We’re not complaining, but it’s never been harder to pick a European festival. The competition is healthy, and the choice is incredible. But for those who are primarily into song-based music, Primavera Sound still kind of feels the jewel in the crown.
There seemed to be particularly big buzz this time, probably due to the abundance of big deal debuts. Both PJ Harvey and Radiohead played their first festival shows in years, and The Avalanches returned to the stage after their 16 year hiatus for what, it transpired, was actually a pretty anticlimactic DJ set rather than a live performance.
Then there was John Carpenter, performing his first live festival show ever on Thursday night. Turns out the 68-year-old Horror Master has a good sense of humour. As he entertained a young, appreciative crowd by raising his fists behind his keyboard and introducing his compositions with absurd melodrama, his retro synth work built a genuine sense of tension. Carpenter’s show may have been funny, but this was by no means a joke.
Earlier that evening, jazz adventurist Kamasi Washington also enjoyed Primavera Sound’s appreciative crowd in the nearby Rockdelux auditorium, where overwhelming demand to get a seat created long queues outside the venue. Over on the Pitchfork stage, Vince Staples’ streetwise lyricism sounded muffled, but nevertheless, the Long Beach rapper performed with impressive energy. The chorus of Hands Up, one of his best songs, becomes an intense double-entendre in the live context, functioning as a traditional hip-hop method of rousing up a crowd while paraphrasing the orders of a prejudiced police officer. With poignant, euphoric classics like New York, I Love You…, You Wanted a Hit and All My Friends in LCD Soundsystem’s headline set, the band gave the crowd plenty of opportunities for a soppy embrace. But although they were remarkably tight and the sound was excellent, James Murphy’s muted interaction didn’t really qualm suspicions that this is primarily about the cash. Let’s see what happens with the album.
With one of the biggest and – many would argue – best line-ups of all the European festivals, there’s rarely a moment at Primavera where you’re not cringing slightly at the thought of something you’re missing. A case in point: on Friday night, we skip sets by Dinosaur Jr., Shellac and Black Hippy rapper Jay Rock to squeeze into a good position in the crowd and watch the entirety of Radiohead’s epic headline show. Following an audio excerpt from the recent Nina Simone documentary (“I tell you what freedom is to me: no fear!”), the band arrive onstage and launch into Burn The Witch, signalling a cluster of A Moon Shaped Pool songs before we’re spoilt with a range of hits that includes everything from Talk Show Host to divisive set-closer Creep. With the festival’s two biggest stages facing directly opposite each other, within minutes of Radiohead’s set finishing we’re in danger of watching The Last Shadow Puppets, and so we escape to the Pitchfork stage to witness DJ Koze soundtrack the sunrise.
This might be hard to believe, but Ty Segall & The Muggers’ Saturday night show was one of the highlights of the entire festival. Sure, there were some amazing sets that same evening – Pusha T climaxed his show with a medley of bangers that sent the crowd wild, while telepathic trio Islam Chipsy & EEK unleashed an onslaught of polyrhythmic intensity that was only slightly hindered by restricted volume. But Segall and his band sounded more ferocious than his studio recordings ever could, driving a constant stream of crowdsurfers toward the stage (it felt like the right kind of rowdy too – aside from a branded karaoke area, Primavera Sound was impressively low on laddish behaviour). Amidst a trippy, fucked up stage show, Segall lost his microphone to a drunken audience member who, we’d later learn, goes by the name Manny. In response, Segall generously swapped places with him, politely watching from the front row while Manny fronted The Muggers tore through an incredible rendition of Feel. Manny, if you’re reading this, you can now consider your performance critically acclaimed.
Watch more sets from this year’s Primavera Sound on Red Bull TV