They might be their generation's Iron Maiden, you know
Bring Me The Horizon frontman Oli Sykes is freaking people out. It’s something the singer clearly enjoys doing these days, having morphed into a wildly entertaining and camply confrontational frontman, often goading audiences to form circle pits in the manner of an hysterical circus ringleader on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Midway through this headliner set at the opening ‘Welcome Party’ night of Madrid’s Mad Cool Festival, he suddenly appears on a viewing platform opposite the main stage, assessing punters’ drinks choices. “Oooh! You’ve got your Grey Goose! You’ve got your Fanta!” he exclaims in his thick Sheffield accent. The woman and young boy he’s addressing seem vaguely alarmed.
This is a fabulous, all-out headline show, with dancers, trippy backing visuals and Sykes’s unchained onstage persona drumming up a real sense of occasion. Bring Me The Horizon played on Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury, and this show looked somewhat unmoored in the harsh light of day, but here, around midnight, their vision comes to life. Sykes has described the set-up as a “touring freak show”: band members march up and down along enormous speaker stacks along the back of the stage; flamethrowers explode out into the atmosphere; women in gnarly, disfigured masks dance in formation and Sykes even indulges in a couple of costume changes. At one point his licks a camera filming the show, his six-foot tongue filling the screens that flank the stage.
The material from ‘amo’, this year’s pop-metal crossover smash, proves that they’re a fearless and inventive group who can make a crowd dance even as they retain the serrated riffs of their death metal beginnings. It’s there in the pulverising two-note refrain that follows the eerie breakdown in ‘Wonderful Life’ and in the scathing, singalong chorus of the biting break-up ballad ‘Medicine’, but the ‘Hollaback Girl’ drums of ‘Happy Song’, taken from 2015’s ‘That’s The Spirit’, is a reminder that the band’s been working towards this endgame for years. Seen in tonight’s context, their current stage show is an unhinged death metal panto, an unashamedly entertaining spectacle that suggests Bring Me The Horizon could be the Iron Maiden of their generation: grafters who never leave an audience feeling short-changed.
It would be hard to feel short-changed at Mad Cool Festival, to be fair. Situated on the outskirts of Madrid, the site looks like something from the The X Files, an Area 51-style expanse of baking desert land studded with six stages, silver hangars glistening in the 40-degree heat. Weeds sprouts out through the AstroTurf laid on for the festival, as though the land is slowly, determinedly reclaiming the site.
Early in the evening, Spanish trap star Fusa Nosta showed the Consequence of Sound Stage why she was a finalist in last year’s The X Factor in her homeland. Spain’s relationship with the show differs from the UK’s; in the a more crowded talent contest market, it’s seen as somewhat forward-thinking, encouraging edgier genres such as trap. A backing dancer drapes a white bag over Fusa’s head, a claustrophobic image of which the singer later tells NME: “What I wanted to express is that you’re inside my head, inside my feelings and thoughts.” Her music often deals with themes of breaking free of constraints and expectations, and fuck the consequences.
Over on the main stage, Devon’s electro-pop stalwarts Metronomy brave the heat in matching blue and white tracksuits, their kitsch pop anthems drenched in irony. A contingent of the audience watches from a shaded patch beside the stage, and frontman Joe Mount throws similar shade with acidic break-up anthem ‘Old Skool’, gesturing sassily with a cow bell as he impishly sings, “You keep your friends, I’ll keep my friends.” A knowingly schmaltzy piano refrain introduces the ‘60s girl group pastiche ‘Love Letters’ and Oscar Cash blasts barking dog noises from his keyboard. Yet it’s not all an in-joke: new song ‘Insecurity’ sounds a little like The Pixies, proving Metronomy can hit you with an emotional sucker punch.
Spanish pop star Rosalía receives a hero’s welcome on the main stage, flanked by a set of backing dancer who help to create a lush, ethereal spectacle, neon squares flashing behind them. As NME noted at Glastonbury, the 25-year-old brings an arena show to festival stages. There’s a moment at which the letter ‘R’ appears on screen by her command; it’s a neat indication of the absolute poise and control she brings to this stage. “She’s the greatest because she mixes Spanish music – flamenco – with pop music from the rest of the world,” says 26-year-old Spanish audience member Carmen Lopez. “I’ve never seen that before. “I am so proud of her.”
It’s an entirely different vibe during Swedish glam-punks Viagra Boys’ fuggy late-night set at the Mondo Sonoro stage, frontman Sebastian Murphy toples and in shades as he crawls around on the stage floor, a moshpit writhing about during a bizarre and brilliant cacophony of guitar, sax and bongos. Meanwhile the Swedish alt-pop don Lykke Li brings a gothic vibe to the Madrid Te Abraza stage, the stage bathed in red light during a set that draws heavily on her recently ‘So Sad So Sexy’ album, dropping rapturously to her knees during opener ‘hard rain’. In the midst of ‘Jaguars In The Air’, she informs the audience, “This is the time to have a drink or a smoke. Whatever you want to do.” The anything-goes atmosphere continues when she airs new song ‘Neon’, a thumping electro-pop banger.
Then Bring Me The Horizon usher us into their bizarre world. It’s only day one of Mad Cool Festival – the festival hasn’t technically started yet – and there has already been a dizzying array of acts from across Europe. You’ve got your Grey Goose. You’ve got your Fanta. Let’s have a party.