Bilbao BBK Live 2016: What we learnt about the Basque Country festival

See Bilbao BBK Live first began life in 2006, known as Bilbao Live Festival. The headliners for the event that year were very strong and included Guns & Roses, Placebo and Pretenders. Jump forward ten years and thanks to the event still attracting major headliners, the attendance has grown from 10 years prior. 2016 would welcome Arcade Fire, Foals and Pixies.

In fact, it was simply the reveal that Arcade Fire playing one of only two European shows in 2016 that made me want to attend BBK Live. It was a festival that, if being honest, I wasn’t aware existed until I saw that announcement.

The camping area for the event can be found in a beautiful location at the top of the Kobetamendi mountain in Bilbao. It was small, well laid out and offered stunning views. It was actually the first festival that I’ve attended where the staff assign you a space for your tent, ensuring no area gets too crowded.

A view from the campsite
A view from the campsite

Similarly, the festival site itself was also relatively small but well laid out. Located a few kilometres from the camp site, still on the mountain but down toward the city of Bilbao, those picturesque views are still on offer. BBK opts for the popular trend of having two main stages that acts are split across, never clashing; ensuring that everybody gets to see the bigger acts at the festival.

So enough about that. What about the acts that played and the festival itself? Well, here’s some things that were discovered whilst in Bilbao.


A two year break has rejuvenated Arcade Fire. The band have always been fantastic live but this break appears to have put the joy back into performing for the group. “We love Spain, so coming back here after such a long break actually made me nervous before we came out!”, Win explained before pointing his finger toward Régine, “A bit like speaking to a beautiful girl”. A little nod to David Bowie after ‘Reflektor’ was also a nice touch. The set saw the band move seamlessly between tracks regardless of which record the song was from. The singing from the crowd that accompanied ‘Tunnels’ and ‘Wake Up’ was an experience that bordered on religious.

  • Chvrches are getting better. They are always a guarantee for a fun live set and on the Heineken stage it was no different. Lauren Mayberry, whilst commanding the stage, appearing to enjoy it more than the other shows I’ve seen. “We’re really really really sorry about brexit”, she said ruefully after spotting a European flag in the crowd, “we don’t know anybody that voted for it. But it happened”.
  • I really need to brush up on my languages. Unlike in Barcelona, English is not a dialect much spoken in Bilbao. Most of the festival’s staff didn’t it. Considering this was my eighth visit to the country, I really should make an effort. On the flipside, Bilbao is a different experience and should be considered as a big positive when shopping around for your 2017 festivals.
  • Despite the 3km distance between campsite and festival grounds, the constant stream of buses makes the journey little more than a slight inconvenience. The buses also travel down to the Bilbao city centre, for free! We waited no longer than ten minutes at any point. Certainly a welcome addition.
  • Little Scream has an incredible voice! They may have only played to a handful of people but she made the most of her set, impressing at parts. Keep an eye out!
  • The people of the campsite appreciate the sun. A miserable Saturday in terms of weather led to much of the campsite erupting in cheers when the sun shone through the clouds for around 10 seconds. There had been a fine misty rain on the site for around twelve hours which is so common that they even have a word for it in the Basque country – txirimiri.
  • Grimes stage show is so intense that it blew a generator*. Mid-way through her highly enjoyable set, all power to the stage cut out. There was no light or sound and Claire Boucher attempted to keep the audience’s spirits high with a little dance. That only lasted for so long however before we were just left to wait for fifteen minutes for repairs to be made. Her eventual return led to just fun of the purest form however. *not an actual fact.
  • Despite seeing them live, Pixies still do nothing for me. A few great tracks, but I can’t go much further than that.
  • There’s a very strong focus on featuring music from within the country, which is great to see. Stage slots were often filled by local acts, some even in during the prime slots (see love of lesbians for example) and the Pepsi stage located near the entrance primarily focussed on it.
  • The BBK app could use some work. It does a job but it pales in comparison to some of the other apps that festivals currently provide. It was actually easier to check a guide than load up the clunky app.
  • I’m bored of Father John Misty. This was the fifth time seeing FJM on the Honeybear tour, so there’s not much to say. Enjoyable if you’ve not seen him before but I’m too used to it. There was a moment of comedy where he fell off the stage however, but he took in his effortlessly cool stride.
  • On the flip, I am not bored of Tame Impala. Despite only seeing them five weeks ago they still felt fresh and were exactly what you want from a festival band. Similar to Grimes in the fact that they’re just good fun with some superb visuals.
  • The festival site didn’t offer up much to do besides watching bands. There were a few food stalls, a Pringles stall (which I got loads of goodies from) and not much else. It didn’t matter when the days were filled with good music (Thursday and Saturday) but on Friday there was little to stick around for. Especially if you checked out an act and weren’t a fan.

Overall, like all festivals, BBK Live isn’t without its faults. However, the free transportation, the amazing location, the incredible line-up, the ease of reaching Bilbao’s centre and the people who attend make this a festival that is well worth adding to your list of ‘potential’s’ for next year. I would 100% visit again.