673 feet up, high in the misty mountains of the Basque Country, over one hundred thousand attendees annually pray at the alter of indiedom and electronica. Now in its 11th year Bilbao BBK Live has grown from yet another guitar led euro fest to an event of note showcasing some the best contemporary groups. While it may lack the scope and hijinks seen at the likes of Glastonbury or Bestival, BBK makes up for it with some fine programming and scenery. Additionally, with most of the action wisely bouncing from one stage to another, the attendees are never likely to miss a good time and suffer the dreaded festival clash.
Kicking off the Thursday is Montreal's Little Scream, where a small but eager crowd get tucked in their punchy brand of folk and husky vocals. At 6.30pm the site begins to truly fill out with Portugal's Them Flying Monkeys sound tracking the entrance point with some psychedelic pop chops. The first real sing along of the day then occurs on the main stage as Years and Years cause many an adoring teen to become whipped up into a frenzy, flowers and gifts thrown at the feet of frontman Olly Alexander. Later CHVRCHES aren't taking any prisoners with a set filled with hits, passion and an apology for the Brexit result. The crowd are eating out of Lauren Mayberry and co.’s synthy hands within moments. Long live this fine Scottish export.
Over on the Pepsi stage Hinds prove a homegrown winner, charming fully with their scrappy noise against a darkening sky. Never underestimate the disarming power of three chords. Alt-Icons New Order get a big crowd, but Bernard Sumner seems to be elsewhere for the majority, inflicted with the eyes of a man deciding tomorrow's lunch choices. No matter how much the teenager in you wants to hear ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ sometimes it’s better to just imagine than be subjected to the 2016 reality. Arcade Fire on the other hand give a master class in crowd interaction, storming through belter after belter, with particular magic moments occurring during ‘Afterlife’, ‘My Body Is A Cage’ and a duet between brothers Will (endlessly entertaining) and Win butler. It's a near two-hour tour de force demonstrating why Arcade Fire are such a unique talent.
Soon after Hot Chip confidently help bring the house down in the early hours before the walking dead head to the forest for a last dance near dawn.
An overcast sky doesn't dampen the spirits of Jose Gonzalez's fans as he acts the pied piper, his gentle acoustic magic turning a crowd of a few hundred to thousands. Britpop veterans Ocean Colour Scene follow, bringing a little sunshine both figuratively and literally, opening up with a cover of classic 'Day Tripper' for those old enough to appreciate it. Over on the Pepsi stage Spain's own Belako raises the tempo with their kinetic brand of post punk, the quartet causing mosh pits one moment before playfully covering Nina Simone the next. They can only get bigger after this BBK performance.
Come 10.30pm the Grimes faithful are all pressed against the rail awaiting their bonkers idol. Erupting on stage with her squad of dancers Claire Boucher proves to be everything they hoped. Quirky, polite, loud and enjoyably batshit. A power outage during a blistering 'Go' spells disaster but 15 minutes later the group are back to it dropping an ethereal 'Ave Maria' and head banging 'Kill vs Main' before time runs out. Never change ladies. A sprint to the main stage and certified legends Pixies begin with 'Bone Machine' in front of an ecstatic crowd of all ages. There's a noticeable sound drop compared with Arcade Fire's headlining slot the previous evening but once in the thick of it every wonky guitar lick and demonic scream is caught with clarity. There's a respectful mix of newer material amongst the fan pleasers and a thrashey 'Planet Of Sound' makes a surprising finisher.
From one iconic group to another as Underworld bathe the day’s biggest gathering in a sea of light and body rocking beats. On paper a 59-year-old raver bouncing about on a cavernous stage should be ridiculous, but Karl Hyde and Rick Smith wrote the book on having it large and insure that Bilbao is having it too. A beautiful burnout.
The final day sees the promised Spanish sun appear and what better accompaniment than Soléa Morente’s brand of soft flamenco inspired melodies to welcome the increasingly dishevelled masses. This soft touch is soon lost however as Courtney Barnett takes to the main stage proving that wordy punk rock can transfer to a large space if played loud enough and loud it is played. Despite a no frills approach the trio prove a captivating watch helped by Barnett’s genius commentary on daily life.
"'I had a dream last night, we argued over who was the biggest fan!" Beatlemania descends on BBK as Father John Misty fans grab their sweet spot half an hour before his scheduled appearance. Men and women begin to apply make up for the occasion all the while literally trembling in anticipation. When one Josh Tillman does skulk on and drops a swaggering ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ teens begin tearing at their hair and touching themselves in places you learnt about in more detail during Year 9. Before long the bearded-sardonic-shaman is rushing the crowd, taking selfies, writhing on the floor in true Morrison fashion and telling the audience about his chronic masturbation issues. In short he steals the festival.
Tame Impala easily proves the most anticipated band for the under 25s, a deafening cry accompanying opener ‘Let It Happen’. As the sun sets ‘The Less I Know The Better’ kicks in providing one of the day’s keenest highlights as well as setting the tone for a second half of numbers enhanced by clearer visuals. Foals have the unenviable task of proving why they're as worthy a headlining slot as the last two night’s veterans, but take it in their stride. The set, perhaps wisely, avoids some of the earlier materials noughties indie sound resting more on their bruiser, latter day material. ‘Snake Oil’ and ‘Inhaler’ are riffs built for igniting a festival, and they do with aplomb.
It’s down to Soulwax and Wolf Alice to entertain those masses unable to let the three day ride end, and how they do, this weary Clash’er passing broken fans on the mountain pass first thing in the morning, grins, sweat and cheap orange hats still attached. BBK might not break the festival guidebook, but it works the standard format with ease and keeps the tunes coming later than most, and for that those present are most grateful.
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Words: Sam Walker-Smart
Photo Credit: Gordon Stabbins