During the murky depths of last Winter, booking two Spanish festivals on successive weekends (the first one was BBK in Bilbao), seemed like a good idea.... Thankfully, post Bilbao fatigue was forgotten due to a few days in Pamplona and the always excellent company of friends and fellow Rock Clubbers Si, Sally & Ali.
After the 1 hour flight down to Valencia, the cool overcast weather of Bilbao was swapped for 30C + temperatures, and punishing humidity. Now I understand the 7pm start, and 6.30am finish.
The festival is actually held in the East Coast resort of Benicassim, about an hours car drive north of Valencia. Our base for the festival was Castellon de la Playa, and I’m so glad that it was. More about that later.
Getting to the festival was via the inexpensive and expanded public bus service (5 Euros for 3 of us each way), followed by a 20 minute walk to the entrance. This yielded the first disappointment. As a first timer to the festival, the impression is this is very much on the coast, and even parts of the beach were being used. There’s even a stage called The South Beach. To be clear, it’s nowhere near the beach. It’s on an area of (waste?) land just outside the town and ring-road, and completely on concrete. I assume the adjacent campsite is on grass, but other than that, and a small grassed area within the site, everywhere else is hard standing.
Getting there at 6.30pm on day 1 to exchange the wristbands etc, was totally unnecessary as we were within the first 100 people on the site. Clearly the rest of the 50,000 were either still on the beach, getting drunk in the town or the campsite, however this did mean we caught Sunflower Bean on the Las Palmas (main) stage. A quick walk around the site to get our bearings did not take long, as it is actually quite a compact site considering its capacity, with the 2 largest stages Las Palmas and the Visa Stage (yes, sponsored) being perpendicular to each other. Despite this, there was no sound bleed between stages when acts were on both.
So, we exchanged money for tokens (at one end of the bar), then swapped tokens for beer with someone standing next to the token sellers....I bit my tongue, and took my litre of Heineken (9 Euros) with me off to the South Beach stage for a bit of Sylva Esso who were lively, dancey and overall excellent. I now felt like we were at a festival.
Ride, my band of the day were up next on the huge Las Palmas stage, and the huge Ride backdrop and swirling guitars were a sensory overload. Then onto my discovery of the day and the whole festival. By chance, we were getting another delicious Heineken when an Icelandic band called Kaleo started up. Fabulous guitar rock - and a familiar song I recognised from the recent Logan movie. Check them out.
The night’s headliners had me in unfamiliar territory with Stormzy and The Weekend, at which most of the 50,000 were in attendance, before I slunk off to see The Jesus & Mary Chain. To be honest, their static, silhouetted performance bored me to tears, so we got our final Heineken and ended the night with the excellent Bonobo. Day 1 done, and we returned to the apartment at 3am.
Day 2 was a bit of an indie fest, with performances witnessed by Childhood (really over amplified for their sound), Temples (half way through the first song before the engineer sprinted backstage to turn the speakers on), Flowers (my vote for the most “fish out of water” performance of the weekend. Great at the Brudenell on a cold Tuesday in November, not in a sweatbox of a tent), Blaenavon and James Vincent McMorrow. The ever excellent Foals closed the night (for us anyway), as we left the mainly British youth to continue drinking and chucking glasses of bodily fluids over each other.
Day 3 was a struggle. After a reckless afternoon on our local beach in Castellon, with inadequate sun tan lotion, water and common sense, the thought of mingling with thousands of partying youths half our age was not pleasant. Thankfully we hauled ourselves up to the site to catch the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. A first for me, and they were truly excellent. Real professionals with the crowd in the palm of their hands. We ended the night entranced by Pete Doherty’s set on the Visa stage. Stumbling around the stage, throwing various things into the audience - monitor, guitar, bottles of water, flags, his roadie even doubles as a minder to retrieve things or prevent him being completely insane. The keyboard was prevented from landing in the audience by said roadie. Was it all an act or was he out of his head ? Didn’t really matter to the small but manic crowd who were loving every minute.
Day 4 as a bit thin. At least for me. The girls enjoyed Dua Lipa and Years & Years, whilst I had my hit of loud punkish noise from Slaves. And that was the end of that, and to be honest it was a relief.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m so glad we were removed from the main site and town itself as to be honest, we were feeling way too old to be at this festival, and the poor old town had an invasion of groups of British lads and lasses who essentially were on holiday with a festival thrown in for good measure. It was a relief each night to move half an hour down the coast.
Positives were the ease of moving from stage to stage, the lovely balmy temperature (although seeing bands in the tent was not pleasant), clean toilets, plenty of bars, and access to the site.
Negatives were the corporate sponsorship, the beer choice (none), the groups of drunken youths, the constant launching of bottles at the people in front of the stages, the lack of anything else to do on the site and the concrete jungle it was built on.
It’s not an experience I want to repeat, but that said I’m glad I’ve been. It did leave me wondering however, where was the Benicassim festival when I was 25 ?