Read about the beauty and controversies that took place at Mad Cool Festival this year featuring Queens of The Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, Nine Inch Nails and many more.
The Spanish festival circuit has encountered a significant expansion in recent years, with the likes of FIB Benicàssim, Bilbao BBK Live and Primavera Sound Barcelona offering more natives than ever access to an endless supply of multinational performing artists, and – more importantly – anyone north of Dover a touch of Mediterranean sunshine to contrast the typically welly-soaked, my-tent-collapsed-on-me-last-night British festival experience. We’re a little bit over it, I think?
Spain has firmly established itself as the go-to for the festival-holiday hybrid, but despite being located in the capital of fashionable Madrid, Mad Cool isn’t quite upholding a ‘Brit abroad’ demeanour, and we mean this absolutely as a positive; not a bucket hat is in sight and not a football chant in earshot. Glorious.
The festival is very much a local affair – although this is likely due to its status as the new kid on the block rather than being specifically of regional appeal. For its third edition, Mad Cool has moved to a larger site just north of the city, selling out all 80,000 tickets, boasting over double its capacity of last year. Held in dirt-track desert surroundings, the site is a fair way from the main city (as a plus point, this means it’s only 10 minutes away from the airport), but with music not kick-starting until 6pm each day, we find the time for lunch and a wander via bus or Subway.
“Fans of the festival are in it for the tunes and the tunes alone, traditional and somewhat refreshing in a scene of Bestivals and Szigets.”
It’s reclusive main-roadside location explains problems with transporting fans to and from the site, with multiple-hour-long queues for taxis and Uber (the latter one of the festival’s key sponsors!) making big news in the local press. Once you’re in, though, Mad Cool might well be the continent’s Coachella, without the jet lag. Lacking a campsite, fans spend their days relaxing pool-side in nearby hotels or exploring the city surrounding metropolitan hostels, sipping Aperol Spritz on faux-grass by night. But while festivals of this aesthetic can be about fads, fashion and Instagram culture, Mad Cool’s beauty lies in its line-up. Fans of the festival are in it for the tunes and the tunes alone, traditional and somewhat refreshing in a scene of Bestivals and Szigets.
The music is constant, with two alternating main stages (a similar structure in some of the smaller tents), with few distractions. A wishfully iconic ferris wheel is the only notable extra, alongside a small gallery of artwork, an underwhelming, garden-sized bungee trampoline (only for the thrill seekers, of course) and various immersive brand experiences from sponsors, a commonplace and necessity for the contemporary festival landscape, anyway. Generally, attendees are music fans, there for fully-immersive, atmospheric experiences over nine- minute long Snapchat stories, which is nice.
So, onto that very thing we’re all here for…Any festival that can jump from Nine Inch Nail’s ‘Hurt’ into Dua Lipa’s ‘Blow Your Mind (Mwah)’ within a matter of minutes is pretty phenomenal, surely? Despite establishing itself – and still showcasing – typically three days of broad rock music, Mad Cool has shifted with an industry which no longer places genre into such strict boxes, promoting a musical landscape which has no boundaries whatsoever. We likey. This stand-out changeover is a superbly inclusive way to close the weekend, but a booking of Slaves as festival openers might have been misjudged; barraging their brutalist, English punk humour to a crowd – in broad daylight on a Thursday eve – who had yet to be sufficiently hyped. Shrieks of “Where’s Ya Car, Debbie? Where’s Ya Car?” may not have suited the tone of the first- hour, but nevertheless a strong crowd gathers for the pair’s habitual banter. Perhaps more apt for the time of day, Fleet Foxes head up shortly after, the likes of ‘White Winter Hymnal’ and ‘Ragged Wood’ a blissful triumph at sunset.
“no festival is complete without lose-ya-inhabitions nu-disco.”
As expected from their long-standing reputation as a spiritually sublime live act, Thursday night sees Aussie psych-rockers Tame Impala bring 90 minutes of atmospheric disco, making their long- awaited live comeback. The set is positively Currents heavy, with standouts to include the glittering, 8-minute, ominous-pop tune ‘Let It Happen’, psych-rock classic ‘Elephant’ – still as magnificent as ever – and ethereal career-launcher ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’. A Tame Impala set never fails to encompass everything a festival should make you feel, and tonight in Madrid it’s no different. Headline material? Headliners they find themselves at London’s Citadel festival a few days later, but at Mad Cool, the night is still very young. Pearl Jam play to a brimming capacity of fans, launching into a marathon of 24 gloried alt-rock classics which throw some serious shade at right- wing politics. Closing with a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ positions their set as not just a headline performance but as a collective campaign against all human inequality.
A contrast then, Post Malone plays the KOKO stage before everybody’s favourite French dance duo Justice plays The Loop – no festival is complete without lose-ya-inhabitions nu-disco. Mad Cool plays host to music with authentic meaning, old-school dance tunes and somewhat guilty chart pleasures – “I’ve been fuckin’ hoes and poppin’ pillies man I feel just like a rockstar”… You’re completely free to do you.
MGMT play until beyond 4am (the festival’s magical hours) inclusive of nostalgic bangers ‘Time To Pretend’ and ‘Kids’, alongside equally celebrated tunes from the new album. ’Me and Michael’ and ‘Little Dark Age’ present a level of musical maturity, yet doesn’t fail to capture the initial excitement of the band’s youthful synth-pop – live, as on the record.
The subsequent two days of the festival continue in a similar light; huge names by far signifying the end of the night as they may do with many more established festivals. Stand-outs from smaller stage faves come in the form of South London’s Goat Girl – who draw a surprisingly large international crowd of which to boast impeccable vocals and guitar work – replicating the record exceptionally while performing an authentically DIY live set true of their roots. Jaunty, sinister track ‘Cracker Drool’ receives their biggest reaction and is a fierce, merciless triumph.
With similar energy, Yorkshire punk quintet Marmozets encompass the spirit of early-evening alt- rock, crowd favourite ‘Play’ an electric performance. An 8pm slot doesn’t mean fans need weening into its sonic intensity, though, frontwoman Becca Macintyre exhibiting a brazen authority from the outset. Perfume Genius, despite attaining a slot before the ridiculously-anticipated Arctic Monkeys – and experiencing some minor sound issues – gives the perfectly anxious-yet-theatrical performance hoped for, a spirited rendition of ‘Slip Away’ creating a sort of intimacy not commonly achieved within pop music.
The likes of Friendly Fires – the welcomed replacement of Glass Animals – bring la fiesta the to the Madrid Radio Stage, ‘Paris’ and newer banger ‘Love Like Waves’ evoking equal grooves for the indietronica natives. It’s a similar story for recent chart-risers, Portugal. The Man, whose trippy Chemical Brothers-esque visual backdrop bodes strong against their mix of experimental rock and more commercially successful indie-pop. It is perhaps to no huge surprise that the biggest hype of the weekend is the newly resurrected Arctic Monkeys, having recently released their sixth studio album Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino – one which oozes more sex appeal than any other with Alex Turner’s hip-swinging alone. There was a polarised reaction to this record, critically and commercially, but tonight tracks from the LP prove just as musically thrilling as their back catalogue of big indie-rock tunes. With a rare performance of crowd favourite ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ it’s a set equal parts brash energy to seductive stylistics.
Fellow Domino endurers Franz Ferdinand play immediately afterwards proving that quality indie disco isn’t dead and that ‘Take Me Out’ will never not be the banger of our generation. Unfortunately the buzz of the Scotts is to the detriment of Bristolian trip-hop duo, Massive Attack, who cancel – disappointingly without a statement on socials, or a timely explanation from the festival – due to a sound bleed. On reflection, Mad Cool should have perhaps done their research more thoroughly before booking such a huge scheduling conflict. Controversy in a similar light takes place by Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age – alongside the likes of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker and Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos – for pointing out the VIP sections which take up the first main block of crowd area throughout the festival’s sets. During the band’s Saturday sunset slot, Homme exclaims “Security, you’d better let those people in… I’m not playing until you do… you work for me tonight”. Obliging, security staff open up the area, usually reserved for those who have paid for a VIP ticket to the festival.
A key issue raised by artists at the festival, perhaps Mad Cool will rethink their VIP strategy for next year. It’s 2018 edition was never going to be an easy feat, with a dramatic site change, a doubled capacity and quite possibly the biggest line-up Europe has seen in its year, hiccups are to be almost attentively anticipated. Transport problems, sound issues – and artists publicly voicing theirs – perhaps needed to occur in order for the festival to fix up for their future. As long as it continues to deliver line-ups this impressive, Mad Cool has got a long life ahead on the Spanish circuit, with likely potential to hitch onto the global one. Watch this space.
Find out more about Mad Cool Festival.