Lorde, Stereolab, Tim Hecker & more rocked an incendiary Day 1 at LA State Historic Park
The curtain might be closing on summer festival season, but the powers that be are determined to let it go out with a bang. Enter Primavera Sound Los Angeles.
The long-running global music festival series threw their hat into the SoCal ring with its inaugural L.A. edition, and the present (and future) is bright. Los Angeles State Historic Park, the original site of the legendary (but now-defunct) FYF Fest, provided an ideal backdrop to take in sets from some of the most unique and forward-thinking bands and artists in the game. Sprawling green grass, a picturesque view of the downtown cityscape, comfortable temperatures (thankfully, this festival didn’t take place a week or two ago), easy transportation options, and a fairly savvy layout all made the experience and logistics a breeze. On top of that, the music was stellar.
My Friday started with a gonzo ambient drone set from Canadian experimental producer Tim Hecker. Watching him perform on the smaller Barcelona Stage at 3:30 PM forced me to mentally adjust; I’ve always associated Hecker’s music with the nighttime. Whether he’s being serene and celestial or spooky and noisy, on record, his sounds conjure deep late night vibes. Usually I listen to him when I’m trying to fall asleep.
But in the beating sunlight on Friday afternoon, he transcended that dynamic. Never in my life have I heard such loud, body-shaking waves of rolling bass. As I stood clutching the front bar, I felt the vibrations travel from the metal to my hands and up my limbs and inside my organs. Even with earplugs in, I could feel my eardrums convulsing. After a few songs, I retreated 50 feet back. On stage, one of Hecker’s friends played a bamboo-fastened woodwind instrument that belched out spindly melodies that weaved along with the walls of squelching bass noise. Demonic, mesmerizing stuff, and a pretty wild way to experience Hecker live for the first time.
Later, PinkPantheress delivered a groovy reprieve over on the Tecate Alta stage. Much has been made lately of the ’90s rave revival, and PP has taken a lot of credit for that renaissance thanks to her fusion of modern indie pop sensibilities with throwback two-step, jungle and drum n’ bass. The massive 21+ zone may have ruffled feathers amongst the teenagers in the crowd – of which there were many on Friday. But for us older folks, that meant no lines for alcohol. As PinkPantheress warmed the crowd up, I did indulge in one or two adult beverages. The lack of craft beer was a huge bummer, but I was quite taken by the Red Bull margaritas. It would be my drink of choice throughout the rest of the weekend.
Shellac have been one of the most reliable bands in the independent music sphere for almost 30 years. The noise-rock trio – led by Steve Albini, one of the most important and influential producer/engineers in all of music – ebbed and flowed between slow, seething and ominous and loud, bold and aggressive. Hard-charging guitar chords, pummeling percussion, a dash of irreverent humor, and even an amusing Q&A between audience and bassist Bob Weston all ensued. Though they don’t play as often anymore, Shellac are always a delight when they do.
The Smirnoff Ice dance stage proved to be one of the best experiences of the entire weekend, and it’s a bit of a shame that more people didn’t check it out. Tucked in the far west corner of the festival grounds, the circular stage played host to fantastic DJs all weekend. A grassy hill looked down upon the stage while trees provided abundant shade. It was the perfect place to escape the crowds, cool down, and sit and watch (or stand and dance to) an electronic music set with food and drinks in hand. The first act I saw was AceMoma (the superduo of rising NYC DJs AceMo and Moma) – who churned out cinematic house beats to a modest but enthralled crowd.
As the sun set behind the downtown buildings and dusk settled in, the Smirnoff Ice crowd slowly snowballed into a dance party that persisted until the end of the night. The budding Detroit legend Omar-S was undoubtedly my highlight of this musical stretch, sticking to his tried-and-true formula of classic house and techno fusion. In a sea of DJs recently co-opting the styles of ’90s rave, Omar-S is thankfully one of the steadfast hold-outs. Classic garage will never die.
My highlight of Friday also came from my most anticipated act of the day, Stereolab. The experimental dream pop-shoegaze-indie collective kept their reunion train rolling along with a tight, jammy, gazy output of hits like “French Disko” and “Miss Modular” as well as deeper cuts “Eye of the Volcano” and “Delugeoisie.” There’s was the ideal set to reel in the golden sunset hour. Beyond that, I was able to check off one of my bucket list bands. At the same time, a 55-minute set felt too short for a band like Stereolab; I’ll be sure to catch them at their own show next chance I get.
Friday was not without a few logistical hiccups, but that’s to be expected from a first-year festival. For what it’s worth, all of the issues were completely ironed out as the weekend went on. But the most baffling decision was the layout for the under-21 viewing area. I’m not sure exactly what the thought process was, but the front areas to view the two main stages were almost completely blocked off from the under-21s besides one small pizza slice enclosed by front and side barriers. This created a major bottleneck for those younger attendees attempting to see some of their favorite acts, and it was virtually impossible to get on the front bar. With younger-skewing acts like Lorde, Mitski, and Clairo performing on Friday, this problem was especially glaring.
Nonetheless, Mitski absolutely crushed it. Her latest album Laurel Hell has yielded such a surge in her popularity, and she absolutely played the hell out of it. Her gorgeous voice, theatrical stage presence, and wonderful contributions from her backing band made it one of the best sets of the night. She is well on her way to becoming one of the biggest artists of her generation.
My night ended with a rousing headlining set from Lorde, who already is one of the biggest artists of her generation. With an eye-popping (and slightly phallic) stage design, Lorde captivated the crowd with a glittery elixir of confessional future-pop bangers and lovelorn ballads. While her most recent album Solar Power wasn’t quite my cup of tea, she elevated those tracks with nifty choreography, translucent lights, her quirky sense of humor, and an immaculate singing voice that absolutely soars in a live setting. She brought the house down on “Perfect Places” before ultimately ending on the one-two punch of “Green Light” and “Solar Power.”
With that, the first ever night of Primavera LA was in the books. A short Uber ride home and a quick nightcap put the cherry on top of an excellent Day 1. An even better Day 2 lurked in the shadows, of which you’ll hear all about very soon. For now you can scroll below for a few more highlights.