Festival Internacional de Benicàssim 2008 – Festival Review

The car’s air conditioning served as a temperate and ephemeral vacuum for the heat that saturated Benicàssim as its movement was brought to a brief halt before a zebra crossing. Our necks snapped forward, limp through lack of sleep as we stirred within the restraints of our seatbelts, mouths open and dry, eyes purblind to what lay before us.

The Festival Internacional de Benicàssim (FIB) was now into its 14th year, and more Britons than ever were invading the usually tranquil Valencian municipality for several days of camping, live music and blithe behavior. Locals watched on from the diminutive amounts of shade that covered the narrow side streets with an unnerved expression weathering their faces, perplexed by our abundant presence. We bring money, but at what cost? Is Benicàssim a modern day Benidorm for an alternative generation?

On site, we are ushered along fence-lined paths towards camp. The ground is arid from the scorching sun that hangs heavy in the sky; shards of dust disappear into the ether from the festival goers that march lethargically in its wait. Little is worn as we all adorn a lining of perspiration upon our skin. An overwhelming sense of community is felt: benevolent acts of assistance are observed as friends and acquaintances meet. Everyone pitches-in in order to aid the processes of pitching-up. We all have one thing in common: the fellowship of music.

Thursday eased us all in with a late start to proceedings in the sufferable humidity. Gypsies line the walk ways towards the main arena, selling everything from knocked-off merchandising, barbecued food stuffs and nocturnal aids to bolster the entertainment that was already on offer. Nada Surf, however, played Pied Piper to the oncoming crowd that entered around 9pm; arriving on the Escenario Verde (main) stage with the setting sun as a backdrop. With Martin Wenk of Calexico on keys, the American quartet entertain a crowd that perpetually grew in number throughout their enthusiastically received set of sovereign pop. With this being their fourth appearance at the festival, they pleased onlookers with the likes of ‘What Is Your Secret’, ‘Popular’, ‘I Like What You Say’, and ‘Inside Of Love’, along with their ability to address the minimal (in comparison to the British contingent) number of locals in their native tongue.

Night had set as the lights went up once again on the main stage, illuminating the dark, expansive sky as Icelander’s Sigur Rós filled the stage with their presence and poise. Jónsi Birgisson’s vocal falsetto set against the band’s ethereal orchestration fluttered beautifully into the eternal abyss that consume the sky to lachrymose effect. ‘Svefn-G-Englar’, ‘Gobbledigook’, ‘Takk’ and ‘Hoppípolla’ fluctuate with epic waves of glorious builds and solemn falls, every last note tangible to the souls that reverberated in time as flecks of confetti floated and flickered angelically upon and above a crowd embraced in a spiritual unity.

The mood is soon changed as Black Lips stumble on stage, spitting and brawling out a set of rambunctious tracks. Their fifth studio album, Good Bad Not Evil, is given a good airing to a crowd drunk on elation and generous metric measures at a dear cost. Many bounce – some shuffle elegantly – along to the garage-punk sounds of the carefree hits of ‘Oh, Katrina’, ‘Bad Kids’ and ‘Cold Hands’ that stutter through their decrepit equipment. Much of what they have produced is worn and labored, instruments clashing for broken air space. Most of what is played lacks variation and dynamics; but it is a performance that would arrest any party.

For those of us who managed to endure the heat, alcohol and party substitutes into the early hours – by 3am the venue appeared to be a war zone, casualties laying exposed through a comatose brought on by overindulgence – waited with an anticipation that could barely be contained by the small surroundings of Vodafone FIB Club tent. New York’s Battles were due to confuse and fascinate with their equation of experimental math rock and electo sorcery. They are intuitive throughout, seamlessly improvising an already very live sound with avant-garde audacity with loops are hooks that defy logic and consciousness. Amplifiers hum and pulsate as the ever altering rhythms and mantras as ‘Tras’, ‘Tonto’, ‘Mirrored’ and ‘Atlas’ whirl vociferously.

Friday saw the Sun break onto the distance horizon, evaporating the last of the clouds that loitered in the morning sky; its effects were similarly seen and felt by many of those still in fiesta mode stumbling across the site and surrounding area from the night previous. Bodies rose in broken harmony, strenuously appearing from heat absorbed tents that accommodated them. Many spilled out into the town in search of solitude and shade in order to repent and revive what was left of their battered souls; some of us lusted for strong coffee in hope of a sense of sobriety.

Vincent Vincent and The Villains opened the day’s entertainment to a humble gathering under the FiberFIB.com tent of those that struggled through the day/previous night’s partying – myself being one of them. Vincent et al. croon through the pickings of their recently released rockabilly debut, Gospel Bombs, before ex-member Charlie Waller and The Rumble Strips follow with a more crowd engaging set including ‘Motorcycle’, ‘Girls And Boys In Love’, and ‘Time’.

Scores of electro deviants gathered excitedly as Metronomy’s computer formatted beats jaunted the wide-eyed and dribbling crowd. ‘My Heart Rate Rapid’ and ‘Holiday’ helped swoon a crowd with their tight compugeek gyrations.

Such was the anticipation of his presence, an assembly of youthful fans gathered at the main stage’s temporarily gated entrance awaiting Pete Doherty’s vacillating performance four hours before they he was billed to appear. Babyshambles split the crowd into those who were drunk and disillusioned by obsessive love and luster, and those whom watched on with sobering cynicism. Tracks were strung out awkwardly with Pete often forget his lines as the rest of the “‘Shambles” on display appear tactless and timeless. In all, ‘Killamangiro’, ‘Albion’, ‘Delivery’, ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow’ and their surprisingly punctual stage entrance play well to the lovers and believers; but it was a performance that lacked substance, abusing and disheartening hopeful onlookers which laboriously played up to their idiosyncrasies that have become far too common place.

New York Dolls followed, with David Johansen showing Pete Doherty what is meant by rock and roll durability and longevity. Comprising of two original members (the other being Sylvian Sylvian), they returned wrinkled and eroded after almost 30 years to play their unabashed brand of glam-punk rock that gained them notoriety in the Seventies. ‘Personality Crisis, ‘Trash’ and ‘We’re All In Love’ echo reminiscently amongst fan.

Hot Chip’s occupancy of the 11pm slot in the dance tent drew a crowd of epic proportion. Bodies pressed uncomfortably up against one another, the hot, mephitic atmosphere ensued for a riotous reception for the Londoners. Festival witnesses threw conventional thinking and individuality to one side as they bounced in unison to the modulated beats and rhythms of ‘Boy From School’, ‘Ready For The Floor’ and set accolade ‘Over And Over’. In all it was a sterling performance only to be left tainted and absorbed of its party antics by an unnecessary and inert cover of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, killing what would have been rapturous plaudits.

Almost a decade and a half had passed since My Blood Valentine stood on stage together in order to purvey their cult “shoe gazing” wall of sound. They pay little attention to one and others’ presence as their overwhelming symphonies of tumultuously distorted sounds echo arduously in the form of fan favourites ‘Soon’ and ‘Only Shallow’.

By Saturday, everyone looked to be suffering. Festival proponents slump in the heat, force-feeding themselves with a variety of provisions that are on offer around the area. Communication is sparse; wasted breath on palavered conversation only hinders the physical renaissance that is needed to continue. We all march on, albeit automaton and devoid of any emotion.

The Ting Tings, however, drew a huge crowd to the dance tent early on into the afternoon. Their two dimensional repertoire exhilarates those in attendance with a display of simple, penetrating pop rhythms. ‘That’s Not My Name!’ and ‘Great DJ’ spark exultant revellers into movement, even if what they had to offer is a little insipid in dexterity.

Swedish singer-songwriter José González played to a packed audience in the FIB Club tent. Mouths opened and eyes welled throughout at the sheer aural beauty that exuded from the stage. A pool of tears would have gushed from its parameters had it not been for the inhibiting factor of the insatiable heat. Seldom words are spoken amongst those who are there; the silence only broken by appreciative applause after the likes of ‘Slow Moves’, ‘Crosses’, ‘In Our Nature’ and his deft cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ to close.

Upon their return to Benicàssim, the main stage played host to the ever increasing popularity of The Kills and their emancipated maelstrom of contorted musical composition. Opener ‘U.R.A. Fever’ was one of the many tracks on display from their new album Midnight Boom. ‘Last Day Of Magic’, ‘Cheap And Cheerful’, ‘No Wow’ and ‘Fried My Little Brains’ sagaciously pour from battered amps with iconoclastic endeavors. Hotel and VV often face one and other in a platonically introverted harmony throughout the set, yet they still remain thoroughly engaging.

The night, however, was to be stolen by The Raconteurs’ opulent performance. Jack White genuinely appears happy and at home with Benson and company for musical comrades. Intuitive improvisations of ‘Rich Kid Blues’ and ‘Blue Veins’ with moments of sheer impudent talent only lay way to the ecstasy inducing ‘Steady As She Goes’, ‘Broken Boy Soldier’ and ‘Salute Your Solution’. Omnipotence was grasped as they gathered at the front of the stage, embracing not only each other, but a crowd enraptured as they took a bow to the ecstatic appreciation that exuded.

Gnarls Barkley concluded the main stage’s celebrations, however, failed to invigorate onlookers. The hits (‘Crazy’, ‘Smiley Faces’ and ‘Who’s Gonna Save My Soul’) hit accord as Cee-Lo’s soulful vocal ascend beautifully. But it is the lack of full orchestration that is missed from the performance until they cover Radiohead’s spellbinding ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’.

Sunday: It’s safe to say we all look battered and bruised. Physically we are present, mentally and spiritually we are somewhere else. Rest and rehabilitation is sought but unfound. A steady day of musical morality and virtue is needed.

The National opened with a rousing version of ‘Start A War’, as the FiberFIB.com tent filled slowly but surely to the rafters, before they break into the lyrical splendor of ‘Brainy’; Matt Berninger’s vocal clarity illustrating a lost soul, forlorn and achingly fragile – something we could all relate to. Their orchestration is earnest with a touching perfection as our souls evaded us, frangible to the lucid takes of ‘Fake Empire’, ‘Mistaken For Strangers’ and ‘Mr. November’. “Tired and wired we ruin too easy” Berninger utters in ‘Apartment Song’; surely a mantra and a dressing for a weekend of excessive fun.

Addressing us all as “Friends”, Canadian poet and chivalrous gent, Leonard Cohen, took to the main stage. His haunting baritone and lyrical eloquence rang harmoniously amongst a crowd in a state of paralysis; silence ensued as a mark of respect for the living legend’s articulacy, only to be broken by reverential applause. Delicate arrangements only added to his legacy of spoken word poetry: ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’, ‘Everybody Knows’ and ‘Susanne’ only amount to the shattering ‘Hallelujah’. I for one perpetually chain smoking in order to dry the tears that welled-up in my eyes that bulged with emotion. I felt like a puzzle of missing parts as I sat on the floor trying piece myself together, a solitary tear trickling slowly down my cheek.

Sheffield’s working class hero Richard Hawley crooned through an impressive set of upbeat rockabilly, forever endearing the crowd with politeness, sincerity and astute performances of ‘Valentine’ and ‘Tonight The Streets Are Ours’ as set highlights.

For those inclined, French electo-dance duo Justice endeavored to animate the crowds of party revelers that spilled far beyond the dance tent; however, many gathered in a great magnitude within the grounds enclosing the main stage to capture a moment of romanticism provided by Morrissey.

Launching into the opener ‘The Last Of The Famous International Playboys’, Morrissey proved that he had not lost what made him infamous. In all, it was a consuming performance, charmingly self-assured and well rehearsed. He still pushes all the right/wrong buttons with impudence: nonchalantly shunning the countless lovers in the crowd with jovial and juvenile banter, propounding and enforcing his political views, sexually ambiguous comments, vegetarian standpoints, and scrutiny of modern music: “Some of you hear are listening to techno…very intelligent,” he utters with dismay.

Morrissey struts around the stage omnipotently with charismatic grace. The set rings with perfection, his vocal inflecting only on the odd occasion, as they perform renditions of ‘That’s How People Grow Up’ and ‘First Of The Gang To Die’ amongst a plethora of ever alluring solo hits. But it’s the rejuvenation of The Smiths classics ‘Ask’ and ‘How Soon Is Now?’ for the finale that steal the show and the four days of wonderful performances with Morrissey touchingly stretched out on the floor, head in hands as the guitars whirl vociferously.

With a great number of Britons insouciantly disregarding the many festivals on home grounds in exchange for sun and salvation, Benicàssim’s popularity will only continue to increase in the near future as word spreads about this festival/vacation destination that has been heavily geared towards proponents of the British music scene. However, the worry of greed and capitalist gain could taint its surroundings, with a minority of Brits consuming and infesting its beautiful surrounding with a disposable income and impertinent attitude towards cultural differences. Now we all dream of better days and for our evading memories to return.

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