Are there actually any Spanish here?” asks a puzzled Ian Brown from Benicàssim’s main Maravillas stage. Browny’s been gamely greeting the crowd with more proficient Español than your average “Hola, Benicàssim!” and he’s seeing a few blank faces.
The raft of British bands in the Beni line-up, coupled with Spain’s economic troubles, mean the Valencian festival seems to be around half UK punters, constantly asking to borrow a light with “Er, por favor…” Unlike many of the gentlemen in attendance, though, you’ll never find The Horrors wandering about with their tops off. Yet they’re no pallid garage flowers wilting in the heat – their Thursday evening set blooms in the sultry night. Belles of the ball though are At The Drive-In. The reunited post-hardcore prophets are playing their first European show in over a decade, and their flailing energy and the slamming tautness of ‘Pattern Against User’ and ‘Arcarsenal’ are leavened by Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s stream of bizarre ramblings, including – we swear – a Papa Lazarou “Hello, Dave”.
A poorly Florence and a broken-bussed Bat For Lashes pulling out elevate De La Soul to the Maravillas stage with Example following, a double-whammy of master bounce-bringers that means we’re already feeling ragged come Friday, and are almost trampled in the stampede of females induced by the appearance of Miles Kane, sweaty and strutting in snow-leopard print trousers and (brave, perhaps foolhardy) black shirt. The likes of the retro-poppy ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Rearrange’ sound almost a little too bright and cutesy for him live, compared to the more muscular ‘Inhaler’ and ‘First Of My Kind’. At least that’s what the woman down the front holding the ‘MILES MARRY ME’ sign tells us.
The question of the weekend is how uncompromising Uncle Bob Dylan will fare up against the Roses-and-Vaccines-loving sunburn sufferers. Or how will they fare against him? The answer, disappointingly, is ‘averagely’. Bob’s set is a jewelled string of revered songs, opening with ‘Leopard-Skin Pill Box Hat’ and taking in the acidic ‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’ and the monument that is ‘Desolation Row’. But the sound is too muted and the arrangements, although rolling and lovely, lack bite. Bob might, as the song goes, make you feel his love, but he won’t break a sweat to win yours. Not that this matters to the man in front of us, who, during a graceful ‘Tangled Up In Blue’, screams, ‘GET YOUR COCK OUT!’ in his friend’s ear. Katy B on the Trident Senses stage, meanwhile, delivers a fired-up set that’s a lesson in commanding adoration, with a brand new track ‘Hot Like Fire’ – a bubbly, lusty, rave-tinged number with a huge chorus – and previously played newie ‘What You Came For’, an in-your-face cheeky thing based on Mosca’s ‘Bax’. Back on the Maravillas stage, The Maccabees and Bombay Bicycle Club both sound ridiculously impressive, more than comfortable in front of massive crowds. Chase & Status close the night with a moshpit that must be hot enough to begin atomic fusion, and reveal the holy grail of brostep in a cover of ‘Killing In The Name’.
Once we’ve showered that off, we’re ready for Saturday, and a photo opportunity. “I can do some Instagram,” says Dizzee Rascal, getting his phone out to take advantage of an unplanned break in his set caused by the technical breakdown (twice) of ‘Dirtee Disco’.
To be honest, it’s a relief. The more novelty moments of ‘Tongue N’ Cheek’ outstayed their welcome three years ago, and the aggressive attack of the new tracks tonight (the harum-scarum, Prodigy-esque ‘Let The Bass Drop’, the ridiculous, womping ‘Bassline Junkie’, and the synth riff-heavy DJ Fresh collab ‘The Power’) suggest that if Dance Dizzee is here to stay, this time he’s not messing about. Both these and older material like ‘Stop Dat’ and ‘Jus’ A Rascal’ seem the perfect fit for this festival – young, defiantly British, daft and sharp all at once. “When there’s Brits abroad, there’s trouble, innit?” notes Dizzee, and by the time he picks up the crowd’s chant of “Let’s go fucking bonkers, da-da, da-da”, he’s crowned the beloved ringleader. It’s not over yet though – back on the main stage Crystal Castles treat those who’ve gone the distance to new track ‘Plague’, Alice sobbing through sheets of stabbing chords and a sledgehammering beat, throwing herself into a sea of grasping hands. Ethan nods dourly, thinking about genocide, or perhaps sandwiches. Business as brilliant, batshit usual.
What with the heat and the 6am bedtimes, come Sunday everyone is a smashed shell. It’s going to take some magic to wring out that last drop of energy. Enter Howler, who rip through every song off ‘America Give Up’ and make you feel as breathless as when you first heard them. Perhaps aggrieved at the size of the crowd over on the main stage, Jordan Gatesmith keeps introducing his band as The Vaccines. Until the end, when he asks if everyone’s going to watch “Joy Divi… uh! New Order. That was a huge fail. Er… we’re Bob Dylan, goodnight.” A fitting Freudian slip this evening – dedicated to Ian Curtis on what would have been his birthday, New Order’s headline set (David Guetta keeps the early-hours ravers going, but let’s not spoil things) teems with sparkling classics; ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘586’, ‘True Faith’… not to mention a silvered, sci-fi take on Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’ and the untouchable, closing glory of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Where Bernard’s more gutsy, “COME ON!” delivery of that vocal jarred at first, tonight it feels perfect, celebratory. Brits abroad, it seems, aren’t always an embarrassment.