"Mad fool", declared the Scottish punter standing next to me whilst we waited for a beer. Referring to the line-up for the third edition of Madrid's premier music festival as, “too good to be true", he had wrongly assumed it to be a scam and a fake. A separate encounter on the city's Metro system provided a clear winner in the distance-travelled stakes however; a 22 hour flight from Australia!
Indeed, a quick glance at the bill and you can understand why. Pearl Jam, Arctic Monkeys, Jack White, Depeche Mode, Queens of The Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails all laid claim to the traditional headliner role, albeit it with stage times alien to those more familiar with British festivals.
Any fears that this would render the festival 'a bit Blackpool', i.e. all front and no behind, were quickly allayed by a strong and varied supporting cast, including Tame Impala, MGMT, Yo La Tengo, Actress, Lali Pu, Perfume Genius, Young Fathers, Erol Alkan and Underworld to name but a few (Massive Attack cancelled last minute citing unacceptable sound bleed from Franz Ferdinand's performance).
And that's before you even begin to comprehend Dua Lipa following Nine Inch Nails. At 2am. So far, so cool.
In order to accommodate this dazzling array, it was perhaps inevitable that a capacity increase to 80,000 (previously 45,000) and re-location to an appropriate sized site had to take place: moving from the south to north eastern Madrid, on a vast tract of land situated between the IFEMA Madrid exhibition centre and Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, Real Madrid's training complex.
The (long-ish) walk from the Metro takes in vast warehouses and office complexes seemingly devoid of any other human activity. And then, suddenly out of nowhere the site appears like a mirage; a Tron-like oasis of LEDs and shipping containers juxtaposed with palm trees, fake grass and scaffold containing a water misting system (extremely welcome as Madrid is very hot in July). Once in it quickly became apparent the crowd were here solely for the music although there literally wasn't room for anything else given how tightly the seven stages were squeezed together.
Pearl Jam drew the biggest crowd (at one point the whole of the site appeared to be watching) and Arctic Monkeys delivered a polished and well-paced show. Queens Of The Stone Age's Josh Homme took on security when he rather naively encouraged people to jump the barriers and flood the depressingly half full VIP section (I wonder how long these wretched things will last?). Away from the main stage and French singer Jain delivered an impressive set to a febrile crowd suggesting it's only a matter of time before we hear more of her on these shores.
If there was one performance which confounded all (my) expectations it was that of Nine Inch Nails. So blistering was the sound (one of the best I’ve experienced) and the visuals I had to take a long walk into the night when it all came to an end. Sorry, Dua.
It would be disingenuous of me to ignore the problems reported by many on social media regarding difficulties getting to the venue, the long queues as well as technical problems with the card-payment system. I'm minded to file these under 'first night nerves' given that things appeared to have calmed down by Day Two.
Growing pains are inevitable and Mad Cool is already drawing attendees from far and wide. If it can settle on a venue big enough to house its ambition, then there's no reason it cannot continue its delirious ascent.
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Words: Nick Graves
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