After two successfully-executed days of eclectic musical performances, it was time for the closing act on the inaugural Primavera Los Angeles. In a lot of ways, this day was defined by the many UK acts on the program, from the squiggly funk rock of Squid all the way up to big-time headliners the Arctic Monkeys, the British Empire was well-represented on Sunday.
Photo credit: Nicole Ditt
Japanese dance punks CHAI opened with plenty of energy on the non-album single about makeup, “No More Cake.” The quartet was full of energy, getting the day started on an upbeat note. Other songs during their set included “Donuts Mind If I Do” and closer “N.E.O,” from the band’s 2017 album Pink. Meanwhile, Latin-infused duo Buscabulla brought their dancey synth pop as the first act on the main stage.
Faye Webster had a big year in 2021, opening for Wilco and releasing the critically-acclaimed I Know I’m Funny haha. She was the second act on the main stage, a deserving placement for a singer-songwriter that is only rising in acclaim. She played the title track from her new album, “I Know I’m Funny haha” after opening her set with the album opener, “Better Distractions.”
Her sound was lush and vibrant, exactly the kind of music you want to hear from a singer-songwriter at a maximalist festival like Primavera. Another nugget was the mid-set cover of composer Go Ichinose’s “Lake” theme from the Pokemon games — certainly a bit of a bizarre electro synth detour in the middle of guitar-oriented indie folk.
Back at the Tecate Alta stage, Amyl and the Sniffers put on a punk rock blitz, led by their charismatic and very Australian lead singer Amy Taylor (who was wearing a glittery gold body suit that was almost glowing in the Southern California sun). Mullets have made a comeback around the world, but boy are they popular with Aussie alternative rockers. Most, if not all of the members of The Sniffers were rocking the hairstyle, including Taylor.
For the first few songs it was unrelenting rock and riffs, the band never pausing between songs. They opened with an older track, “Balaclava Lover Boogie,” which ended with a nifty hammer-on solo from guitarist Dec Martens. Next was the raucous party rocker “Freaks to the Front,” a track from their new album providing the first singalong opportunity. Then it was the first song to breach the three-minute mark, “Security.” One of their new album’s singles, the lyrics show a little bit of vulnerability in Taylor’s mostly hard-edged and hard-partying persona — “Security, will you let me in your pub / I’m not looking for trouble / I’m looking for love… Will you let me in your hard heart? Let me in your pub” Okay, so it’s still sort of about partying but deep down, every punk just wants someone they can hold and listen to The Stooges with.
After three songs Taylor finally addressed the crowd with a succinct “Fuckin’ aye!” They rounded out their set with the chunky riffs of “Maggot” and the guitar solo laden “Starfire 500” from their debut LP. During the latter song, Taylor got down into the photo pit to scream the lyrics into the front row of the audience. While most of the set was a mile a minute, they slowed things down a bit on “Knifey.”
Over on the main stage King Krule got ready to bring the audience a very different vibe from The Sniffers. The jazz/trip-hop-influenced British singer-songwriter has a sort of quiet intensity that is every bit as passionate as the pub rock of Amyl and The Sniffers, but delivered in a much different manner.
He opened up the set with the spacey, dub-influenced “A Lizard State” from his debut 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 10 years and four albums since the pasty redhead from London broke out with his rich baritone voice and idiosyncratic arrangements. His acclaimed third album The Ooz was represented early in the set with a performance of “Dum Surfer,” and later he performed “Slush Puppy.”
His set got off to a late start, which could be because he was feeling under the weather: “I’m sorry guys, I feel like shit” he admitted halfway through the performance. Despite his apparent ailment, there was no ill effect on the performance, the intricate instrumental backing perfectly aligned and in sync. He closed with his breakout single “Easy Easy,” which perhaps was the closest we got to a singalong during his set. It was the perfect collection of songs to find a shady spot on the field to zone out for a bit and get ready for the night’s headlining acts.
Way over on the smallest stage, Barcelona, dark wave dance band Boy Harsher brought a serious ‘80s vibe to the festival. Singer Jae Matthews and producer Augustus Miller were laying down heavy EBM-influenced tracks with ethereal singing, getting a little help from their friends. On “Autonomy” they were joined by Cooper B. Handy and later in the set, Mariana Saldaña joined them, wearing a full latex body suit, for a performance of “Machina.” Matthews joked during the set that they’re a dance band, so everyone in the audience should be dancing — even if the brilliant afternoon sun was a bit of a peculiar place for a goth dance party.
Norwegian artist girl in red (aka Marie Ulven Ringheim) broke out in a big way last year with the release of If I Could Make It Go Quiet and its KROQ-approved single “Serotonin.” While her earlier material could be classified as bedroom pop, with greater resources and stature she’s expanded her sound. The set opened up with “You Stupid Bitch,” a lament for a crush who just keeps picking the wrong mates. “Don’t bite your lip or grit your teeth / Just count to ten and try to breathe / You stupid bitch, can’t you see / The perfect one for you is me” she sang over a grunge-lite backdrop.
Before playing “Body and Mind” she joked that most of the audience was just watching her to get a good seat for the Arctic Monkeys. “I’m one of those white bitches that loves AM” she said while laughing. The first two songs had Ringheim running around the stage singing — a good look, because she has a lot of energy and strong stage presence — but for “girls” she took up the guitar. She introduced “we fell in love in october” by talking about why she loves fall, mentioning that Los Angeles doesn’t really have a fall season (debatable) and how much she hates our plastic grass. She also talked about how she’s currently writing a sequel to “we fell in love in october” and hopes to put it out in the next year or so.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest moment of her set was the performance of “Serotonin.” The song is a departure from her other material, less grungy or bedroom confessional and more bombastic alt-pop a la Lorde. In fact, the start-stop vocal delivery and melodic flourishes in the choruses is very similar to “Team” from Pure Heroine. Billie Eilish is another obvious (and admittedly slightly lazy) touchpoint; but would it surprise you that Finneas co-produced “Serotonin?”
A later standout of her set was “dead girl in the pool” with its narrative lyrics about a party gone wrong and literally, a dead body in the pool. Turns out, the dead body is girl in red. As she sings halfway through the song, “What the fuck is going on?” While the lyrics are a bit absurd, the song is about anxiety and dissociation, so in the end it makes sense. The band was on point during this song, the shuffling rhythms perfect for pogoing in the pit.
While Arca put on a wild set at the Barcelona Stage, Cigarettes After Sex treated fans to a taste of their sweet and somber dream pop. The El Paso band specializes in aching love songs, with a sonic palette reminiscent of Beach House with influences from slowcore groups like Galaxie 500. They opened with two appropriately-titled songs “Crush” and “Cry” before performing one of their best-known tracks, the breakout “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby.” Other notable performances included “Sunsets” and closer “Heavenly.”
Now it was time for the final headliner of the festival: Arctic Monkeys. A band that has slightly changed styles over the years, starting out during the post-punk revival of the mid-00s and gradually incorporating blues, lounge and psychedelic rock into their repertoire. They hit their creative acme with AM, which featured world-beater singles “Do I Wanna Know?” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” They’ve been a very popular band from the moment “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” hit the alternative radio waves, but they’re currently operating at or at least near their commercial peak.
Since they released AM in 2013 they’ve released one other record, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. It was a polarizing effort, incorporating the loungey baroque pop vibe of Alex Turner’s other project Last Shadow Puppets. Judging from the first single from their upcoming LP The Car, that is the sonic future of this iconic rock band.
On Sunday, they wasted no time in giving the people what they wanted. As the opening riffs of “Do I Wanna Know?” rang out over the PA, throngs of festival attendees flocked to the main stage. It was a flawless performance, with Turner taking control of the crowd as the wind blew through his feathered hair. While one of the band’s most recognizable songs, “Do I Wanna Know?” is not exactly a high-energy affair. That changed with the next few songs, as “Brainstorm” and “Snap Out of It” got the bodies moving to the uptempo riffs.
The next three songs were pulled from the band’s third album, the Josh Homme-produced Humbug. “Crying Lightning, “Teddy Picker” and “Potion Approaching” set the stage for what is another of the band’s biggest hits, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” They continued the slow pace with another deliberately arranged song, the title track from Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino.
Ten songs in is where we got the first live taste of new material from Arctic Monkeys with “I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am.” While it’s not the first single from the album, it is the lead track and the first from the album to be performed live. They didn’t play the album’s first single, “There Better Be A Mirrorball,” so you’ll have to wait to hear how that song plays out live.
The Arctic Monkeys closed their set and the first ever Primavera Festival Los Angeles with a one-two punch. First up they played one song everyone was waiting to hear, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” a high-energy post-punk rager that transported the audience into a very different time for the band. They closed with one of AM’s best songs, “RU Mine,” another energetic performance that left the audience buzzing as they walked down Spring Street towards Chinatown Station.
Amyl And the Sniffers
girl in red
Photo credit: Nicole Ditt