From the top of the hills above Bilbao you get a fantastic view of the city. It’s quite easy to see why it was decided to hold the festival BBK live here on Mount Cobetas and, given this year’s stellar lineup, why hordes of punters are flocking through the gates.
After reaching the festival using the free non-stop shuttle bus service, we swapped our tickets for wristbands without too much queuing and entered. Thursday started with CHVRCHES who performed a strong set of their trademark synth pop. Although not suited to an open stage in the late afternoon sun, it did serve as a good warm up for the more festival ready set of M83.
The more retro electropop group enjoyed a big break after their 2011 record Hurry up, We’re Dreaming. Their latest album Junk proves they clearly haven’t been resting on their laurels. The album is full of festival bangers which were well received by a live audience. The set culminated with ‘Go!’ Performed with french singer Mai Lin complete with over the top guitar solo had the crowd dancing like madmen.
Later that evening we headed over to the Basoa dance stage to catch Joe Goddard playing an eclectic selection of house music. Tucked away under a canopy of trees, with laser arrays passing through leaves above, the outdoor dance floor made for a fantastically psychedelic setting for the rest of the festivals strong line-up of DJs.Photo: BBK Live
Back at the main stage we joined the crowd for Arcade Fire. Despite being one of the bands I was most anticipating, a lack of sound quality and perhaps a bit of time since their last live performance made this a rather anticlimactic show. The band played their huge collection of hits with precision and energy. However it just felt like some of the showmanship and grandeur that is associated with the band and their live performances was missing.
Nevertheless the night ended on a high with a stellar performance by Hot Chip. With a huge catalogue of festival-ready hits from seven albums, and a group of musicians with seemingly endless amounts of energy, it was inconceivable that they’d ever put on a poor performance.
Friday’s highlights consisted of Grimes, Pixies, and Slaves. Despite a 15-minute power cut during Grimes’ set all three put on amazing shows, Grimes in particular fulfilled and exceeded all my expectations taken from the Editors’ show review of her Manchester gig. Taking the traditional live pop show formula of choreographed backing dancers, costumes and wind machines and then twisting in her weird and wacky artpop. Claire Boucher takes you from listening to a live show to watching theatre. The sets abstract wonderfulness peaked with Grimes rapping in Russian in place of absent guest Aristophanes on ‘SCREAM’.
Slaves was also a fantastic surprise, despite having heard their recorded work I was not prepared for the passionate performance of their abrasive yet danceable pop-punk. Aided by a great crowd stuffed into the only indoor stage at the festival this was definitely one of the highlights of the festival.
Sunday brought the biggest day of music. Starting with Courtney Barnett, who despite having some great recorded material to work with, failed to grab the crowd’s attention. Despite usually working well. The Australians monotonous vocals made it difficult to enjoy her clever lyrics in the blazing sun.
We headed off a little early to the Heineken stage to catch Father John Misty. Josh Tillman’s cynical rock star alter ego put on a mesmerizing show. Watching Father John Misty play is a strange experience. His subtle ridicule of the self-obsessed rock star archetype has you wondering at the fans yelling along to the lyrics, desperate to get a photo of him. Then another of his well-crafted folk rock songs come on and you’re back with the fans, oblivious again. The show climaxed with an incredible performance of Tillman’s single ‘Bored in the USA’. His intense yet comedic delivery was everything the song wanted for in a live performance. Finishing with Misty in front of the crowd, filming himself on a mobile. We left the show bewildered and buzzing to see the rest of the evenings acts.
Sunday’s first headliner was Tame Impala, and the Australian psych-rock band were a lot of fun. The crowd lapped up their collection of hits from their last two albums and still danced along to tracks from their debut. With a crazy backdrop of acid-trip visuals and front man Kevin Parker performing barefoot on a carpet it was everything you’d expect from the consistently strong band.
Foals, the second headliner of the night, proved somewhat less fun. As a big Foals fan, I was looking forward to seeing them close the festival. However perhaps due to an exhausted and slightly unengaged crowd it was only at the the end of the set that the energy really picked up. This had an evident effect on the band, with the whole thing resulting in an underwhelming performance.
Sunday evening’s real gem was sandwiched between the two headliners. Jagwar Ma’s psychedelic hits blended into a dark abrasive dance music at the indoor stage. Starting with recognizable songs from their debut album Howlin. The set ended with the crowd dancing to something I guess you could dub rock-techno. It was an incredibly energetic show, perfectly suited to the crowd and location. The band’s next album is definitely one to keep an eye on.Photo: BBK Live
All in all the festival more than lived up to expectations from the line-up. Despite a couple of weaker sets from some of the headliners it was some of the smaller acts who really stood out. The festivals location was undeniably fantastic and if future line-ups are as strong. We will definitely be coming back!