Primavera Sound is known as one of the best-booked festivals in the world, and last year’s two-weekend edition in Barcelona brought basically every band to celebrate its 20th anniversary. But that did not stop the organizers from outdoing themselves once again. Taking place in both Barcelona and Madrid over two consecutive weekends, this year’s festival is connected by the theme ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’, with the second weekend in Madrid essentially mirroring the Barcelona event, which goes down June 1-3. The 2023 lineup is a thing to behold – from cutting-edge artists to alternative icons and mainstream stars, there’s truly something here for everyone. Headliners include Kendrick Lamar, Rosalía, Depeche Mode, New Order, and the reunited Blur, and I probably don’t need to convince you to go see those. But to help you navigate the rest of the program, here are 14 non-headline acts we’re excited to see at Barcelona’s Parc del Fòrum this weekend.
Black Country, New Road
Black Country, New Road put on a fantastic show at Primavera last year, and they’re one of the few bands returning to play the festival this year. (They’re scheduled for Thursday; violinist Georgia Ellery’s other band, Jockstrap, which makes dazzling and innovative pop, is taking the Dice stage on Saturday). Following the departure of frontman Isaac Wood and the release of Ants From Up There early last year, the group has been performing a set of all-new material, though this time fans will have had the chance to familiarize themselves with the songs thanks to Live at Bush Hall, a recently unveiled concert film and live album capturing their three-night stint at the London venue last December. It’s a testament to their ability to continuously evolve and press forward, and there’s no better way to witness it than live.
Alex G is one of the most singular and beloved singer-songwriters in the indie world, and despite frequent comparisons to Elliott Smith, he’s constantly been pushing his idiosyncratic sound beyond the confines of the genre. On his latest release God Save the Animals, the artist’s penchant for experimentation, off-kilter melodies, and oblique lyricism are cast through some of his brighest, most inviting songwriting to date, striking the eerily perfect balance his discography has long been hinting at. The album came out back in September, but there’s a gentle warmth to it that should be elevated in a festival setting.
“You really gotta see it live to get it,” Turnstile bassist Franz Lyons sings on ‘No Surprise’, a 46-second track from their third album GLOW ON. The hardcore group has broken through in a big way, and if anything, that record was proof that you really don’t need to see it live to get it; the studio recordings are as riveting, inventive, and transcendent as you could possibly want them to be. Still, I strongly suggest you do. Turnstile are known to put on one hell of a show, no matter what setting they find themselves in. They’ve played every kind of festival, and they’re extremely good at what they do. Even for those who don’t care about hardcore, it’s an opportunity for collective catharsis you don’t want to pass up.
Few contemporary bands make power-pop as exhilarating and catchy as the Beths. The quiet/loud dynamic that works so well in a live context was utilized to great effect on last year’s Expert in a Dying Field, which is packed with some of their sharpest and most captivating material yet. Even if you go into their set not knowing the words to every song, you might find yourself singing along anyway.
It’s tough having to pick between Beth Orton, Julia Jacklin, and Soul Glo, who are all playing at 6:00pm on Friday, June 2. They each make very different kinds of music, but they all released great albums in 2022. Beth Orton’s Weather Alive is wistful and richly atmospheric, while Julia Jacklin’s PRE PLEASURE delivers bracingly vulnerable and mature indie rock. But it’s Soul Glo’s Diaspora Problems, a landmark hardcore album that sounds at once boundary-pushing and boundless, that I’m most excited to hear live, along with any tracks they choose to showcase from their impressive back catalog. You can catch a number of indie-leaning acts at Primavera at any given time, but like Turnstile, seeing Soul Glo here is a one-of-a-kind opportunity.
Japanese Breakfast has been touring heavily in support of their successful 2021 album Jubilee, so I was a little surprised they weren’t on the bill last year (though they did play the São Paulo iteration of the festival). It won’t be hard to catch them this year, especially if you’re going on Thursday: they’re slated to perform at both 6:50pm and (an apparently shorter set) at 10:05pm. Plus, they’re booked for the Primavera a la Ciutat event on Sunday. They have plenty of great songs that lend themselves to a festival setting, but it’s this part on ‘Paprika’ that I’ve been dying to hear live: “How’s it feel to stand at the height of your powers/ To captivate every heart?/ Projecting your visions to strangers/ Who feel it, who listen to linger on every word?” Be there, and we’ll find out.
Tomberlin may be known for her gentle, introspective indie folk, but i don’t know who needs to hear this… – which we broke down track-by-track with Tomberlin – opened up her sound in a variety of ways. There are big, cathartic moments like ‘happy accident’, but even spare moments like the title track are so resonant that they sound big in their own way. They hold so much weight and tension, and Tomerblin is careful and deliberate about how she releases it. “These songs are simple, but it ain’t easy,” Tomberlin sings. “To sing it like it is, believe me.” They’ve offered me comfort in the loneliest times, and to get to experience them with a group of people who feel the same way will surely be special.
I got to see Alvvays when they were touring behind 2017’s Antisocialites, and it was an incredible show. Last year, though, they followed that album up with Blue Rev, which both retained and refined their best qualities: indelible hooks, clever songwriting, and sharp, immaculate production, all swirling together in a way that’s both ridiculously infectious and unruly. There’s also a lot of craft that goes into their songs, but there’s also a confidence and immediacy that brings so much fresh energy to Blue Rev. It’s a feeling you have to hear channeled live. (Although you’ll have to head quickly to the main stage to catch the better part of Kendrick Lamar’s performance.)
Christine and the Queens
After releasing Redcar les adorables étoiles last year under the moniker Redcar or Christine and the Queens Presents Redcar, Chris is returning this June with PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE, which features two Madonna collabs and production from Mike Dean. The alt-pop singer has called it the “second part of an operatic gesture,” and the singles so far have lived up to that description – this is epic, immersive, and meticulously produced synth-pop that lends itself to a grand, theatrical performance, and the organizers made the right decision by scheduling it just after midnight.
Yves Tumor’s live show has garnered rave reviews thanks to the band’s raw magnetism and incredible musicality, promising the sort of explosive rock show you rarely get to see these days. Tumor’s persona appears both fearless and transgressive, and on their excellent new LP, Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds), they embody it while further expanding the possibilities of their sound. As comfortable as they are playing tricks in the studio, they know how to captivate an audience. Like Christine and the Queens, Tumor’s output is as heady and enigmatic as it is sensual and transformative, but also leans a bit darker, so seeing one right after the other makes a lot of sense. (Tumor is also playing a DJ set earlier in the day.)
Wednesday is one the last names you’ll see in this year’s festival poster, but in April they put out what many consider one of the best rock albums – for my money, the best album – of the year so far. The Asheville band has been honing their blend of shoegaze and country for a while, but Rat Saw God lives up to the hype that’s been bubbling up in every conceivable way. Their music can be cathartic and somber, tuneful and noisy, comforting and excruciating all at once, often swimming in reverb or loaded with distortion as it careens between extremes. Combined with the group’s unique musical chemistry, it should make for an unforgettable show. Make sure to stick around for the 8-minute epic ‘Bull Believer’, which will probably close the set.
The fact that Arlo Parks and Holly Humberstone are playing at the same time on Saturday is an unfortunate conflict, given that there’s probably a significant overlap in their audiences – they’re both part of a new wave of UK songwriters specializing in candid, evocative alt-pop. But Parks is fresh off the release of her sophomore album, My Soft Machine, a step-up from her Mercury Prize-winning debut that takes her songwriting in a more dynamic and ambitious direction, which makes me excited to hear songs like ‘Devotion’ and ‘Blades’ live. The emotional resonance is still there, but there’s also a palpable joy in her music that I’m sure will make its way through the crowd.
The War on Drugs
The War on Drugs are one of the few acts that are only playing the Barcelona edition of the festival, and you don’t want to pass up the chance to see their rousing, immersive rock n’ roll in the flesh. Their live sound is captured in the 2020 record LIVE DRUGS, which cemented “their status as one of the premier live bands of their generation,” according to Pitchfork. 2021’s I Don’t Live Here Anymore then offered some of their most vibrant and accessible songs yet, and as far as they may stretch them out in a live context, the possibility of transcendence is always somewhere along the road, should you follow along.
When it comes to pop, Primavera has a good track record of covering everything from mainstream stars to artists with more left-of-center sensibilities. Last year’s lineup exemplified this by including Dua Lipa, Lorde, Charli XCX, and Rina Sawyama. This year, you have the likes of Halsey, Rosalía, and Calvin Harris topping the bill, and you’ll also find Caroline Polachek, who is having a big year with the release of Desire, I Want to Turn Into You, her sophomore record and by far the most acclaimed pop album of the year. Its maximalist, theatrical nature should be accentuated in a live setting, and I’m curious how some of her more eccentric, heady choices will translate. When Caroline Polachek welcomes you to her island, you simply can’t say no. (Even if it unfortunately conflicts with parts of Kelela and Jockstrap’s sets.) Plus, how can you miss the chance to hear the flamenco-inspired ‘Sunset’ live in the actual city of Barcelona?