The Barcelona & Madrid editions of the music festival series reveal dazzling lineups featuring Kendrick Lamar, Rosalía & more
Every year, Primavera Sound sets a very high benchmark with its lineups. And each year that passes, my FOMO gets more out-of-hand. But this time I’ve finally pulled the trigger, bought a ticket, and now have concrete plans to attend the Barcelona edition in 2023.
A couple weeks ago, the lineups for both Barcelona and Madrid were revealed. Once again, they feature a dazzling slate of bands and artists that no other festival (certainly none in America) can compete with. New, fresh, forward-thinking and cutting edge acts are the bread-and-butter of the lineups, which are nearly identical save for a couple of exclusives on both ends.
On top of that, I bought a three-day early bird pass before the lineup dropped, and it only cost me $270. I’m not sure if European festivals have a lower standard ticket price across the board, but it definitely underscores the insane price-gouging going on in the North American festival circuit. But the relatively low costs for Primavera Barcelona and Madrid make the godly lineups stand out that much more. When you look at the lineup poster, it’s a steal!
Here’s a Festival Beat preview for those out there who have debated attended this festival in the past, and who are just needing that one last nudge to pull the trigger as well. Featuring a mix of mainstream superstars, rare reunion acts, cutting edge experimental legends, and forward-thinking up-and-comers, the 2023 lineups for the Spanish editions of Primavera are some of the best we’ve ever seen. Here’s the performers we’re gonna be sure to check out.
At this point, Blur have attained legend status. They’re in a position where they’re capable of disappearing for a decade and returning to even more fanfare than ever before. That kind of fan fervor will never die – in fact it only snowballs. And furthermore, they’ve always been an incendiary live act, which means they’re capable of headlining any festival they want. After a six year hiatus, Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Roundtree will give it another go, beginning with a run of festival dates that includes Primavera Barcelona & Madrid. Leave it to Primavera to bag one of the most beloved acts around for a pair of reunion gigs.
No matter how much time passes, Depeche Mode will remain one of the best and most reliable live acts in the game. Over 40 years into their career, the English alt rockers continue to inspire audiences new and old with their grand swirl of goth, darkwave and industrial. They’ve racked up such an impressive body of work through their career, that their setlist will feel like a run of greatest hits to even the most casual fan. Expect a display of dark, brooding, heady visuals and wiry stage presence as the band co-headlines Friday night with Kendrick Lamar.
Kendrick Lamar’s latest album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers proved to be fairly divisive, but according to reports from his latest run of shows, the live experience is indisputably transcendent. As a musician, Kendrick has always put a much greater level of care and attention into his live performances than his peers, and that’s one of the reasons he’s considered one of hip-hop’s all-time greats. Not only is he able to recreate his verses live with gusto, but he’s able to infuse them with a level of weight and emotion that no other rapper out there is capable of. Add to that the stunning stage and visual craft, and Kendrick’s headlining show will be downright essential.
As one of the world’s most ascendant superstars right now, Rosalía’s MOTOMAMI live show commands must-see status. The fact that her headlining set on Saturday will be a hometown show for her makes it all the more special; in fact it could be the most iconic performance of the weekend. Based on the snippets released on YouTube, the MOTOMAMI show ramps up Rosalía’s knack for theatricality and choreography, delivering a truly transportive experience with top-of-the-line production and music composition. We cannot wait to see the prodigal daughter return home for what will be a career-capping moment for her!
In my recent 35 Best Festival Sets of the Year writeup, I was effusive in my praise for Drain Gang and the set they delivered at Primavera LA. More than their dreamy beats, elusive verses and blown-out production, it’s the cathartic emotional bond sowed between performer and audience that stands out the most. The connection that Bladee, Ecco2k and Thaiboy Digital form with their fans in a live setting is like nothing I’ve experienced. They’re gonna run it back to awe-inspiring effect when they hit the Primavera stage on Day 1. I’m expecting many happy tears to be shed.
Anderson Paak is one of the most prolific artists in all of music, but the project that will always hold my heart is his work with producer Knxwledge. The duo will join forces once more for a rare festival performance on Thursday night, and whether they bust out old faves (like their dynamic LP Yes Lawd!) or debut new material (such as their most recent track “Where I Go”), they’ll surely deliver a smoky, spiritual, ethereal showcase of hip-hop, neo soul and R&B. They’re one of the many rare dynamic duos performing this year.
One of the big breakthrough artists of the past couple years, Los Angeles rapper Baby Keem continues to emerge out of Kendrick’s shadow with his hyperkinetic and thoughtful brand of hip-hop. At Coachella he proved to be a born performer, bringing dynamic theatrics and a firebrand persona to a packed-out Sahara Tent. His subheadlining set at Primavera will be his chance to continue to show the world that he can go toe-to-toe with his older, more seasoned cousin. And we imagine we will most likely receive an onstage collab between the two!
It’s been a long strange trip of a career for Four Tet, and now more than 20 years in, Kieran Hebden has suddenly hit the peak of his popularity. On top of that, he’s still churning out some of the best music he’s ever made. Add all that up, and he’s one of the biggest draws of the music festival circuit, pumping out a sterling mix of house, techno and breakbeat that’s full of surprises. Whether he serves up a swirl of gangbusters visuals, or performs in the pitch black with just a desk lamp, Four Tet is the most versatile and reliably dazzling electronic artist around. Primavera will be a coronation of his epic artistic journey.
It’s funny how music can be so cyclical. 10 years ago, Skrillex rules the EDM scene with his over-the-top Transformers-style of “bro-step,” a sub-genre that had as many detractors as it did fans. A lot has changed since then. Sonny Moore took a bit of a step back from his Skrillex persona and opted to produce tracks for mainstream artists. In that time, he showed nuance and versatility in his productions that have carried over into his own work and collabs with artists like Four Tet and Fred Again…we will definitely be there to see what Moore can cook up after all these years.
On FKA twigs’ last album cycle, she delivered one of the most maximal and awe-inspiring festival sets I’ve seen. Part trapeze artist and part pole dancer, twigs’ onstage performance antics had jaws on the floor as she crooned out her heavenly off-kilter R&B ballads off Magdalene. With a new album on the way, one can only imagine she’ll somehow come up with something just as inspiring and death-defying. It’s one of those things you have to see to believe.
My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket are practically the elder statesmen of the Primavera lineup, and they have the chops and gravitas to anchor festival lineups for the rest of their careers. I caught them all the way back in 2008 at Coachella, and their legend has only grown since. As a band, they are as airtight as they come. They could rock a large crowd in their sleep, such is the telepathic level the members are operating at. Jim James and company are guaranteed to deliver.
By far the biggest surprise upon the reveal of this year’s lineup, the inclusion of Emeralds sent uber-fans into a mouth-watering frenzy. The Cleveland-based experimental electronic trio broke up back in 2013 after a stunning winning streak of albums, including Allegory of Allergies, Smoke Signals, Does It Look Like I’m Here? and more. They garnered a rabid cult following and a reputation as a godly live act during that time. If you’re not hip to their stuff, definitely go and get caught up. With their spindly mix of progressive, ambient, drone and noise, they’re one of the most interesting acts on the Primavera lineup.
The Moldy Peaches
In the past few years, The Moldy Peaches have experienced a bit of a revival in the indie sphere thanks to the buzz around Meet Me in the Bathroom, which spends a bit of time tracing the band’s journey and impact in the early 2000s New York indie rock scene. The influential freak-folk/indie punk duo broke up back in 2008, but they’ll reunite this year and at Primavera for a chance to run it back to their glory days. Their set will remind us of the twee era when their music reigned supreme on the Juno soundtrack.
The Glasgow indie rock band The Delgados gained a beloved following when they were active from 1994 to 2005, blending heavy melancholy and symphonic pop touches in their heart-on-your-sleeve sound. Last year they suddenly announced their reunion after 17 years of being broken up. This is the type of special, unexpected booking that Primavera has the clout to pull off. It’s a rare must-see set from a band thought to be gone forever, and you don’t want to waste an opportunity like that.
Be Your Own Pet
I’ve been yearning for a Be Your Own Pet reunion ever since they broke up back in 2008. The Nashville garage punk/indie sleaze band was one of the biggest DIY success stories of the ’00s, but their abrupt breakup left fans craving a lot more. Thankfully, Jemina Pearl and company were lured back to the stage this past year – opening for Jack White no less – and at Primavera they’ll look to recapture the energy of glory years, back when their ripping chords and snarling vocals made them one of the hottest buzz bands of their day. As a diehard fan who missed my chance to see them back then, this set might be my most anticipated of the weekend.
One of the biggest rock bands in the world over the past decade, the Swedish progressive metal unit Ghost have attained a rare level of crossover success for a band of their ilk (including a Grammy award and three consecutive Top 10 Billboard debuts). A lot of that is down to their soaring melodic stylings in addition to their spellbinding costumes and theatrics. On Thursday evening, they’ll play to one of their biggest festival crowds yet, which will likely gain them even more devout followers. I’ve never seen them live before and I’m not even a big fan of their music, but I know this set will deliver.
The War On Drugs
On the other hand, the Primavera Barcelona and Madrid lineups are not totally identical. For whatever reason, each weekend contains a handful of exclusive bookings, and overall, each has reasons to brag. Barcelona will be getting a set from heartland indie rockers The War on Drugs, one of the most galvanizing live acts around. It’s only been a couple years since his last album dropped, so we are hoping that in addition to all the classic WOD hits, Aaron and company debut some unheard, unreleased material as well. Watching them perform is a treat.
The Mars Volta
Fresh off their recent reunion album, which divided fans and critics alike, the beloved psychedelic progsters The Mars Volta look to be back and mostly operating at the peak of their powers. Whether you’re a fan of the new stuff or not doesn’t really matter, the band will dig up old classics off Frances the Mute or De-Loused in the Comatorium as well. Omar, Cedric and company once held a reputation as one of the craziest live bands ever. We sincerely hope that’s still the case, and it’s unfortunate they’re not playing my weekend so I can see for myself.
One of my favorite musical discoveries of the past couple years has been the sprawling Calgary art punk collective Crack Cloud. Beyond their turbulent, off-kilter brand of post-punk and art rock, the band are just a gonzo live act, wearing masks, shouting in unison, tripping and frolicking and breaking glass on stage like weirdo performance artists. Thankfully, they’ve got the cinematic tunes to back up their bizarro execution, and fans in Madrid are in for a treat that will give us Barcelona-goers a heavy dose of FOMO.
The Rare Wildcards
All three days of the Primavera festival lineup contains a rare electronic duo with a cult-like fanbase. On day 1, the heaviest of those groups, Karenn, will return to the live scene and hopefully put on a clinic for their rabid fans. The duo of Blawan and Pariah conjure up a heady and irascible slice of industrial techno, which flows and pummels in all sorts of hypnotic ways. I’ve also heard that they employ a complex hardware setup, and when Karenn perform, you can’t take your eyes off their movements. Enticing stuff!
Voices From The Lake
The slower, more pensive and kraut-leaning duo Voices From The Lake are regarded as legends in the ambient techno sphere. The duo from Rome, Italy are known to be mercurial and performances from them are rare, so if you’re either a fan or just someone who is curious, then their set on day 2 is a can’t miss. Their calm, lush, aquatic, effervescent brand of electronica takes on the feeling of an epic film score, with celestial tones and depth and subtlety that no other act in their sphere can match. Their Prima set will be as relaxing and puzzling as you could want.
By far the wildest of wild cards on the Primavera lineup is the enigmatic rising UK producer-DJ duo Two Shell. Here they’re billed under an inscrutable moniker that reads out “TWO SHELL WAS HERE,” so whatever that means, hopefully we’ll actually be getting a real set from them and not some bonkers pre-recorded performance art piece. Either way, the duo’s blend of house and hyperpop toes the line between experimental and crowd-pleasing, and I predict they’ll become one of the biggest acts in the game if they play their cards right. And that’s a big if. In any case, I’ll be there to witness it.
The Reliable Undercard Acts
In a review of Alex G’s recent live show in San Diego, I wrote that he is “is one of the best and most important musicians of his generation.” Somehow, his shapeshifting abilities on record are recreated perfectly live, and he has a massive discography of beloved songs to choose from. With one of the most dedicated cult audiences around, the mercurial Philadelphia musician is transcendent in his ability to wrangle indie rock, noise pop, Americana/folk and R&B. He even takes crowd requests at the end of each set. A true genius through and through.
The Comet Is Coming
The jazz sphere continues to cross over into the mainstream in innovative, futuristic ways. One of the most shining examples of this is the English trio The Comet Is Coming, who conjure a celestial, psychedelic style that’s become known as cosmic jazz. Fresh off the heals of their amazing new album Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam, the band will bring their explosive performance chops to the Primavera stage on Thursday night in what will likely be a trippy late night jaunt through eclectic worldly sounds. Perfect for a late night smoke sesh.
Tzusing is a radical Malaysian DJ and producer who hails from Shanghai and dabbles in styles like hard drum, deep house, acid techno, industrial techno, and everything in between. He’s been one of the staples of the worldwide electronic scene, appearing on showcases for Boiler Room and various festival lineups where he always delivers rich, nuanced bangers and a plethora of good vibes. You can expect to be loose on the dance floor from start to finish.
We recently gushed about The Beths’ latest album Expert in a Dying Field in our Top 50 Albums of 2022 piece, lauding singer Liz Stokes’ heartfelt vocals and guitarist Jonathan Pearce’s impressive shredding. Both of these elements come to explosive life in their live performances, as Stokes belts out painfully honest lyrics overtop of Pearce’s bevy of guitar solos in one catchy hit after another. New tracks like “Silence Is Golden” stack up well against old faves like “Future Me Hates Me.” I’ve seen them live twice, and they crushed it both times.
It’s been a while since Death Grips did much of anything, but that looks to change in 2023 as the band has a fully-booked slate of shows throughout the entire year. With MC Ride’s guttural, throat-shattering rapping, Andy Morin’s glitchy electronics and Zach Hill’s pummeling drums, Death Grips have earned their reputation as a notoriously rowdy and magnetic live act, and I highly doubt that any rust has accrued during their time away from the stage. Hopefully a new album and another mesmerizing stage spectacle is in our near future.
One of the things that all these new-ish post-punk bands like Squid, Black Midi, BCNR, IDLES, Shame and the like have going for them is that they all absolutely destroy live. I’ve heard that’s also the case for the enigmatic Irish group Gilla Band, who recently released the best album of their careers, Most Normal, this past year. Dastardly vocal chops, slithery instrumentals and eerie, ominous vibes permeate their sound, lending to what I imagine is a radiant live set that I cannot and will not miss.