Friday overview

Festival Internacional de Benicassim

published: Sat 18th Aug 2007

Thursday 19th to Sunday 22nd July 2007
near Valencia, Spain, Spain
4-days £105, or £97 for a 3 day pass
last updated: Thu 17th Apr 2008

Oh my god – water. I need water. My tent felt like the inside of a pressure cooker someone had left on full wack for two full weeks on the trot. I rolled out of my tent into the middle of a circle of bemused Spaniards before rasping "water...water" as if I’d just completed the final leg of a marathon across Death Valley. Several questions immediately ran through my mind – why had I slept in my sleeping bag? Why had I done the tent up? What on earth is Spanish for water!?

First lesson about Benicassim, don’t bother bringing a sleeping bag – in fact you don’t really need a tent to be honest. The campsites are all detached from the actual festival arena, and have tarpaulins erected over the tents to create some handy shade, making the place look a little like a Mexican shantytown. To my surprise the festival was set infront of a range of mountains (well, perhaps just hills) that I had a strangely addictive longing to climb. As it was dark I hadn’t even noticed these last night.

one of the festival campsites

After exploring a little further I realised the first real con of Benicassim festival. The beach, the very thing that sold me to the idea of this festival, isn’t actually anywhere near the festival. Well it’s near if you happen to be member of the North Yorkshire elite ramblers club. It’s at least a half hour hike from the campsite nearest the arena, and it took me ages to find it. Believe it or not the big blue expanse of limitless liquid substance that dominated the horizon wasn’t a good enough beacon to send me in the right direction.

The beach is actually rather lovely. It has sand, sea, and British tourists; all collapsed out in various desperate ‘SUN – PLEASE TAN ME’ poses. The town is fairly standard as far as small seaside Spanish towns go. It has all the usuals; with the postcard shops selling postcards of how beautiful the place used to be before the postcard shops arrived, the odd British pub for the tourists who can’t help being away from home cuisine for more than 24 hours, and enough beach towels to carpet the whole of the Isle Of Wight.

the town & beach - Benicassim

For most of the daytime all you actually want to do is lie down and soak up the sunshine, but much of the festival is clad in that awful tarmac stuff, and there is actually no places at all where you can sit down on grass and watch the bands, save for an area stretching back from a huge screen – but who really wants to watch bands on a screen when you’re a two minute walk from the real thing?

Queues for the toilets never seemed too bad, but the site did seem to get rather packed as the evening progressed and the relaxed vibe of the earlier hours is replaced by a hectic and strangely claustrophobic mood. The casual friendliness of revellers during the day is instead taken over by an almost hostile stag-night type ambience, and I personally found the atmosphere during the night got a little too aggressive at times.

around the site

The stewards are friendly and helpful, and many of them speak English, not that they should have to of course, it is their country after all. Throughout the weekend Brit’s repeatedly attempt to make contact by raising their voices, making wild gestures and attempting pigeon English in a particularly bad Spanish accent. Sadly, this is how we communicate on the continent.

Bars work on the irritating token system, meaning you have to queue up twice, and although I cannot confirm this myself I was told that beer prices had doubled in the last two years. However, there are plenty of wandering beer dispensers with arms, legs, and a big smile who will gladly pour you Heineken into a ‘big’ or ‘small’ glass. The ‘big’ being a full litre; drinking from which is like scrumping for apples.

Anyway, I’m guessing you want to know what the bands were like at Benicassim? Well, first group I caught on Friday were Nouvelle Vague. I think the best way to describe them is thus; You know when you buy a ridiculously cheap Greatest Hits album from one of your favourite artists from 30 years or so back, then you get home, put the CD on and realise it’s actually songs performed by some random Spanish act that’s gonna make you angry you wasted a whole £1.99? Well Nouvelle Vague are that band.

Nouvelle Vague

They’re a bit of a less talented Rodrigo Y Gabriella, or a less gimmicky Me First and The Gimmie Gimmies. Nouvelle Vague play popular songs mixed down with soulful vocals and samba overtones. As far as covers go it’s not nearly as interesting or experimental as say, Easy Star All Stars, and covers of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ and The Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ sound more travesty than tribute to me.

The crowd cheered and applauded at the start of each song as if Nouvelle Vague had written them themselves, or as if they’re just got into the studio for the winning contestant of the X-Factor.

As time went on though, the band employed a bit of funky rhythmic guitar, a couple of well placed trumpet solos, lively dancing, and it becomes apparent how good this group are in a Friday afternoon slot.

A brilliant cover of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ became a Benicassim karaoke moment, with the crowd reverting from singing to clapping along and bellowing out the chorus for way longer than the band intended. A male singer took to the mic for a great rendition of Eurthymics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’ and it all begins to fit into place. Still, it doesn’t escape the fact that Nouvelle Vague are essentially just lounge music. Another one for the coffee table perhaps?

Whoever invented sprinklers is a godsend and the fine spray of mist that descended over the crowd watching the second stage was like a nirvana.

around the site

Following on was Rufus Wainwright, and I wondered if he knew that Andrew Lloyd Webber had already picked the lead for his new Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dream coat stage show, such was the garishness of his multi coloured suit. Wainwright, despite being a member of an extremely talented family, does his whole tedious cabaret thing and for the second time this year I find myself yawning the whole way through his performance. While he’s clearly passionate about his music, I think he’d probably be better suited in a red coat than a multicoloured one.

Rufus Wainwright

Wainwright draws the crowds attention to a homemade American flag, made with black and white stripes to symbolise everything that’s bad with America, and stars made out of broaches to celebrate everything that’s good with America. He also invited the Spanish to look "at their dark soul". Intriguing mid song banter then.

Britain has enough bland, happy-go-lucky, middle of the road indie droaners to populate the whole of China, or so it seems, and it’s not much of a surprise that Spain has its fair share too. Mirafiori, named I can only presume after the popular Italian Fiat of the same name, play hushed chirpy Indie tracks, complete with acoustic guitars and tambourines. It’s similar to early Beatles, Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, The Thrills, The Byrds, all that jingly stuff that suits the summer so well.

Mirafiori

This lot are quite possibly the most inoffensive band I’ve ever come across. Hardly leather jackets, dirty bass lines and controversial lyrics – this isn’t rock n’roll, but a soothing group, cheerful, and delightfully melodic, great for washing over you at this time of the day.

Now as much as I admire him, I don’t always agree with the late great John Peel on his choice of bands, most of which seem to stay eternally new and underground cool just because they have the JP stamp of approval. But The Unfinished Symphony were a brilliant find, and are masters of live music. Now, I must confess, I wrote down in my notes just ‘stunning’ and ‘masters of live music’, expecting to be able to go home and swot up on them and work out what songs they played – but their websites entirely in Spanish, and I’m at a complete loss with it. So just take my word for it. This band were good, but I can’t really remember much about it. At least I’m honest.

The Unfinished Symphony

Antony’s obviously been scoffing all The Johnson’s pork pies and he’s certainly put on a few pounds since that whole Mercury Music Winning award thing. I couldn’t tell if he was having some sort of cardiac arrest during his performance, as he’d jiggle his arms about in a confused state of panic, like he was a baby tossing his toys out a pram, before settling back down to utter some of the quieter lyrics. Quite bizarre to watch, but his brilliant vocal abilities are unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. There are similarities in style to Arcade Fire, and the fact that Antony and The Johnsons have managed to bring a classical touch to a new mainstream market is fantastic. I was gripped by the sheer brilliance of his vocals and I urge anyone to check him out whenever you can.

Antony and The Johnsons

Herman Dune, who I thought was just a solo artist (like quite a few other people I’m slowly discovering) actually turned out to be a Kings Of Leon style family group, except these guys had kept the beards. It’s all very good and original and received a quiet, but appreciative crowd. It was a change from the full orchestral feeling that Antony and The Johnsons had given, but instead felt more intimate and experimental.

Herman Dune

At this point I was hoping to catch Klaxons but their flight had been delayed so it looked like we were going to have to wait a while for them. They swapped stages and times with some random Spanish act, who must have caused the British tourists to scratch their heads at Klaxon’s new change in direction.

Instead I went over to see the fantastic Rapture, who were giving the best performance yet, doing exactly what Klaxons should be doing. Now personally I think ‘Get Myself Into It’ is one of the best dance/rock crossover hits of last year, and The Rapture are an extremely underrated band who seem to have been missed off a lot of peoples radars just because they were around long before New Rave was even born/created/made up.

The Rapture

Of course the one song that really got everyone moving was the awesome ‘House of Jealous Lovers’, but the crowd stuck with the band for the whole set, proving that they’re not just one trick ponies. Great little trumpet solos, some frenetic drumming, and a pair of great frontman, The Rapture were spot on.

I went over to see Dinosaur Jr but was distracted by two flamenco dancers trying to seduce a couch (I thought they were strippers). Subsequently I missed the whole of Dinosaur Jr’s set.

Another highlight of today was the impeccable Horrors, who manage to impress me every time I see them live. I still have no idea what they’re singing or what they really sound like, but the energy delivered by the group and the raucous that the crowd get into is phenomenal. Faris Badwan screechs down the microphone a bit like a demon possessed, which I’m pretty sure is the intended affect. The towering front man seems to have little disregard for anyone in the crowd, and I often wonder how many health and safety regulations The Horrors manage to contravene, just based on the actions of Faris.

The Horrors

The crowd went wild for the group and crowd surfing, sweaty moshing and aggressive pogoing ensued. As a live act The Horrors are one of the most entertaining bands out there – although based on musical proficiency alone I certainly wouldn’t rank them that high.

The Horrors

The final full act I caught of the day was the rescheduled Klaxons, who were on far better form than their Glastonbury set. They had been moved to the second stage, which probably wasn’t the best idea as the tent was leaking audience members out of every exit, and was a fight to get into. However, Klaxons are far better suited to dark atmospheric venues (it needs to be dark enough for glow sticks anyway), and although this set didn’t come close to beating the energy of The Horrors, the general heaving atmosphere of the tent really did bolster the gig. ‘Magick’, ‘Its Not Over Yet’, 'Gravity’s Rainbow’ and ‘Golden Skans’ are all beginning to sound like classics, but it’s the brilliant ‘Atlantis to Interzone’ that remains this bands brilliant anthem.

Klaxons

As I left for my tent I caught a little bit of Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip. I only stayed to hear one half of their songs. "Do you like British Hip-Hop? I don’t. I think it’s rubbish. There are like 2 or 3 good bands and the rest are sh*t". They then launch into a song with the lyrics "Hip Hop is art", and I decided I better leave before I get too much of a headache.

Day three
review by: Scott Johnson

photos by: Scott Johnson

Thursday 19th to Sunday 22nd July 2007
near Valencia, Spain, Spain
4-days £105, or £97 for a 3 day pass
last updated: Thu 17th Apr 2008


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