Primavera Sound 2016 review, best bands and what we learnt from Barcelona

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The solar panel at Primavera 2016

The solar panel at Primavera 2016

Primavera featured Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, Brian Wilson and many more in its heavyweight billing, Getintothis’ Peter Guy and Adam Lowerson reflect on a marathon of music in Barcelona.

Barcelona: from the ever-changing magnificence of Sagrada Família to the opulence of the Palau de la Música Catalana through to Camp Nou’s game-changing football stadium this is a city that doesn’t do things by halves.

Subtlety simply isn’t in the city’s makeup; it’s colourful, grandiose, vibrant, progressive and spectacular. And these features are reflected in its music festivals – most notably Primavera Sound. Now in its fifteenth year, and eleventh in its seafront-based Parc del Fòrum, the festival is monumentally colossal in every aspect – and for its 2016 edition, the organisers appeared to have aligned every single music fan’s wildest dreams in assembling a line-up which transformed fantasy into reality. A bill which when it appeared in poster format sent most people reaching for their mouse to check the official website in the glorious hope that it wasn’t a hoax. It wasn’t – Primavera 2016’s line up may just have been the greatest assembly of artists in contemporary popular music. Seriously, on paper, it looked that audacious.

But before we get to the music, let’s step back. This was Getintothis first adventure to the Parc del Fòrum and it’s worth registering our awe at what’s on offer; for here is a festival site, and with it an experience, truly epic in scope and refined to every last detail. The forum itself, a multi-functional concrete playground, designed by Elías Torres and José Antonio Martínez Lapeña in 2004, boasts 140,000 square metres of space and in it 14 stages, a colossal lattice-styled concrete food court, an enclosed beach club accessible via an equally gigantic concrete foot bridge, an indigo blue triangular auditorium 25 feet high boasting fragmented glass panels evoking crisp falling water, a multitude of bars, toilets, walkways, stalls, a corridor of record shops and Flatstock screen-printed posters – and towering above it all a preposterous solar panel so vast it recalls the moment in Star Wars when the Imperial Star Destroyer passes through the cinema screen and just keeps on going and going and going. In the context of a music festival it is one of the greatest sights we’ve ever seen.

Primavera 2016 on day one

Primavera Sound 2016 setting up on day one

The Parc del Fòrum alone would make for a truly wondrous setting, yet it’s monumental size and brutal architecture never feels a chore to traverse, instead it feels delightfully contained; everything is within easy reach and the way in which you can navigate Primavera makes for an easy and fun-filled week of exploration.

Best of all, despite the 200,000 in attendance, the Fòrum rarely, if ever, feels overcrowded – sure for the big-hitting live drawers, the numbers are vast – but it’s not an uncomfortable experience. You never feel anxious. Better yet, and quite the opposite to much of its UK festival counterparts, the notion of queuing at Primavera is not on the menu. In the course of five full days at the main site we barely had to wait more than three minutes for food or drink. We didn’t queue once for a toilet (we’ll get on to these in a moment) and the staff were always quick and friendly. And this rubbed off on the punters with frustrations or irritations seemingly never in evidence.

Speaking of irritants: festival toilets. The numero uno of all festival nightmare experiences back on UK soil was simply not in evidence throughout our time at Primavera. From day one to five the pristine white plastic thrones remained so, with copious toilet roll, soap and washing water on offer, it was almost bewildering that by close of play – and despite temperatures soaring – we felt content with each visit.

The feeling was mutual down the food court as the array of scran was matched with reasonable prices and more than reasonable quality – our favoured offerings including large bowls of Thai curry, oriental noodles, Malaysian rice and falafels – our only qualm selecting the wrong dressing (yoghurt instead of four herb; schoolboy error). If we were being churlish, the sponsored ale on site (Heineken was a tad foamy and kinda blended into nothingness in the heat) but that rarely stopped us making repeated visits. Meanwhile a small press cabin ideally situated behind the main stages provided soft drinks, coffee, water and yet more clean toilets until the early hours of the morning (we didn’t even indulge in the copious free alcohol and canapes provided at intervals throughout the festival – we were having too much fun elsewhere).

So, yes, it’s fair to say, the foundations for our opening Primavera Sound experience were set up to be, well, sound. But the fluff around the edges can’t mask a festival lacking in good music which in turn feeds the crowd and overall vibe.

Happily Primavera had no such concerns as the tone was set early on Wednesday afternoon as former Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia headliners, Goat brought their inimitable Swedish pagan-funk boogie to a sizeable crowd (many of whom were allowed in free for the soft launch opening day – another aspect you’d seriously doubt happening at a corporate event in the UK) who lapped up a set split between their albums Commune and World Music – the latter’s Run to Your Mama and an extended fried-guitar freakout jam of Goathead ensured a wild opening salvo. Suede follow on the Primavera stage packing the hits into a bracing sheet-metal-infused set which sees a zealous Brett Anderson repeatedly mounting amps and side stages as the band dice up select cuts from their back catalogue; Introducing The Band, Animal Nitrate and We Are The Pigs particularly rampant. There’s even a neat outing for Killing of a Flashboy. Better still follows in a trip across town which sees Montreal outfit SUUNS stir the Sala Apolo into a sweaty frenzy with their claustrophobic vice-like grooves.

Primavera 2016

Primavera 2016

Grooves and beats, fare better in the heavy Barca heat and during our four days those intent on stirring the soul and willing the feet to move are the festivals biggest beneficiaries – so the vicious electronic rumble of (an evidently very happy to be in attendance) Beak>, an effervescently sprightly Chairlift and a preposterously wild Evian Christ (mixing the savage with the cutely silly to skillful effect; represent Ellesmere Port!) ensure crowds are willed to shake their limbs in ridiculous fashion. Perhaps the biggest bombs were dropped by Moderat, though, who lights up a terrific Saturday night from 1.40am and keeps everyone entertained through to 3am. The same can’t be said for The Avalanches, who while attracting one of the largest crowds of the weekend, seemingly plug in a Now That’s What I Call Karaoke CD and simply press play. It’s truly awful – and the only respite occurs during the naff attempts at mixing when they change to disc two. It’s almost comical.

The same couldn’t be levelled at the hip hop sets which pepper each of the four days – Action Bronson is on typically verbose form drawing the biggest crowd of any rap outfit all week over on the Primavera stage while Vince Staples and Pusha T share a high-scoring draw on the Pitchfork Stage (perhaps our favourite platform for both atmosphere and the impressive vantage point whether looking up at the magnificent solar panel above or actually walking across it’s concrete buttresses to peer below at the masses below) impressing with oodles of charisma and seismic bangers – the former winning the energy stakes by repeatedly bounding across the stage but it’s Pusha T‘s relentless arrogance and weight of ‘this is a serious event‘ which hands him hip hop set of the festival.

It’s these infectious personalities married to block-busting sonic dramas that work so well within the context of this concrete playground, and the urge to listen to the downbeat melancholia of the likes of post-rockers Explosions in the Sky or Sigur Ros seems incongruous – despite them being artists we’d usually race into position for. Similarly, the more guitar-orientated artists are overshadowed – Deerhunter are somewhat underwhelming in the early night sunset while Savages, despite their best efforts to rally a riot with Jehnny Beth‘s persistent crowd-surfing-enticing feel a tad contrived and one dimensional as the bluster overwhelms the actual songs.

But these are minor criticisms – for while each stage sees perhaps a dozen or so artists grace them per day the choice remains overwhelming; the clashes are constant. LCD Soundsystem v Thee Oh Sees? Radiohead v Shellac v Dinosaur Jr v Tortoise? Or how about Brian Wilson v Autolux v Richard Hawley v Jenny Hval v Current 93? The fact of the matter was – wherever you ended up at Primavera Sound 2016, you were near guaranteed to see something close to superb.

This, perhaps more than any other was the key strategic masterstroke of Primavera – organisers did indeed book a large number of live acts, yet spread over the five or six days and across the 14 stages it proved just the right amount resulting in good sized audiences across the festival site and choice was at an all-time high.

Primavera 2016 - the Auditori Rockdelux

Primavera 2016 – the Auditori Rockdelux

Undeniably superb, was the welcome relief of sitting down and digesting the quite remarkable Auditori Rockdelux. The contemporary exhibition centre played host to everything from desert-storm guitar soloing (Six Organs of Admittance), frenetic industrial techno (Cabaret Voltaire), improvisational free-jazz (Kamasi Washington) and old school metal (Angel Witch). Both visually and sonically, it was something else – a space to luxuriate in, absorb an oceanic array of music and relax, take stock and sometimes fall asleep when it all got too much.

The experimentalism of Boredoms would have been ideally suited to the auditorium’s expressionism as they traded three sets of drums with theremin (controlled by movements of the head, but of course), undulating keys and three sets of what looked like towel racks made of steel which reverberated in metallic hums when scraped or beaten. For a band so acclaimed for their rhythmic propulsion, this was a more considered set, fewer chaotic peaks and more restrained ambience – albeit dissonant and hardly an easy listen early evening on the final day of the festival. Far easier on the ear were New Zealanders The Chills who jangled away on the Ray-Ban Stage – another of our favourite platforms which included ideal vantage points with it’s oval-tiered seating allowing for opportune rests. Similarly, Spaniard Joana Serrat is delightfully airy imbuing Americana, Jenny Lewis-esque vibes which ease us into the Saturday afternoon quite beautifully.

Algiers are completely at odds with their opening slot on Thursday; gothic guitar doom trades with frenetic percussive drones and they’re an intriguing proposition which compels a large crowd to maintain their attention. Air on the other hand do exactly what they’ve always done – fizzle gently and waft into nothingness – and in this context it simply doesn’t work. Earlier we spot Har Mar Superstar giving an interview on a golf buggy and decide to follow it into the Beach Club which is a throbbing mess of half naked happy souls lapping up a packed tent to Todd Terje. If we’re honest, this was our least appealing element of the site – think Spring Break on Sangria. Not for us.

Dungen are more our sort of people who deliver one of the sets of the week on the imposing H&M Stage (the second largest on site) early doors on Friday – early cut Panda from their 2004 album Ta Det Lugnt is a rip-roaring fuzzy delight but it’s their final song – which they announce to groans of disappointment with 20 minutes of their set remaining – that showcases the band’s supergroup talents; a sprawling suite which takes in Canterbury folk-prog, organ noodles and high-octane guitar pirouetting which leaves us breathless. Twenty minutes later they leave to unanimous applause. They play Liverpool Psych Fest in September, don’t miss them.

But it’s the big guns that the majority are waiting for and none more than Radiohead who provide a set which is characteristically obtuse yet high in drama. Opening with a five song salvo from a Moon Shaped Pool which begins with Burn The Witch (minus the stabbing strings), near silence falls over the vast surrounds as a sea of people watch the electric blue light fall over the stunning ambience of Daydreaming but it’s the introductory rumble of The National Anthem which truly kicks start the set. The peaks are numerous – a mighty Talk Show Host complete with crackling Johnny Greenwood guitar crunches, two scintillating Kid A numbers in Idioteque and Everything In It’s Right Place, the ghostly refrains of Street Spirit and an extended encore which marries the savage (Paranoid Android) with the beautifully subtle (Nude) concludes with Thom Yorke wryly commenting, “Thanks for sticking with us, I’m surprised you stayed so long“, before dropping a delirious version of Creep. Was it perfect, nope, but it wasn’t far off.

Elsewhere, LCD Soundsystem are simply stunning playing almost two hours of euphoric, melancholy-infused delirium, John Carpenter combines minimalist synth stabs with giant screens of clips from his peerless horror slasher flicks and oodles of charisma and Brian Wilson is, quite simply, a ray of sunshine on Saturday afternoon. And just when you thought Primavera’s pop perfection couldn’t be topped, the sun rose on Sunday morning showering hazy yellow light across the Ray Ban Stage only for DJ Coco to drop David Bowie‘s Heroes. It was 8am, and time for bed. Primavera truly had turned our musical dreams into some kind of awesome reality.

Peter Guy

Avalanches

Avalanches

Getintothis’ top eight picks of Primavera Sound 2016 

8. Beak> on Primavera Stage – Thursday June 2

Geoff Barrow’s Beak> entertained with a solid set of noirish electronica to an unexpectedly big crowd which left Barrow visibly delighted. Their krautrock inspired driving rhythms are hypnotically repetitive and bear an uncanny resemblance to kraut pioneers Can.

Throughout the set Barrow makes numerous comments about how nobody probably knows who they are, but we’re in no doubt that if this is the case, they certainly will have picked up a few new fans here. The reception from the early revellers was great, and it made for a solid start to the first day of the festival. AL

7. Cabaret Voltaire at Auditori Rockdelux – Friday June 3

Away from the blistering heat outside, the Auditori Rockdelux provides some much needed respite for our sore feet. There’s absolutely nothing relaxing Cabaret Voltaire‘s set, though. With the expansive auditorium plunged into complete darkness, Sheffield’s electronic pioneers assault the senses with their intense, industrial sounds matched with a glitching, flashing backdrop with video clips of war, Jimmy Saville and Cesar Romero‘s 60s Joker put through a psychedelic filter. The music is played at ear splitting volume and is genuinely disorientating. AL

6. Dungen on H&M Stage – Friday June 3

Kicking off proceedings on the second day of the festival, Swedish prog-rockers Dungen impressed with a 40-minute set taking tracks from their eight studio records. Their kaleidoscopic, prog-psych sounds were a perfect match for the Spanish sunshine, with fuzzy guitars, gorgeous bass-tones and soaring flute solos.

We were disappointed when they announced they were about to play their final song only 20 minutes into the set, so it was a nice surprise that what followed was a 25 minute, whacked out prog jam. Swirling keys, swaggering guitar solos and colossal drum fills. Epic stuff. AL

5. Suuns at Sala Apolo – Wednesday June 1

One of the highlights of Primavera arguably happened before the festival had even properly started, with a handful of bands performing at the intimate Sala Apolo in the centre of Barcelona. The main attraction of the night were Canadian’s Suuns, who shook the Apolo to its core.

Playing tracks mainly from their latest record Hold/Still, Suuns smashed their way through an hour long set of sharp, stabbing synths at ridiculous volume. Their sound is absolutely packed with huge, swaggering grooves. There’s something really discordant about the whole thing. It’s relentless, punishing and leaves you feeling like you’ve been hit by a ten tonne truck of noise. Incredible stuff. AL

4. Brian Wilson on Heineken Stage – Saturday June 4

The early evening sun was shining, glimmering on the deep blue of a Mediterranean sea which ran alongside the festival site, and Hawaiian shirts were out in full force. We’d struggle to think of a more perfect environment to listen to the music of the Beach Boys in.

Read our review of Brian Wilson at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall here

Performing Pet Sounds from start to finish to celebrate the record’s 50th anniversary, Brian Wilson and his excellent band started with a slightly quiet rendition of the album’s opener Wouldn’t It Be Nice, but what followed was completely perfect. The melancholy, orchestral songs of Pet Sounds were performed in front of a relatively hushed crowd before a greatest hits set including California Girls, Good Vibrations, I Get Around and a completely bizarre but incredibly fun cover of the Monster Mash had everyone singing along.

Although much of the vocal heavy lifting is performed by Matt Jardine, son of original Beach Boy Al Jardine, who does a great job bringing a lot of the songs to life, it is genuinely heartwarming to see Wilson enjoying every moment of the set. Sat behind his grand piano, the genius songwriter conducts his band through each of his masterpieces, beaming with enthusiasm between each song and even speaking the odd bit of Spanish, the 73 year old gives the impression of someone finally at peace after an incredibly tortured and difficult life. It’s a beautiful, touching moment. AL

3. Pusha T on Pitchfork Stage – Saturday June 4

The Pitchfork Stage, sat beneath the beautifully brutal solar panel, was one of the best stages at the festival with consistently strong sets taking place over the three days. Pusha T‘s was certainly the stand out. Performing amid plumes of smoke and between two neon crucifixes reading ‘Sin will find you out‘, the set was visually impressive as well as musically.

What was most enjoyable about King Push‘s set was that it injected some much needed fun to the festival. Arms were in the air, there was a call and response with the crowd about ‘money, pussy, alcohol‘ and the impressive crowd that the president of G.O.O.D. Music drew were just having a great time. When it’s good, there’s not much better than live hip hop, and this was just one of a number of great hip hop sets throughout the weekend. AL

2. John Carpenter on Primavera Stage – Thursday June 2

While much of the festival punters are off watching the dreary cod-psychedelia of Tame Impala, the near peak set of the festival happens on the Primavera stage, as 68-year-old synth warlock John Carpenter enters all in black with his white facial hair marking him out amid giant background screens. What unfolds is a joyful synthesis of his timeless scores pitched to classic scenes from his various cinematic classics.

Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York and Big Trouble In Little China are all wheeled out to rapturous cheers and the combination of Carpenter’s distinctive keys hooks aligned to the vast ensemble of musicians he has with him (including his son and godson) makes for a rich, fulsome sound. It’s also hugely dance-worthy as he turns the crowd into a bobbing mess of delight. Stories alluding Kurt Russell, Ennio Morricone (who wrote the theme to The Thing, another Carpenter directed, and also features in his set) plus how he wrote his comeback album for Sacred Bones, Lost Themes, adds to the whole experience.

The stand-out arrives in the one-two punch of Assault On Precinct 13 which sounds like the best boxer’s walk-in-to-the-ring theme imaginable. An indomitable electronic force – Carpenter’s set felt like a genuine moment for Primavera 2016. PG

1. LCD Soundsystem on Heineken Stage – Thursday June 2

It’s only been five years since James Murphy and Co announced their split and performed the last show at Madison Square Garden, yet this comeback feels like one of the most highly anticipated in recent times. The excitement was palpable and the crowd was huge, and the sprawling mass of concrete that is Parc Del Forum became a massive dance floor as LCD Soundsystem delivered a set of wall-to-wall bangers.

Kicking off with Us v Them, quickly followed by Daft Punk Is Playing At My House, I Can Change and Get Innocuous!, it was absolutely relentless, euphoric and a complete justification of why this was without a doubt the most anticipated set of the festival.

It was a masterclass in choosing a set list, with most major hits from across their career making an appearance. Throughout their near two hour set, it was hard to think of a song that they didn’t play. Losing My Edge and Dance Yrself Clean were big standouts, before a towering performance of All My Friends invoked a mass singalong. It’s surely one of the best tunes of the last 20 years, and the perfect way to end what could be one of the all time great festival headline sets. AL

UPDATE: Here’s some nifty highlights to whet your appetite for next year.

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