Set near the idyllic location of Spain’s northern mountains, Bilbao BBK has, over the past five years, become a force to watch out for within the European festival scene. Mixing some of music’s biggest artists with rising stars and local heroes, the Spanish festival has produced one of its biggest ever line ups for 2017. With The Killers announced as a headliner, it was a no brainer that we, at The Music Radar UK, decided to get on a plane and see what all the hype was about.
Bilbao itself is a northern industrial city in Spain and whilst it might not provide the great sights such like in Madrid or Lisbon, the festival is set high in the hills which overlook the city, providing festival goers with an unexpectedly beautiful sight.
Opening the Main Stage on the first day were Spanish band Rufus T Firefly, whose psychedelic rock has seen their popularity soar in their native country in last six months. Compared to the likes of Tame Impala, the band are an unstoppable machine on stage, captivating all with their expansive use of instruments and for us, coming from the UK, it was a refreshing sight to see a band perform in a different language on stage.
Over at the Starman tent, Bolton risers Cabbage were causing a storm. Their blend of politically intensive rock has seen their status soar in the UK and over in Spain, they were winning over new fans minute by minute. Captivating live, the band’s singer and lead guitarist exchanged roles a number of times during their set and with tracks like Fickle causing the Spanish crowd to erupt into mosh pits, Cabbage really seem to have the world at their feet at the moment.
In typical fashion as well, Circa Waves brought their sensational live show to the festival. With their heavier second album, the Liverpool band have become a tour de force live and the crowd latched on to every second that they could.
Back on the Main Stage, Cage The Elephant were showing everyone just why they are regarded as one of the best live bands on the planet. The indie rockers swaggered through an hour of hits and the charisma of frontman Matt Schultz and guitarist Brad Schultz was infectious. Leaping around at every given moment Matt whipped the crowd into a frenzy with hits like Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked and Spiders, whilst softer pauses of reflection like Trouble proved that the US band aren’t just here to party.
There was no lack of representation for British indie rock on the first day of the festival. Alongside Cabbage, Sundara Karma stepped up to the Matusalem Stage to a huge crowd eager to see why Reading’s heroes are regarded as the future of UK indie. Performing the majority of their brilliant debut album Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect, Oscar Lulu and co were masterful and frankly charming with Loveblood and Flame standing out in the set. Whilst Britain’s future band were playing, the current stars of the genre were stepping up to the Heineken Stage. The Matt Healy led The 1975 have taken over the world following last year’s incredible second album. Dressed all in black, the band rifled through an hour of hits, each getting a huge reception from the crowd. Their staging, whilst in concept simple, looked unbelievably good and Healy’s charm won over everyone within the first track. Ending on their party anthem The Sound, it seems impossible to be able to stop this force from taking over the world.
Thursday night’s headliners Depeche Mode were indeed the most hyped about band of the day. The synth rock giants haven’t been afraid to stray from the norms, and their highly political last album has been considered as one of their best in years. Whilst having a huge crowd watch their set, Depeche Mode were unfortunately disappointing. Going through hits from across their career, the set seemed dated and lacked a spark to really get it moving. The one moment of brilliance was when closing track and rock giant Personal Jesus came on, with one of the most iconic riffs in music history.
An interesting positive about European music festivals is the fact that there is music after the headliner. Spoon’s infectious indie music was a joyous thing to listen to. Playing many tracks from their new album, the Texas band impressed with Hot Thoughts and Can I Sit Next To You?
Closing the main stage with 90 minutes of perfect dance music were Justice, who given Daft Punk’s legendary status have to sit with the title of second best French dance duo. Opening with a flurry of major tracks including D.A.N.C.E, the duo gave a sensational live show, with complex light displays which entranced the crowd. A technical hitch caused a lengthy delay but when they returned to the stage, they continued to impress. Something so refreshing about their live show was the fact that they stuck to the hits and tracks instead of trying to weave lengthy remixes in between tracks like many dance acts do in this current age. With the success of Daft Punk, David Guetta and Justice, the duo’s set was a real testament to French music and establishes the country as one of the genre’s leaders.
Day 2 started with glorious sunshine, lifting the already high spirits of the festival goers. Queue’s began building up hours before the opening of the arena gates, a testimony to the night’s headliners The Killers’ popularity in the Basque region. Kicking off proceedings on the Main Stage were Reading’s rising rock band The Amazons, who over the course of the last six months, have seen their popularity soar thanks to consistent radio play. Having followed the four piece since early 2015 and having seen them at Isle of Wight Festival and Glastonbury already this year, we knew what to expect and once again, we weren’t disappointed. Rifling through the majority of their brilliant debut album, Matt Homson and co dazzled on the huge platform of the Main Stage. Ultraviolet, Little Something and Black Magic stunned the ever growing crowd and, ending with Junk Food Forever, it is undeniable that the band have become a tour de force live.
Following on from Britain’s hottest rising rock band was a challenging task but the legendary Fleet Foxes have overcome almost everything in their stunning career so far. The US folk rock outfit are undoubtedly one of the world’s most cherished bands, and their gorgeous blend of music connected with the crowd instantly. Showcasing a selection of new tracks from the new record, Robin Pecknold and co proved that they were back in business following their break up and the departure of Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty. Mykanos was greeted with rapturous applause and the final section of their set brought real emotion out in the crowd.
Over on the Heineken Stage, French electro pop giants Phoenix delivered a sensational set. Enigmatic and confrontational, the band switched between classics and new material from Ti Amo. The French group’s resurgence this year is a real testimony to the strength of their music but also to their diverging live show. With a blasting and complex light show and backing effects, the group used everything that they could to win over the Bilbao crowd and they did that in abundance.
As the crowd waited for the crowing glory of the night, they were caught unexpectedly with a surprise. Rain hit the site for an hour, soaking everyone and humorously annoying the English contingent in the crowd who had hoped they would escape from the typical UK festival staple. When Brandon Flowers and the rest of The Killers stepped on stage, the atmosphere soared to electric proportionality. A rare festival performance from the legendary rock band, their set started with the ever popular Mr. Brightside which sparked frenzy amongst the 60,000 large crowd. Track by track, the US band were met with a wall of noise. Each member of the crowd singing back word-for-word the songs. Somebody Told Me, Human, Runaways and more shone brightly and frankly their wasn’t a single moment in their set which seemed out of place. Flowers has always been an excellent frontman but tonight he was showing everyone that he might be the very best. A US Freddie Mercury, Flowers had the audience in the palm of his hand and Las Vegas’ finest did their city proud. Closing with When We Were Young, their headline performance will live long in the memory of everyone that saw them. Quite frankly their show might have been the best thing we’ve seen in a long time and that is surprising given the sheer quantity and quality of gigs in the past six months.
As the crowds filtered out from the Main Stage, there was still one more set that needed to be seen. Britain’s finest rock band right now, the Brighton duo Royal Blood, have mesmerised everyone this year with both their live show and their second record How Did We Get So Dark?. Their Glastonbury set on the Pyramid Stage will long be remembered as one of the best rock performances at the festival in recent history and stepping up to the Heineken Stage, there was no questioning the popularity they had in the Basque region. Huge crowds swarmed as the duo opened with Where Are You Now? and then moved to stunning new hit Lights Out. Mosh pits gradually grew bigger and bigger and by the time Little Monster was played, the whole crowd was in a frenzy. Whilst some of the new tracks were only just being learnt by the crowd, material from the duo’s stunning self titled debut record like Loose Change, Ten Tonne Skeleton and Figure It Out were met with huge approval. Ben Thatcher is continuously highlighting just why exactly he is regarded as one of the finest drummers in the current music scene whilst Mike Kerr’s stage presence continues to impress. Together, their beautifully chaotic wall of noise, represented perfectly in closing track Out Of The Black, the duo have begun moving away from the tide. Both their sound and reputation are reaching new levels and if we are completely honest, we would by shocked if the Brighton duo aren’t at headliner status for festivals within the next five to ten years.
As clouds cast over the site at the beginning of the final day of proceedings in the Basque region, groups of tired and hungover festival goers were still reminiscing on the previous night’s startling events, in particular the resurgent headline set from The Killers. With high expectations to live up to, Day 3 kicked off on the main stage with Saint Motel, the Californian indie pop group who despite the distinct lack of sunshine, brought their own L.A. blend of infectious summer music. Dressed in a bold black and white checked suit, frontman A/J Jackson conducted the crowd with his typical Californian charm. With a saxophonist amongst their ranks, Saint Motel were able to conjure up a stunning set of jazz infused summer pop, almost a quintessentially curious mix of Two Door Cinena Club and Bruno Mars, and closing the set with the insanely addictive My Type in which Jackson managed to visit all corners of the crowd, it felt for a moment as if we were transported to the band’s home city of California.
With one US band conquering the main stage it was time for another to try to do the same over at the Heineken Stage. Chicago rock outfit The Orwells are famed for their stunning live shows and led by the mesmerising Mario Cuomo, the band have a frontman who is capable of anything. Coming out to defiant roars from the crowd they jumped straight into Black Francis, the ode to the Pixies leader, who the band thank for influencing their sound. Cuomo’s unique stage persona flitters from angsty to flirtatious and with tracks In My Bed and Body In The Bayou, the band looked to be winning over the Spanish crowd. However tensions rised on stage as, due to a misplacement of their equipment at the airport, the band had to use different equipment which sparked one of the biggest old fashioned rock and roll moments in years. Complaining about the quality of guitar, both guitarists seemed to argue with each other whilst looking visibly annoyed. Cuomo did his best to stem the dilemma but in reality it was completely unprofessional and it was a completely different set to what we’d anticipated. Eventually, having sourced a new guitar, they were able to end with the complex and lengthy Double Feature.
Drama over, we found ourselves back over on the main stage for a uniquely special performance. Beach Boys member Brian Wilson was performing the classic album Pet Sounds in full. Backed by a brilliant and big lice band Wilson and co smashed through hits including Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Stoop John B and God Only Knows. Due to his aging nature, Wilson obviously wasn’t as active as in previous years but that was balanced by the stage presence of his band, who at various points, took over from Wilson on vocals. Ending with Good Vibrations, there is no doubt that Wilson’s set was an experience needed to be seen. Whilst it was only one fifth of the legendary group, it was a great tribute to one of music’s greatest ever albums.
Next on the main stage were Irish indie rock heroes Two Door Cinema Club, who after a lengthy break returned last year with an exceptional album Gameshow, which saw the trio branch into a more indie electronic sound. Opening with Cigarettes in the Theatre, Alex Trimble and co sent the crowd into a frenzy. You don’t quite realise just how many hits the trio have until you find yourself enticed into each one that gets played. Newer tracks like Gameshow and Lavender mix perfectly with the older hits Undercover Martyn and This Is The Life setting the stage alright with a brilliant light show, the trio managed to accomplish everything they could possibly achieve. As rain stated to fall, they had the audience in the palm of their hands and closing with What You Know, the group shoe exactly why they are deserving of a headline slot around the UK and beyond.
For The Music Radar UK, it was nearly time to call an end on a fabulous three days of music in Spain’s northern region but before we left we had to catch Bobby Gillespie’s Primal Scream. As one of the UK’s most important bands in the 90’s, the group battled the rain and won over the crowd. With a set list spanning their lengthy career, Gillespie left the hits right to the very end. In a final 20 minutes of madness, the crowd lept with ecstatic ability as Loaded, Country Girl, Rocks and Come Together were masterfully played by the band and we can safely agree that proceedings ended perfectly in the hands of Gillespie and the rest of the Scottish band.
As we left the site that night, it dawned on us just how great European festivals really are and we are constantly surprised at how overlooked by the British public they are. Considerably cheaper and with brilliant line ups, there are a huge selection of stunning locations that festival goers could visit, and if we could encourage anyone to do anything it would be to give one a go, as who knows what an experience it could be.