Benicassim Festival Review

With the growing festival scene across wider Europe, and having a personal festival background limited only to the UK, I concluded a forage into Spain for Benicassim Festival 2011 a necessary step

With the growing festival scene across wider Europe, and having a personal festival background limited only to the UK, I concluded a forage into Spain for Benicassim Festival 2011 a necessary step to broaden the horizon of my festival experiences. How was it that the Spanish partied and responded to a collection of some of the best musical rock acts in the world today, I wondered..?

I return unable to answer this question, as manoeuvring myself through the thick, vast crowds, in the relatively limited sized arena, the most frequently heard language was certainly English, whether in a Australian, Kiwi, American, Irish, Scottish or English accent. I would, relatively inaccurately I suppose, conclude that the festival was made up of about 80% English speaking humans, and with the majority of the genres of music on show most greatly exposed and listened to by this audience, I think it vital for the success and sustainability of this festival that it greatly appeals to the English speakers in its characteristics, and I believe its appeal superb.

A getaway holiday to an area of outstanding beauty with a festival included is a recipe for success. Many of the Spanish locals seemed to be reclining on the circular mountain range surrounding the arena, overlooking the bigger stages. Free festival, they had the idea!

I approached this festival with more anticipation than any other in the past, and with a line up of such strength spread over the four days, who wouldn’t! On arrival on the boiling hot Thursday evening, by car (having being staying in a nearby apartment, with a pool, by the sea!) a couple of issues became clear immediately. The Spanish Police seemed to apply a one in three chance opportunity to park in the designated festival parking area, but with luck and calmness the side of a random road proved satisfactory. The nearby city centre also offered parking availability for free, but was a 10 minute walk away from the site.

The access to the festival site was brilliant, just off the side of major roads and very easy to locate, it could be seen and probably heard for miles. The ticket for wristband exchange was, though, impressively efficient, and the thick yellow band clamped around my wrist only squeezed more excitement into my inner self.

On entry to the arena my bottle of liquid was not stripped of me, but the lid removed and binned…why still baffles me a little, but whatever! Stepping through the gates, the incredible party vibe hit immediately. A mad grin cast across the faces of the many streaming over the very ‘heavy on the feet’ concrete floor, it appeared my anticipation was matched by the masses. Interesting dancing, early drunken antics, entertainment littered in all corners, like the odd spaceman logo suggests, this festival really did feel like its own little world.

With a beautiful, golden beach and large water park both only a few good stone’s throw away I guess this vibe was inevitable. Music+Sun+Beach+Beer=Happy people. The method of drink purchase within the site was something new for me as well, the use of beer tokens. Booths selling the tokens were spread throughout, and with each token at €2.50 it required one for half a lager and 3 for a huge cup which appeared around 2 pints worth, not bad value in a festival arena! Various other mixers were also available at the bars, I wouldn’t recommend the water at the taps, it was nasty. Plenty of food was also available on site, and for those brave campers a handy supermarket not to far away.

The contagious Spanish happiness was no more evident than when being played in its music form on stage, as many of the bands appearing early were native to the festival and certainly set the scene and mood for the big hitters to come later on. The cheap £5 programme provided information on timings, and the times were so random! It became clear that the festival line up poster was far from a clue to the order in which the artists would appear.

My disappointed presumption and dilemma of some major clashes proved to be so far from the truth it was untrue. The ‘dance’ acts would play after the headliners, at around 3am, to round off the live music and begin a night of partying. Innovative! Without the strict UK curfews I can’t help but think that idea would have been stolen and utilised over here too.

The strength at the top of the line up this year, and in the past for that matter, hasn’t gone unrecognised by the masses, but I guess it is the real depth of top artists relative to the major UK festivals that is lacking, and is reflected in the lower price. It’s difficult to say whether the inclusion of more acts earlier in the evening would be of benefit, as many seemed to enjoy the opportunity to float about and see some Spanish and other less well known artists.

The festival in its music does seem to appeal to people of all ages, and all tastes, across the 3 open air stages and little dance tent, a pretty unique selling point. The organisers really did seem to get the artist choice just right for the occasion. Never left without somebody to watch, or something to do, watching and listening to the perfectly selected artists in a beautiful area, as the sunset, life felt good.

The moon would arc nightly across the clear skies as if on a consistent pendulum and as the night progressed provided a stunning backdrop. After reading criticism about the sound from the always loud mouthed and overly opinionated Liam Gallagher after Oasis played in 2009, I was intrigued as to what the sound would be like, and I couldn’t really see his problem. The sound was okay. Maybe it could have been a little louder, more speakers placed behind the sound deck area, and the stages were quite close together, but when positioned well in the crowd noise pollution from other stages was drowned out and it was faultless.

As the nights of music drew to a close it became personally clear which acts had been enjoyable and which not, because the concrete floor proved a severe punishment to the undistracted mind. During the less enjoyable performances, I found myself temporarily sacrificing my view to drop to a grassy verge at the rear of the main stage area to save any cartilage left in my ankles for the later acts.

Okay, so if the floor was grassy in the hot weather it would most probably reduce to a dangerous dusty mess, but the pain inflicted by the lengthy standing and concrete combination can be denied by none. As the nights were rounded off, I could have honestly not envisaged anything worse than retiring to a hot, sweaty, steamy tent. It was surely unbearable for those brave enough to even attempt it! Instead I retired to the apartment to rebuild energy stores in preparation for the following night of entertainment.

The Festival Internacional de Benicàssim 2011 was truly unique as it felt as though it was set apart from the rest of the world for the period of time through which it ran. Whether this was to do with the fact that the music ran through the night I am not sure, but the feeling of internal loss was interesting but welcome. Having had the opportunity to bask in the sun and sea during the day, I was much looking forward to each evening ahead, and with clever management this festival is sure to only improve, and be a mighty competitor as one of the strongest worldwide in years to come. It isn’t perfect, but nothing is. I would recommend attendance to anybody, but I would only push the camping aspect on either the extremely brave, or somebody I didn’t particularly like. Originally, the cost of the festival appears cheap but I think one must factor in the cost of accommodation and travel before jumping on a plane to Benicassim. Nevertheless, it was worth every penny.