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24th Jul 2018

Bilbao BBK Live might be the best international festival I’ve ever been to

Will Lavin

Have you ever been up a mountain to watch a festival? I have

Not only that, I didn’t get home from said festival until around 6 o’clock every morning because the Spanish don’t ever want the party to end.

Referring to Northern Spain’s Bilbao BBK Live, if you’ve never been before you might want to rethink your travel plans for next year. Head on up the mountain and see that not all festivals are made up of mud baths, long queues, drunken assholes, questionable food, and lineups lacking serious variety.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect heading over to BBK Live but as it was a festival I assumed it would be just like all the others I’ve attended this summer, just with better weather – present heatwave excluded. 

I was anticipating muddy banks, smelly trash, people constantly barging past me, expensive drinks, a V.I.P. area full of pretensions pricks, drunken dickheads standing on my sneakers, and the only person in the festival taller than me to somehow hone in on where I’m stood and stand right in front of me. But these things didn’t happen.

Okay, so perhaps a couple did happen. But let’s be honest you’re never truly going to get away from these things – unless of course you’re rich enough to start your own festival and be the only guest. But regardless of the minor mishaps that might have taken place there are levels to this shit and BBK is sitting pretty at the top of the festival totem pole. 

It felt like a festival thrown inside the gates of Asgard. But contrary to public belief (and my own) while there were a few undeniably handsome Thor lookalikes with strong features, stronger arms and perfect ponytails walking around, there were in fact no Asgardians roaming the fields of BBK Live. 

The comparison to Asgard is actually more about the space, the ease, the cleanliness and the epic lineup that felt almost impossible, fictional, even mythological. I mean who’d have thought that Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn (Gorillaz) would one day be on the same bill, on the same stage, on the same day when they were once sworn enemies? Or at least Brit Pop enthusiasts would lead you to believe.

The fields that made up the festival’s enclosure were far and wide. You know when you’re trying to get your last few steps in at the end of a day so you walk up and down your hallway? No need at Bilbao, there’s plenty of runway for you to get your exercise in. If anything you’ll exceed your daily target with ease.

If you really want to get your step game up though you could choose to walk up the mountain to get to the festival – don’t ask me how far it is because I didn’t attempt it. But if you don’t fancy that then BBK Live put on a free bus service from outside its San Mames football stadium, which is also where you pick up your wristbands and accreditation, something I think is a great idea because then there’s no built up congestion outside of the festival gates (something I see regularly at UK festivals).

Feedback after the first day included comments that the bus service could have been better. There were some disgruntled tweets fired my way but I honestly didn’t experience any issues on the festival’s opening day myself. The next few days I had to wait around a little longer for transport than on previous days and I put that down to there not being enough buses on call. So if there’s any improvement needed for next year, I’d recommend getting a few more vehicles on the go.

Made up of four main stages: Heineken, Bilbao, Thunder Bitch and Gora!, as well as smaller stages Firestone, Basoa and Lasai, there was never a moment at BBK Live where I had nothing to see or do.

So whether it was raving until stupid o’clock in the morning in what I like to call the ‘dance forest’, which was an area of the festival surrounded by trees and Christmas lights with the Basoa and Lasai stages keeping folks entertained, watching Gaz Coombes do his thing on the Gora! stage while it was still light out, or being totally absorbed by music heavyweights like Childish Gambino, The Chemical Brothers and Gorillaz on the Bilbao main stage, the lineup had everything.

I discovered some artists I’d never heard of before that I probably should have – Jungle and Iseo & Dodosound being two of them. I saw some bucket list artists live for the first time – think Friendly Fires and Alt-J – and I got to see Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine confuse the audience by performing what felt like a Nigella Lawson tribute act in-between songs. It was as if she didn’t know if she wanted to be Jack White one minute (she asked the entire festival to “do something controversial” and put their phones away) or a character in Downton Abbey the next.

After the festival it took me a while to work out which performance across the fully loaded three days was my favourite but then I realised it was actually pretty easy. While Childish Gambino will always impress me just because he’s one of those artists who is good at everything – he probably cleans windows perfectly and has the handwriting of an angel – it was David Byrne for me who stole the show.

The co-founder of Talking Heads put on a clinic as far as I’m concerned. Transforming the Heineken stage to his own personal Baz Luhrmann movie set complete with beaded drapes surrounding the stage, he started his set off sat at a table holding a brain – yes, you read that right, a brain. Then joined on stage by members of his band one by one, wearing the same grey suit he was, they moved to the music with precision timing. The choreography was on point. Like a mix between an American college drumline and watching a musical, I was fixated. Treating the audience to songs like “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”, “Burning Down the House” and “Once In a Lifetime”, as well as some of his solo records, it was a moment I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Something else that impressed me about Bilbao BBK Live was how clean it was. It was rare I ever saw any trash on the ground, all I could see was grass. There were no napkins stuck to my Nikes, there were no piles of plastic cartons balancing on top of a trash can like a game of Jenga, and there were no unwanted smells burning the fuck out of my nostrils. I was able to enjoy the music without my senses being attacked and for that I thank BBK Live’s drive to help inspire a cleaner world.

Looking to help reduce its carbon footprint, eradicate general waste and champion recycling in a big way, the festival implemented a reusable cup scheme, something many others are doing now. You purchase a specially designed cup on your first trip to the bar, fill it up with your drink of choice and then you keep it with you the entire time you’re there. Want a clean one? No problem, you can exchange your dirty one at any of the multiple bars regardless of what they’re serving. Add to this initiative lots of recycling points, trash cans and a ban on plastic items such as straws and this is why it’s one of the cleanest festivals I’ve ever been to. 

But that’s not all. As the Spanish like to start everything later and go on until the early hours of the morning it gives you plenty of time to explore Bilbao in-between. Aside from the graffiti art all over the city – something I was lucky enough to get a tour of thanks to the good folks at Basque Experiences – great bars, tasty coffee, beautiful restaurants, and random stages that pop up playing music throughout the city (and right outside of my hotel window at 11am) there’s also the world renowned Guggenheim Museum that Bilbao BBK Live ticket purchasers can attend with a 20% discount.

I’ve been to more festivals this summer than I can even remember. But what I won’t be forgetting in a hurry is my Bilbao BBK Live experience. Made up of beautiful views, beautiful people and beautiful music, overall it was just a beautiful experience that I want to do again as soon as possible and I recommend you do it too.

Taking place July 11th-13th, book tickets for Bilbao BBK Live 2019 here.