Drain Gang inspires, Bicep dazzles & Nine Inch Nails deliver the set of the weekend on a glorious Day 2
A gothic cloud hovered over an otherwise bright and sunny day at L.A. State Historic Park on Saturday, the most stacked day of Primavera L.A. lineup-wise. A much, much bigger crowd turned out than on Friday, and a good chunk of the audience members were dressed in black, sporting layers of mascara, and decked out in “NIN” gear.
That was the name on everyone’s minds as the day wore on. But there was plenty to love and admire in the build-up. Saturday brought amazing vibes, excellent music, delicious food and drinks, and an ideal setting to take in an immaculate set from one of the greatest musical acts to ever do it.
My brother joined our group on Saturday, which was a blessing in many ways – one being that he works right across the street from the venue and had a fast and free lot for us to park in. A swift entrance into the venue set the tone as I grabbed a drink at the main stage and watched one of my most anticipated artists of the weekend, Machine Girl.
For many years now, Machine Girl has been the NYC DIY noise band to rule them all. Their shows are the stuff of word-of-mouth legend, and for being relatively under-the-radar, they’ve actually inspired a whole wave of acts in their wake. At the Primavera Stage, they came to snarling life as frontman Matt Stephenson thrashed and gyrated on stage, screaming over freaky digital hardcore beats while drummer Sean Kelly wreaked havoc on his kit. Later in the set, Stephenson jumped into the crowd and surfed over a mangle of bodies while continuing to shatter his vocal cords. For a band opening a stage that headliner Nine Inch Nails would later play on, Machine Girl proved to be a very savvy, very imposing booking.
After a quick drink cool-down, I made my over to the small Barcelona stage to check out Beak>, the ominous, minimalistic noise-rock band led by Portishead savant (and one of the internet’s most endearing musical curmudgeons) Geoff Barrow. While it was a bit strange to watch this moody band perform in the peak of the afternoon heat, I was struck by the brilliance of Primavera’s curation. All day, a restless, spooky, but inviting energy was being conjured – one act at a time – all building to its final resting place in NIN. Beak> fulfilled its promise by winding the crowd up for another spectacular afternoon of music, but with a dark, gothic twist to it that never let up.
Kim Gordon is another legendary musician from a legendary band. As a solo act with a backing band, she’s as reliable as ever. Cranking out lo-fi-inflected garage punk jams, the Sonic Youth marauder writhed and belted on stage, and demonstrated her power as one of rock n’ roll’s most dazzling and seasoned frontwomen. I watched about half of her set, enough time to catch her drop her recent “trap” song, before heading out to see an act I’ve always been super curious about.
Although only one original member exists, Mayhem is a band that needs to be experienced at least once – if you get the chance. The godfathers/pioneers of Norwegian black metal claim a special place in musical history, setting the template for so many others to come. At the same time, there’s a superficial aesthetic layer to them that screams “prototype.” Many black metal bands have come and gone since Mayhem – many of them better than Mayhem.
And yet, nobody from that sphere will ever eclipse the band’s notoriety or infamy. Much of that has to do with what the tragedies that occurred behind the music. But there’s a spectacular power to that, and as I watched the band light up the Barcelona Stage, clad in cloaks and scary face-paint, I basked in the glow of the atmosphere. A sea of horns raised amidst a pummeling display of swirling metal time signatures. There may be better black metal bands out there, but there will never be one more iconic. I’m grateful to have witnessed that.
After experiencing that very welcome auditory assault, my group retreated to the comfy confines of the Smirnoff Ice dance stage, which once again proved to be the best place in the venue to chill out and relax. The soothing tropical sounds of Sangre Nueva – the DJ supertrio of DJ Python, DJ Fiorentina and Kelman Duran – provided the softly propulsive soundtrack: reggaeton, breakbeat, jungle/DnB, lofi, and everything else they could throw into the beautiful mix. The cooling afternoon breeze ushered in the ideal time to grab a drink, lay down on the hills under the shade of the trees, and zone out to a perfect mix of kinetic sounds.
Later on in the night, my group returned to the Smirnoff Ice stage to check out Shanti Celeste and Isabella go back-to-back. The two European house stars spun on vinyl, and let’s just say there were breakbeats galore! There is always a place for electronic music at a music festival, and it’s a shame that more people didn’t venture over to this unique spot. But then again, it carried the aura of a well-kept secret, and each time we returned to it, we had a blast – whether it was to sit down and catch a breather or to dance our asses off.
Up to this point, my favorite act of the festival had been Stereolab, but that was quickly eclipsed by one of the most intriguing bookings of the festival: Drain Gang.
Comprised of Swedish rappers Bladee and Ecco2K and Thai rapper Thaiboy Digital, Drain Gang brought their quirky, unique blend of sounds to a delirious throng of die-hards on the Barcelona stage. Ethereal digital textures, gorgeous autotuned vocal harmonies, moving lyrics, and awe-inspiring performances captivated the crowd from start-to-finish. Bladee and Ecco2K played a couple tracks off their recent collaborative LP Crest, one of Impose’s favorite albums of the year so far. Thaiboy Digital impressed with his mix of crooning and rapping. And Ecco2K displayed hands-down the most impressive stage presence of the entire weekend. It was pure magic through and through. I cannot undersell it. It was breathtaking, and very nearly the best set of the festival.
Khruangbin performed in the coveted subheadlining position, and it was easy to see why. The Houston psychedelic jam band is nothing but a crowdpleaser, and they’ve had a meteoric rise to the top lines of the music festival circuit over the last few years. Their music is easy to digest and groove to with a drink in hand, and thus they served the “cocktail hour” of the festival well. As far as the eye could see, people were lined up for booze and guzzling it down to jammy neo-psych renditions of samples from various classic hip-hop songs, Chris Isaac’s “Game of Love,” and a bevy of hits from their recent records.
Of course, this was all just the calm before the storm. Or maybe, more accurately, the eye of the tornado.
Nine Inch Nails are one of my favorite bands of all time. I once had an NIN poster on my wall when I was growing up. I’ve seen them a handful of times, each show better than the last. Let’s just say that trend did not let up on Saturday night when they took the stage to headline Day 2. Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and company were in tip-top form, performing the loudest and cleanest I’ve heard from them yet.
Opening with the elusive The Fragile hit “Somewhat Damaged,” the world’s most legendary industrial act tore through a setlist that included Broken track “Wish,” Downward Spiral hits “March of the Pigs” and “Reptile,” a saxophone-rich performance of “God Break the Door Down,” and the gleeful inclusion of “The Perfect Drug” off the soundtrack of David Lynch’s Lost Highway. The blinding strobe lights, the piercing sound, and the mercurial presence of Trent Reznor all combined to form the best set of the entire festival. The final one-two-three punch of “The Hand That Feeds,” “Head Like A Hole,” and “Hurt” was one of the most cathartic rides I’ve ever felt in a live setting.
When you’ve had your face melted like that, it can take a while to put your mental bearings back into place. Luckily, we didn’t have to do that right away, because Bicep was closing out the night over on the nearby Tecate Alta stage. Luckily, the total sensory overload of progressive house and dazzling lights and lasers was exactly what the doctor ordered. Heavy, radical, searing, and with a dash of euphoria and melancholy in those melodies, Bicep are hitting the sweet spot in this moment of EDM, and are definitely the next big thing in that scene. It was a treat to see their much-talked about live set for myself.
A mercifully short ride home ended the perfect Saturday of Primavera LA. Sunday’s Arctic Monkeys Mania would be the grand finale, which you’ll hear all about very soon. Until then, enjoy the rest of the highlights from Day 2 below.