Taking off in an airplane with an insistent child attacking the back of your seat isn’t exactly the best way to kick off your first festival abroad; but knowing what’s to come, there’s little that can dampen my spirits. For those unacquainted, Bilbao BBK Live is Northern Spain’s hottest festival – a mountaintop weekend upon the Kobetamendi hill that annually secures some of the world’s biggest acts. With stages not opening till half five and lasting until the early hours, you have plenty of time to work your way from the airport using the provided shuttle buses and set your tent up in the chilled campsite with the most picturesque view you’ll ever find.
Chaotic, loud and very, very topless, Cage the Elephant break the Main Stage’s virginity with a presence that screams for attention. “We’re from Nashville, Tennessee and it’s an absolute pleasure to be here!” yells frontman Matt Shultz, before launching himself into the crammed crowd; with hits like ‘Come A Little Closer’ commanding such an intense reception, it’s not difficult to imagine the six-piece headlining festivals this size in a few years’ time.
The Avalanches undoubtedly win the award for best visuals of Thursday night – a well-deserved feat when you whack up Danny DeVito and Ian Curtis grooving in a subway station. The Aussie duo are long renowned for their electrifying live shows; tonight is no exception. The Starman stage resembles a vast hangar – and thanks to noughties hit ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ ramping up the tension, it feels like everyone inside could be blasted off into space at any second.
Nearly forty years on and electro legends Depeche Mode are still as relevant as ever; there’s a mass Main Stage turnout to catch the British headliners. Sporting a sparkling red waistcoat, Dave Gahan is an exemplary performer, roaming around the stage with gyrating hip thrusts and pirouettes. The set is dominated early on by recent material that receives a warm reception– but it’s ‘Everything Counts’ and ‘Enjoy the Silence’ that everybody’s trekked to see. With a smashing encore of ‘Personal Jesus’, there’s no spot left in the field uninhabited by joyful fans getting groovy.
How do you put into words the best live set you’ve ever seen in your life? The answer – with difficulty. When French electro gods Justice walk onstage at 2 am, it’s easy to say that I’ve never seen such a hyped crowd. ‘Insane’ doesn’t even describe the lights; with every bass beat booming enough to burst your eardrums, overhead rotating lights and towering masses of Marshall amps shimmer and flash to give a fucking mental show. ‘Waters of Nazareth’ is akin to a religious experience, with ‘Pleasure’ and ‘Alakazam!’ blessing the audience with some of Woman’s best bangers – but ‘We Are Your Friends’, the duo’s debut anthem, is the track that commands the largest singalong of the weekend and cements Justice’s reputation as the best live band around in 2017.
If we’d forgotten who tonight’s headliners were, waking up to numerous tents bellowing ‘Mr Brightside’ into the scorching surroundings was enough to remind us. A mid-afternoon walk round the festival site takes us to Basoa, the nominated house area of BBK Live, where tree-strung fairy lights and pounding beats provide you with enough chilled vibes to stick around all day. The site is also stupidly tidy; you’ll be hard pressed to find vomit-inducing portaloos here. With reusable eco-cups and freebies ranging from free Jäger shots to Pringles bags, you’re getting more than your money’s worth at BBK Live.
The Amazons open the Main Stage with a ridiculously huge sound for the first band up. “Shoutout to Emmett for still having his beret!” grins frontman Matt Thomson in reference to drummer Joe’s questionable French costume. The Reading quartet are famed for pushing their material into heavier territory within their live shows – and the screaming riffs of ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Black Magic’ benefit from this feat greatly. By the time ‘Junk Food Forever’ rolls around, it’s clear that The Amazons have secured themselves a dedicated Spanish fan base.
The surprise rainfall does little to sway Phoenix¸ who draw the Heineken Stage’s largest crowd of the entire weekend. Tying with Justice for their inventive stage set up, visual aesthetics were on point with rainbow LED’s and a monstrous mirror suspended behind the four. Ti Amo may have only been out just over a month, but ‘Goodbye Soleil’ and ‘J Boy’ sound so tight that it’s hard to imagine a Phoenix set without them. “Thank you for knowing the lyrics!” smiles Thomas Mars to a chorus of cheers and whoops. It’s clear that the weather here is dampening nobody’s spirits.
After a weird vegan burger and too many pints to respectfully admit, The Killers were up, choosing to completely break festival sets by coming on to biggest hit ‘Mr Brightside’. Latest track “The Man” is completed with an onstage choir; ‘Shadowplay’ is an unexpected but strangely successful Joy Division cover. Hailing from “fabulous” Las Vegas allows Brandon Flowers to channel that showman-like persona he’s come to be stylised with, chatting extensively in Spanish to look after the crowd and whip up singalongs. Cheesy, yes – but you can’t fault the eclectic Main Stage atmosphere. “We hope you feel as good as you made us feel” smiles Flowers; judging by the grins on everyone’s faces, there’s nothing for the quartet to worry about.
You know exactly what you’re getting with Royal Blood– good, solid rock tunes. After just scoring a Number One with sophomore release How Did We Get So Dark?, there’s high expectations all around for the Brighton boys to deliver – and deliver they do. ‘Where Are You Now?’ sends the crowd into a heated frenzy; ‘Little Monster’ and ‘Turn the Lights Out’ allow Mike Kerr to display his pitch perfect vocals alongside Ben Thatcher’s thrashing drumming. With such whining riffs shooting off into the audience, it’s easy to forget that there’s no more than two musicians onstage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to day three of BBK!” cries Saint Motel frontman AJ Jackson, sporting a checked black and white suit that’s more than appropriate for the overcast weather. The Los Angeles quartet are that band you’ve heard from adverts and the FIFA soundtrack – creators of feel-good, saxophone-heavy tunes that are guaranteed to revolve around your brain for days. The energy is high and the four sound impeccable; ‘My Type’ sees latecomers sprint to the front of the stage as Jackson runs down the runway and high fives the crowd.
Forcefully emptying his leather waistcoat pockets before beginning, The Orwells’ Mario Cuomo looks a whole lot different with his newly-debuted slicked back dark hair. Grooving around the stage like he owns it, it’s the perfect time for someone to light up a spliff as Cuomo screeches down the microphone to rock’n’roll riffs reminiscent of The Dandy Warhols. “The airport lost our luggage” he smirks to the crowd below him. “How do you say ‘this guitar is a piece of shit’ in Spanish?”
A certified legend performing a late afternoon Main Stage slot is sure to bring a large crowd – and when Brian Wilson walks out, it feels like the entire festival is there to watch. Pet Sounds gets a reworking thanks to Al Jardine’s son Matt, who hits those famed Beach Boys harmonies with ease – but as the set goes on, it seems that the inaudible Wilson is relying on his talented backing band far too heavily. It’s somewhat sad to see a man of such importance to the music industry struggle to play his revolutionary songs – but ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘I Get Around’ summon a nostalgic atmosphere that sees group hugs and smiles all round.
“It looks like someone’s died in here” mutters Bobby Gillespie as Primal Scream hit the Heineken Stage just past midnight. We’ve returned in high spirits from the press tent with kalimotxos a plenty – the famous local drink of red wine and cola – and the rest of the crowd too are more than eager to boogie down to ‘Country Girl’ and ‘Rocks’. But not even Screamadelica’s hits can save the Scottish quintet from the relentless rain and churning mud, who sound a far cry from what they usually deliver.
The weekend’s final headline slot goes to South African royalty Die Antwoord, who undoubtedly know how to put on a show. YoLandi Vissser’s unmistakable vocals in “Enter The Ninja” and “Baby’s on Fire” completely compliment the otherworldly visuals, as scantily-clad backing dancers do well to whip the willing crowd into a mass frenzy. The duo are the strongest headliners of the weekend, captivating the audience way past the early hours of the morning – much to my dismay, a camper who had to evacuate the site at midday. Bilbao BBK Live 2017 was the most enjoyable festival experience I’ve ever had – crazy, ecstatic, and very, very sweaty. Let’s see if you can top it next year, BBK – because we’ll be back again.