this year's Benicassim opens with a day of musical treats

Festival Internacional de Benicassim 2011 review

published: Tue 26th Jul 2011

Congotronics vs Rockers

Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th July 2011
near Valencia, Spain, Spain
£165 for 4-days (only no camping available)
last updated: Fri 1st Jul 2011

On the face of it, a week in the Spanish sun, surrounded by your friends and favourite bands sounds like the ideal summer holiday. If you're camping however, it's not. You begin to feel as if your face is actually beginning to melt at 8am in the morning, and there's no escaping it.

Musically however, this year's Benicassim was a treat. A strong line-up saw the festival selling out of weekend tickets, something which most major UK festivals have failed to do this year so far, and also brought with it, a huge English audience.

There's been a lot of talk that Anna Calvi is set to be the next big thing. She has fantastic vocal ability and the songs to back it up. Terrifyingly sharp pop songs, that are given the extra power when performed live, and Calvi's strong, almost operatic vocals, never sounded on form. Blackout is a stand out track, and it's clear to see why Calvi has been heralded by the press. Even with the cheesy Born In The USA style drums at the beginning of Desire, her set is a joyous blast of fun. I would have written her off on the basis of her produced work, but live, Calvi is a natural.

Paolo Nutini
Myself, like many others, may consider Paolo Nutini to be nothing but dull. His set at Benicassim did nothing but reaffirm my position on Nutini. Dull, soulless tracks, and as the words "Hey, I've got my new shoes on" ring out, I just can't help but turn my back on Nutini. It's without question that he is a strong frontman, certainly a performer, and he can write a pop record. But a very bad one. However, he is received very well by the audience, clearly taken in by his infectiously catchy nature, and one of his recent tracks has certainly been on an advert, which most certainly helped with the crowd participation. I'm not usually a reviewer who can't find their to be a wealth of positives in an artist, but the best I can muster is that his backing band are very talented musicians, and that's about as soulless as Nutini's music.

Congotronics vs Rockers
Congotronics Vs Rockers, a very unusual collaboration between a host of African musicians and Deerhoof, on the other hand, is anything but soulless. Full of life, energetic and intriguing, it's certainly an experience. With the music retaining all it's original African roots, it's hard to see where the 'rockers' come in. There's some fantastic musicianship on display all round, some spine tingling vocals and the perfect combination of western music with the best of African music. Most of the audience are a bit spell bound by it, really not quite sure what to make of it, and as no expert of music like this, neither am I, but it's very easy to appreciate the talent you're being subject to. The track I'd heard previous to their live set, Ambulayi Tshaniye, is a perfect starting point for those curious as to what exactly the collaboration has produced. From their live set however, it's clear that they thoroughly enjoy it, and even though perhaps Benicassim isn't the best platform to perform such a set, it's fantastic that Benicassim took the chance and booked a truly unique band.

Plan B
In stark contrast to this comes Plan B. A former grime rapper and now a 'soul' singer, Plan B, real name Paul Drew, presented his album Defamation of Strickland Banks to the large Benicassim crowd. It was not Plan B that arrived on stage first however, with a warm up beatbox/MC taking to the stage to really warm the crowd up, and he was mighty impressive. Working the crowd with renditions of Tinie Tempah and old house tracks, by the time Drew arrived on stage, the crowd was suitably warmed up. After performing the likes of the slow-steady She Said and the modern soul strains of Prayin', it's clear how popular Plan B has become. It has a real stadium style feeling to it, there's thousands of people all howling back the words, it's very impressive to watch. However, it all seems a bit contrived. Clearly jumping on the back of the success of Amy Winehouse in styling of music, it's easy to forget than Plan B used to be grime rapper in the south of London. He's come a long way, but it seems like he's forgotten his roots.

One of the few bands from Spain to begin to make waves in the UK is Crystal Fighters. The electro-noise band, formerly on uber-cool record label Kitsune have seen their popularity soar since the release of their debut album, and from their set at Benicassim, it's clear that this could be an excellent year for the band. Everything seem to come together for their set perfectly, the lights, the sound, the atmosphere, the performance; it was all there for Crystal Fighters, greeted like returning heroes by the locals, and by the British, their new favourite band. What's perhaps the most endearing thing to Crystal Fighters is their belief in keeping their Spanish roots in their music, and despite being able to produce some fine dance music, Follow sees an almost flamenco style guitar introduced, and certainly gained the biggest reception of their set.

The Streets
It was The Streets however who gained all the plaudits for the opening day. Despite some grumbles about Mike Skinner & co. taking a headline slot, they certainly put those who doubted them in their place, and delivered a performance worthy of a headline slot at any festival. It's easy to forget how long The Streets have been with us. 2003 seems like a very long time ago now, and with 4 albums under his belt, have declared that the most recent will be his last under the moniker of The Streets, it only seems suitable that he take a prestigious position at the festival.

Unlike Plan B, Skinner has never forgotten his humble beginnings, and as he delved into his festival set, songs from his debut, Original Pirate Material, never sounded so fresh and so relevant as they were at the time. From the ska/reggae tinged Let's Push Things Forward and the UK garage styled hip hop track of Don't Mug Yourself only remind us what a talent that Skinner is. It's a shame that The Streets never gained a larger status than they have done, but with some poorly received albums in recent years, it becomes hard to remember what a talent he was considered to be back in 2003. But his set at Benicassim reminded a lot of people what a fun band The Streets can be. It's just a shame that it's all coming to end. Working the crowd like he always been able to do, The Streets performance what an unquestionably durable band they are, able to work their set to any occasion and producing a fantastic headline set.
review by: Anthony Hetherington

photos by: Charlene Carr

Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th July 2011
near Valencia, Spain, Spain
£165 for 4-days (only no camping available)
last updated: Fri 1st Jul 2011


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