Phew. A week and a severely delayed flight later (cheers Vueling), we’ve finally recovered from this year’s Primavera Sound. As usual, it was an exhilarating and occasionally exhausting deluge of gigs, gigs, DJs, gigs, Heineken, gigs, drunken conversations with new best mates you’ll never see again, gigs and gigs. Oh, and this year some added sand, thanks to the new Beach Club venue. (Top tip: go to this area via the bridge inside the Forum rather than the harbourside entrance, otherwise it’s a bloody trek.)
If you’ve never been to Primavera Sound before then this overview from last year will give you an idea of the set-up and atmosphere, although we’re pleased to report that they’ve abandoned the chaotic ticketing system for bigger performances at the Auditori Rockdelux. This year’s Primavera bill was possibly, however, even more impressive, and we had a crack team of writers there to see as many acts as possible. Here, in alphabetical order, is what we saw…
A band who I would never quite consider a favourite, but much to my surprise I loved every single song. Who knew? Opening with ‘Venus’, with Nicolas Godin on acoustic guitar and Jean-Benoît Dunckel on piano/keys, the rhythm section was initially a minimal affair but so subtle and downplayed. ‘Cherry Blossom Girl’ sounded delicately delicious as Dunckel provided some lush high-ranged vocals. ‘Playground Love’ was beautiful and ‘Alpha Beta Gaga’ provided a wonderful festival moment of thousands of people whistling along. It’s the end stint though where it goes into hyper-drive, when they drop the Moon Safari trio of ‘Sexy Boy’, ‘Kelly Watch The Stars’ and ‘La Femme D’Argent’ and tip the set over the edge from a good set to a memorable one. The latter song closed the set with an extended version where the outro charged towards the sky in an epic crescendo jam. The bass was heavy and the funk just oozed out like it’s no big deal. A real gem and a welcome return, as well as refreshing to see a band giving the crowd what they want: the big tunes. 5/5. Amadeep Chana
Pretty much exactly what you want from a big name festival set, and watching Godin playing bass is always a pleasure. Only criticisms are that his ranging style sometimes leaves the drummer a little exposed, and ‘Playground Love’ really misses the vocals. Oh, and they didn’t play ‘Lucky & Unhappy’, but considering they stuck solely to hits you can’t really complain much. 4/5. Kier Wiater Carnihan
First up, I hit the Auditori for some breezy acoustic vibes courtesy of Canadian Andy Shauf and watched as he entranced the rapt audience with ballads that lingered long in the mind. It was one of those rare but treasured moments of total quiet during a show, which is almost impossible to achieve. I will say, the venue does contribute a great deal to this (Auditori Rockdelux is like a mix between the Barbican and Royal Festival Hall). Sitting comfortably in a dark room doesn’t harm things at all. Behind his guitar, Shauf cuts a wee figure, and his evident shyness, his face veiled behind a mop of long hair, made him all the more endearing. His songs are deceivingly uncomplicated, but when backed by a full band on stage they take on a new vivacity. Think somewhere between Elliot Smith and Fleet Foxes. During one song, the climax thrills with jazz piano and a plonking xylophone, harking to Belle & Sebastian at their most whimsical. His voice was striking but reserved, giving the sense that there’s uncontrolled fervour hiding under that placid surface. But even without the flair of a more flamboyant singer, Shauf’s music thoroughly captivated that audience for 45 minutes and by the end of his set, that fog of serenity he had brought with him was lifted, leaving everyone feeling distinctly more at peace. 4/5. Amadeep Chana
A delicate set like this could only have worked in the Auditori, and the impeccable sound made it possible to pick out every melancholic note. ‘The Magician’ was wonderful, and while the set was a little one-paced, it was also frequently spell-binding. 4/5. KWC
One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend and unfortunately it’s a great let down. Billed as the return of Avalanches, it should have been billed as Avalanches (DJ set). It seemed fun enough but it felt a huge anticlimax as two dudes on stage just played records. Sure they peppered in tunes like ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ and dropped some David Bowie, but it was hardly a live spectacle and hardly worth putting down as a main attraction – a real shame for a band, and especially album, that I hold very dear to my heart. It’s late though and I guess by this time no one really cares. They just want to dance. Or jump on a bus back to Plaça de Catalunya. 2/5. AC
We manage to snag a sweet spot on the Ray Ban steps for the New York trio. It’s by far my favourite place to watch a show at the festival (along with the Auditori). Like an amphitheatre, the sound is always consistently good as it stays contained within the confines of the space. Plus more importantly, I can enjoy a nice sit down.
Battles begin with guitarist Dave Konopka hunched over his effect pedals and layering loops of noise and textures. He’s followed on stage by Ian Williams, casually holding a guitar and surrounded by synths, adding to the foundations laid down. Finally, and excitedly, John Stanier, the drumming man-machine himself lurks on to provide his dynamic percussion contribution – and the crowd go wild. The almost random blurts of drone suddenly make sense as Stanier locks in the jerky rhythms and mirrored guitars. The only down point I feel is the use of pre-recorded vocals. I get that vocalists can’t make every show but it seems to make the whole experience slightly more artificial which is in my opinion all that the band are against. Every sound is created and manipulated in real time, and to play backing to Matias Aguayo’s singing during ‘Ice Cream’ is a dampener. I suppose I can forgive them for ‘Atlas’ as Tyondia Braxton is no longer in the band but they’ve added a new twist with a new vocal recording, and as it’s their big hit it would be a shame to deny the audience a sing-along and hop-along, even though it sounds too calculated as it follows the vocal track.
‘Futura’ is far from calculated though. It feels raw and visceral, built up only to then be taken apart. Stanier’s pounding drumming is a guiding force through to the teasing, twisted swagger of ‘The Yabba’ but there are times the set feels too repetitive despite its technical excellence. Despite that, the crowd are fully on board and it’s a great way to end day one. 3/5. AC
About midway through Beach House‘s set, a realisation dawns on me. A line that I once read about Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, about how they’ve created a body of work like a bonsai tree – the changes across time are small and barely noticeable, and to the untrained eye it still pretty much looks (and in their case, sounds) the same. Maybe it’s the groups decision to bask in black, Legrand dressed in a dark cloak, and backlit to disguise themselves, or the setlist that ranged through Teen Dream, Depression Cherry, and Thank Your Lucky Stars with songs that, well, essentially sounded the same.
Opener ‘Silver Soul’ was a particular treat, flourishing under a background of projected stars, and it’s clear that Legrand’s vocals, as always, remain the key, captivating the audience and beckoning them near like a siren’s call while they’re bombarded with a wall of fuzzy guitar. It makes up for the awkward repartee, but it doesn’t quite paper over the band’s cracks and it’s just, well, a bit boring. All that aside, despite them being a one-trick pony, that one trick they do have hits the spot most of the time. ‘Take Care’ is a glistening song with an infectious melody but I hope the band ups their game for the next record, because it’s getting tiresome now. 3/5. AC
I saw Beach House play Shepherd’s Bush Empire recently so didn’t have the patience to stand through the whole set again. Luckily they helped by doing a Tame Impala and playing their best track first, while pretty much ignoring their earlier (better) albums. Like Ama says, they’ve got a great sound but it’s getting a little played out. 3/5. KWC
Say what you want about Geoff Barrow, he was one of the few people at Primavera to make an attempt to communicate with the crowd between songs; even if it was to respond “oh fuck off!” to the theatrical ‘awwwwwws’ when he announced their last song. (While we’re talking about crowd engagement, would it really kill UK/US acts to chance a few words of the local language at foreign festivals? It makes all the ‘oh we’re so glad to be here’ feel a little hollow when they can’t even muster a simple ‘hola’ or ‘gracias/gràcies’ – fair play to Radiohead and Dungen who at least make an effort in this respect.) Barrow may have a reputation for being a big grumpy guts but he seemed in high (and mischievous) spirits, stopping to say hello to Big Jeff in the the crowd and teasing us that they would never play the mighty ‘Wulfstan II’ again, before launching straight into it.
The music is as vivacious and razor-edged as the banter. While they may always remain in the shadow of Barrow’s other outfit, BEAK> have proven themselves one of the best bands in Britain over the last six years or so, and this was reflected in a sparkling set. ‘Yatton’, ‘The Gaol’ and ‘The Meader’ were particularly brilliant, although Barrow’s puckish nature denies us the chance to hear ‘Mono’, despite it apparently being on the setlist. Actually, forget what I said earlier, the man’s a total bastard. 4/5. KWC
When Zach Condon takes to the stage, it’s quite clear that his group, Beirut, aren’t your typical band. Nine years into their existence, their vibrant blend of world music, Balkan-inspired folk, baroque pop and indie sensibilities has yet to be replicated. In a festival setting, they just work effortlessly. The overall mood was upbeat and positive, and to be fair it’s hard not to be with such a brilliant horn section and those danceable, polka-inspired rhythms. Stand out song ‘Elephant Gun’ immediately set the tone and inspired huge bouts of whoops and cheers. I guess there’s something highly reaffirming when you hear a brass section blaring at full pelt – it can’t but make the cockles warm – and when they played ‘Postcards from Italy’ and ‘In The Mausoleum’, the trombone and trumpet at the front of the stage provided some inspired moments of triumphant fanfare. 4/5. AC
I love the Boredoms. But today they decide to do a Ronseal and are exactly what it says on the tin. Boring. In fact I was convinced they were just soundchecking before I realised they had actually finished and that was the entirety of the set. Apparently one member got to the festival late so they had to use a guitarist from another band. And that’s how easy it is folks to play in an international touring band. I’m sure there’s a film being recorded somewhere where that moment is the climax of the scene where they come of age and finally make it on stage with Boredoms. “Hey kid, you’re up. Give it 110% champ”. 1/5. AC
I’ve been one of those (^^^) people, when I was one of Boredoms’ cymbalists for their Barbican show last year. Along with their Boadrum performance at ATP in 2010, they’ve provided two of the most incredible gigs I’ve ever witnessed / been a part of. Their Primavera set doesn’t come close to those though, with the late afternoon slot and lack of collaborators perhaps not helping them reach their usual transcendent level, but it still has its moments – the bass-bin full of pots and pans and lengthy percussion rail (not sure what else to call it) among them. It would’ve been nice if the cameras could’ve focused on Yamantaka Eye a little more though as we were quite far back, and it’s better when his shamanic manoeuvres are in the spotlight. 3/5. KWC
Brian Wilson. Performing Pet Sounds. On the 50th anniversary of its release (1966!), a record which was the product of Wilson’s creative peak, and a record which seems to have influenced everyone who is anyone. It’s hard to review this show in the context of a live concert. Let’s call it a celebration. As 73-year-old Wilson takes to the stage with a 10-piece band (most of whom Brian has worked with since the ’60s, including Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin), sitting at his piano, he opens with ‘Our Prayer’ and a run of the hits from Pet Sounds including ‘California Girls’, ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Surfer Girl’. All are welcome singalongs and tellingly show us how culturally significant his music is, and how firmly cemented in the public conscious. But it’s really the heartwarming ‘God Only Knows’ that is the real highlight, the delicate hymnal sung as honestly as Wilson can present. The endearing image of the weekend might be when a Dora The Explorer balloon is let loose to rise to the sky as Wilson sings “I may not always love you, but as long as there are stars above you”.
It’s followed up by the equally poignant “I Guess I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”. Once the album is played through, the band return for a selection of choice cuts including ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘Good Vibrations’ (complete with theremin), both of which still flow with youthful vibrancy. There’s even room for a cover of ‘Monster Mash’! It isn’t just a celebration of Wilson’s expert musical craftsmanship but a reminder that at the time when he was shut away in a studio, refusing to play live and grappling with his personal demons and fragile mental state, he is now able to say goodbye to the album by letting himself experience it being appreciated in the flesh with the same passion, love and energy people have for his work fifty years on. Thank you Mr Wilson. 5/5. AC
I’ve never been the biggest Beach Boys fan, and that terrible recent Pet Sounds covers record almost put me off some of those songs for life, but it was impossible not to be charmed by the atmosphere here. Smiles all round and many an amateur falsetto made for a real party atmosphere, even if it was more children’s birthday party than all night rave. Or, perhaps, Christmas Day in an old people’s home, as Wilson’s failing voice and expressionless face can’t help but remind you of his own mortality following many difficult years. It adds a slight undercurrent of sadness that jars with the jolliness of much of the set, although it’s hard not to grin, even if somewhat bemusedly, at them doing the ‘Monster Mash’. I hope Brian enjoyed it as much as most of the crowd clearly did. 3/5. KWC
Drenched in impenetrable black, projecting anarchic riot footage, force-feeding the audience teeth-clenching techno: Cabaret Voltaire was a welcome, visceral addition to the line-up. Shame it was an early(ish) show in the Auditori, but by the time it was done most of the audience had left their seats and were fist-pumping in agreement that this was the anti-snooze highlight of the week. 5/5. Nicholas Burman
The Madridian’s charismatic, stripped down performance on the intimate Originals stage was a perfect addition to a Friday night party. 4/5. NB
After hotstepping all the way to the other side of the festival site, we caught Daughter. Wow, how did this band get so big? I can see why actually but it still doesn’t make sense. Singer Elena Tonra clearly has a charmingly fragile voice, with its soaring clarity and breathy gruffness. With the core trio of Tonra, guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella, Daughter are more than able to gear up to levels of extreme cathartic grandeur, although acoustic sparseness remains their default mode. ‘Doing The Right Thing’, the standout track on their recent second album Not to Disappear, is underpinned by a languid bassline. Highlight was their big hit ‘Youth’, an epic ballad that charges to burst out. It’s hardly a stadium anthem, but it’s the closest thing the Catalan/Spanish/American/English crowd can latch onto in terms of a murmured singalong. 3/5. AC
“I’m so honoured to be playing Primavera right now. To be playing between Brian Wilson and PJ Harvey is a dream for me,” says Bradford Cox, wearing a white hat and dressed like a child on safari. You can tell he’s not kidding as he’s not only known for being an accomplished musician, but also a passionate music fan. Opening with ‘Rainwater Cassette’ for some reason (it’s a festival, lads. No place for obscure EP tracks) they decide to crack on with a raucous rendition of ‘Revival’ from Halcyon Digest, but it’s the Fading Frontier songs which I’m more interested in hearing live, and it’s overall message. Life feels too fragile so let’s go FTW now.
‘Living My Life’, a lush downbeat electronic song on record, makes so much more sense live. A harder version with its rhythm section more upbeat than the original. ‘Snakeskin’ sounded as sweet and sexy as much as it did sinister (take note Explosions in the Sky) and the Lockett Pundt-led Halcyon Digest core ‘Desire Lines’ (dedicated to Primavera and Spain. Not sure the Catalans would appreciate that!) charged forward with so much momentum that you never wanted it to stop, followed by single ‘Breaker’ where Pundt and Cox took duel vocals intertwining their vocals. The set highlights were ‘Helicopter’, which sounded almost like a festival anthem (who knew?) and the Microcastle couplet of ‘Agoraphobia’ and ‘Cover Me’ which washed over the crowd like a warm aural blanket. A great set from a band at the peak of their powers. 4/5. AC
My view of this was somewhat at odds with Ama’s, as I’m of the opinion that Deerhunter’s peak came almost a decade ago with the release of Cryptograms and they’ve been in terminal decline ever since. There’s always at least one song on every album I enjoy though, and they did at least play most of them at Primavera – ‘T.H.M.’ from Monomania, ‘Snakeskin’ from Fading Frontier and ‘Helicopter’ from Halcyon Digest. Also, Bradford Cox wore a truly excellent hat. However, I can’t help but find them disappointingly M.O.R. these days. (Apparently they played a surprise set the next day at MACBA in town that consisted of an extended jam and a 15-minute version of ‘Nothing Ever Happened’, which sounds much more interesting.) 3/5. KWC
I was especially looking forward to seeing Dungen at Primavera, as I felt like a twat for missing their gig at Hackney Oslo recently. I don’t feel like any less of a twat now though – a band this good should be seen whenever possible. The Swedish psych quartet moved from the catchy breeziness of classics like ‘Fredag’ to some exceptionally proggy instrumental wig-outs without ever losing any of the crowd’s attention; in fact their audience rapidly grew both in mass and enthusiasm as the set progressed (the only minor quibble was that Gustav Ejstes’ vocals were a little low in the mix). Come back to London soon Dungen, I won’t make the same mistake twice. 4/5. KWC
Texas post-rock behemoths Explosions In The Sky electrify with a great set but unfortunately the sound was shockingly quiet. It later emerges that there is a decibel limit enforced to keep the noise down. This is unfortunate for a band who dabble in simulations that vary from the glistening loneliness of an abandoned deep sea diver to the oblivion of being strapped to a comet burning up in the stratosphere.
Opening with ‘The Birth and Death of the Day’, ‘The Ecstatics’ and ‘Catastrophe and the Cure’, it’s the broad strokes of splintering distortion that are almost always undercut by twinkling melodies; it takes the right ear and enough patience to uncover them but unfortunately it sounded like a sludge of concrete being mixed in a bath tub. Thankfully, there was still room for some older fan favourites, where a listener with previous knowledge and experience (me) can fill in the gaps with the power of imagination and memory. ‘Your Hand in Mine’ and ‘The Only Moment We Were Alone’ sounded as textured and varied but there’s always something so sweet and saccharine about the group, when I yearn for a sinister element to make it more evil, rather than more Disney. I suppose that’s their USP which differentiates them from the godfathers of post-rock (GYBE, Mogwai). Too nice and inoffensive. 3/5. AC
Sam Shepherd and his band brought Elaenia superbly to life during their Thursday night performance, capturing all its sweeping crescendoes and teasing us with its recurring motifs as the set developed. The simple visuals provided an elegant complement to the music: lasers pinpointed at a dark screen, leaving geometric shadows which each took a minute or so to fade away. The cumulative result was the festival’s first moment of true abandon, and the establishing of Floating Points as a real heavyweight in any line-up (my heart goes out to those who went to see Air instead). 5/5. Emma Hall
Jessy Lanza was busy; DJing once, playing a pre-festival show with Empress Of, and also playing the festival; although being booked for the insanely small Ray Ban Unplugged stage (clashing with Four Tet) meant that she probably had to do the rounds to reach her growing fanbase. I am actually thankful that she was placed in the box stage, as with an intimate and engaged audience and a crisp live sound, her bouncy, off-kilter pop (much of it from her recent LP Oh No, I Love You) packed a subtle punch. 4/5. NB
The last thing I properly saw at Primavera 2016, and it says a lot for Holter’s clear voice and mellifluous compositions that they cut right through my drunkenness and kept me engaged throughout. The stunning ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ was the highlight, but even the earlier material that I’m less familiar with still sounded fantastic. It was unfortunate that her slot was one of the only really annoying clashes of the festival, coinciding with Sigur Ros, Moderat and Parquet Courts, but I never for a second felt like I’d made the wrong choice. 4/5. KWC
I came in pretty cold in terms of any knowledge to who Julien Baker was prior to her performance on the Adidas Originals stage. It’s always good to go off your planned schedule and take a punt on an act that comes recommended to you. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off, but this time it did and its safe to say I am very much a fan. There’s something very fragile and engaging both with Julien’s voice and performance. While the set-up of a lone voice and guitar is nothing new, Julien is doing it to a high standard. 4/5. Joshua Scarratt
This was an anomaly in the week’s experiences: a refined sit-down jazz concert in the Auditori Rockdelux venue perched just outside the main festival site. I’m not sure how jazz-savvy Primavera’s crowd is generally, but even the laymen (i.e. me) sensed man-of-the-moment Kamasi Washington was not one to miss. His band The Next Step were the tightest outfit of the week (at a festival where that bar is already set incredibly high), and the concert was a series of eye-popping musical feats. Two prodigious drummers engaged in a 10-minute battle, electric double bass encompassing pedals, bows and everything in between, and Washington himself painting intricate stories with his saxophone. The set felt over too quickly: it’s easy to understand why The Epic needs to last three hours for the full effect. 4/5. EH
Checking out Mbongwana Star was a real treat. Reading more about them, I find their story extraordinary, especially the group’s two lead singers, Coco Ngambali and Theo Nsituvuidi, who six years ago were rehearsing in Kinshasa zoo and had accommodation in derelict shelters for disabled people. And here they are now, tearing it up on the RayBan stage in Barcelona by the sea. The duo collaborated with the Irish-born, Paris-based producer Doctor L to form Mbongwana Star, and together they gifted us an exhilarating and truly inspirational set. Doctor L played his six-string guitar as if it were a bass, with some thunderous, slick and insistent bass-lines. A second guitarist added echoes of funk and wailing rock solos, but Coco and Theo in their wheelchairs are the real stars, furiously urging on the crowd. It became a joyous affair which the fairly small crowd appreciated (I think most people were checking out LCD). Definitely ones to catch if you ever have the opportunity. 4/5. AC
Mbongwana Star were one of my highlights of the whole festival. I loved last year’s From Kinshasa album, but on stage it grew into something almost monstrous, with the lead guitarist and drummer particularly astonishing. The proof in the pudding was how many people walking past the stage (which is often used as a route between other stages) couldn’t resist stopping and dancing. Most people may have been at LCD Soundsystem, but frankly I can’t imagine James Murphy and pals could ever compete with this lot. 5/5. KWC
Having seen Moderat kill it at Melt a couple of years ago (the first thing I ever wrote for The Monitors in fact), I was almost as buzzing for their finale slot on Saturday night as I had been the night before for mighty Radiohead. Tracks from this year’s III, in particular ‘Running’ and ‘Reminder’, worked the crowd into a techno-fuelled frenzy and sat comfortably alongside alongside classics such as ‘Bad Kingdom’ and ‘A New Error’. Sascha Ring’s vocals inject a human element to Modeselektor’s masterful electronic activity, and the product is a formidable presence on stage: clearly that’s what a quarter of a century being achingly cool on the Berlin underground scene will do for you.
As a side note – had a bit of a fracas with the bloke in front of me who was relentlessly filming every song and live-WhatsApping it to someone who I can almost 100% guarantee did not give a shit. After repeated prodding and pleading he let me move in front of him, which left me with a thought: could guilt-tripping smartphone binge-ers into giving up their space be a cynical way to get to the front of today’s concerts? It’s the only silver lining I can think of to the depressing fact that a truly communal gig now seems out of reach, as we are forced to see the performance filtered through the screens held up in front of us. Ho hum. 4/5. EH
PJ Harvey returned to performing at Primavera following the release of The Hope Six Demolition Project. Backed by a nine-piece band including long-term collaborators John Parish, Mick Harvey and Jean-Marc Butty, you can tell a transformation has been made again in the evolution of her career. The last time I saw her on the Let England Shake tour she was draped in white and caressing a mini-harp. This time around, she’s all in black and clutching a saxophone.
Despite me not initially connecting with the new record, the show was a visual feast and it worked better live. As the group appeared onstage, led by a military march and thumps of large army drums, they opened with ‘Chain of Keys’ and ‘The Community of Hope’, with the members stood in a line – almost Broken Social Scene/Arcade Fire community spirit that invoked big group singalong choruses. It sounded utterly powerful.
It was the stint from Let England Shake though which sounded most immense. The title track moved into ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ (how can a stolen chorus of “take my problems to the United Nations” sound so damn good?) and set highlight ‘This Glorious Land’, which reminds you that despite bleak hard themes, a catchy tune can go a long way. White Chalk‘s ‘When Under Ether’ was dazzling but it was the older hits towards the end which were a real surprise. ’50ft Queenie’ detonated with vigour and ‘Down by the Water’ felt colossal in scale. They ended on ‘To Bring You My Love’, altered to sound fuzzy, ominous and full of trepidation, and ‘River Anacostia’ which oozed fragile beauty, displaying the talents of Harvey’s voice and ending the set on a high. 4/5. AC
PJ Harvey is one of my all-time favourite artists but I’d never seen her deliver a truly knockout live show. Considering her most recent two albums are far from my favourites, I wasn’t holding out much hope for this being the one that truly blew me away. Yet somehow it was. PJ performed the newer tracks with a captivating sense of drama and movement that had been lacking at her Royal Festival Hall show last year, while the band were impeccable (does it seem a little surprising to anyone else that she only performs with men though?) Also, while I’ve resigned myself to never seeing PJ Harvey in full, ferocious rock ‘n’ roll mode, ’50ft Queenie’ gives me a glimpse of what I foolishly missed in the mid-nineties. A few more older tracks wouldn’t have gone amiss, but in this sort of form she could play the theme tune to Adventure Time and make it sound full of passion and intrigue. 5/5. KWC
A majority of Spanish and international acts at Primavera take the shape of psych and rock – befitting the overall atmosphere of the event. Though the event did try and branch out into some more Yoot Culture territory this year by booking US acts Vince Staples and Pusha T, who delivered an expectedly solid, born-again performance. 3/5. NB
The less said about the Barna locals’ trap-rumba fusion the better. 2/5. NB
The main event. After waiting an eternity and bagging a prime spot near the front, it’s time for Thom Yorke & the Radioheads. And everyone is up for this. It’s clear that they’re the main draw: Primavera weekend tickets sold out almost immediately once they were announced and the Friday day tickets were as good as gone at the same time. It wasn’t quite Roundhouse chaos but a pretty incredible achievement for a festival already as popular as Primevera.
Opening with what appears to be the new album A Moon Shaped Pool in full, with a running stint of ‘Burn the Witch’, ‘Daydreaming’, ‘Decks Dark’, ‘Desert Island Disk’ and ‘Ful Stop’, the band look completely at ease – maybe not surprising these days but they seem to be really enjoying themselves. The first three songs are particularly amusing as the photo-pit looks like it’s trying to go for a Guinness World Record ‘How many people can we fit in to a photo pit’ attempt. The funniest moment is when they take a group photo of the 40+ snappers. It’s not about you guys. It’s not about you.
The gig really takes off when the band veer away from their promotional duties and slam into ‘The National Anthem’, Colin Greenwood chugging down a thunderous bass riff and brother Jonny adding his radio tuning of local talk stations. It’s full of anger and intensity and it sounds brilliant. (Take note Explosions in the Sky).
Much to my surprise they perform ‘Talk Show Host’, and 16 year old Ama can now rest happy as he never thought he’d see the day. And then they take it up another gear with ‘No Surprises’, ‘Pyramid Song’, ‘Karma Police’ (which ends with a fantastic singalong by the crowd which Thom eggs on by mockingly starting to play along, much to the band’s delight) and ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’ – you start to think the band must have a bet on to play so many classics. It’s insane and something I completely didn’t expect to hear. The band are notoriously known for their reluctance to play ‘Creep’ for instance and to hear them just giving the fans what they want is refreshing to say the least.
The final stint sees ‘Everything in Its Right Place’, ‘Idioteque’ (complete with zany Thom Yorke dancing) and ‘Street Spirit’, during which Jonny Greenwood demonstrates his musical excellence by playing guitar and synths with the guitar head at the same time. Genius. First encore has the band playing King of Limbs opener ‘Bloom’ with Clive Deamer from Portishead joining in on electronic percussion, but it’s when ‘Paranoid Android’ drops that things go ballistic, giving the green light for the crowd to get into mosh mode. When they got to ‘2+2=5’ there’s a full-on riot happening and it’s a beautiful thing to be part of.
‘There There’ closes the evening with Ed O’Brien and Jonny adding primal drum beats, and you wondered how a band who sings “Why so green and lonely” got so big. Things seem to be over but there’s no chance this crowd is letting them leave without one more song. After rapturous applause the chaps return, before encountering a few technical errors. A sound operator tells the band something is not right. Thom seems to be complaining and making a rewind motion saying that they need to reset. Uh oh. He leaves the stage and mood drops. But worry not, he’s back and decides to lose the earpiece and tell us “You all owe us a drink for this” before the opening chords of ‘Creep’ kick in. I repeat, ‘Creep’ is playing. Read above. ‘Creep’. A song they basically never play is playing. It wasn’t even on the setlist. (I know this because I somehow managed to snag one.)
I’ve never really heard a communal experience much like this sing-along and the smiling faces on people all around me. I have also never heard so many out-of-tune singers, but I forgive them because it’s a moment you just have to appreciate, as 50,000 sing the “Run!” middle-eight call in unison. It’s a song which sounds dark, self-hating and downright depressing, but joyous and life changing at the same time. (Take note Explosions in the Sky.) 5/5. AC
I have to say the singers where I was (a little further back than Ama) where all surprisingly in key – it was like having my own personal choir warbling away in harmony. Cheers guys. Also, shout out to Andrew from L.A., who we met after he fell asleep in front of us before Savages and proved an engaging companion in the long wait before Radiohead started (even if he did drink all our rum). Personally I thought the set didn’t quite hit the heights I’ve seen Radiohead reach before (Glastonbury ’03, Poznan ’09), but the new stuff sounded great live (especially ‘Ful Stop’) and their rendition of ‘Pyramid Song’ was something else. The depth of their catalogue means that even with all the hits they played, I could’ve happily watched for another couple of hours. 4/5. KWC
This is exactly what the doctor ordered come Saturday evening. I, like most festival goers, were somewhat fragile by this stage, but the sun was setting on the amphitheater and Hawley came, crooned and cradled us. This was a solid no thrills performance covering material from latest album Hollow Meadows and his back catalogue. 4/5. JS
I think Savages are a fantastic band. Unfortunately they played before another fantastic band (you may have heard of them: Radiohead) which meant the majority of people in the crowd weren’t necessarily there to see them but just to cement a decent spot for Radiohead. I’m actually convinced they took this slot so they could get a front row view from the pit themselves afterwards (I saw a few members try to do this but they were ushered back to the sound desk viewing platform instead).
However, when they appear on stage Savages are greeted by nothing short of love. The set is full of menace and desire (hey Explosions in the Sky – take note). Savages exude sexuality with every action, with singer Jehnny Beth at the heart of it. This isn’t to distract from their musicianship, it’s not at all separate but intertwined. When Beth sings ‘City’s Full’ she snarls that there’s so many skinny pretty girls around. While she experiences onstage issues with her ear-piece, Beth takes to the crowd for surfs and walks numerous times, breaking down the barriers between artist and audience wonderfully, creating a connection which is so rare to achieve in settings like this. Closing with ‘Fuckers’ (“Don’t let the fuckers get you down”) it the leaves the crowd well and truly warmed up. 4/5. AC
I’ll be honest, I never really understood the Savages hype. Another derivative post-post-punk band, trying to make up for a lack of tunes with attitude and energy. Having now seen them live, I finally understand. It was an incredible performance, full of bite and passion, and Jehnny Beth’s frequent forays into the crowd kept everyone energised. They may, dare I say it, have outperformed the Oxfordshire lot who went on after them… 5/5. KWC
The best live band right now? Yep. 5/5. JS
The big return of the weekend. Sigur Rós are a band I’ve been following closely for nearly 16 years, and I’ve seen them evolve into one of the most dynamic, respected groups in the world. Not bad for a band who either sing in Icelandic or their own made-up language. In preparation for this set, I recall reading a post the band made on their official website: “Every time you go on tour you want it to be different… and every time it is, usually because you have a new album you want to play people. And that can be fun, because you have to work out how to recreate all the complicated stuff you did in the studio for the stage. But there was a time when things were the other way round, when we worked stuff out on the road, and trying to capture lightning in a bottle was a problem for the studio later on. All we can say right now is it’s going to be different, with new unreleased songs, a new show and maybe some other *new* things. Beyond that, we can only ask you to trust us on this one.”
Ooh intriguing. When the time comes though, it seems that the only thing that’s changed is the band have shed their lush string/brass section and are focusing on playing as a core trio with an excellent light show, letting electronics and samples fill in the gaps. Completely good news as it also allows them to perform older songs which may have been difficult to recreate, i.e. ‘Starlfur’ which I believe they haven’t played in nearly seven years. The opening new song ‘Óveðurr’ sounds like a heavy industrial clanging electronic mash-up as an evolution from their last record. ‘Glossi’ sounded like the festival was counting down for take-off but ‘Vaka’ sounded fairly dull in the grand scheme of things, too sombre and one-paced. Things pick up for ‘Ny Batteri’ though, with its explosive percussion, and the respect from the crowd is something I’ve not witnessed at this festival yet. People actually not talking during the song. Bliss.
‘Festival’, a song made for occasions like this, sounds sanguinely heroic, and provides a wonderful moment as the crowd all lift their arms in unison. Predictably, the expected final duo of ‘Haffsol’ and ‘Pop Song’ sound unique in their performance with the new slant on these songs. It’s a fantastic way to end what is perhaps the most consistently great festival I’ve been to. Muchos Gracias Primavera! 4/5. AC
I would’ve killed to see this Polish solo act in Auditori Rockdelux. His mixture of volcanic, pedal-burning noise drones and exquisite finger-picked folk would’ve sounded incredible there, but whoever was manning the mixing desk at the Apolo didn’t have a clue how to deal with it – the set switched from ear-splitting to inaudible with every track. It’s a shame as when the music did briefly reach a happy medium, it sounded superb – no surprise to anyone who enjoyed last year’s Zamknęły Się Oczy Ziemi album on (appropriately) Instant Classic. Jakub Ziołek’s skill was done a disservice here though. 3/5. KWC
Opening with ‘Let It Happen’ (best song of 2015?), a 10-minute sprawling journey about schizophrenia, it’s not hard to feel that the band has made a major misstep and peaked too soon. And when they exploded the confetti canyon at the end, something which would be more suitable during an encore than the first song, you really feel that the band has prematurely blown their proverbial load.
Thankfully this isn’t the case as the band have enough tunes to back them up, first taking a trip down memory lane with ‘Mind Mischief’ and ‘Why Won’t They Talk To Me’ (my personal fave), where the vocals and melodies in conjunction with the main guitar parts hark to glorious psychedelia summer vibes but doused with a strong dose of introspection. At the midpoint we’re bombarded with ‘The Less I Know The Better’ and the foot-stomping ‘Elephant’, which gets the crowd pogo-ing. Before the end, they perform ‘Eventually’ and it sends the locals into an a capella sing-song. However, there’s confusion as the band technically haven’t finished. They just take an age to return by which point we’re already in the food court munching down on chip bowls and tacos. Not a bad set, but still think they should have ended on ‘Let It Happen’… 3/5 AC
Agree with Ama that they definitely made a mistake performing such a heavily front-loaded set, which meant we felt fine leaving early as they’d done all the songs we wanted to hear. It’d be nice if they played a few more InnerSpeaker numbers too, rather than relying so much on their last album (which is basically one brilliant disco tune and twelve mediocre b-sides – one of the new tracks they played basically sounded like Wham!). Kevin Parker is clearly not the most confident frontman either, beaming but barely able to talk between songs, although to be fair that probably makes sense for someone who writes so many songs about shyness and insecurity. 3/5. KWC
While the material was there and the resurfacing of their cover of The Beatles ‘She’s So Heavy’ was a nice touch in the encore, the overwhelming bravado felt awkward and messy. Are they channelling some form of pastiche? I’m not sure, I don’t know. I’m all for bromance, but even this fan was left somewhat unfulfilled. 3/5. JS
Probably the best new discovery I made over the weekend, this Israeli band may have thrown shapes with a bit too much poseur enthusiasm, but their motorik, bassy, post-rock grooves were more than convincing. They also had Big Jeff dancing down the front, which is always a good sign. 4/5. KWC
Admittedly I only watched this H&M Stage performance via the Heineken Stage while we were waiting for Radiohead, but to be honest that’s as close as I’d ever want to get to these grinning, faux-punk New Jersey berks. Their cover of ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ was so bad it made me want to shave my beard off. 1/5. KWC
Meghan Remy at one point ranted about not getting any free adidas gear in return for playing the Originals stage, but really her ire should’ve been directed at the stage’s sound engineer – the sound was so piercing and trebly it made great tracks like ‘Women’s Work’ and ‘Damn That Valley’ almost unlistenable. Damn shame. 2/5. KWC
OK, so Catalan duo Za! didn’t actually play this year’s Primavera, but I feel bad for not hyping enough local bands, plus I needed someone beginning with ‘Z’ to make the headline work. And there’s nothing you can do about it, as you’ve already reached the end of the review. Suckers. Never mind, just go and listen to Za!’s great latest album Loloismo and make sure you book a ticket to Primavera next year. KWC