Ah yes, the Spanish festival with guaranteed sun that’s a stone’s throw from the beach. Bliss. Castello De La Plana, Spain (July 17-20)
You can bet all those focus groups employed by the UK’s increasingly corporate festival scene have been scratching their heads this summer, trying to fathom why their bland, identikit line-ups have resulted in mass disinterest and undersold bills. Of course, the answer lies in the very sentence that precedes this one, but you can’t help think the eminence and affordability of Benicàssim has had a part to play in the mutation of UK music fans’ festival habits as well. The weekend is chocka with Brits Abroad and with good reason: cheap flights, guaranteed sunshine, a host of genuine exclusives and a beach to fuck off to when Mika is on.
Opening the Main Stage on Friday with a bite-sized burst of Elvis’ ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, a bit of sun seems to have done Babyshambles some good. Where their rag’n’bone rock can be listless on the bigger stages, tonight they’re more Steppenwolf than Albert Steptoe, and Mick is blatantly having a hoot laying Guns N’Roses-esque licks atop ‘Fuck Forever’. Ditto New York Dolls, who sound more like the kind of music your dad plays in the car on the way to Ikea than the gutter-slut punk stars of old – until they play ‘Personality Crisis’ and sound like the best band in the entire world, ever, ever, ever. My Bloody Valentine are later plagued by chronic sound problems but it matters little: all the fanboys in the front row shouting “Have it, Kevin!” just assume the mainman is experimenting with another FX pedal and cheer accordingly. The biggest draw of the weekend, though, is Hot Chip in the Fiberfib.com Tent, who’ve somehow forged a niche where they can appeal to both the lairy “’Av anuvva Stella” crowd and the chin-stroking electro hipsters who make up their membership. When they play ‘Ready For The Floor’, it incites a crowd response that makes Chelsea at Millwall seem like Swan Lake.
That’s not something that My Morning Jacket would know about, mind. They’re a band who look like tramps but sound like heart-tickling angels, yet without anything approaching a mass consciousness-embedded tune (of the kind The Ting Tings unleash in another stupidly low-down slot a few short hours earlier), the crowd response to their Saturday performance on the Main Stage is muted. The Kills suffer similarly by following a slot by Jon Spencer’s ferocious blues-punkers Heavy Trash on one of the smaller stages. They’re followed by The Raconteurs, whose leader may still be soloing as you read this. We left Jack to it at about 2am.
But it’s on Sunday that things get really interesting. It’s thrilling merely watching Leonard Cohen stride through the backstage area to the Main Stage, but when he plays ‘Hallelujah’ as the sun is setting it’s a moment to top even his mesmerizing Glasto performance. He smiles; we swoon and then take off for some more modern thrills from Justice, who do much what Alexis Taylor’s lot did two nights previously. Tonight, in fact, it feels like they may have found the perfect environment for their wares. You’d have thought Morrissey, who has a huge following over here, would also be a no-brainer. Yet as he strides on to the stage backed by a topless, slogan-emblazoned band and punctuates his set with a healthy dose of Smiths songs, it somehow falls flat. Fortunately, he’s followed by Siouxsie, who looks astonishing and whose ‘Happy House and ‘Hong Kong Garden’ sound as vital and dangerous as they ever have. And then, of course, it’s off to the beach…