In partnership with Bilbao BBK Live
As festival-goers wind their way up Mount Cobetas towards the site of Bilbao BBK Live, they are met with stunning views of the rugged Basque countryside. As festival sites go, this is one of the more dramatic, and across three steamy July days, thee valleys are filled with music from every point on the map.
South London’s Dry Cleaning are up early on the charming Txiki Stage. Studiously aloof as ever, vocalist Florence Shaw compels an impressively growing crowd into a moshpit during ‘Don’t Press Me’ and a pogoing singalong during ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’. Yet within moments of finishing their set, it seems that the band have compelled the heavens to unleash their worst on Bilbao, too. Scrambling for cover from a thunderous downpour, thousands find refuge in the site’s biggest covered area, the Beefeater Stage.
The lucky recipient of their presence is the triumphant Puerto Rican rapper Villano Antillano, who thrills with her fiery delivery. Once the storm clears, a short walk to the Basoa Stage, the festival’s centre for late night intensity, finds a pulverising set from techno wunderkind HAAi. Under red laser beams, the Australian DJ has revellers transfixed with her heavy, deeply rhythmic techno.
Over on Nagusia, the site’s main stage, Florence + the Machine take their headline slot entirely in their stride. When ‘You Got the Love’ and ‘Dog Days are Over’ arrive, a tidal wave of limbs are unleashed and the ground starts to rumble. Entirely at ease, Florence rushes to and forth between crowd and stage, charged by the enormous crowd’s joyful enthusiasm. ‘Shake It Out’ and ‘Rabbit Heart’ comprise a fittingly exuberant encore to a show that was a release of positivity to ease the soul.
More than 120,000 people grace the Kobetamendi site across the three days and those fortunate enough to catch Róisín Murphy’s set on the San Miguel Stage on Friday dance their way into day two. Murphy seems to be locked in a game of costume change with herself, appearing in ever more ostentatious outfits as the night rolls on. Her set is a study in how deep groove mutant disco still lives, breathes and grinds in the 2020s.
’90s slacker heroes Pavement take to the Nagusia Stage for a stellar headline set that simmers and smoulders without ever quite catching fire. Stephen Malkmus appears to be in a largely disaffected mood, even by his own standards, but the crowd they draw are dedicated to one of the most thoughtful indie bands of their time. ‘Cut Your Hair’ and ‘Stereo’ come the closest to rousing the non-die hards in attendance, but for the devotees, this is 75 minutes of pure worship. French synth-poppers Phoenix, meanwhile, hit the spot immediately afterwards on the San Miguel Stage.
The final day begins back on San Miguel with a Perfume Genius set that boasts eardrum-exploding bass and a typically emotional performance from Mike Hadreas. He contortis his body in an effort to express the pain and release locked inside his music.
The Last Dinner Party, one of 2023’s most buzzed about names, get a sizeable early crowd at Nagusia; anyone hoping to dismiss them as overhyped industry plants is left to look foolish as they deliver a set of beguiling confidence. Vocalist Abigail Morris graces the stage with an undeniably compelling energy, and their songs glide between punkish bravado and art-pop. As breakout single ‘Nothing Matters’ closes the set, it becomes clear that this band could go all the way.
Just two weeks after their much-discussed Glastonbury performance, the pressure could be said to be on for Arctic Monkeys’ headline set. The modern Nick Cave-meets-Elvis incarnation of Alex Turner can come across as elusive, but over the course of the set he is more and more forthcoming, with each moment of engagement being giddily received by the massive crowd.
Inevitably, tracks from early in the Sheffield band’s career get dynamic responses, with ‘Brianstorm’ and ‘The View from the Afternoon’ offering early highlights. Turner’s inclination to warp tracks (‘505’, ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’) adds a distinctive flavour, too. Big hitters like ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ and ‘Mardy Bum’ set the night ablaze, and ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ and ‘R U Mine?’ send everyone away beaming.
Whether they stumble across the mass screamalong of Idles on San Miguel or the all-out techno blowout of Avalon Emerson on Basoa, attendees of Bilbao BBK Live end their weekend on a high. It’s an event that continues to stand at the forefront of the European festival circuit.