The lineup of Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festival is always stacked. It’s one of the best-booked festivals in the world, always boasting an impressive and diverse array of headliners atop a sprawling lineup that can hold all sorts of surprises. Conflicts are, counter-intuitively, less of a topic with Primavera because at a certain point you have to surrender, accept that there’s no physical way to see all the good stuff, and just follow wherever the night takes you. It doesn’t really matter what that end destination is — even if you don’t have a plan, you’ll stumble into something worth watching.
This is how Primavera is every year, but it is even more noticeable this year, when we’re staring down a summer of lackluster offerings at the major U.S. festivals. You could blame it on the festival market becoming over-saturated, or simply the way certain artists’ tour cycles fell, but a lot of the American fests this year are noticeably thin, and even more repetitive than usual. It seems every fest is anchored by major, expensive headliners with little concern for whatever you’re supposed to do the rest of the day, and even those headliners leave something to be desired. Do Jack White and Eminem have to be at every single one? Sure, the Killers are fun live, but do you need to see them reign over a festival field for 50th time in three years?
Festivals like Primavera, though just as big and sponsored as the primary events Stateside, operate like an antidote. When it comes to headliners, they make the right decisions in terms of the ever-present heavy-hitters — acts like Father John Misty, the War On Drugs, Lorde, the National, HAIM. But then they balance it by giving a name like Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds top billing at a mainstream festival in 2018. And beyond that, there’s always something going on in whatever corner of Primavera — unique one-offs, or a revelation waiting to be had.
Ahead of the festival’s kickoff next week, we took a look at the lineup and highlighted some of the acts that feel like must-sees at Primavera 2018. The acts that sum up the festival’s breadth and its constant excitement. The acts that, big and small, certainly seem like a more intriguing bet than Odesza inexplicably hanging out at the top of every American festival poster. There’s no comprehensive way to craft a guide to Primavera; there’s just too many different ways to go about it. But this is a small starting point.
Spiritualized (with orchestra and choir)
Spiritualized isn’t exactly made for festivals. Their live shows can be slow, blooming drama built on a patient approach to sublime noise. Luckily, Primavera has an answer for artists like that: the Barcelona park the festival takes over also includes an auditorium that in recent years has housed discursive Sun Kil Moon sets, a three hour Swans show, and the Magnetic Fields’ ornate live production for 50 Song Memoir.
Spiritualized will play there on Wednesday — the sort of soft opening night for the festival, in which there is only a handful of acts — and they’re bringing not only an orchestra, but also a choir. It has all the ideal factors for a bombastic but poetic Spiritualized show. And it’s also been six years since their last album, so maybe you can cross your fingers for some new material.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Now 60 years old, Nick Cave has lost little of the ferocity that made him a legendary performer over the decades. In fact, the passage of time has only given him more power — he’s one of those guys who steps onstage and immediately makes you feel as if you’re in the presence of something, as if you are about to experience something truly singular.
With few traditional “hits” to his name, he’s a unique legacy choice to be headlining a festival, especially when you consider the harrowing ground his recent live shows have traversed. But, to be honest, you should take every single chance you have to see Cave perform. And the prospect of he and the Bad Seeds bringing songs like “Jubilee Street” and “The Mercy Seat” to a festival crowd is one of the main selling points of this year’s iteration of Primavera.
Fever Ray is also appearing at some U.S. festivals this year; Karin Dreijer’s presence in Spain isn’t exactly the point. Her presence at all is. It’s been years since the Knife performed, and Fever Ray returned out of nowhere last fall with Plunge, her first album in eight years. It was an urgent and timely piece that ranked amongst our favorites of 2017. Now touring behind her latest collection, Fever Ray’s set promises to be as visually striking as it is musically — and though she may be playing elsewhere, it’s a rare thing to see her earn the sort of prominent placement she has at Primavera.
Here’s another distinguishing aspect of Primavera: It goes all fucking night. A lot of times it doesn’t even really get going until six or seven in the evening, and then there are still notable names hitting the stage by three or four in the morning. On Thursday, the beloved German electronic artist DJ Koze has a set from 4-5:30AM. He also just released his excellent new album Knock Knock, his first in five years. It should be a perfect way to approach the sunrise.
Late last year, Charlotte Gainsbourg released her great new LP Rest. And six months later, she’s at Primavera playing opposite the likes of Migos and HAIM. There’s an argument to be made for catching a bit of all three, though Gainsbourg stands out as more of an opportunity given that Migos and HAIM are frequent appearances Stateside. Also, the possibility of the dance party that will break out during “Deadly Valentine” seems too good to pass up.
The late-late night options at Primavera aren’t always limited to electronic music approximating an early morning stint at the nightclub. Last year, I saw Operators bring their revved-up synth-rock to the stage around 3AM, and it was one of my favorite sets of the whole festival. This year, the Atlanta post-punk trio Omni fill a similar slot. They’re starting to build a reputation for a live show that is equal parts precise intensity and loose frenzy, so if you aren’t being kept awake by, um, other substances come 3:20 in the morning, this should do the trick.
Let’s Eat Grandma
By Primavera standards, you’ll have to show up on the earlier side to catch Let’s Eat Grandma — at 6:30 on Saturday evening, they’re taking over the Heineken Hidden Stage, a sort of club nestled within the expanse of Primavera. The young British duo already had an unusual approach when touring their first album; Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth were alone onstage with a full setup, which found them jumping between instruments throughout, sometimes mid-song. With their sophomore outing I’m All Ears on the horizon with a late June release, who knows what form their adventurousness will take this time.
Jay Som admittedly has some stiff competition. She’s up against Lorde, who is a world conqueror, and Grizzly Bear, who remain deeply impressive at rendering their knotty compositions onstage. But at the current stage in her career, you’d be likelier to catch Jay Som playing under-attended afternoon sets at American festivals, and her placement at Primavera basically ensures that her charming, addicting indie-pop will find a larger, and perhaps more enthusiastic, crowd with which to share the experience.
Oneohtrix Point Never
I saw Oneohtrix Point Never perform earlier this week, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. It was sort of avant-garde classical? It was sort of the coolest New Age music you’ve ever heard? It was sort of electronic, but dismantled and smeared and mutated as if to feel like robotic whale songs? The one thing I can say definitively is that it was mesmerizing, and has lingered with me. A lot of Primavera’s late-night electronic acts skew towards DJ sets. But Oneohtrix Point Never’s performance promises to be something different from that, and something unlike anything else at the festival.
In one of the truly difficult conflicts of Primavera 2018, the final night features an overlap between A$AP Rocky, Beach House, and Jon Hopkins. At first glance, Rocky would be the perfect party option for the final night of Primavera; he has an enviable selection of bangers that are the exact right fit for a no-bullshit, amped-up festival set. Then again, Beach House just released one of the best albums of the year, and perhaps the finest in their adored catalog. But chances to see either of these artists aren’t necessarily hard to come by. And speaking from past experience, Jon Hopkins’ space-age electronica can sometimes be the best way to say goodbye to Primavera, the most apt way to soum up the surreal experience with which these weekends often leave you.