Another Spanish festival to file alongside our coverage of Primavera and Summercase. But this is something of the daddy…
“Fuck it! I’m gonna have a party!”
So they didn’t open this year’s* Benicassim, but *Nada Surf’s frontman Matthew Caws captures the mood perfectly. And why not? A four-day festival on the hillside. By the beach. Flocks of sun-kissed senoritas, you say? Ole! It’s a festival set up like no other - from the sprawling campsite favelas, the daily pilgrimages to the beach and supermarket, and the AM joyrides on the local Go-Kart track. You’d almost be forgiven for forgetting that there happens to be some bands putting on a show.
But then you’d also be a fool. As the sun slides behind the hillside, Nada Surf cast a blanket of melodious pop rock over the Escenario Verde (or main stage) to the delight of the crowd. Their upbeat, sing-along brand of rock sits well and kick-starts the dizzying sense of festival feel good that doesn’t abate, even in the face of the grind of scorching midday heat and sun burn.
A quick shimmy over to the Vodafone Fib Club tent... Lightspeed Champion is doing his serious thang. Continuing his musical reincarnation, it’s a world away from his Test Icicles days but there remains enough Shoreditch kitsch to merit a fashionista love in, and the tent is subsequently rammed. Happily, there’s still enough lackadaisical mischief and cheeky abandon to make for an enthralling show, not that it’s too straight-laced, as the elaborate_ Star Wars _cover will testify. And lean back, lean back to...
…The Escenario Verde for the all consuming beauty and ghostly grandeur of* Sigur Rós*. It’s a heartbreaking, anguished set - piano and strings cascade over Jón Birgisson’s snowy, piercing vocal, melting everything into insignificance. Giant balloons glow white and burn red while Sigur Rós inhabit the moments of introspection, vulnerability, and solitude. Amidst the cavalcade of air raid siren, crashing cymbals and marching band, we collectively gaze wide-eyed and open-mouthed, possibly shedding a tear.
And another part of Spain falls foul of the great British summer inundation.
While you can easily pick out the pasty white Brits on the beach, it seems you can do the same with the bands - Metronomy’s Joe Mount a vocal supporter of the shade. Still, that’s about the only convention he lives up to. Syncopated and skewed, Metronomy throw together offbeat intensity, multi-instrumental skills and flaunting, awkward dance moves. Falsettos, harmonies and a strong, if random, pop sensibility earmark them as the Backstreet Boys for the indie crowd, and, tonight, as always, they’re really quite brilliant. An unnervingly young crowd soon parades a garish glare of glow-sticks and neon face-paint, throwing themselves to warped dance rhythms that almost make this grown man want to don a headband and throw shapes that’d make a mime blush. From the eerie echo of recent single ´Holiday´ _to the abrasive lurch of the rollicking _´You Could Easily Have Me’, Metronomy’s flamboyance in both moves and music is pretty unrivalled.
Cue the swarm of Beni revellers to cram themselves into the Fiber tent to catch* Hot Chip*’s monstrous ‘Girls and Boys’-style free-for-all. The unassuming Alexis Taylor might look like a pint-sized accountant, but he’s a mini dynamo; a whirling, wheeling Steve Mason with energy to burn. As big on bass as it is on improvisation, Hot Chip produce a rampant, tub-thumping set that reiterates their position as the most unlikely of electro heroes.
And so we go to welcome tinnitus and embrace a world of potential silence with My Bloody Valentine (pictured), a band of few words and even fewer pleasantries. They do little in the way of spoken introductions but when you can root people to the spot with a set of absolutely apocalyptic sonance, words seem rather wasted. You daren’t move, part gazing fascination, part fear that if you look down, you’ll see the ground splitting in two. Some look to the heavens but their makers are the motionless spectres on stage. The air hangs heavy and doom laden, the sky blackens and the sonic destruction refuses to relent. How do you move a mountain? You have MBV shake it to its pitiful foundation.
Bathed in white light and drowning in swarming static, Benicassim quivers, shifting nervously in the face of its assailants... and then they’re gone, scuttling into the smoky mire while the aftershocks and distant thunder rumbles on... into Erol Alkan. Seeking a slither of respite, we stumble back to the Fiber tent only to be met with two hours of dark, relentless electric pestilence.
Sidestepping both his crossover and Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeves personas, Erol has one thing on his mind: to keep the kids dancing. A bassline at Benicassim is the minimum requirement for dizzying hysteria, the smallest excuse for crazed movement. It’s little surprise then that Erol orchestrates a fully blown maelstrom of rolling electro and heavy house, taking every opportunity to vacate the decks, milk the adulation and ride the laser rig like a bucking bronco, to the delight of the crowd and the clear distress of a technician.
Easing us into the third day, My Morning Jacket’s languid, psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll spends some time taking root. Constantly churning and shifting, it crashes between head-banging solos and indulgent prog improvisations. Frontman Jim James puts on an enigmatic show, stamping and thrusting when he lets loose, straining every sinew to sing. It’s a set that never really settles, as much symptomatic of MMJ’s fragmented sound on CD as the free-flowing nature of their live shows, and adds to the contented lethargy of a day spent lazing in the sun.
The Kills don’t do contentment; they do dark recesses, confined spaces, suffocation. You’d think they might be a little disconcerted playing in the open air, but their minimal dynamic doesn’t suffer for it, packing all the primitive, visceral power you’d expect. They’re the two black angels on your shoulder, whispering, encouraging depravity and deviancy. Sinister urges crackle over Jamie Hince’s venomous guitar barbs and the dull throb of the bass backing beats. Alison Mosshart storms and stamps, the femme fatale to Hince’s wired, wincing presence. The duo’s gazing intensity is tangible and makes for a scathing, almost bitter show. Hince’s rapier guitar flicks attempt to puncture the heavy clouds of malevolence but it’s a losing battle, and one The Kills are happy to lose. So simple in its make up, it’s a seedy, seductive display of black eroticism that spits with a desire no one else dares to try and capture.
The sparse nature of The Kills set only serves to emphasize the epic grandiosity of The Raconteurs. Harking back to an age of simplicity, where blues, roots and straight rock ‘n’ roll where the music staple, they’re well-oiled and spectacularly pitch-perfect. It’s a performance main stages were built for. Jack White’s alive and amplified, the agitated, bug-eyed foil to Brendan Benson’s reserved cool. Blazes of rock ‘n’ roll and searing solos are thrashed out loud and proud and it’s invigorating to see and hear. It’s a band in the truest sense: Benson and White seamlessly pass lead vocals, the ex-Greenhornes (Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence) throw themselves into their roles and it’s all so, well, effortless. ´Consolers of the Lonely´ holds itself as one of their finest songs to date, ´Steady As She Goes´ _sends a shockwave through the crowd as litres of beer rain down on unsuspecting heads, and ´Salute Your Solution´_ is ripped through with a frenzy of energy. To the rousing delirium of Benicassim, The Raconteurs stride to centre stage to take a worthy bow after a superlative, complete performance.
And so, with the end but a few glorious hours away, The National see us through an hour of majesty. Intricate and downbeat, they inspire a private devotion. Matt Berninger’s meandering poetic journey through his psyche is glorious abetted by musicians with classic, complex ears. The National don’t just create music, they craft layered arrangements, mini-operas wrought with emotion, every song a painstaking investment. Berninger serves as the outlet for the frustration, the anger, the bursts of passion, the focal point for striding out of the delicate boundaries and offering a panoramic view of personal disconsolation and discovery. ´Abel´ rasps with intensity, ´Squalor Victoria´ casts off its shackles, and The National close the last show of their own tour with an urgent, vitalising ´Mr November´ to complete a purposeful, graceful performance from a band at their peak.
Justice. Two twin Marshall stacks the size of a small bungalow. One tent.
Disaster? Destruction. With the all the grand pomposity of Spinal Tap meets Daft Punk, Justice’s stage set up might look decorative but it’s like antagonising the school bully and then looking to remedy the situation with constructive discourse. Justice are hellbent on causing carnage, their intention is to decimate. And that they do, meting out meaty fists of merciless, rough electro punishment. It’s abrasive, obnoxious, penetration of the most ferocious kind, designed to remorselessly violate. ´Waters of Nazareth´ is unrelentingly bullish, ´DANCE´ is as close to a sing-along as we get before we’re reduced to mere shells after another electronic laceration, and ´DVNO´ merits a near-total collapse. As Justice stand centre stage in the midst of another breakdown, the Marshall stacks casting an imposing backlit shadow, in a neon coup de grace, glow-sticks rain down as roses might at an opera. Even after they’ve taken their leave, the masses continue to howl and bay, wandering dazed and sweating ´We Are Your Friends´ resonating in the open air.
Find the official Benicassim website here.