Primavera Sound Festival 2016: From Worst to Best

We return to the inimitable Barcelona fest that dares you to try and take it all in

Primavera Sound

    After each edition of Primavera Sound, our team winds up leaving feeling as if there was still so much left to discover. We’ll hear about the one young Spanish band we didn’t see after catching a handful of others, the one experimental performer that graced the indoor stage at two in the afternoon, the international act we only heard raves about once we arrived home. But that’s kind of the thrill of Primavera, one of the most unique festivals on the scene.

    While the likes of South by Southwest and Iceland Airwaves pack dozens of venues with a dizzying scope of artists, there are tons of other festivals that rely on a handful of heavy hitters and then fill out a viable middle-card. Primavera sits somewhere in the middle. Sure, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, and LCD Soundsystem will steal the headlines, but they also provided some seriously unique choices on their park’s main stages, as well as the city-based events scattered throughout the week.

    Primavera provides such an intensely well-rounded experience that it’d be impossible to get a view of the whole thing. But that didn’t stop us from trying. Considering the massive scope of artists and how there were four or five playing at any given time, we were hard-pressed to find too many slots in which we were stuck watching subpar sets. That said, when pitted up against each other, some stood out more than others. Gracias, Primavera!

    –Adam Kivel
    Executive Editor


    Alex G

    Best Ass (Apparently, We’re Told)

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Alex G 2

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    “You guys seem really nice. We’re really nice too. We’re the nicest people I know,” Alex G began in a monotone, seemingly trying to find something to say while tuning. “We’re the sexiest people I know. What do you think of my ass? People tell me I have a great ass.” That sharp right turn is the kind of thing Alex Giannascoli has perfected in his off-kilter indie rock tunes over the last few years, building an empire on the outskirts with a plethora of bedroom pop records. But the tunes are often more fragile, open, emotionally available than that aside, as the evocative poetry of “Kicker” (“White bird in a black cloud/ Rain comin’ down, thinking hey/ Maybe we should turn this boat around”), which fared well especially when placed next to rawer screams. Tunes like “Bug” that required some studio tweaks for their recorded version felt rougher live, the vocalists recreating a pitch-shift with a strained falsetto. The set came across a little less emotionally connected than I’d have expected, almost even defensive, but the best songs still spoke for themselves. –Adam Kivel

    Beach House

    Most Suited to a Reclining Look at the Stars that Turns into a Nap

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Beach House 1

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Lets get this straight: Beach House have written some mind-blowingly good songs. Hearing “10 Mile Stereo” — at home, through a car stereo, on headphones on the train, through a massive soundsystem at a beautiful festival — will always send shivers down the spine. That said, there have undeniably been some diminishing returns for those of us lucky enough to have seen them on the festival circuit a few times since the 2010 release of their groundbreaking Teen Dream. The first time I saw them live, the set felt like it latched onto my heart and took it soaring. Though their Primavera set added on songs from three records since then, it didn’t feel all that different. It’s still beautiful music to get lost in and feel the world spinning, but personally it didn’t capture the same emotional connectivity that it once did. –Adam Kivel

    The Last Shadow Puppets

    Most Clumsy Sleaze

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Last Shadow Puppets

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    There’s a very obvious leap between the massively packed field singing along together to “Creep” (the last song of Radiohead’s night, which ended moments before, across the field) and the remaining spectators trying to catch Last Shadow Puppets’ opening “Miracle Aligner”, as the majority flee the scene. On record, Alex Turner and Miles Kane’s music fumbles for words and oozes an uncomfortable pseudo-sex appeal. Live, that gets amped to 11, seeing Turner arch his back and grind his crotch against his mic stand. The band, including a string section, sounded professional enough, but the duo sounded like they were reciting someone else’s words, as on a binge-fueled karaoke session. That feeling was accentuated by professional, if rote, covers of The Beatles (“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Leonard Cohen (“Is This What You Wanted”). But then again, covering The Beatles is kind of like a cheat code for a video game; sure, you win, but not of your own doing. –Lior Phillips

    Cass McCombs

    Most Likely to Make You Check Your Phone

    Nina Corcoran, Cass McCombs 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    The second day of Primavera Sound Festival is built to prove why the middle child matters — the first day of any festival is a given, and the second day has to back it up. Kamasi Washington, AIR, Tame Impala, and LCD Soundsystem stood tall, garnering all the limelight and justifying a return to the park — but unfortunately some lesser-known acts were then bound to get at least a little caught in their shadows. Enter Californian singer-songwriter Cass McCombs with an evening slot at one of the larger coliseum-style spots, the Ray-Ban stage. The poetic catalog he’s built over the past decade is full of evocative, intimate songs, but a stage like this on a sunny evening is ill-fit for an understated performance that revels in tiny nuances, the type that got lost reverberating against the concrete expanse in front of him. –Lior Phillips

    Angel Witch

    Most Ill-Placed Metal Show

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Angel Witch

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    The Saturday afternoon performance from Angel Witch was the perfect case of the right band in the wrong space. While intimate performers like Cass McCombs struggled on large outdoor stages, classic British heavy metal outfit Angel Witch were stuck indoors at the Auditori RockDeluxe, their fervent fans stuck seated in theater seats. Powerful songs like “White Witch” and “Atlantis” rang out viciously into the large hall, yet all energy seemed drained by the lack of interaction with the audience. There were plenty of people walking around the festival grounds with cutoff denim jackets, long hair, and Angel Witch shirts all weekend, and it’s a shame that they couldn’t have seen the metal heroes in their proper element. –Adam Kivel


    Most Likely to Walk Barefoot Between Comparative Religion and Modern Dance Classes

    Nina Corcoran, Goat 3

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    Theatrical and groovy, the heavily costumed Goat make for a strange experience. Their droning, classic rock-tinged jams are covered in the trappings of “world music” — a term that usually feels presumptuous or even proprietary. But considering the Swedish outfit’s jumble of beaded masks, colorful tunics, animal horn and shell necklaces, flip-flops, and hippie dance moves, it might be the most fitting use of the phrase, somehow of the “world” and yet nowhere very specific. That said, when their grooves hit, they hit hard, and songs like “Goatman” and “Disco Fever” will never cease to get hips shaking, no matter what part of the world. It should come as no surprise that I spotted multiple hula-hoopers in the crowd, a first for my time at Primavera. –Adam Kivel

    Richard Dawson

    Best Acquired Taste

    Nina Corcoran, Richard Dawson 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    As an American at a massive European festival trying to get the most out of the experience, I found myself extremely grateful for advice from overseas colleagues on what to check out. One UK writer suggested checking out Richard Dawson. “Big bearded weirdo,” he said. “Elliott Smith meets Captain Beefheart.” With that, I was off to the Auditori RockDelux, excited but a little unsure of what was to come. And, frankly, after seeing the set, both of those emotions hold. Dawson wandered onstage, asked whether everyone could hear him without the mic, and then shout-sang a tune about, I’m pretty sure, going after a loose sheep, killing it, and bringing it home to share with the family. A fan calling out in a thick Scottish accent perked up his ears, and the two exchanged some friendliness before the music continued. Dawson then proceeded to pick up his guitar and go through outsider art-y folk-adjacent tunes based at least in part on re-tuning strings as he went. It seemed like an acquired taste, one I didn’t have going in but might be picking up, as I continue listen to his songs now a few days later. –Adam Kivel

    Vince Staples

    Most Hands Raised When Asked

    Nina Corcoran, Vince Staples 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    Vince Staples consistently urged the Barcelona crowd on, trying to get them as pumped as possible — which, as is the norm in my experience at Primavera, consisted more of grooving and raising hands and giving it up when asked, rather than getting truly wild. They followed his directions to a T, gleefully chanting “fuck the police” back at him in a melange of various accents. Staples, meanwhile, was his usual explosive self, limbs flailing across every single available square inch of stage. The propulsive “Lift Me Up” and “Norf Norf” were absolute highlights, the bursts of flame projected behind him matching Staples’ style. Even if the crowd wasn’t as raucous as one back home, they certainly appreciated his energy. And now we all know where it comes from: “I drank some coffee, I drank some water,” he noted of his day. “I was offered some weed, but I said no because I don’t do drugs.” –Adam Kivel


    Best Non-Dance Dance Set

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    If you’ve seen Battles once on a tour, it’s more likely than not you will see the exact same set any other night on the same leg. Over a decade into their career, Battles aren’t looking to throw in deep cuts. Instead, the art rock trio indulge the math side of their music by showing just how hard it is to match up all those time signatures and tempos in the live setting without samples being cued up a second too early. That precision allowed for a set of dance-ready rock at Primavera, from the giddiness of “Ice Cream” all the way to the choral chants of “Atlas”. Ian Williams, John Stanier, and Dave Konopka weren’t looking to try anything new, but rather to perfect what they know — and the audience was eager to revel in that right from the start. –Nina Corcoran


    Best Wood Flute

    Nina Corcoran, Dungen 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    It should come as no surprise to anyone that’s listened to Dungen that the most excited dude in the crowd was the guy with the paisley shirt and long, flowing locks gleefully jumping up and down. The Swedish psych rock outfit have crafted a long career out of freewheeling, jammy rock sounds, and to great acclaim, particularly 2005’s Ta det lugnt. The highlight of that album, and this set, was “Panda”, an effervescent jam with a big hook. Johan Holmegard’s bouncy, jazz-inflected drums kept things moving, and the group’s high harmonies carried well on the soft breeze. That said, frontman Gustav Ejstes’ turn at the front of the stage with a wood flute brought the most smiles, spinning hippy grooves into a prog rock jam that the whole crowd could get into. –Adam Kivel

    Pusha T

    Best Use of Kanye West

    Nina Corcoran, Pusha T 2

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    While Vince Staples’s best cuts hold up in comparison to Pusha T’s “Numbers on the Board” and “Untouchable”, it’s undeniable that the former Clipse rapper had an advantage at Primavera: the massive hits he’s featured on. Anyone able to throw their portions of Kanye-led cuts “Mercy” or “I Don’t Like” into a set will get a bigger response from a festival crowd, where vaguely familiar listeners frequently outnumber the fans who know every song. But the ones that did know every word certainly appreciated the classic “Grindin'”, the single Clipse track to make the setlist. Framed by giant neon crosses with “Sin Will Find You Out” inscribed on them, the “Last Cocaine Superhero” got the large, dedicated crowd grooving via the familiar stuff, but kept them there with his own superstar presence and growing batch of scene-stealers. –Adam Kivel

    Explosions in the Sky

    Best Immersive Experience

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Explosions in the Sky

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    To get the most out of an Explosions in the Sky show, you have to give yourself over to it fully. You can’t be at the edges of the crowd, walking back and forth from the beer tent, chatting with pals. It’s like Plato’s cave — the ideal of music at its core is out there, but you get stuck with only a shadow of it unless you let it overwhelm you entirely. And when you do, you’re rewarded with eye-bulging tidal waves of beauty and noise. It’s like the opposite of a sensory deprivation tank — you feel everything all at once. The Austin four-piece sounded tangled and tight and yet paradoxically also airy and ethereal, stitching each song together intricately and on a grand scope and then stitching those songs together into one breathing mass. The band spent half their set on the recently released The Wilderness, but spryly wove in older material like fan-favorite “Your Hand in Mine” and “The Only Moment We Were Alone”. As with the best of post-rock, that immersive experience works on record (tuning out the world with your headphones) as it does in a live setting, where the sound can literally wash everything else in the world away. –Lior Phillips

    Animal Collective

    Most Normal Weirdos

    Nina Corcoran, Animal Collective 2

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    The Ray-Ban stage is, essentially, a giant concrete bowl accessed via a massive set of concrete steps, a perfect spot in which to get lost in Animal Collective’s swirling psychedelic world. It’s not that the mad geniuses get any less weird with each successive album; it’s just that more and more people catch up to their weird. Animal Collective’s set commanded one of the largest crowds at the stage (it doesn’t hurt to have the exodus of Radiohead fans avoiding Last Shadow Puppets, but I don’t want to chalk it all up to that), and the Painting With tour continues to gel into a cohesive experience. Where once their live sets would jam and experiment on new tracks, they’ve worked backwards to the point that the Painting With songs are set, and now they’re figuring out ways to break them open and connect them to old favorites. Speaking of which: “Loch Raven” will never fail to get a crowd bobbing and weaving, especially in and around midnight dusk right on the seaside. But Avey, Panda, and Geologist didn’t need to dig into their deep bag of crowd favorites to succeed — I didn’t hear anyone booing about not getting to hear “My Girls”, instead grooving out to the sublimely timed rises and falls of yet another crowd-pleasing Animal Collective set. –Adam Kivel

    Drive Like Jehu

    Hawtest Stuff

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Drive Like Jehu 3

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Two years ago, it took an organ to reunite beloved post-hardcore outfit Drive Like Jehu. Their first set back together came accompanied by an organist at San Diego’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion, the novelty of the idea enough to convince them. Since then, they’ve popped up here and there, looking like dads though driven by the same fury and raw nerve emotions they had back in their teen years. Rick Froberg’s evocative howls led the way (as might be expected), but John Reis’ lead guitar (gold-flecked and emblazoned with the words “Hawt Stuff” and a sticker of a marlin) did plenty of heavy lifting on its own. The quartet sounded like they hadn’t lost a step, matching the hairpin turns of their classic cuts inch for inch, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re considered one of the major touchstones for the emo scene — there’s always something to get riled up about. –Adam Kivel

    Andy Shauf

    Most Casual Serenade

    Nina Corcoran, Andy Shauf 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf has gotten some serious buzz on the heels of his recent May release, The Party, and the twentysomething, extremely elfin chamber pop folkist — who handles all the instrumentation on the album — at times comes across like a mishmash of an indie Tony Bennett and an infinitely cooler John Mayer. At the Auditori Rockdelux on an obnoxiously humid Thursday afternoon, standing beneath a swirling, fog-lit spotlight, Shauf started an intimate but penetrating set with eyes closed as if to ward off any unwanted moxie. “Well, this is really nice, isn’t it?” he shrugged, finding his voice before heading into “The Magician”, much to the crowd’s agreeable euphoria. Shivering, folk-inspired rhythms were threaded through legato vocals and woven through a rich yet compact layered percussion. While he’s a member of the reedy Elliot Smith-like singer-songwriters club, with a low-slung onstage style, his music has a dark, cagey cast, and he’s not ashamed to expose it. –Lior Phillips


    Best Showing in the Face of Insurmountable Odds

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Beruit 3

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Beirut had a tough challenge: Zach Condon’s set was scheduled across the field from where one of the most intense live bands in the world, Savages, had just finished and where perhaps the biggest band in the world, Radiohead, were just about to begin. Add in the fact that Beirut are known for sweet, nostalgic acoustics, orchestral melodies, and sighing beauty, and you’d think you have a recipe for disaster. While he certainly didn’t steal any attention from Radiohead, Condon didn’t back down either. His career-spanning setlist pushed and prodded at the heartstrings, veins straining in his neck as he pushed every ounce of majesty out of his horn. The songs from last year’s No No No sounded strong, but as might be expected, the big reactions came for classics like “Postcards from Italy” and “Nantes”. A special hat-tip goes to “My Night with the Prostitute from Marseilles”, which shone brightly leading to the concluding “The Gulag Orkestar”. –Adam Kivel

    Pantha du Prince

    Most Modest Grooves

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    When Hendrik Weber works his magic as Pantha du Prince, the world uplifts itself, lights shimmering a bit brighter as the air expands with more oxygen. He took hold of the stage at 3 AM to transfix onlookers with The Triad. Joined by guitarist Scott Mou and drummer Bendik Hovik Kjeldsberg, the German producer created a star-speckled swirl of downtempo electronica, blending minimalist folk and shoegaze elements into something rich with soft sounds — a style ultimately difficult to get across in an outdoor setting, and yet he did so effortlessly. Standalone lightbulbs scattered the stage, lending a woods-like feel to their set as they turned on and off. By the time Pantha du Prince’s experimental techno came to a halt, the massive Ray-Ban stage crowd realized they hadn’t stopped moving since he took the stage but weren’t out of breath. It was the perfect pace for late-night grooving that transfixes while restoring, creating a lush set that’s easy to get lost in the fold of harder techno. –Nina Corcoran

    Thee Oh Sees

    Most Willing to Flip Off Security

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    Much like Bradford Cox or Shellac, Thee Oh Sees are somewhat of a Primavera staple. The Cali garage rock icons play the festival nearly every year, and each time, the crowd loses its mind as if the band hasn’t played in ages. While this year’s set included the usual staples (“The Dream”, “Toe Cutter / Thumb Buster”) and new cuts (“Withered Hand”, “Sticky Hulks”) backed by two drummers, it managed to stand out thanks to a big brother-like connectivity with the crowd. Between licking his guitar and flailing around onstage, John Dwyer called out several security guards over the course of the set. Interfere with the audience’s enjoyment, specifically by shining lights on potheads or pulling crowdsurfers down violently, and Dwyer will happily mock you or flip you off. It’s the type of authority rebuttal that pairs so well with assuredly intense, frenetic, massive energy to make their sets memorable — even if the setlist barely changes. –Nina Corcoran

    Kamasi Washington

    Best Dad Cameo

    Nina Corcoran, Kamasi Washington 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    The Auditori RockDeluxe stage is a strange blend of opportunity and hazard (and we’re not even talking about how many heads and legs I groped trying to find my way through the dark room to an open seat). The only indoor and seated space of the festival, it can be a boon for intimate and overwhelming experiences alike, or it can be a detriment for performances overmatched by the huge space or those that promote high-energy interaction. Luckily, Kamasi Washington’s set split the difference perfectly, reaching every nook with his ecstatic jazz. While many festivals will include a “genre” performer like this to fill a niche, Washington readily embodies the esoteric Primavera vibe — artistically bold, spiritually grandiose, and built on a strong community. That last bit got an extra dose of familial love thanks to an appearance from Kamasi’s father, Rickey Washington, playing soprano saxophone on The Epic highlight “Henrietta Our Hero”. The star of the show, though, was Kamasi himself, so in tune with his music that his saxophone never feels like a tool or intermediary step. Washington plays and his voice comes pouring out, free-flowing and beautiful. –Lior Phillips

    Current 93

    Best Use of Drama in a Theatre

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    Back in the early ’80s, Current 93 spent their time exploring tape loops, synth drones, and distorted vocals. As time progressed, so did their sound, and the British experimental group began challenging folk forms more routinely, pushing their instruments as well as their takes on the textual stylings of William Blake and Hildegard von Bingen. It’s the shifting of musicians curious about art itself and how it develops, and their set inside the Auditori pushed newer ballads to become equally as engaging. Piano, saxophone, guitar, trombone, synth, and keys hummed around David Tibet as he paraded around the room in an all-white outfit, his hair tousled akin to Bill Murray’s, for “Heart of Eyes” and “PickNick”. Tibet threw his arms through the air slowly, tracing lines in the kaleidoscopic lights. Barefoot and full of Shakespearean flair, he would step into the crowd, performing not directly to them, but for them, a playwright engrossed in his own words. Nowadays, the group rarely treks overseas to play the United States. Catching them live, and in a comfortable, spacious theatre, no less, felt like the perfect way to revisit their magic in real time, especially with “Lucifer” and “Imperium”. –Nina Corcoran

    Tame Impala

    Best Confetti Party

    Primavera Sound // Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    One of the best things about the main stages of Primavera is the fact that you can hear and even see the act playing across the field pretty darn well. The energy felt perfect throughout the weekend’s eclectic back-and-forth at the H&M and Heineken stages, and Tame Impala continued to purvey the good vibes Thursday evening. Essentially opening for LCD Soundsystem, Kevin Parker & co. delivered a tight, crowd-pleasing set, which is no surprise considering how much practice they’ve gotten hitting the festival circuit hard, as last summer saw extensive touring in support of Currents. Frequent festivalgoers wouldn’t have seen too much of a departure from the Tame Impala of 2015; this is more of a victory lap for that stellar record than anything. But with a band whose sound is so full, danceable, and beloved, that’s not a problem. The true highlight was the use of giant confetti cannons during “Let It Happen”, which set the perfect tone for the rest of the set, night, and weekend. –Amanda Koellner

    Maceo Plex

    Best Blend of House and Techno

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    A standout DJ reworks what you already love into something distinctively theirs, creating art out of other musicians’ songs until old songs sound new and old songs sound young and old songs, well, remind you why you ever loved them to begin with. Barcelona-via-Dallas DJ and producer Maceo Plex appears to have that down to a science. A mere hour before sunrise, he was able to lure sleepy festivalgoers off the Ray-Ban risers to dance with newfound enthusiasm. His skill lay in the effortless way he fused gritty house with funk-driven beats. Depeche Mode sounds brand new when paired with a throbbing backbeat. Le Car sounds edgier when blended with various zaps and groans. The recent re-explosion of the ’90s can make even the biggest grunge fan roll their eyes, but Maceo Plex re-visits the electronic bass of that decade with a hyperactive awareness, kneading a set that refused to let up as the sky began to brighten. –Nina Corcoran

    Alessandro Cortini

    Best Physical Diagnostics Alterer


    Photo by Rob Sheridan

    Italian composer/electronic musician Alessandro Cortini has always made excellent headphone music; the fields of sound he creates are incredibly deep and resonant. But it should come as no surprise that the former Nine Inch Nails contributor would have some incredibly visceral live tricks up his sleeve as well. Backed by a massive screen featuring tracking scenes of both human and natural landscapes, Cortini’s droning electronic pieces ebbed and flowed, tugging at the heart rate with a pinging synth or shaking up the brainwaves with a just off-kilter sub-bass loud enough to make you feel every bone in your body. Rather than stick him on one of the outdoor stages, Cortini fit perfectly within the cavernous Auditori Rockdeluxe, his electronics reverberating through the massive, nearly pitch-black hall. –Adam Kivel

    Todd Terje

    Most Sing-able Instrumentals

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    Disco didn’t really die, and Todd Terje wants to remind you of that. Hunched over a laptop and mixing board with a blonde mustache freshly trimmed, Terje put on one of his best sets of the past two years at this year’s brand-new beach stage, bouncing in a pair of red socks while the crowd eagerly ate up every minute of his performance. There’s no way anyone could doubt the Norwegian’s talent, especially when it comes to summer jams like “Inspector Norse”. Just ask the audience. It’s the loudest crowd I’ve ever seen at one of his festival sets — and in the best of ways. Instead of chatting or shuffling halfheartedly, the audience danced like it was 10 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. Terje’s nu-disco picks were recognized immediately, and more often than not a large handful of people were so enthralled with his picks that they chose to sing along to them — even if there were no words to sing – in one of the best interactions between musician and audience at the festival. –Nina Corcoran


    Most Giddy/Confusing

    Nina Corcoran, Air 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    After listening to them for over a decade, finally seeing French psychedelic, electronic pop outfit Air was a strange yet thrilling experience. The vocals to “Sexy Boy”, “Cherry Blossom Girl”, and the like never seemed strange before, but then I never had to see Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel, now nearing 50 and dressed in crisp white, sing them. For whatever reason, watching live videos never seemed like something to do — maybe because their sweet, sweeping tunes are so intricate in their layered mood-building that the idea of their having been created by humans never occured to me. Regardless, the heavily vocoded and effects-laden singing style is a little disorienting, but the experience brought out the serene feeling of listening at home and more. It helped that the 12-song set ran the gamut, leaning heavily on debut Moon Safari and even featuring music from their soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides–Adam Kivel