Festival Internacional de Benicassim

Thursday, July 19 – Sunday July 22

As England slides into the Atlantic, a car park in Spain is basking in sunshine and becoming the nocturnal party of the year


So we’re riding high through the pitch-black Spanish hinterland on a party bus full of Europeans, Shakira blasting through concealed speakers as a hell-bent driver presses pedal to the rusted metal, when out of nowhere a 20-foot image of a topless Iggy Pop materialises in the darkness. It’s 11pm. It’s boiling hot. One of the greatest rock’n’roll icons ever is gyrating his sinewy stuff in the middle of the sky: welcome to Benicàssim.


Forget your Stafford country piles, your racetrack-spoiling tattoo fest, even your mud-encrusted West Country togetherness – this is a music weekend, Spanish style. Nothing kicks off ’til 9pm, nothing finishes ’til 7am. Arctic Monkeys drag you into a backstage pool. The Horrors miss flights to continue the fun.


The weekend boasts many musical treats, the first of which on Thursday night is The Stooges. While recent shows have culminated in mass stage invasions, tonight el securite punch potential climbers in the face. Not nice, but a fittingly anarchic end to 45 minutes of maximum rock’n’roll, from ‘No Fun’’s sneering growl to set zenith ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. Iggy can barely drag his sopping carcass offstage, such is the adoration.

Conor Oberst follows with Bright Eyes’ final show of their tour, kissing and caressing ex-Sleater-Kinney sticksgirl Janet Weiss after her last performance with the band. It’s clear she’ll be sorely missed, although this is a multi-person show, every last violinist contributing to a dazzling moment.


The weekend takes a turn for the weirder for Klaxons’ 9pm Friday set when they are replaced by Danish dance types Who Made Who as the band are trapped somewhere in the sub-aquatic UK. As nonplussed punters consider the band’s baffling change of direction, the rest of us make our way to The Rapture, who have rediscovered their professionalism and love affair with the microphone. So now the sax’n’cowbell combination reaches decent decibels on the likes of ‘Mirror’.


Klaxons finally materialise after midnight. The crowd dance to the songs they remember as the band practically mime in front of the insouciant soundman: ‘The Bouncer’ and ‘Atlantis To Interzone’ are lost into the amplifier ether, and things get progressively worse.


Albert Hammond Jr declares the concrete car park open on Saturday, with West Coast harmonies breezing over our sun-fried souls and almost making up for the fact we’re watching only one fifth of last year’s Strokes. When the sound fails towards the end of the set, a flurry of minions scramble to fix things and old Alb retires to hang with friends backstage, only to be dragged back on for two more. He was more lucky than CSS; their set never made it past three tracks. By this time though, we’ve eloped to Peter Björn And John, who’ve invited Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell with them for more early evening frolics, including a sublime ‘The Chills’. Over in Escenario Fiberfib (aka the dance tent), a drum solo’s starting. It’s joined by another. A couple of cowbells drop by and a man in swimshorts leaps onstage in a flurry of hair and bad fitness vid dance moves: !!! are onsite to take things up a notch. ‘All My Heroes Are Weirdos’, ‘Heart Of Hearts’ and ‘New Name’ trip over each other in excitement to make it from the hands of this non-stop funk machine into the baying crowd’s consciousness, the likes of ‘Yadnus’ building like runaway tom toms.


Something weird is going on over on the main stage. Arctic Monkeys, having spent the weekend in and out of the backstage pool, seem to be actually having fun. ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ is stopped mid-song for a bit of Spanish banter. Beach balls fly overhead. Fireworks explode nearby and men with beer rucksacks dispense cerveza under flashing lights on flags. Maybe it’s sunstroke, but Sheffield’s straight-faced endure the good time vibe and come out triumphant: ‘This House Is A Circus’ is a strobe-flash of inspiration and ‘Do Me A Favour’’s tumbling drums introduces their slow-burn anthem. ‘505’, meanwhile, drives the wandering beer merchants away from moshing Spanish boys.


Sunday sees Amy Winehouse defy all expectation by turning up, and sober to boot, her Motown backing duo as exuberantly cheesy as ever during a sleazy take on Lauren Hill’s ‘That Thing’. Nearby Caleb leads Kings Of Leon onto the main stage, nonchalant in waistcoat and new haircut. For the first time this weekend, the shonky Spanish soundsystem lends a hand to a band, and his AM radio mic is almost as scuzzy as the sub-sonic basslines of ‘My Party’ and disco-Pixies ‘Charmer’. ‘On Call’ is adopted as the surprise anthem of the evening, broken English chants of “I’ll be there” sound louder than anything the Monkeys mustered. We leave wondering how Nathan can knock out the juggernaut drums of ‘McFearless’ while looking like he’s bored waiting for a bus.


Back in the dance tent and sirens fill the airwaves as spidery green lasers refract off a shoal of sunburned ravers and The Go! Team bounce into view. ‘Ladyflash’ and ‘Huddle Formation’ are dropped between bouts of crowd participation – Ninja is fast becoming the band-camp leader of generation indie-rave, enforcing strict “Go! Team” chants that stretch way out of the tent and beyond.


No such worry for Muse’s main stage set, thrust forward by ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ and boasting all the technical showiness that requires a small army of workers behind the scenes. ‘Supermassive Black Hole’’s slinky shuffle sees robots superimposed over Bellamy’s silhouette in a travel-sized edition of their Wembley extravaganzas, and when he sits behind his grand piano with landing-strip lights he’s an intergalactic jazzman, plinky plonking his way through Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’.

And with that, dawn approaches and a squadron of transfer coaches arrives

to break up what might well be Europe’s best summer party.


Tim Chester