Ben: A dejected sky bruised over Oslo yet again. The summer seemed intent on giving up the battle to break forth. Tired of countless rainy days, I headed downtown with a slender backpack to meet Ann at the bus station. Destination: Benicassim Festival near Valencia.
We caught the airport bus to Rygge (home to Polish evacuees and hopefully holiday-makers), checked in, breezed through security, purchased a couple of bottles of Spanish wine (for the occasion) and waited to board the flight.
3 hours and 30 minutes later we touched down at Valencia Airport. To a beaming day, 30 degree sun and the clearest of blue skies. After negotiating the subway and running like bellends to catch the train we sat back, enjoyed a cold Cerveza and watched the villages, fields. Houses ornate with vines and branches blur by on the 1 hour ride.
Checked in. Ran out to find food. Ended up ordering a steak that probably could have run off the plate if I hadn’t stuck a fork in it (useless trying to explain medium rare to a Spanish speaker), and Ann’s enormous trailer full of Paella that arrived full of her favorite things, seafood, rice, veggies and meat. After conquering a fifth of the paella we headed off to a local bar and spent the evening sitting on the street under a palm tree sipping drinks watching the bums scavenging, the alcoholics shouting at ghosts and the Arabs selling stolen t-shirts and perfumes from suspicious bags. When closing time came the owners invited us in to sit and have a 30 minute conversation with a Spaniard who knew fluent German and grilled me on the attempt he made to cross the Sweden-Norway border on a canoe (it failed). He seemed to think that by using one sentence of German I could understand the complexities of the language, no doubt polluted by slurs from beers. I was at a loss but tried to nod at the appropriate moments and laugh when his face lit up. It worked.
Up early to change hotels, cab to Oropesa Del Mar, checked into a hotel that hadn’t been redone since the 70’s. All Miami Vice with peeling paint and south beach architecture. We headed out to eat a delicious bocadillo with Serrano and olive oil (ouch! how good). With lunch under wraps, a short nap, afternoon meal and a walk into town we managed to wrangle a cab to head out to the festival site. After a quick check-in we walked into the VIP area to sit and wait for the first bands to start. The area was just like most festivals, full of bands who thought they were something, bands who just chilled in corners, tour managers running frantically around with mobile phones and sheets of paper, volunteers cleaning glasses, and the typical “photographer” chicks scanning the area for anyone famous to schmooze with and take photos of in the hope that 3 years later when meeting them at a show in Rome they will actually remember her. Honey, they won’t.
Zola Jesus took to stage right on time, clouded in a Steven O’Malley amount of smoke. Band standing on separate risers, and her in the middle bouncing around in white dress, bare feet (hippie) and the voice of thunder. A crowd slowly amassed after a slow start. And mid-set she had a respectable group nodding their heads in appreciation. The show was good. She was mostly on tune, the band were solid, and her stage presence was awkward in a good way. We then waited around for The Horrors to start, catching a quick Fish N Chips and witnessing the descending torment of Brits Abroad clambering around like gorillas on mescaline, beady eyed from rum, pink as salmon from the harsh sun, looking for a fight and flying the flag of shit teams like Manchester United. One tall fucker actually had a Crouch England shirt. Logic defies me.
As The Horrors took to the stage just the thought of watching 5 lads walking around namedropping Suicide (like on the Amoeba records “Whats In Yr Bag” series) and looking all tight-black-jeans and long hair to cover odd faces, made me feel uneasy so I opted for the safety of the backstage and a cold brew. Judging from the medley of Joy Division, Cure, Chameleons chords that rang across the fence, I was correct in sitting.
* * * * *
Ann: So. I have seen 23 bare ass cheeks and about 49 pairs of titties today. The titties I saw at the beach, a literal hop over across our hotel in Oropesa del Mel– of all shapes and sizes, fat ones, lump ones, skinny ones, plumb ripe golden brown ones. The hordes of Brit lads tripping over them, having a once, twice, thrice look, slapping each other on the back, laughing, knocking back the pithy .04L of beer like Sambucca shots.
The asses hanging out are part and parcel of a new trend I’ve noticed, not sure if it’s spawned by H&M fashion, but espoused by women wearing hi-top jeans, hiked up their crotches and their assfat just dripping out, swaying side to side as they walk.
I want to wash my hands. Back in the VIP area of FIB, just off Costa Azahar, no anti-bac or soap can be found. We’re in Spain.
The shock of course, approaching the beach and phenomenally sunny weather that seems to never dawn, the one euro beers, the smoking sweet olives, the wafts of freshly baked bread, the smiling locals and sunburnt elderly. Everything in Norway suddenly seems so wrong. Overpriced. Overstressed. Overly. There’s only one problem: are we in Spain, or are we at Reading/Leeds? The NME has polluted this place sure enough, and the stink is unbearable.
Kurt Vile is in shambles. I’d seen him and two gentlemen step out of backstage earlier, with that fresh smug look like hey, we just did something bad. On stage his acoustic guitar is wildly out of tune, either that he’s got the capo on the wrong fret. Flanked by a more sober looking band, the drummer struggles to hold it all together, trying to intimate Kurt into a steady rhythm. Sure, there’s charm to the catastrophe unfolding onstage, every so often he sings a line with extra gutso, he belts it out angry, maybe pissed that half his face is numb and his limbs aren’t working properly. A few more songs later he tears into a guitar solo, almost gets lost in it, as if he’s trying to say Fuck You everyone, I’m not totally Fucked Up, but you– it’s you people fucking me– who’ve made me one over toured, exhausted son of a bitch, everyone of you dumb groupie photographer bitches who’ve taken a gnaw at my soul– Fuck You. Jesse, the other guitarist seems like he’s trying to overcompensate for the lack of vibe in the performance, attempting to engage with the slowly dissipating and bored crowd. I just think people don’t get it.
Ben: Poor Kurt Vile. Burnt out from months of heavy touring, the frail man caused the news-story of the day by attempting to play a concert soaked in either some form of narcotics or an overabundance of alcohol. The show was a dismal embarrassment. You could see the faces of the crowd drop as they waited patiently for their idol to play, only to be met by a man who struggled to tune his guitar and who’s voice sounded like a cat being frisked with razor-blade gloves. At various points in the set you could see the drummer visibly irked as he tried to speed up songs that Kurt had started way too slowly, while the other band members seemed resigned to bite their lip and push through till the end. People poured out of the area as song by song became further disasters that could not be rescued, even by the audiences obscene consumption of alcohol. That’s when it hits you that your show is a disaster, when even the most belligerent fools have that moment of reckoning and head back to the bar.
Walking back to the press area one woman lay unconscious, barely breathing, being loaded onto a stretcher, further down an Englishman the size of a hippopotamus had collapsed on the floor with his shirt off and managed to balance a beer firmly on his belly that rose and fell with his breathing but never fell over. Three girls walked by with identical Arse-shorts, and further into the night were men urinating on fabric dividers just meters from the toilets. With the only other points of reference I have of English people at Festivals being Leeds in 2006, a festival which we only spent 3 hours at getting Serena-Maneesh on stage, then running over to see The Fall, I can only say that my admiration for the much maligned Norwegians is rising by the second. Sure Norway is cursed with the same petri-dish mutants that barge through crowds of people spilling thousands of kroners in their wake without so much as a glance back, people who talk incessantly during shows, but what they don’t do is walk around festivals with booze soaked eyes consciously looking for trouble in gangs of chimpanzee formations spanning out to bump into victims and just wait for a “Hey, Excuse me” for a reason to pounce.
The direct aftermath of thousands of drunk people blistered by the sun and confusedly walking in on bands they have never heard of only to ruin the show for those people who came to Spain to see them is a sad byproduct of large arrangements. The organizers no doubt are laughing all the way to the bank, but this sort of “Hooligan Cruise” to Spain does nothing to the music, and is a direct thorn in the heels of any artist. To know, whilst performing your art, that the few people who do care and are trying to listen are being perpetually bombed by flying beers, pushed to the ground by swerving groups of Romford boys, forced to listen to the inane ramblings of Welsh girls on the lash while Zola Jesus or At The Drive In crank it out in the humid air.
* * * * *
Ann: At the Drive In at last. A band who’d played a significant part in my formative hardcore years. A band who’s live show I’d first seen some thirteen years ago, in 1999, totally revolutionised my idea of the live show. ATDI’ embodies all qualities of what attracted us to hardcore– the machine-line execution, mobilising jaded motherfuckers like myself, my finger pointed in the air at all the breaks, their seething irony on stage, the curious stage props (unlike the notorious Texan flag, today, it’s a water kettle and what looks like brewing tea into his Jesus cup). Cedric is still the bastion of cool, though I can tell he’s gained a few pounds probably disabling him from the prancy, wall flips and butt shaking he’s usually incorporating in his onstage swagger. The mopey afro, tight as hell jeans with the wallet chain, and a shirt in Slayer motif that reads, “Selena”. The rest of the bandmates move in almost the same artillery as I’d seen back then, except this time I notice the drummer Tony looking considerably younger and thinner, though even bad then he was completely grey-haired; Omar’s afro has disappeared and he seems more focused on fine tuning the guitar sounds then dance moves– the bassist Paul is on fire, I could listen to those thundering bass riffs all night; and the second guitarist Jim Ward and backing vocalist is the perfect compliment to Cedric’s yelps.
Ben: Ann and I shuffled forward to the side stage to wait for A.T.D.I. It had been over 12 years since I first listened to Relationships of Command in Alex’s living room in Holland. A record that I had played over and over again on long bus rides through Malaysian jungles, on planes over the Arabic Ocean, in cold rooms in Copenhagen. Now was the first time seeing them live. The expectations were high. Out they came. No wanky intro. No gimmicks. Out, plug in, start playing.
And play they did. For one hour Benicassim was treated to music of the highest quality. Played expertly, performed with passion and professionalism, quite unlike little Kurt Vile earlier on. Cedric, dressed in a slight amount of puppy fat around his chin, moved slightly less fluidly as he had 10 years ago with Mars Volta, but hey, we’re all getting older aren’t we. Making frequent trips to the kettle beside the drum-kit to soothe his voice, his attitude and personality shone through in the dark recesses of the audience. Seventeen year olds danced oblivious in the crowd while beers were hurled willy nilly, people fell over into puddles of defecation, couples immersed in military make-out sessions while elbows flew meters beside them.
De La Soul made the evenings first official faux pas by shouting “How Ya Doing Barcelona”, and no, it wasn’t with a touch of sarcasm. The crowd didn’t seem to care and suddenly a throng of white people turned “hood” and bounced up and down with arms aloft in that incredibly amusing, awkward way.
With the drunk-o-meter rising critical heights we thought it best to call it quits and head back to the beach to chill out at a bar and leave the rambling masses to deal with tomorrow. After a good nights sleep.
Photos by ASL