Blistering sunshine welcomed the fourteenth Festival International de Beniccasim, Spain’s premier Indie and Alternative annual music festival. This year, however, was my first taste of the event, and the weekend showcased a unique take on the humble music festival. With so many events cropping up in recent years, saturating the market somewhat, organisers have become increasingly reliant on finding a unique selling point, that will ensure punters flock to the event. Whilst the majority of the line-up here could be seen elsewhere this summer, without a great deal of difficulty, the added attraction of almost guaranteed sunshine, the chance to experience Spain in general, as well as a unique take on how festivals should be run, ensures this festival has plenty to keep the crowds coming, and smiling when they get here.

With the campsite a 30 minute walk from the town, and the beach a further 15 minutes, this festival doesn’t exactly make it easy to relax. Bands start at around 5/6 in the afternoon, due to the heat, with music continuing in some form or another until the morning. This means the majority of campers are short of sleep, many catching a couple of hours in the morning before the heat becomes unbearable, then heading down to the beach. This was a tactic I utilised for much of the time I was there, including several hours of sleep sprawled out on the sand. The intense temperatures make it difficult to get any semblance of worthwhile sleep, and this is not aided by utter idiots who take it upon themselves to walk around the campsite with a boom box at 5 in the morning on your first day, when you finally manage to drop off to sleep, having been awake for approaching 48 hours. As if this isn’t bad enough, you have to listen to the cretins talking, claiming to be good dancers, starting ‘dance-offs’ and generally embarrassing themselves. The resulting frame of mind was not one which you would usually associate with a festival atmosphere, and to a certain extent this reflected my opinions of the bands on the Thursday.

Somewhat of a ‘warm up’ with the stage closed, Thursday saw Lightspeed Champion kick off the festival for me. Lack of sleep, coupled with being surrounded by obnoxious, drugged up twats, one of which insisted on turning away from the stage and bending forward, almost as though he was attempting to touch his toes, hindered my enjoyment of the set somewhat, but it was clear Dev AKA Lightspeed Champion was relishing the largely enthusiastic, Spanish crowd, showcasing tracks from ‘Falling off the Lavender Bridge’ his debut album released earlier this year. ‘Midnight Surprise’ stood out among the melodic Bright Eyes influenced Indie, which is a stark departure from the music that made Hynes’s name. Thankfully the horrible sense of foreboding created by the crowd packed into the Vodafone Fib Club tent for this performance was misplaced; the crowd here were by a long way the rowdiest and worst of the weekend. An excellent performance, tainted somewhat, but through no fault of the man himself. Next up, on the mainstage, Mates of State manage to send me to sleep on the grass. A sad reflection on the bands music, which, although full of melody and featuring well crafted pop songs, does not hold anything to make the listener sit up and take notice, in this case, literally. It is not long before the Black Lips arrive on the same stage however to reinvigorate my weary legs with their shambolic, fun, bluesy brand of punk rock. Drawing from a variety of influences, such early proto-punk bands like MC5 and The Stooges, as well as bands like the Germs, the Black Lips sound like 100 bands at once, but at the same time, completely unique. Not even being sick for some unexplained reason can spoil this for me, as the band give the best performance of the day. Featuring tracks from last years ‘Good Bad Not Evil’ this is a totally fucked up performance, but one which you can tell is done with utter conviction. Full of great songs, full of charm. Highlights such as recent single ‘Bad Kids’ ensure this is an excellent start to the weekend. Dancing to the Black Lips means my legs are too weary to withstand Battles but the few songs I do catch sees them on fine form.
[caption id="attachment_1256" align="alignnone" width="255" caption="The Black Lips"]The Black Lips[/caption]

Babyshambles kick off Friday’s festivities on the mainstage in typical ramshackle fashion, with Pete and co. just about keeping the performance together, always teetering upon the edge of descending into an utter mess. Drawing a large crowd, the band feature tracks off both ‘Down in Albion’ and ‘Shotters Nation’ as well as the mandatory Libertines tracks. Not quite setting the festival ablaze, Babyshambles nevertheless provide a fine performance, with freshly mohawked bassist Drew showcasing some impressive Spanish. ‘Fuck Forever’ sparks a mass sing-along, before they give way to proto-punk legends The New York Dolls. Pioneers of punk style riffs, the punk movement, and the later glam/metal scene, much is owed to the two surviving members of the band on stage today. Slightly unhinged front man David Johansen looks remarkably well for his age and lifestyle, and this performance is at times slightly embarrassing, but in equal measures amazing. It’s like watching your old uncle up on stage, except your uncle was never this cool. A crazy, captivating set from the legends, but one which did not quite draw the crowd it deserved.

Over at the packed tent, Hot Chip work the sweaty crowd into a frenzied cacophony, with their competent, if unspectacular electro/dance. Personally I am left a bit baffled by their popularity, ‘Over and Over’ is a good tune, and translates well live, but for the most part their set is adequate, and isn’t bad, but never extends beyond this, never offers anything more. Back at the mainstage My Bloody Valentine produce a wall of sound, that is for some of their performance at least, surprisingly tuneful. A legendary band that had to be experienced, and a set to match, their enduring popularity is understandable on tonight’s evidence, but it isn’t really my cup of tea, and I'm not particularly excited by their set, nor the 7 minute noise session which leads into their final song.

[caption id="attachment_1249" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="My Bloody Valentine on the mainstage"][/caption]

Saturday’s line-up saw the quite frankly vile; Ting Tings play the stage, with their horrible, irritating noise, and lead singers screeching, ghastly tones extending into the campsite. There truly is no escape from this band at the moment, despite them sounding completely flat to these ears. Heavy Trash fare somewhat better on the same stage, with their fairly standard rockabilly act. Whilst completely from the rock n’ roll textbook, even down to onstage mannerisms and the way in which they dressed, with each member in a old style suit, they are certainly enjoyable, and the somewhat modest crowd seems to reflect this, with plenty of silly dancing occurring. It is at this point that I spot a man wearing a t shirt in the style of the clichéd ‘Save the Rave’ or ‘Drop Beats Not Bombs’ ones, but his has the far more amusing ‘FREE THINGS FOR PEOPLE’ printed on the front. Excellent work.

Over on the mainstage, 60s revivalists The Brian Jonestown Massacre bring their erratic live performance to a crowd mixed with hardcore fans, and those standing around not too sure what they are watching. A curious blend of shoegaze, and pyschadelica, which often sounds not unlike The Doors, these are fairly unspectacular, despite what certain films/reports may have you believe, but not unpleasant. There is certainly evidence of the wild mood swings that make up much of their recorded output, but the set never really sparks alight. Back at the tent, Tricky managers to bore the shit out of me. Just when you think a song is finally about to kick in, it ends. A couple of fairly interesting numbers fails to make up for the rest of the set, which is uneventful, and not particularly worth watching. Also unspectacular, over on the mainstage are The Kills. Often criticised as a product of style over substance, they certainly do look the part on stage. How they sound however, leaves a bit to be desired. As with Tricky, they constantly seem to be hinting that they are about to burst into life, but never do. There are a couple of tunes in the hour that reflect the cool image they project, but it’s not really enough. Rescuing the day from mediocrity however, are The Raconteurs. Always, in my mind an inferior side project to Jack Whites other band, based on recorded output at least, live this band really is the business. Set highlight, and best known song ‘Steady as She Goes’ sees half the entire crowd on the other half’s shoulders. This is certainly a commanding performance, justifying their high billing at the festival. The talent of White is obvious, and he is backed by a band of high calibre. One of the highlights of the weekend.

Sunday, the final day of the festival promises much, and delivers to a certain extent. The National play the second stage, to a receptive crowd, and a few standout moments go down very well indeed. However the set drags a bit, with a notable lag in the middle, and the hour long set is probably too long for all but ardent fans. Leonard Cohen, on the other hand could have played for twice as long as he did on the mainstage, and the crowd would still be just as enthralled. A wonderful singer, backed by a first class band, he provides not only the highlight of the weekend, but surpasses many acts I have ever seen, particularly with the classic ‘Hallelujah’ as the sun sets on the mainstage, sparking a mass sing-along and warranted rapturous applause. A privilege to watch.

[caption id="attachment_1252" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Receiving well deserved applause"]Receiving well deserved applause[/caption]

Following this would be a tough ask for the most competent of performers, and unfortunately for Calvin Harris, on the second stage, it is his task. Unsurprisingly the contrast in talent and ability to perform is vast. His completely average set, furthers the question of why this mediocre performer continues to garner attention, and is actually quite popular. Justice follows on the same stage, showing slabface and co. exactly how you make electro music for people to dance to. Despite the tent being filled with idiots pilled up the eyeballs (a devastating combination), and there not being much to look at for the entirety of the set, bar the trademark cross on the booth above which Justice stand, lighting up now and again, this performance is really quite outstanding. They clearly know how to work a crowd, and get the large tent moving, in what is a vastly fun, excellent set. One of the acts of the weekend.

[caption id="attachment_1251" align="alignnone" width="200" caption="Get down! You're ruining it for everyone!"]Get down! You're ruining it for everyone![/caption]

Rushing over to the mainstage allows me to almost catch the beginning of Morrissey's set. Despite a lack of crowd pleasing Smiths songs, Morrissey does allow us a couple, and his solo stuff, when good, is very good indeed. Still an entertaining performer, this set is full of glimmers of greatness, although it never quite reaches the heights of his past. His comments in between songs do serve to remind all that this is a slightly older Morrissey than in his heyday, his condemnation of ‘techno’ music that reaches his ears in between songs from a different stage (despite not actually being techno) does serve to create an image of an out of touch granddad, but his miserable demeanour was always part of his charm.

Keeping the nostalgia going, although far more unabashed is Siouxsie, also on the mainstage. Featuring several tracks from last years impressive ‘Mantaray’, as well as a slew of Banshees track that made her name, it’s a wonderful sight to see the still beautiful Siouxsie performing some of your favourite songs. The opening notes of ‘Happy House’ reduce me to a gibbering moron, jumping up and down excitedly until my legs give out. One of the most innovative and creative bands from the post punk era, Siouxsie and the Banshees produced some of the most enduring music of the last century, and the bands iconic front woman, Siouxsie, with an impressive backing band behind her is the perfect way to draw a wonderful festival to a close.

[caption id="attachment_1254" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Siouxsie"][/caption]

As this was my first year at a foreign festival, the differences were quite obvious. For a start it was impossible to miss the intense heat, something that led to you feeling drained a lot of the time, as camping meant it was simply unavoidable. However this had the advantage, coupled with the late start time for the festival (6pm each day) of allowing you the day to spend at the beach, and to witness the sun setting above the festival. The organisation of the festival was particularly impressive, in all aspects, such as helping you find a place to camp, the security, although someone did manage to stealthily nick my flip flops, and the general organisation of the band times, food, and drink. The FIB paper is a particularly nice touch, keeping you up to date with any changes, and also allowing you to investigate bands you may not have been aware of beforehand, although inevitably both the previews and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Sleep deprivation is also something you have to get accustomed to, and quickly. The 20 hour sleep I had upon returning demonstrated just how much sleep I had lost in a few short days. The line-up, whilst featuring enough to keep music fans of most persuasions happy, can be a little threadbare at times for UK music fans, due to the abundance of popular Spanish bands. Whilst this should be expected, given it is a Spanish festival, the quality of the Spanish bands I saw did leave something to be desired, and the organisers have also been criticised for not promoting Valencian culture, despite receiving public money, and being situated within the Valencian community. The set times also could be a slight drag, as although seeing a full set from many bands was excellent, some of the newcomers were unable to really justify an hour long festival slot, and if you are unfamiliar with a band, the sets can feel 10/15 minutes too long.

Whilst the line-up had its fair share of big names too, it did feel as though it lacked one or two really exciting bands, or a few more interesting bands here and there, which could have turned a very good experience into an unforgettable one.

-Jack Pitt