Benicassim – hot days, sizzling nights

July 24th, 2010 in European travel by Sarah Lee 3
Damon Albarn of the Gorillaz led the line-up at this year's Benicassim Music Festival

It’s festival season across Europe so time to don wellies and prepare yourself for an avalanche of rain and mud. Or maybe not. Ok so this year Glastonbury-goers experienced better weather than they’ve witnessed in years. But if you really want to play in the sunshine, Spain’s Benicassim is the hot tip for music fans!

Rock up at the Festival Internacional de Benicassim (FIB) in the afternoon and you’d think you were in the wrong place. The stages are empty, crews sit around lazily and there are no throngs of people waiting excitedly for the next band to perform. Even the campsite is devoid of much life.

But that’s the magic of FIB. This is Spain remember – land of the siesta, where partying doesn’t start until well after dark and the best of the action happens in the early hours. So find yourself a sun lounger on the beach and take a nap in the 35C heat – you’ll need all your energy for the evening.

“…during the famously titled Smack My Bitch Up MC Maxim made us get ‘down low’ like crouching tigers before the roar of the music kicked back in and we rose as one for the frenzied chorus”

As night fell over this cool coastal town we headed into the festival ground to catch the first performances. The fantastic Temper Trap and Ray Davies (yes, the one that was in The Kinks) garnered favourable reviews, but the real draw of the night was Kasabian. The band were the first big name of the festival and the 50,000-strong crowd amassed to hear them perform tracks like Underdog and Fire were loving it.

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The next night we arrived in time to see Goldfrapp on the second of Benicassim’s three stages before heading back to the main Verde stage to catch Vampire Weekend’s set from the photographer’s pit. As you’ll see this is the best place to take photos but after three songs even photographers have to exit stage left so fans can enjoy the show, their view unrestricted.

I was disappointed to miss Mumford and Sons and Ellie Goulding (she was always going to play Benicassim but her slot was brought forward when Lily Allen had to pull out due to illness), everyone we met said how great they were but Terry was thrilled to catch John Lydon’s Public Image Limited as he’s long been a fan of the former Sex Pistol. He wasn’t disappointed – Johnny Rotten as he was once known, writhed about the stage, snarled and spat out his lyrics with the level of contempt you’d expect from a former punk rocker. He even had an on-stage bust up with his band according to the NME. However what surprised us most of all was the imposing stage presence he had and the power behind his vocals.

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I was particularly pleased to catch Calvin Harris and our Bostonian friend @BrilliantTips, who’d never heard of the Scottish King of electropop, was also blown away by his energy and funky tunes. We hung around late on that night to catch DJ Shadow as many people were raving about him. Unfortunately it was a bit lost on me – the music was ok with bass-driven drum n’ bass-style beats vibrating out of the giant speakers, but it was a little lacking in terms of performance and certainly not worth jumping into the photographers’ pit for. He hid away in a white ball while images were projected onto it. But if you’re a DJ putting out sampled hip-hop mashups it probably doesn’t lend itself to much visual presentation. Besides it was 3am by the time he came on and by then there was always a certain sense of hush among the Benicassim crowd who’d exhausted themselves earlier with the big headline act of the day.

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The next night we got over early, just in time to catch the last of the evening light and The Specials on the main stage. I’ve always been a little lost by this band, unsure where to place them musically – were they cool or past it? Is it reggae or ska? Is it revivalist or authentic? But seeing them live I really didn’t care, I was whisked away by the fun of their trumpet-led sound and the frivolity it created in the crowd. People hugged, danced and sang along to classics like A Message to You Rudy and an energetic Too Much Too Young.

But my favourite performance of Benicassim has to be The Prodigy. I’d long heard how incredible they were live and they didn’t disappoint. There was a buzz about Benicassim all day as people awaited their performance and this turned into nothing short of 1,000 watts of electricity when they took to the stage with booming baselines and blinding lights. The crowd literally went mad, especially for their biggest hits like Breathe, Firestarter, Invaders Must Die and Warriors Dance. It was then that I noticed the huge numbers gathered on the hill overlooking Benicassim to spot that night’s headline act, and I really felt part of a huge movement as we all bounced as one to the base. Then during a quiet section of the famously titled Smack My Bitch Up the band’s MC Maxim got us all “down low” like crouching tigers before the roar of the music kicked back in and we rose as one for the frenzied chorus. An encore of Take Me To The Hospital and Out of Space sent us into orbit.

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The Prodigy however were lost on some (don’t ask me how, but Terry was one of them). However for these naysayers there was a final fling with the Klaxons, a hugely energetic Dizzee Rascal who also got everyone moving with Holiday, Dance Wiv Me and Bonkers, and headliners The Gorillaz. Their excellent set included appearances by great talents – Bobby Womack, Little Dragon, Roses Gabor and De La Soul – amounting to nothing short of five great acts for the price of one in a brilliant show.

Later that night I wanted to stay and see Leftfield but my weary feet wouldn’t let me go on dancing into the early hours of yet another morning. Instead I retreated to my hotel, where I could still hear Leftfield pounding through the steamy Benicassim air as I dropped off to sleep.

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More photos from the night including The Klaxons, Peter Hook, and behind the scenes shots are here.

We visited Benicassim as part of a blog trip hosted by Land of Valencia.

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