Why don’t you come to the festival” she had said, and he had agreed, persuaded by its location, for he had always wanted to see Bilbao.They paid for his accommodations and travel arrangements in exchange for coverage in a music publication to which he is connected, and he had arrived in late afternoon sunshine, as the airport bus descended from the surrounding mountains, swept over the Nervión river, past Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim and into the heart of the capital of Biscay.
He checked in, showered, and proceeded to a bar opposite the hotel to meet his host Olatz and the assembled and distinguished representatives of the UK’s indie-rock press corps. They took the Sir Norman Foster-imagined rapid transport system to San Mamés, next to Bilbao Athletic Club’s famous football stadium – La Catedral – and arrived on site, collected their passes and headed straight to the VIP area where there were rumours of €2 mojitos, and cañas for €1.
And lo, the rumours were true.
Started in 2006 and funded by Bilbao Bizkaia Kutxa savings bank, BBK is a two stage affair (three, if you count Vodafone’s brand-saturated effort in a far corner of the site which continues to broadcast Vodafone adverts on Vodafone flatscreens, hung either side of the stage, when the bands are playing), with around ten acts each day. Thursday gathered 37,000 souls (2,000 from the UK), and offered Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye to them. I wandered down with Olatz and Tim, as Gallagher churned out one sub-Oasis, catatonic dirge after another, bereft of wit, verve, or anything approaching a memorable chorus, swaggering in the shadows of terraces he never stood on, in a self-designed, faux-mod parka.
We watched the rest of the set from a safer distance, in the VIP, quelling the rising tide of bile in our stomachs with mojitos and, other than making the occasional foray for food on site, there we remained, close to the second stage, close to Blondie, close when she broke out hit after hit, one of them segueing into the chorus of the Beastie’s ‘Fight For Your Right’, close to the bar and the toilet. Suitably loosened up, we turn our gaze toward the big guns of Coldplay, who were firing up their jumbo screens over on the main stage and fuck it, Tim and me are going down there. We’re going to see what they’ve got. We’re going to see if they can rise above their bland rep, if their vaguely anthemic, anaesthetised pop can soar into our calloused hearts, soar like the Vodafone advertising balloon that breaks its mooring later that weekend, vanishing into the night sky, begging to be enshrined in metaphor, but no doubt ending in a field somewhere, flaccid, useless, like Beady Eye’s career, god-willing.
It might be the alcohol, but Coldplay are good, and Tim and I tap our feet, without quite breaking into song, though during ‘Clocks’ I emit a few ‘woo-ooo-ooooooo-oo-oo’s, and what with those big screens, and the pyrotechnics and all this and that, it’s quite the performance, and those 37,000 souls assembled at their feet are lapping it up. It’s difficult to argue with it: they know their way around a melody and Chris Martin is exceptionally courteous, chatting to the crowd and always giving the impression that they’re all very pleased to be there.
Tim gets lost on the way to the toilets, probably, and I stagger back to the VIP for another fortifying mojito/beer combo, the idea being that it might offer me some protection against Crystal Castles, who I saw in Oslo a while back and were garbage in every respect. I try and keep an open mind but by the time I’ve steamed down in among the crowd and photographed the stage before they come on, I’m already furious at this couple of charlatans.
They appear hooded and sunglassed and, as far as I can tell, the guy presses ‘play’ on a 909 kick and the girl screams over the top of it and I wish to say that I graduated from the school of growing-up-with-electronic-music-and-it-being-a-huge-part-of-my-life-for-many-years, so I do not dismiss Crystal Castles lightly. Well, I do, but I do it armed with over two decades of hearing far better being done by people who don’t feel they need to wear sunglasses at nighttime. After two songs I’m apoplectic with rage and let fly with volley after volley of invective, unleashing lone chants of “Shite! Shite! Shite” and other less mannerly slurs, and generally making a tit of myself until some guy in front of me turns around, shakes my hand and offers me some of his beer.
Muchas gracias chico, y lo siento para… all the shouting…
Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the mountebanks of modern electronic music, the dogs, the filth, the shit.
Here is a man who stood up.
Then staggered the two miles back to his hotel, ranting.