Playing keep-up with the Basque party crowd…

A city still recovering from the collapse of traditional heavy industries in the ’80s, Bilbao’s shift in to the world of culture-as-capital has presented a route for many similar such areas to follow. Yet this broad paradigmatic sweep hides so much of what makes the city great – the subtle shifts in architecture, the gentle flow of its river, the seminal Guggenheim building and, of course, Bilbao BBK Live.

Located in the hills above the Basque city, Bilbao BBK Live opens to in climate sunshine. Future Of The Left are rather incongruously billed as openers, yet the post-hardcore bunch do a decent job of winning over the locals. In a set mixing first album cuts with newer material, the four-piece ends with a titanic McLusky brace of ‘To Hell With Good Intentions’ and ‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues’. The riffs, it seems, are universal.

Parquet Courts play a splendid Main Stage set, albeit one which rather foregoes the charms of new album ‘Sunbathing Animal’ in favour of breakthrough record ‘Light Up Gold’. White Lies are rather redundant on the Escenario Heineken, with their enormous crowd – this band is truly popular on the continent – seeming to underline the rather flaccid nature of their set.


John Newman’s Main Stage set is a slick affair, although the singer somewhat alienates locals by complaining about the lack of Spanish sunshine. It’s the Basque Country, John. There are provincial identity issues to be recognised.

Taking a re-vamped line-up back out on the road, Andy Butler’s group of jackin’ house shock troops Hercules & Love Affair lay absolute siege to Escenario Sony. Utter carnage ensures, with the band pilfering their back catalogue to the delight of the crowd. A loud, proud, dynamic use of house as euphoria affirmation, the sound desk can be seen to visually creak as the crowd throws itself into the party spirit.

A true party band, Franz Ferdinand (pictured, main) don’t hold back when entertaining the Basque crowd. Sure, emphasis may be on new album ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’, but the four-piece doesn’t shy away from their catalogue. Indeed, it’s a triumphant version of ‘Take Me Out’ that goes down best, sounding as fresh as it did a decade ago.

Friday opens to lumbering, overcast skies, but Chet Faker does his best to push past this with a set crammed with subtlety. Using a minimalist live set-up, the Australian breezes through his debut album, allowing his voice to really take centre stage.


The 1975 take control of the Main Stage, but it’s Conor Oberst and the Sleeping Souls who catch our attention on Escenario Sony. Ever engaging, Oberst retains the bite of his Bright Eyes period while settling into a more mature role, as evidenced by wonderfully restrained new album, ‘Upside Down Mountain’

Wandering through the festival site, Clash stumbles across the Red Bull Tour Bus stage. An opportunity for local acts to shine, EP really impress us. Delivering instrumental math-rock, the trio’s towering, frenetic, blood-curdling performance is worth categorising alongside Three Trapped Tigers or even 65daysofstatic. Impossible to Google, though.

Frank Turner and Bastille both draw huge crowds, with Jack Johnson’s pastoral visions of a ‘surf’s out’ Americana delivering some late-evening chills. Elsewhere, Foster The People play a mixed set on the Main Stage. Truly, though, they’re are a mere warm up for The Prodigy, whose headline set is a fiery re-affirmation of their brattish, rebellious values.

A plethora of re-tooled greatest hits follow, with everything from ‘Poison’ to ‘Their Law’ and ‘Breathe’ raining down. With dry ice drifting across the stage, their set is a Venn diagram of the links between a rave, a prog-rock show and all-out sonic warfare.

Saturday drifts by in comparison. The weather notably improves, with early performances from Smoke Idols and Elliott Brood met by crowds evidently struggling to shift the heat from their bodies.

It’s a bill dominated by Americana. The Lumineers play a sturdy set, one rooted in ideals of authenticity and playing-the-show-right-here. Taking their instruments into the crowd, it’s clearly a moment that means a lot for both fans and band, but it feels more than a little like preaching to the converted.


The Black Keys are by now a stadium attraction, with their garage rock meets blues sound rather more polished but never the less stirring. Joined by additional musicians, Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney smash into ‘Turn Blue’ material with rare gusto. Yet it’s their older tracks that truly connect, and it’s more than a little bewildering to watch two people perform to a capacity festival crowd.

Drifting into the night, the Bilbao BBK Live crowd spills and splits between stages and arenas. MGMT blaze through a set that feels almost schizophrenic, switching as it does between those smash hits and their new, daring, neo-psychedelia. John Talabot entertains Escenario Sony, but by then these weary British eyes are in need of sleep. It’s tough to keep up with these Bilbao party goers, y’know…

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Words: Robin Murray
Photos: Tom Hagen, Rhythm and Photos, Musicsnapper

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