Festivals are a bit of a British institution these days. They’re in the blood of the music lover. They give you your favourite bands, bands you’ve never heard of and a freedom that only comes with not washing and not caring about your cheap lager intake.
We’re spoiled for choice, it’s true, but there are so many hidden gems across the waters, which we’re truly missing out on. Bilbao BBK Live, in Spain’s Basque country, is one of these gems. On first view, it seems a bit safe – a bit standard without that hint of magic that you might get from boating at Latitude, listening to poetry in the woods at End Of The Road or watching the sun rise at the Stone Circle. But beyond the sponsorship (BBK is a bank that seems to own everything in Bilbao), the branded bars and corporate named stages is a festival that just wants to show you a good time.
The magic of BBK is that you can stroll the cobbled streets of the old town, supping ciders and eating freshly fried squid or check out the latest pop art exhibition in the Guggenheim – one of the world’s premier art museums – before you head off for a night of music in the mountains. At a fraction of the price of British festivals, you can squeeze three nights of some awesome bands into a long weekend of relaxation and culture. What’s not to love?
This year’s line up at BBK was a mismatch of classic, massive and noisy and had a little something for everyone. The headliners for each night – a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night – are all British. Mumford and Sons seem to have been a bit quiet on home soil, despite a new album, but here they play their old hits loud and proud to about 35,000 hammered fans sweating off the humidity of the day. Love them or hate them, they play a note perfect blinding set, which even had the back row stragglers dancing.
The Jesus and Mary Chain totally knocked the socks off Friday night with a melconcholic, brooding fuzz of noise as they played their 1985 classic Psychocandy in full. The sound was impeccable, leaving many a watcher static and starring at front man Jim Reid basking in day glow pink light. The sound brewed with its distortion and repetition, making the set fantastically hypnotic and the highlight for this festival goer, despite never being much of a fan before.
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The biggest crowd – a sold out 40,000 – headed up the mountain for the final night, where Muse strutted their stuff dressed as some kind of tracksuit clad androids. They sounded massive, with white light piecing our eyes as they screeched through their hits, bashing glam, pop and prog together like Vangelis meets Led Zepplin. Singers united for ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, ‘Uprising’ and ‘Knights of Cydonia’ in a truly epic performance.
With only two big stages on site and neither playing at the same time, you have two options – get a beer and watch monsters of their genre rock out to a huge crowd, or eat a bocadilla next to the toilets. You’re treated to a performance you may never choose to see and it might just blow your mind.
alt-J, now a headlining band, was one of those mind blowing moments and they almost stole the show on day two with some incredible visuals and a sound that was euphoric and ethereal. ‘Matador’, ‘Left hand Love’, ‘Matilda’ and a geek’s version of Bill Wither’s ‘Lovely Day’ swept over you as you came down from the fuzz of the Mary Chain, making it one of the best sets of the weekend.
Future Islands didn’t seem that well known by the crowd on day one, but Samuel T Herring’s chemistry teacher charm and hungry bear growl soon won them over. Azealia Banks - or was that Michelle Obama rocking the blue and black dress - brought some filthy attitude with her wicked tongue full of badasses and bitches; the complete antithesis to her conservative attire. Her costume change and flailing dancers could have done with a little more magic though.
What better way to end an evening of incredible music than a massive rave, and Disclosure totally nailed it on day one despite sound issues leaving us in silence for 20 minutes. ‘White Noise’ boomed out over the mountain while the production lit up thousands of bobbing heads. Much happiness was had. SBTRKT recreated the dancing vibe on the final night, but couldn’t quite match the intensity of Muse before them.
There was, as with many a festival, some horrendous or just dull moments. The Ting Tings bopped around like middle aged teen wannabes in a bit of an awkward way and Of Monsters And Men were very nice, but everyone was waiting for ‘that song’ ('Little Talks') – one of the biggest selling songs in Spain last year after appearing in a Basque rom com.
Kodaline, albeit lovely chaps, were basically a beige version of The Script and, to be completely honest, there was no way this journalist was going to watch James Bay or Catfish and the Bottlemen when you can drink a six euro pint of gin and tonic in the sun.
So while a BBK might not strike you as the festival you have to go to, remember that it’s so much more than your expectation. It’s a festival that has seen the likes of Metallica, Radiohead, Pearl Jam and The Cure. Just imagine what you can experience as the sun sets over the mountain, lighting up the river beneath. And if you don’t like it, you can just go to the beach.
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Words: Gemma Hampson