Festival Internacional de Benicàssim 2013

Festival de Benicàssim 2013
Festival de Benicàssim 2013

For a festival once described as Glasto-del-Sol – with sun and sand instead of mud and rain – it’s somewhat ironic that, even at a fairly sweltering 30°C, it’s hotter in London this year.

Which isn’t going to stop 20,000 Brits stumbling about looking hot and bothered, of course. Playing spot the nationality on the beach at Benicàssim is laughably easy, and when the heat of the day forces those here under canvas to abandon their tents, every scrap of shade is taken up by bodies sprawled out, recovering for another “day” at the festival. A Spanish-style day, that is, which doesn’t start before 6pm and lasts through the night until 7am when stragglers are herded out the gates.

FIB (or just Benicàssim), draws fewer than half the 100,000 strong crowds that attend Spanish festivals Sonar, Primavera Sound and Bilbao BBK. Nevertheless it celebrates 20 years next year, assuming the rumoured financial worries turn out to be just that, and a dedicated following take a full week off to bask here in sun, sea, and sound.

Thursday, Everything Everything open their set of curiosity rock through thick swirling smoke, while headliners Queens Of The Stone Age tear into shameless rock-out numbers ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer‘ and the ludicrously catchy ‘No One Knows‘. When frontman Josh Homme raises his fist at the end, 10,000 hands raise in reply.

The boundless energy of Dizzee Rascal reduces the crowd to a grinning, sweating mess on Friday. Out in the punishing sun all day there’s casualties passed out on the tarmac, and when one girl gets in trouble at the front Dizzee stops the gig and has her hauled to safety. By now he’s well over his set time. “I can’t go off without playing Bonkers”, he says. Fortunately management agree, and the crowd pleaser gets another airing. Later, dubstep instigator Skream has the ground shaking under a rippling two-hour set of everything but dubstep – crunchy techno, chunky house, and some killer 90s old school hardcore pop classics.

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England’s north represents on Saturday, with the Courteeners, Arctic Monkeys and Kaiser Chiefs drawing huge, singing, sometimes even weeping crowds of ardent European fans. Elsewhere Bastille beat their drums melodramatically, and the China Rats, who caused mosh mayhem during their 11th hour stand-in for Bat For Lashes here last year, reprise their energetic, Undertones-inspired pop.

Dominating the final day are The Killers, always a vein of welcome ridiculousness during the 2000s’ potentially po-faced guitar band renaissance, who behind grinning frontman Brandon Flowers leap onstage to ‘Mr Brightside’ and follow through with hit after hit.

FIB is a very continental mix of indie rock and Eurocheese DJs, of massive acts tempered with breakthrough bands: Swim Deep’s whoops and cheekbones from B-Town, Temples‘ 60s time warp psychedelia, or hype magnets like Palma Violets and Chvrches. Spanish bands have a good showing too: Dorian’s percussive, dreamy post-rock, wordless metallers Toundra, and Svper‘s bubbling electro-pop. The young crowd, swelled by post-GCSE, post-A Level celebrants, sometimes gives Benicàssim the feeling of Benidorm with much better music. And while Spanish-English relations remain cordial despite Gibralta, so long as you can brave the heat (or afford aircon), who wouldn’t relish a festival with that foreign holiday feeling?

 

[Words, pictures and daily blogs from the festival originally published on Clashmusic.com and in Clash Magazine issue 90, September 2013]

Photos of Chvrches @ Village Underground

Tonight Chvrches face the challenge of a room full of hipsters in this brick Shoreditch temple. The rites begin with the kickdrums of ‘Lies‘, foreboding bass tones that recall early Gary Numan, spiky harmonic stabs driving the track forward while Lauren Mayberry dons her dominatrix hat to instruct us: “You got to show me / Both knees, skin and bone / Clothe me, throw me, move me”.

 
[Words and pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]

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Chvrches @ Village Underground

chvrches
Chvrches

In six months more people have demonstrated an interest in CHVRCHES than the C of E (or indeed, the Kirk) could ever hope for in this godless, heathen age.

Last weekend they played Alexandra Palace with Everything Everything and Two Door Cinema Club (reviewed), but tonight they face the challenge of a room full of hipsters in this brick Shoreditch temple.

The rites begin with the kickdrums of ‘Lies‘, foreboding bass tones that recall early Gary Numan, spiky harmonic stabs driving the track forward while Lauren Mayberry dons her dominatrix hat to instruct us: “You got to show me / Both knees, skin and bone / Clothe me, throw me, move me”.

There is delicious ambiguity in her lyrics. She radiates fragility, but is bold in her demands: “I can feed your dirty mind / Like I know, like I know what you want.”

CHVRCHES do more than aggressive beats and sexual undertones, however. ‘We Sink’ drops the bombast and places keyboard player/Maschine wrangler Martin Doherty on the mic, revealing an intimate voice from beneath the baseball cap on an almost plaintive pop song that rises from clattering synths. ‘Now Is Not The Time‘ wouldn’t sound out of place in a John Hughes film, all synthetic bells, lush strings and minor key cooing.

Doherty and keyboards/guitarist Iain Cook are fairly grizzled music industry veterans old enough to remember the ’80s, while Mayberry comes to the decade’s endlessly popular tones via the route of revivalism. Her stage nerves have slowly thawed, and as the Tron-esque grid of red lasers carves up the stage she stabs at them with her hands, joking that all those red dots would be a “nightmare for cats”.

They also laugh off their most unlikely recent internet hype – a cover of the Game Of Thrones theme. “You think you’re just taking the piss, and then next minute the internet melts down,” she says.

Not every track is a hit. CHVRCHES work best when the synths are distressed, dirty, with Mayberry’s voice an angelic foil. Nowhere better is this demonstrated than ‘Recover‘, which when it appears finally moves the crowd.

A spectacular slice of winning electro-pop that could inspire religious fervour in the hardest heart, its icy charm plays off against a throbbing bassline and Mayberry’s Glaswegian vowels, where she pleads “I’ll give you woan more chance / Say you can change our heart / Where you can teak what you need / And you doan’ need me”.

Closing with ‘The Mother We Share‘, the band returns for an encore – all smiles, no electro-posing here – for Lauren to deliver, as promised, her karaoke version of Lil’ Kim’s ‘Lady Marmalade’ rap, and Prince’s ‘I Would Die 4 U’, which in the moment could have been written for her.

Channelling the Purple One’s amorousness, the darkness and noise of Depeche Mode and Tubeway Army and the Nordic loneliness that suffuses Robyn’s finest tracks, CHVRCHES weave quality influences into fine songs.

And, in the elfin, wide-eyed Mayberry, they have law graduate, award-winning journalist, intriguing lyricist, compelling singer and (inevitably) future infatuation of millions wrapped into one tiny package – at whose tiny feet the pop world will surely soon lie.

 

[Words and pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]