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

    Car Seat Headrest

    Best Non-Radiohead Rendition of “Paranoid Android”

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Car Seat Headrest

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    As he’s been wont to do of late, Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo ripped into a chunk of the legendary Radiohead cut during set closer “Vincent”. The crowd went as wild as the fiery rock fanatic himself did, screaming the lines along and bouncing to that irrepressible guitar line. As much as perhaps any young indie rock musician, you can tell that Toledo really lives for the music, weaving references into his own songs and playing as if his life depended on it. But don’t assume that was the set’s sole highlight, as fans were equally thrilled by Teens of Denial mega-jam “Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales”, one even lifting up an inflatable whale pool toy. The set stuck largely to their excellent new record, but Monomania’s “Times to Die” dug its heels into the set and brought some chills to the seaside listeners. –Adam Kivel

    Brian Wilson

    Best Vibrations

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Brian Wilson

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    You’d think you’d know exactly what to expect going into a set marketed as a full-album performance, especially for one of the best-known albums in music history. And yet, Brian Wilson had to go along and make the experience an absolute wonder. At this point in his difficult life, Wilson makes for a strange performer, though his excitable takes on the music (“And now for something, a real treat for you, a song with no voices! None! Just instruments!” he said introducing “Let’s Go Away for Awhile”) were a sight to be seen. Regardless of the details of his condition, Wilson seems to genuinely still love the music, and every note of songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “God Only Knows” still ring out with that love. His cracker-jack band of older oddballs included Blondie Chaplin (who took lead and a few scorching solos late in the set), founding Beach Boys member Al Jardine, and Al’s son Matt. After playing the entirety of Pet Sounds, the group followed with 11 more songs, and the crowd giddily danced along to old Beach Boys favorites like “Good Vibrations”, “Help Me Rhonda”, and “Fun, Fun, Fun” — with a take on the “Monster Mash” thrown in for good measure. It might not have been the beach of California, but there was something so right about listening to Brian Wilson play with the sea breeze wafting from the nearby water. Too bad I left my surfboard at the hotel. –Adam Kivel

    Sr. Chinarro

    Most Likely to Give the Most Interesting Man in the World a Run for His Money

    SrChinarro 03EscenarioPrimavera_DaniCanto

    Photo by Dani Canto

    Each year, it seems that Sr. Chinarro frontman Antonio Luque seems to grow more and more into the debonair, suave crooner that his music has always shown him as. The beard gets a little more lush, the hair goes a little more gray, the clothes seem to fall a little more effortlessly. And if all of that sounds smooth, those unfamiliar with his voice (likely the international visitors, as Chinarro are absolute stalwarts in the Spanish indie scene, as seen by the ecstatic sing-alongs) were treated to one of the most casually beautiful performances of the festival. Luque and co. ran through a set of new cuts and beloved treasures alike, with the title track of new LP El Progreso standing out, a little more epic in its live version, rather than the intimate male-female duet on the record. –Adam Kivel

    Ty Segall and the Muggers

    Best New Frontman


    Ty Segall puts on quite a show, no matter which iteration of his prolific career he’s backing at any given time. Currently, he’s got Mikal Cronin, King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas, Emmett Kelly of the Cairo Gang, and Cory Hanson forming something of a supergroup in the form of Ty Segall and the Muggers (complete with creepy baby masks). And late night Saturday, in a wildly entertaining turn of events, the Muggers received a new member in the form of Manny, a very enthusiastic fan in the front row who Segall first gave the mic to before going on to change places with the dude, allowing him on stage for a decent chunk of the show while the real frontman hopped the barrier and stood in the front row of the crowd. Manny donned the baby mask and worked the stage like it was his one true destiny. “I’ve just had the blast of my life,” Manny offered after Segall joined him again and performed “Feel”, declaring Ty Segall and the Muggers his “favorite, favorite best ever, baby.” It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and the blast of anyone in the audience’s lives, too, baby. –Amanda Koellner


    Most Irrepressible Late-Night Rave

    Amanda Koellner-PrimaveraSound-Moderat

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    At the end of a long three days and an emotionally salient performance like Sigur Ros, you might think festivalgoers would opt for a good night’s rest. Hell no, not at Primavera, the festival that seemingly refuses to sleep. The team-up of Modeselektor’s Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary and Apparat’s Sascha Ring managed a massive crowd in the wee hours of Saturday night and kept them all moving with massive electronic hooks, including a jamming remix of Jon Hopkins’ “Abandon Window”. From afar, it looked like the field itself was moving in bouncing waves as the stage lights swept across the raised arms and bouncing heads. –Lior Phillips


    Most Bewitching

    Nina Corcoran, Autolux 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    After six years without a record, Autolux returned this year with their dystopic lyrics and engaging alt rock on full display. While that record, Pussy’s Dead, was fairly hit-or-miss, the live set that resulted from it was an absolute revelation, far more compact, aggressive, and tight than you might expect from a band that had spent that long without new music. But then again, the trio have honed their sharp blend of post-punk and electronic elements for about 15 years, even if most of those went by quietly. Pussy’s Dead highlights “Soft Scene” and “Junk for Code” made strong showings, but the unexpected appearance of Transit Transit’s “The Science of Imaginary Solutions” earned an excited, knowing wave of appreciation. It might take six years for a new record, but performances like this almost make it worth the wait. –Lior Phillips

    Lubomyr Melnyk

    Most Poetric Performance Without Lyrics

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    Unless you’re enlisted in a college-level course on the subject, it’s highly unlikely you or any of your close compadres can rattle off modern-day composers. Sure, there’s Terry Riley and Steve Reich, but there’s a world filled with musicians as equally talented as them who never saw fame tap them on their shoulders with its magic wand. Thankfully, Primavera Sound knows how to give attention where it’s due. That’s why they booked 67-year-old pianist and composer Lubomyr Melnyk. The Ukrainian musician is most easily compared to Philip Glass, both of whom employ continuous music and repetition to build emotive walls. Melnyk, however, layers his notes more densely, creating overtones and resonances that pool deeper than Glass’ work.

    After several intense numbers, including a single-piano version of “Butterfly”, he encouraged listeners to let their minds wander. “When I play this in fancy hotels or similar locations, all the adults don’t pay attention. They don’t notice things like that,” he said. “Be happy you’re poor because you see things around you, beautiful things, that rich people can’t see.” He didn’t mean for his ramblings between songs to be so deep, or endearing for that matter, but Melnyk couldn’t help it. By the time he prepped his final song, he encouraged the audience to grab copies of his own sheet music, which he would leave at the front of the stage following his set. “It’s not that hard to play this, really,” he said, getting a few scoffs of disbelief in return. “Of course, it takes 20 or 30 years to play these songs very fast, but the actual music isn’t hard. You can do it. You should do it!” It was poetry in motion where infinite notes replaced overused words. If only more festivals took time to highlight similar acts. –Nina Corcoran


    Best Glimpse Into Controlled Insanity


    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    With each of their three albums, Canadian act Suuns walk farther into the darkness that experimentalism feeds off. This year’s Hold/Still is full of looping, devilish tracks that build slowly towards a catastrophic breaking point. In the confines of Sala Apolo, the four-piece stretched that new material into something far more threatening, pushing themselves and listeners to embrace otherwise satanic-sounding weirdness with a heartbeat as alluring as their early psych rock cuts. Over 1000 people shot into the air like salmon bursting out of the water, their energy eventually turning into a tiny mosh pit during “Translate” and “UN-NO”. Just like their moniker — often mispronounced as “suns” instead of “soons” — and their music, Suuns distort reality until onlookers see the allure of creepiness. What better way for a criminally underrated band to show the world they mean business? –Nina Corcoran

    The Avalanches

    Most Controversial Dance Party

    Nina Corcoran, The Avalanches 3

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    Perhaps more than any other set at Primavera Sound 2016, The Avalanches seemed to court opposing opinions. But then again, you can never underestimate the power of nostalgia in bringing out that kind of strong feeling. Some reports showed absolute confusion (“They’re just DJ’ing, what is this?”) while others showed pure joy (“They’re DJ’ing, this is amazing!”). Regardless of the difference in opinion, they absolutely packed the late-night Ray-Ban stage to the brim, one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen there. They cut up bits of David Bowie, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, and other favorites. The Avalanches themselves were represented as well, as they incorporated long-standing jam “Frontier Psychiatrist” and new cuts “Frankie Sinatra” and “Subways” into their funkified blend. Fans expecting a full performance of their tracks might have been disappointed, but those that opened their minds and got their feet moving surely had one of the best dance parties of their lives. –Lior Phillips


    Most Self-Possessed Sonic Aggression

    Nina Corcoran, Beak 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    “Most of you haven’t ever fucking heard of us anyway, but there it is.” Portishead’s Geoff Barrow charmed festivalgoers by not giving two hoots if anyone knew who his band BEAK> were. Though the Bristol band carries some serious pedigree (Fuller has played with Robert Plant, in addition to Barrow’s big gig and time with Radiohead), they clearly didn’t form BEAK> to only keep the attention of those fans — their muscular post-punk and shoegaze-inflected mass is a work of experimental passion. New addition Will Young has already fit into the band’s sound perfectly, after only a short stint. Barrow clearly was hooked into the entire Primavera world as well, whether that meant tweeting about frustrations with the decibel limits being too quiet or giving a shout-out to “Big Jeff” (known by some as the Bristol yeti, a music nerd to the nth degree who has seen seven shows a week for years and a massive persona familiar to most anyone who’s attended a European festival or UK gig). Even if Barrow himself might’ve thought it too quiet, it came across like a knot of swarming psychedelics of which the crowd surrounding the stage felt every sting. –Lior Phillips



    Best Use of Rebar

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    For a good portion of Boredoms’ Saturday afternoon set, two band members stood, scraping and plonking metal sticks against what I’m fairly certain were long rebar rods — you know the grooved steel bars used to reinforce building materials. While more than a few onlookers came, scratched their heads, and walked away, anyone coming explicitly to see the legendary Japanese noise rockers would likely find that to be a totally normal option given their penchant for grand experiments. Yoshimi P-We and Yojiro Tatekawa split time between those bars and busy workstations, Tatekawa rifling away at his drum kit with jazzy snaps and P-We adding her fair share of percussive wizardry and adding synth washes to boot. Behind them sat Yamantaka Eye, at times intoning serenely, and at others scrambling his long fingers over a mash of electronic tools to produce clicks, gurgles, and howls. He sang through multiple microphones, each with its own set of effects, to make him sound like a watery poltergeist, mourning robot, or feral child in turn. Their set consisted of a massive crescendo of noise and beauty, a pummeling, cathartic experience unlike any other at the festival. –Adam Kivel


    Most Righteous Energy

    Ambiente Savages 04 Heineken_EricPamies

    Photo by Eric Pamies

    “You know what I like about you? It’s that you don’t want to be bored,” Jehnny Beth said, with steely-eyed intensity. That should be a given at a Savages gig, though, as their energy and passion would make boredom impossible. Though, then again, I guess neither do I need to say that she said something intensely, as I have a hard time imagining her enaging in any small-talk. The London four-piece mean everything they say and make sure you know it, hammering away at their instruments, Beth making sure she was immediately connected with their fans — literally. Distance doesn’t suit Savages, so she jumped off the stage and scaled the fence, shaking hands and getting close. The band tore through seven tracks from their excellent 2016 record, Adore Life, with the volcanic “Fuckers” closing out. Playing a stage immediately before Radiohead is a tall order, but Savages lived up to the challenge without a second thought, surely winning over plenty of new fans from the crowds staking out their spots to see Thom, as well as their own dedicated base. –Adam Kivel

    Moses Sumney

    Best Genre-Crushing Future Star

    Nina Corcoran, Moses Sumney 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    Every year in Barcelona, there’s at least a handful of relatively unknown artists who make their mark on the handsome crowds and go on to humongous things. This year’s most likely candidate for that slot is Moses Sumney, the 25-year-old Los Angeleno who squeezes magic out of dissimilarities: His remarkable vocal range reaches crisp highs that often recall Prince, James Blake, and Tunde Adebimpe, while the music he is performing has a gutsy flexibility that defies genre. “I can’t believe there’s people here,” he smiled. “Wow, who lied to you?” But the crowd amassed because of his talent rather than any PR machinations — he’s not yet even released a full album and used his time at Primavera to show off plenty of new material. Looping snaps, claps, beatboxing, and harmonies, sometimes along with guitar, Sumney crafted a set that felt both epic and intimate. “A lot of my songs are quiet, and this is a loud environment, which is a perfect analogy of my life,” he began, before beckoning everyone closer for the moving “Plastic”. It’s hard to imagine that Sumney hasn’t made it big yet, as watching him build his songs and hearing that sterling voice is like being transported to some beautiful new world. –Lior Phillips


    Best Case for Nostalgia


    Nina Corcoran, Suede 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    Part of the pleasure in witnessing a Suede show is seeing energetic dance moves (we counted three knee-slides) spill out of fiendishly fit, fully mature veteran frontman Brett Anderson — who despite his 27 years in the industry finds every reason to jiggle his bodily bits to all Suede’s hits. Another thrill is Anderson’s gift for understanding what he calls “the living death”, which he defines as a comeback band playing “The Hits” and killing any notion that it can be done charismatically. With faces lined by years of mischief, every element of the band’s agility shone through. While teasing the crowd with “Outsiders”, the only track performed from their current album, Night Thoughts, histrionic guitar pop burst through every song with the usual thematic suspects — a lot of shagging, postulating, and romantic allusions, with “Filmstar” wedged in the fifth spot for old-times sake. Closers “Metal Mickey”, “Beautiful Ones”, and an acoustic encore of “She’s in Fashion” proved there’s no need to booze; Suede’s touching repertoire was all the intoxication we needed. –Lior Phillips

    PJ Harvey

    Most Dramatic Call to Arms

    Nina Corcoran, PJ Harvey 1

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    After featuring politically outspoken, legendary songwriter Patti Smith last year, Primavera doubled down and found another brilliant female musician cut from similar cloth: PJ Harvey. The alt rock mainstay was supporting the recently released Hope Six Demolition Project, a concept album driven by observing poverty and struggle in other countries and then holding up a mirror to that process of observation. A lot of that time is spent on America, so it’s no surprise that she entered the stage by leading a marching band, saxophone strapped to her neck. She then proceeded to produce what was perhaps the most theatrical and conceptually unified set of the festival, tying songs together with cavalry horns, orchestral flourishes, dramatic movements, and intense stares into the audience. The tight focus and black-and-white shots displayed on the big screens amped that feeling, as well as the large, industrial concrete facade behind the band. The set relied largely on Hope Six, though made room for classic favorites like “50 Ft. Queenie”, which was delivered with raw tones and aggressive dancing. But, for the most part, Harvey came across as stony, impenetrable, yet strong. The set then ended with the same theatrical temperament with which it began, the players introduced and then the final note fading away into black. –Lior Phillips