This years Benicassim line-up was one of the strongest of the festival season. Not only did they have headliners The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire, but also the likes of Mumford and Sons, Portishead, Primal Scream, Elbow, The Streets and many more. For me it was the line-up which completely persuaded me to go. The thought of The Strokes and Arcade Fire at the same festival, a festival by the beach in Spain, seemed too good to be true.
However, after my week at Benicassim I was left feeling disappointed, not by the music, but by the festival itself.
I’ll start my review with the good bits, the music. Over the weekend I didn’t see a single band who disappointed me and left with such an array of highlights. Arcade Fire‘s performance was flawless, the best I have ever seen them. They literally gave the crowd everything and the (disappointingly small) crowd gave them everything back. The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys also gave excellent performances, particularly the latter of the two. Mumford and Sons brought the hoedown to Spain for there last live show for a while as they are now in the studio working on their second album. Primal Scream were incredible, and afterwards I completely understood the Screamadelica obsession so many people had raved about to me.
Other highlights included Julieta Venagas, a Spanish singer/songwriter who attracted a wonderful crowd of singalong Spanish folk. Congotronics Vs Rockers brought a new fusion of Jefferson Airplane and African vibes to the festival. Herman Dune was fantastic, as were Beirut and Noah and the Whale gave the best performance I have seen them do for years. Elbow were fantastic too, Guy Garvey confirming his ‘such a nice guy’ status.
However, despite so many incredible bands, there was something missing from Benicassim; spirit. The festival just has none. The crowd is primarily made up of drunk and rowdy English teenagers, with the occasional actual music fan present. And the festival organised by money grabbers, who in 30 degree heat will confiscate your bottle of water on entry, and make you pay €2.50 for another one. Oh, and €9 for a beer. There is only 3 stages, and most people gather round the almost always packed main stage. There is also a comedy tent, food stalls, over priced bars with a ridiculous tokens system, limited services (the cash machine queue was over an hour long at times) and not much else. Although its overlooking the mountains, the arena is essencial placed in a big carpark.
The campsite is a slight improvement, the showers and sheltering tents is a great idea. The beach is a good half an hour walk away, which is quite deceiving from the marketing which makes it seem like the festival is practically on the beach. One good thing is that they start the music at 6pm and have it run throughout the night, with the headliners going on at about 1am. The heat of the day is so hot it wouldn’t be fun to have to stand and watch bands in.
If in 2012 you are looking for a Glastonbury alternative, I beg you not to choose Benicassim. Glastonbury punters are used to festivals full of spirit, life, alternative culture and eccentric mixes of people and unfortunately Benicassim fails on all these levels. I only hope the future of festivals does not lie in the hands of Vince Power and his money making ‘festival’ instituions. Long live places like Glastonbury and people producing festivals because they love it, not because they want a lot of cash.