compositions (not too dissimilar to Animal Collective’s) to not really be to my taste, though that might have also been in part because of the temperature, considerably higher than the previous day’s.
Still, we stayed for the first three songs “Wake Me Up”, “Time Away” and “Gold”, which, given the right time and place, would probably work better. The UK three-piece certainly did their best.
One of the reasons we left Darkstar (sorry guys) was to catch Nothing Places‘ set, which started 15 minutes after theirs. The project is actually just Emilio Saiz, an emerging Spanish talent, though live he was joined by a drummer to add a bit of punch.
While on record Grizzly Bear‘s influence is evident, live it’s unfortunately all the more so, from the guitar tones Saiz chooses to the way he sings. At times, the comparison was such that it was kind of off-putting, especially because he didn’t come out winning.
Still, he proved to be a more than capable songwriter as he performed tracks from his debut self-titled LP, and even a few new songs, though as he (astutely) pointed out, “all of these are new to you”. Overall his set was pleasant, if sadly nothing more.
Lianne La Havas
When we reviewed Is Your Love Big Enough? we pointed out that, while still a fine record, it could use for a bit of roughening up, that Lianne La Havas‘ big, soulful voice could probably have a better chance to shine if there was a bit more grit allowed in the mix. I was hoping that her live set would allow for a bit more of it, and would give her a chance to properly shine. And while the set didn’t really add the grit I was hoping for, it did make it clear that the British singer is definitely going places.
The set started with “No Room for Doubt” which La Havas performed solo with her guitar. For those that didn’t know who she was, it turned out to be a great introduction, and the area near the stage slowly filled. From that point on she was backed by a great four-piece band consisting of a keyboardist, a backup vocalist, a drummer and a bassist/guitarist. They really helped flesh out her sound, and gave the upbeat songs like “Forget” and “Is Your Love Big Enough?” a fresh energy that got the audience moving.
If there was one thing missing from the set it was more songs like those two, as unfortunately the middle dragged on a bit as she played through the slower songs on the album. Still, she did her best to keep things lively with chat between songs and pointing out numerous times that they were having a great time on their first time in Madrid. Her hour long set was another of the festival’s highlights, and probably would have been the highlight if only she had managed to keep the energy up.
I’ll admit to have never heard a recording from The Fall, and I can say pretty confidently that after Saturday’s 11 PM set I don’t think I ever will. During the band’s hour-long set on the Acciona stage, Mark E Smith did pretty much everything but what he was supposed to, which was sing. Well, I mean I guess he sang, but it mostly came out as a series of grunts and growls with only the slightest hint of melody. His activities while on stage were varied, including but not limited to: throwing one of the drummer’s cymbals to the ground and moving the mics on the kit; turning up guitar and bass amps at his will and leisure, as well as messing with the various knobs; not singing; sitting on a chair behind the amps; shoving his mic in the bassist’s face; and, lastly walking off stage. Yes, at one point he actually just left, and his band members followed after finishing the song. Needless to say, the crowd boo’d incessantly until they returned to “perform” a few more songs.
At the end of the day, that’s what it was: a performance. Not a musical one, but it was actually one of the more interesting and hilarious things I’ve seen on stage. Apparently, as I was told, those who knew the band “knew what they were in for”, but still I just thought it was a smidge disrespectful. Props to the band, though, who kept on keeping on despite everything Smith was doing. Patience is a virtue.
Closing off Día de la Música were the Lawrence brothers, Guy and Howard, known better as Disclosure. They’re riding hot off the success of their debut album, Settle, which has seen them praised left and right, though we feel that it could have used for a bit of trimming around the edges (i.e. most of the instrumental cuts). Still, I was excited for their late-night set as the highs on that album are absolutely spectacular, and I was curious to see how it would all translate live.
The truth is that Disclosure’s music does go down well live – very well, in fact. The pair attempt to recreate as much possible live, alternating between twisting knobs, playing percussion, and even singing or playing live bass. The strength of their set was such that despite the awful sound – which was especially detrimental to their bass-heavy sound – the crowd had no trouble getting down (though it’s true that the alcohol helped).
Of course, the highlights of the set came via the band’s biggest hits. “When a Fire Starts to Burn” was a great way to raise the energy early on, and when things felt to slow toward the middle of the set they unleashed “White Noise”, which the crowd attempted to sing along to. They closed with “Help Me Loose My Mind” and “Latch” to great success, and it was hard to leave without the infectious melodies on loop in your mind.
All photography by Marcos Domínguez.
You can consult most of the band’s setlists via Día de la Música’s Facebook