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Primavera 2016 – Highlights

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Primavera is a different entity to what it was when I first visited a decade ago . The inevitable happened when the masses caught onto what is year-on-year, consistently, the most impressive music festival in Europe – now it’s bigger, bolder, more commercial and less of a best kept secret.

But it has maintained its position as the music Mecca of the summer, "bigger" in Primavera terms doesn’t mean a compromise on quality, with them sticking steadfastly to their discerning roots.

2016 brought in a mix of incredible ‘headliners’, cult heroes, new favourites and the bizarre to create an unparalleled programme of music over a week in Barcelona.

Here are our highlights from a festival of highlights:

Car Seat HeadRest

Latest indie hype band certainly had the place buzzing with a massive early crowd gathering to see what the fuss was about. Releasing 12 albums on Bandcamp between 2010 and signing to Matador Records last year, plus the subsequent sample scandal of the debut, meant that coming into this show Will Toldeo had the benefit of a backstory to create interest.

Fortunately, in the blazing sun Toldeo (and his band’s) patchwork of lo-fi indie and alternative rock tropes really hit the spot. Despite a flat and over indulgent opener with Toledo solo on stage, but when his band join him and they hit their stride there was much to enjoy.

‘Fill The Blank’ (coupled with a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’) was the most uplifting effort from a band that didn’t reach greatness but did show that as they move from bedroom artist to full fledged band have much, much more to offer.

BEAK>

Bristol krautrock overlords BEAK> put in a perfect early evening set, which while giving no surprises proved that the three piece are exceptional at what they do – namely metronomic rhythms and otherworldly synths. It’s ultimately chilled out stuff. The cynical between song banter shows a knowing that they are not the best known act around, but is a welcome nod to those in the know.

John Carpenter

(Xarlene)

John Carpenter

“Fuck me, that’s actually John Carpenter playing music by John Carpenter,” was an overheard statement and completely sums up the general response to the horror director and composer’s set.

In the most 80s thing that has ever happened (probably) Carpenter’s classic movie scores including Halloween, Big Trouble In Little China, The Thing and Escape from New York were all given a rocked-up full band makeover with Carpenter stage front and centre conducting proceedings with his synth below giant projections from his movies.

This set could have been a simple nostalgic novelty but with the addition of his new, non-movie, material, plus an incredibly tight band, nostalgia had the benefit of brilliant tunes played by awesome musicians.

Carpenter’s between song chat told enthralling tales from his career. Anyone who missed this missed out on one of Primavera’s truly special moments.

LCD Soundsystem

Back in the fold after claiming to be done forever, the hipster’s favourite dance act returned to European soil to prove why their initial departure was so mourned.

From the opening motorik beats of opener ‘Us V Them’ as James Murphy enters the stage a joyous rave erupts. This is a band that, although essential at the time, have become classic which ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ is testament to.

Although no new material is played the set offers now duds and is pure energy from start to finish. It is how effortlessly and impressively the band bring electronic music to the live stage, all performed live with an mind-numbing amount of equipment that sets them apart in live dance music performance.

On ‘Home’ they proved that dance music have be sentimental and have heart, and ode to aging hipsters ‘Losing My Edge’ also shows it can have a sense of knowing humour as well.

This set put LCD Soundsystem firmly back on top, and shows they might finally be about to enjoy the universal success they always deserved.

LCD Soundsystem

(Eric Parnies)

Radiohead

Hours before a sense of expectation and optimism took over the main stage area of the festival, even with Beirut playing people had already started to congregate over an hour before Radiohead take to the Primavera stage.

As the sun sets the band launch into ‘Burn The Witch’ the jubilant opener from latest album A Moon Shaped Pool, which takes on a more rock fuelled groove live the anticipation is palpable. The first five numbers come from the new release, which would be a brave move if all these tunes didn’t so perfectly set up the rest of the set.

‘Daydreaming’ stunned the crowd into silence as Thom Yorke’s vocals floated on the air.

As with all dates on this recent tour, what happened in terms of songs played, was a guessing game and added to the high level of anticipation. What the band delivered was a career spanning set that while demonstrating their versatility created a united aural theme.

Radiohead in 2016 is a band that fully understands its identity and how the music fits together.

The radio static intro of ‘The National Anthem’ kicks starts an epic run of tunes that takes in the the best of their ever morphing persona from the epic sing-along of ‘Karma Police’ and ‘No Surprises’ to their electronic brilliance of ‘Idioteque’ and ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ every track is stunning, and delivered perfectly.

Incredible b-side ‘Talk Show Host’ even makes an appearance and the band exit the stage after rendering the place emotional drained with ‘Street Spirit’.

As if the set didn’t feel complete enough they return with a five song medley of jittery ‘Bloom’, the none more epic ‘Paranoid Android’, the heartache of ‘Nude’, the seriously rocking ‘2+2=5’ and the criminally underrated ‘There There’. And that should have been it, but it’s wasn’t, Radiohead return for a rare outing for 90s mega hit ‘Creep’.

Radiohead

(Eric Parnies)

PJ Harvey

The ever-changing PJ Harvey performing live is always an event through her numerous changes and developments in image and sound she has never been anything less than mesmerising.

Flanked by a nine-piece band with long-time collaborators John Parish, Mick Harvey and Jean-Marc Butty in the ranks they entered the stage to the semi-funeral march of ‘Chain of Keys’ with Harvey now a black-clad, saxophone wielding siren.

In a bold move the set largely consisted of material from her latest album, with the aforementioned ‘Chain of Keys’, ‘The Community of Hope’ and ‘The Wheel’ being stand-outs, and sitting well with the work of last album Let England Shake which highlights both the development and similarities of both her most recent works.

A trio classics really sends the set off starting with the epic blues rock of ‘50ft Queenie’, a haunting ‘Down by The Water’ and a tear-inducing rendition of ‘To Bring You My Love’.

As always PJ Harvey was utterly mesmerising as a performer, effortless commanding attention.

PJ Harvey

(Eric Parnies)

Cabaret Voltaire

After forming part of the vanguard of electronic trailblazers in the UK, Cabaret Voltaire, disappeared from view for 20 years. Now a one- man operation under the control of Richard H. Kirk it was hard to know exactly what to expect from this performance in the epic Auditori.

In near darkness with his machines Kirk dropped a tapestry electronic sound updated for the modern age and incorporating a number of styles that have taken prevalence since he last performed (jungle, trip hop, dubstep) all pinned to the identifiable Cabaret Voltaire sound.

Performed under giant video screens showing a mash-up of dark political, social and historic scenes this performance was a full-on sensory attack. This was intellectual stuff but profoundly danceable – so much so that the Auditori lights had to be switched on to allow for the safety of the throng dancing in the aisles.

The Avalanches

It seemed unlikely that we would ever see The Avalanches again. But here they were on stage and due to issues with getting a full band over, a DJ duo. Although not what many expected, and lacking any full tracks (even excluding ‘Since I Left You’) this was a stunning display of how DJing should be done – a unique mash-up journey through musical styles all mixed from vinyl.

The snippets of new tunes set out a good stall for their long-awaited new album, and all in all this was a joyous party.

Drive Like Jehu

Having post-hardcore legends Drive Like Jehu back and performing live was nothing short of a revelation. In the wake of John Reis’ other bands (Rocket From The Crypt, Hot Snakes) they often get over-looked but Drive Like Jehu proved their place as one of the key building blocks for the post-hardcore genre with a taut, energetic and vital set.

Ho99o9

By far the darkest performance of the weekend, and a Daily Mail readers worst nightmare. A rap crew that merge deep electronic, hardcore punk and horror imagery.

In near darkness a pair of MCs one with artificial ‘witch fingers’ stalk the stage as a powerhouse thrash drummer lays the beats. This was powerful, unnerving and fully engaging as the band created a noise somewhere between Bad Brains and Death Grips.

Ho99o9 were the most vital new act of the weekend.

Explosions in the Sky

(Eric Parnies)

Explosions In The Sky

Post-rock is always epic in the live arena, but often lacks the theatrics to be a brilliant spectacle. This is not something that Explosions in the Sky suffer from. At Primavera they gave one of the performance of the weekend, making their epic, cinematic instrumental sounds into a full-on show – with each member throwing themselves into a rock performance. The music itself is melodic in places, building to awe-inspiring crescendos.

Brian Wilson

Former Beach Boy Brian Wilson is currently on a worldwide retirement tour, and marked the 50th anniversary of the seminal Pet Sounds by performing it in its entirety at Primavera.

Wilson may not be at his best these days but it was hard not to pay respects to the man who forged some of the greatest pop music ever. He has assembled a truly remarkable band, including Matt Jardine (son of original Beach Boy Al Jardine) to handle the famous falsetto vocals.

This show was a celebration of how great pop can be – ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘God Only Knows’ were as perfect as the genre can produce and the instrumentals and more experimental elements of the album created a perfect live listen.

Leaving Pet Sounds behind Wilson and band moved into a greatest hits run down of Beach Boys classics beginning with the unparalleled ‘Good Vibrations’ and journeying through the bands history with tracks like ‘I Get Around’, ‘Sail On Sailor’, ‘Help Me Rhonda’ and ‘California Girls’.

All in all this set was a joyous, sing-along celebration of a truly remarkable talent and band and one that was the perfect moment in the sunshine.

Brian Wilson

(Eric Parnies)

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