Photos courtesy of Miranda McDonald/Lindsey Byrnes/Pooneh Ghana for Primavera Los Angeles, 2022
Reed Jackson vapes for Christ.
Seems like there’s a music fest nearly every month in Los Angeles now.
There’s the goth one; the beach goth one; the outlaw country one. I’m fairly new here, but longtime residents of the city have conveyed to me that this is all, in part, an effort to fill the void that FYF left behind — or, as I know it, that festival where Frank Ocean sang with his headphones on back in its final 2017 edition.
FYF had been around since 2004 — not that long after Coachella started — and the nostalgia for it runs pretty deep. It was held at a handful of venues over its 14-year run, but the consensus seems to be its best incarnation was at L.A. State Historic Park from 2009 through 2013, before the city closed the park for renovations.
It didn’t have a good ending. Goldenvoice, which runs Coachella, cut ties with it around the same time its founder was accused of sexual misconduct by several women. But its well-curated lineups and cozy park locale seemed to have created a dreamy mixture, one that was present — at least to some — at Primavera Sound L.A. this past weekend, which was also held at L.A. State Historic Park.
While there, I ran into a handful of friends who wistfully brought up FYF, not only because they were back in the park but also, I think, because of the general pleasantness of what we were experiencing. Yes, it’s true, Primavera L.A. was pretty damn pleasant. It wasn’t overly booked, the stages weren’t insanely far from each other, and all the basic amenities were accounted for, which is not always a given at these things.
I went to Primavera in Barcelona earlier this year, and it was comparatively chaotic. It was crowded — really crowded. So much so that it was hard to breathe, let alone move, at times. Some of its stages were literally miles apart, with the most efficient pathways reserved for VIP ticket holders, taking what festivals can charge you for now to whole new levels (in this case: walking!). A big chunk of the bands dropped out just a few days before it began and, yup, we ran out of water at one point.
So the L.A. version — Primavera’s first time here after two years of delays — seemed easy compared to all that. Add in the twinkling downtown skyline as a backdrop, the crisp of fall creeping in and a few $14 beers, and you’ve got yourself a pretty nice time. Here’s the best of what I saw and heard:
Best Coming Out Party: PinkPantheress
The 21-year-old British TikTok sensation came out on stage rockin’ a purse, which was very Aretha Franklin of her. (Aretha made promoters pay her in cash, which she’d then carry in her purse on-stage to keep close). No one would say PinkPantheress has a voice like Aretha’s — nor would anyone bother to make that comparison, besides me, a weirdo — but she did present a certain star-like charm on stage, balancing her drum and bass-backed pop tunes with cheeky crowd banter. At one point she let a die-hard fan of hers, a teenage boy named Allen, scream as loudly as he could into the microphone, just for fun. He did, and it gave football to the nuts (sorry, Allen).
Photo by Quinn Tucker for Primavera Los Angeles, 2022
Best Performance Despite Being Given a Shit Set Time: DJ Playero
What’s up with most of the Latin artists being slotted to play in the afternoon before the vast majority of the crowds showed up? L.A. Times journalist Suzy Exposito pointed this out while shyly dancing to reggaetón in the broad daylight. It was the case for Divino Niño (2:15 p.m.), Chulita Vinyl Club (1:30 p.m.), Él Mató a un Policía Motorizado (1:40 p.m.), Buscabulla (2:20 p.m.), Paloma Mami (3:45 p.m.), Sangra Nueva (4:30 p.m.) — and the legendary DJ Playero (3 p.m.). Being the great DJ he is, Playero still made the best of it, morphing his corner of the park into an afternoon dance party for the queers, hotties and normies alike. He played reggaetón versions of Punjabi MC, Missy Elliott and dancehall classics while slipping into merengue and full-ass DMX songs. I saw the eyes of the DJs that were supposed to follow him, and they looked shook.
Best Bringer of The Goths: Every…body?
The Fashion Goths were out in full force, rocking their fishnets and leather harnesses and doing their spooky little two-steps like it was a Ministry concert in the ’80s. At first I thought it was cause Nine Inch Nails were headlining and occult-adjacent bands like Boyharsher and Mayhem were also playing. But even the influencers were draped in leather harnesses. The only holdouts were the dudes wearing those “MF DOOM + TALIB KWELI + LITTLE BROTHER” shirts, which, I mean, respect. Those guys will buy exactly two IPAs, catch a couple of tunes and hit the road in their Subbies before supper.
Photo by Ismael Quintanilla III for Primavera Los Angeles, 2022
Best Resurrection: DARKSIDE
DARKSIDE shattered the mirror eight years ago last month. In one wild improvisational gesture, the stringed axe splintered a 12-foot double-sided “Moon Mirror” built by a runic Euro duo known as the Children of Light. The carnage transpired at their penultimate show at the 2014 FYF Fest. After a year of supernatural alchemy – Bitches Brew meeting Pink Floyd at The Crossroads– it all cracked into a wasteland of splintered gold beams and dead reflections. No one could have known the metaphorical import of what would come next. Even if they did, everyone would’ve been embarrassed to say it loud. Within a week, you could buy the shards on eBay.
After a near-decade of decline and infection, where unblinking eyes watched ancestral ghosts flicker evilly in the broken glass, DARKSIDE returned this last week for a pair of performances. The first was at a notoriously haunted cemetery where Bugsy Siegel is buried; the second was at the first Los Angeles edition of Primavera Sound, the spiritual inheritor of FYF, where the mirror was first deconstructed.
The resurrection occurred last Friday. The mirror now a cruelly transfixing Frankenstein reconstruction, more comfortable in the shadows and smoke. You could see the scars and ruptures, the ravages of age and time. We are all a little older and more skeptical now. The drugs don’t work with as much efficacy. The darkness has had its way. But conjuring magic remains possible, if not more irregular.
For about an hour close to midnight, DARKSIDE mesmerized a few thousand travelers at this former train depot once known as the “Ellis Island of the West.” You could feel unfamiliar spirits departing. The first noise, a screech of guitar havoc, sliced through your stomach like a scimitar. The fog machine made it look like a peat bog filled with decomposing mummies. A drummer has been added to the duo of Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington, which multiplied the volume and power. Watching them play felt like both brain and body were being turned upside down and ransacked. Memories of the past fragmenting, memories of the present moment feeling unreal and hallucinogenic.
Jaar’s ash-velvet baritone has been bathed in distortion. It’s been stripped of its rough-hewn beauty for an anguished wail. Harrington summons a séance for Eddie Hazel, shredding like the late Funkadelic guitarist did after George Clinton told him to play like his “mother just died.” The guitar sounds like a vengeful God. Volcanic and experimental, an hour of exorcism and terrible beauty. There is only enough time allotted for a clutch of spells, cloaked in mystery, remixed and reimagined into a hexed funk. Psychedelic dance music as a ritual where souls are being tossed into a bonfire.
All you can do is stare at the plumes of smoke and wonder how this all happened. Maybe the last eight broken years have finally have warped back into proper alignment, or at least they did for a few timeless moments. If I have learned anything, it’s to honor the victories when they arrive. — Jeff Weiss
Photo by Pooneh Ghana for Primavera Los Angeles, 2022
Best Carole King Impression: Clairo
Did you know Clairo worked with Jack Antonoff on her last album? Well, if you didn’t, you did by the end of her set Friday, where she sounded (and…looked?) like Jack Antonoff. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still a wonderfully gifted songwriter, fully worthy of your attention. But as she sat behind a piano in her Sprinsteen-eseque blue jeans, vintage T and big black shades, backed by a saxophonist and flutist on some big dad rock vibes, I couldn’t help but yearn for the crushingly intimate bangers of her debut, when life was a little simpler, and Jack hadn’t yet made her fall in love with the piano.
Best Mad Scientist: Arca
The Venezuelan singer, producer and DJ used a variety of wonky machinery on stage to unleash sonic shrapnel on her beloved mutants and bounce between harsh electronic anthems, classic merengue and long blocks of what sounded like arcade game sound effects. Dressed like a hot Mortal Kombat character and backed by projections of cute puppies accented by cartoonish blood spurts, Arca continues to grow as a performer, evolving from a DJ to an artist that can perform and sing confidently in front of a crowd. Regardless of her performance style, her chaotic sets have always been sprinkled with a certain tenderness. During this one, in between the noise pollution and heaving kicks, she backspinned the record to announce, “La vida vale la pena.” Life is worth living.
Photo by Nicolita Bradley for Primavera Los Angeles, 2022
Best Early 2000s Blasé Rock Band Throwback: Fontaines D.C.
Like a lot of folks, I heard Fontaines D.C.’s “Jackie Down The Line” and was immediately a fan. The Irish band’s retro-ish post-punk sound, their artfully dramatic videos, even the colors used on their album art — I dug it all. But after seeing them at the festival I have to admit I thought they’d be a little more…animated? Instead they took it back to the early 2000s, when rock bands were selling out shows and looking pretty apathetic about it. This doesn’t mean Fontaines were boring, to be clear. More so they were just tapping into their inner Oasis and toeing that line between giving a shit and “meh” and looking kinda rad while doing so.
Best Cringey Rap Performance: Kim Gordon
Kim has long been a supporter of hip-hop, which is cool, but when I heard her going in over a trap beat, I got the fuck outta there. We have limits, Kim!
Best Jazz Hands: Mitski
This title is diminutive, as Mitski really is an incredible performer. Admittedly, I’ve never been a steady listener of hers, which made me a bit of an outcast in 2010s Brooklyn, to be sure. But evidently she’s stopped playing her guitar on stage and instead now uses her hands to dazzle, and I fully witnessed that Friday, when she had fans going absolutely nuts with her dramatique dance moves. Adorned in silky pajamas and with what looked like a bedroom door behind her on stage, she fully played into that grade-school sleepover energy, when you and your friends would get all amped up on silliness and imagination before a parent would tell you to shush and go to sleep. It was both thrilling and sweet.
Photo by Lindsey Byrnes for Primavera Los Angeles, 2022
Best “Hasn’t Lost a Step” Band: Nine Inch Nails
Man, is there anyone that’s funneled their weirdness into corporate respectability more than Trent Reznor? That man was a freak, moaning out lyrics like, “The Devil wants to fuck me in the back of his car,” while dressing like emo Dracula. Now he’s an industry elder statesman, go figure. My theory is this transformation came from a place of purposefulness on Trent’s part, both in staying the straight and narrow path — many of his original new wave peers sadly got hooked on drugs as he powered ahead — and never compromising his artistic vision. This discipline was on full display Saturday, as NIN’s performance was tight, efficient and fucking loud. He performed a variety of cuts across the project’s catalog, including the ones where he wails on the sax (“SAXOPHONE TRENT” someone in the crowd called him when he broke the instrument out). Call it corny, but it was the band’s most famous songs that did it for me: “Closer” sounded just as unsettling and hard-hitting live as it did when it first melted my mind in middle school and “Hurt,” which he closed with, was even more pretty and devastating with thousands of people singing along to it.
Best Usage of (Fake) Human Remains: Mayhem
Whose idea was it to put the Norwegian black metal guys on in the middle of the afternoon? Did someone get them some sunscreen?? As a teenager, I heard plenty of morbid stories about these guys, but unfortunately their dark lore takes a bit of a hit in the daylight, when they give off more Party City halloween vibes. At one point during their set, the lead singer, who looked like Captain Spaulding from the seminal Rob Zombie classic House of 1000 Corpses, broke out an upside-down crucifix made of bones and went straight acapella on our asses, spewing out satanic gargle as the Fashion Goths, who were mostly there for the black metal merch, took selfies and paid little attention.
Photo by Lindsey Byrnes for Primavera Los Angeles, 2022