Spain: sun, sea, sand, sangria.....and The Stooges. Benicassim's heady mix of Mediterranean hedonism, blissful beaches and a high class line-up allowed thousands of Britons to swap their wellies for flip-flops and escape to paradise.
Arctic Monkeys and Muse topped the bill admirably, ably backed by the cream of international indie bands, superstar DJs and a smattering of Spanish artists. But it is the sheer audacity of the surroundings that make this event peerless. Imagine a festival with no fighting (bar a little Brit bashing by the Spanish police), no mud and, wait for it, no rain. Oh, but there was Peaches Geldof – some things never change.
Four days of music ran from mid-afternoon through the night until 7am, meaning festival-goers could avoid the heat of the day. The event was shrewdly organised; afternoon sets consisted of chilled out acts, headliners appeared at 1.20am and DJs closed each night for those who could last the pace. This reduced chances of fans collapsing from heat exhaustion and allowed the action to build up, simmering before exploding into a frenzy of revelry.
Mando Diao kick-started proceedings with a raucous collection of rasping three-minute pop blasts, before Iggy & The Stooges arrived to thrill and disgust in equal measures. Watching a 60-year-old, half-naked man gyrating on a speaker while screaming 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' isn’t exactly family entertainment, but is gripping nonetheless. The band maintained the vitality to match Iggy’s outrageous prancing, while tracks like '1969' inspired the crowd, ordered by a wild-eyed Iggy, to storm the stage. Comic, scary, but also musically accomplished, they threatened to steal the festival at its very beginning.
Bright Eyes couldn’t reach the same heights, with an exasperating set of inconsistency. Although 'First Day Of My Life' was spine-tingling and 'Four Winds' was a rollicking country romp, too often tracks petered into nothingness. Dressed all in white, Conor Oberst strangely resembled Roger Federer at Wimbledon. Sadly, every ace track was followed by double-faults of folk meanderings and whiny vocals.
Rufus Wainwright, then Antony & The Johnsons continued this frustrating singer-songwriter theme on Friday. Both are prodigiously talented, but neither created any intensity despite passionate audiences. Wainwright’s voice wavered self-satisfyingly, while Antony Hegarty chose to play an embarrassingly sluggish cover of Beyonce’s 'Crazy In Love'. Ambitious, but far from bootylicious.
It was left to the old and new guard of danceable rock to ignite the evening. The Rapture ensured everybody crammed inside the huge oven masquerading as a tent got even hotter as they grooved to the infectious 'Get Myself Into It'. Classic single 'House Of Jealous Lovers' sparked riotous scenes, while the pulse of every spiky riff reverberated inside the elated masses.
Klaxons entered this electrifying atmosphere and spiralled it higher. Moving to a later slot due to a 20-hour flight delay, their midnight show wasn’t polished – bad acoustics were accompanied by woeful singing – but it was exhilarating. Neon lights blazing overhead, sirens booming and anthemic tracks from 'Golden Skans' to 'Magik' stimulated a feeling of sweaty euphoria. This was less a performance, more a musical assault. Their audience was left to dance until morning to The Presets and Digitalism, energised and excited.
By Saturday, sleepless nights and several San Miguel’s could be seen taking their toll on Benicassim attendees. Instead of hitting the beaches, exhausted, bleary-eyed people appeared to inhabit every speck of shade. While Jamie T bolted through a triumphant set in his oblique style, mixing new tracks with enthusiastically received hits like 'Stella', many sought solace on top of Portaloos.
Some soothing relief was required; it came in the hairy form of Albert Hammond Jnr. The Strokes guitarist treated the main stage to some exquisite guitar work and dreamy melodies. 'In Transit' sounded like The Velvet Underground would have if Brian Wilson was their frontman, while gleeful whistling accompanied 'Call An Ambulance'.
Then disaster struck: the soundsystem exploded. A winding sprint to the tent CSS were playing confirmed the problem was festival-wide. The impossible was happening – people looked grumpy. Thankfully, the whooping return of singer Lovefoxx signalled the problem was fixed. While she bantered with the crowd, their set of bouncy, foot-stomping dance sizzled past, taking in the funky bass line of 'Let’s Make Love' and the very persuasive lyrics of 'Alcohol'.
The anticipation for Arctic Monkeys led to ticket-less hopefuls packing the hills surrounding the festival site, while even The B-52s' pathetic set of dated disco couldn’t dampen the mood. Subtly siphoning away sloppier tracks from their debut album to be replaced with choice cuts from their latest record created a rounded set from the Sheffield boys. A venomous rendition of 'Brianstorm' was striking, while their numerous bona fide festival anthems were devoured. However, the understated '505', including Alex Turner playing keyboard with great aplomb, highlighted the sense of progress – and fun – Arctic Monkeys now possess.
The progress of Amy Winehouse was highlighted by her actually turning up on Sunday. When she did, the silky sounds of lesser known tracks like 'Wake Up Alone' allowed her to showcase her vocal prowess, after 'Rehab' had appeased the crowd. Looking sultry and accompanied by her stylish band, she seemed in her element as much as the hordes of bopping fans below her.
Kings of Leon made little attempt at crowd-pleasing, filling their set with plodding tracks from their latest album while discarding older gems. New single 'Fans' sounded smooth and likeable, while 'On Call' was boisterous and angry. Nevertheless, generally they sounded tired with a bemusing manner of disinterest. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club opposed this, playing their pounding, dirty rock as if their careers hung in the balance. Wearing leather jackets in blistering heat summarised their gutsy, carefree attitude just as well as the thundering blues of standout track 'Spread Your Love'.
Then, Muse were Muse; now so incredible live, listening to them on record is obsolete. 'New Born' sounded ferocious, 'Starlight' boundlessly addictive and 'Feeling Good' haunting. Matt Bellamy basked in rock showmanship, before sunburnt faces brimming with happiness slipped away, satisfied.
Yet, despite scores of bands delivering memorable music, the all-encompassing, uplifting spirit of this festival is its most prominent feature. 65% of tickets were bought by Britons (according, probably inaccurately, to Jamie T,) but the diverse and cosmopolitan nature of Benicassim is still arresting. Take every positive aspect of British festivals. add beautiful weather and a sense of adventure and, undoubtedly once tasted, repeat annually.
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