Summercase ’07, Madrid – Roving Report

[for The Skinny magazine

It’s official: British festivals don’t cut it anymore. With tickets selling out in a few milliseconds six months before the line-ups are announced and no guarantee of fun in the sun, thousands of discerning Brits are opting to fly overseas instead, to any one of the multitude of foreign festivals that have sprung up as the commercialism of live music shows no sign of abating.

One such event is Summercase, now in its second year, which provides an eclectic mix of indie and electro to the people of Barcelona and Madrid over two July nights. The allure of its locations and the good taste of its programmers mean it’s certain to become a viable rival to the more established Benicàssim as Spain’s premier festival in years to come.With sun-block and notepad in tow, The Skinny jetted off to the Madrid leg of Summercase to find out if it lives up to its youthful promise. 

Night one: Friday 13 July 

Situated atop a dusty plateau on the outermost extent of south-west Madrid, the festival is a Metro (€1) and bus ride (free) from the city centre. Local amenities nearby are scarce, but if you fancy necking a 99 cent bottle of Sangria before you hit the wallet-sapping festival bars, the ubiquitous Lidl supermarket is just down the road.

Inside the security gates, the site is reminiscent of a typical UK fest. There’s no grass, but there are picnic tables and an open marquee with artificially chilled air and comfy seating. Two main stages and two tent-like structures host the bands at well-spaced intervals, allowing ample opportunity to catch everyone you want to catch.

Like other major festivals, the bar is run on tokens and is pricey (€3 for a small beer, €6 for a pint) but you won’t have to wait half an hour to be served. Of paramount importance at all festivals is ‘the toilet experience’: here they’re cleaner, less over-subscribed and much less odorous than their British cousins.

Having approved of the facilities and sunk a few cervezas in the still-warm evening sun, it’s time for the music to begin. First on the list of must-sees is Mark Lanegan, here to front English producers-turned-band Soulsavers. During an instrumental opener, Lanegan is visible backstage taking long draws on a cigarette – no doubt his own vocal warm-up. He takes one last puff, chucks it away and walks onstage, clutching the mic stand like a crutch. But there’s nothing weak about his delivery, and he booms out every word of the moody Kingdom of Rain and the uplifting Revival in his gravelsetto style. As demurely as he arrived, Lanegan departs before the last song, a feedback-heavy version of Some Velvet Morning sung by two honey-tongued gospel singers.

With our souls thoroughly revived, it’s off to the main stage (well, one of them) to see perhaps the most revered turntablist in the world, DJ Shadow. In an introduction that’s heartfelt if a little corny, the Californian tells us that he’s four dates from the end of a year-long tour, and insists that he wants to make these last few shows special occasions. And you do feel a bit special when treated to a cut-and-paste montage of his extraordinary back catalogue, immaculately spliced by the man himself. The hit with the Spaniards is Organ Donor, when he slows the distinctive intro to a halt, teasing us with a few staccato jabs of organ before letting the record spin as the hook kicks in. It’s all perfectly executed, but you’d expect that after a year of practice wouldn’t you?

Compared to DJ Shadow’s well-mannered spoken interludes, it’s a bit of a culture shock to hear Jim Reid lambast a roadie with “turn it up cos ah cannae hear fuck all,” as we approach the other main stage midway through the Jesus & Mary Chain. A slightly older cross-section of the Summercase crowd, including a few Saltire wielders, have turned up to show their vocal appreciation to these counter-culture heroes of their youth. The Reid brothers may show zero sibling chemistry, but who cares when they’ve got songs like Just Like Honey and Happy When It Rains? Unlike Coachella, no Hollywood backing singers appear this time though.

It was The Skinny’s intention to watch Electrelane next, but seeing as they’ve attracted a crowd that spills far beyond the smallest tent stage, it’s time instead for a refreshment and a chance to enjoy the warm, relaxed atmosphere around the lamp-lit picnic tables. The lack of pilled-out teenagers bumping into us, chanting that Fratellis song in our face adds to the friendly vibe.

In the ranking of festival experiences, nothing – not even your favourite band – can compare to that time when you go along to something random to find one of the best performances you’ve laid eyes on. Such was the case with Ratatat, who we watched on the strength of last year’s distinctive ‘Classics’ album. With no firmly-formed expectations for this vocal-free band, it was an arresting sight when the trio of guitar, bass and synth players walked on and started seriously rocking the joint. The keys-and-beats dude had a spectacular afro, which he swung around relentlessly, while the shaggy-haired guitarist turned out to be a kind of post-modern Van Halen with the ability to bend his back and play octave-shredding, blind-sighted solos. Some of the crowd were dumbstruck; some were loving it. We were in the latter group.

The adrenalin levels were kept dangerously high by the next band of the evening: !!! (Chk Chk Chk to the uninitiated) It’s the second time I’ve seen them in Spain, where they seem to be venerated as punk-funk Gods, while back home they’ve yet to make much of a splash. Whatever the reasons for their irregular translatability, they cast a mighty spell on the Madrid crowd, especially through tracks from this year’s ‘Myth Takes’ album. Frontman Nic Offer is pure entertainment: lanky, curly-headed and cavorting around outrageously in a pair of short shorts. It’s hard not to think of ‘the dance scene’ in Napoleon Dynamite.

With energy drained, alcohol sozzling our brains and sleeping patterns yet to adjust to all-night partying, The Skinny is sorry to report that it only watched The Chemical Brothers from a distance – from the chill-out zone at that. Tom and Ed take to the main stage at 3.30am and have the visuals to match their bombastic dance hits – a barrage of lasers, strobes and freakish animations. It was the same show they staged at Glastonbury, and we regret we didn’t experience it to its full potential, but fatigue is setting in and there’s the small matter of making it back to the hotel without conking out on the Metro. 

Night two: Saturday 14 July 

This time we’re ready. Having slept most of the day, The Skinny, all fresh and reenergised, gets to the festival on the second and final night just in time to watch our compatriots The View on the smallest stage. The hype surrounding the Dundonians clearly hasn’t yet reached Madrid, where a sizeable but subdued crowd looks on with curiosity in a tent that’s smaller than the Barrowland. Excitement rises when some Scottish tourists in the audience start a rough but light-hearted mosh-pit near the front, and Kyle belts out Wasted Little DJs. They may divide opinion, but it’s hard not to warm to their boisterous post-Libertines rock ‘n’ roll. And it’s worth it just to hear those thick Dundee accents between the songs and regard the blank expressions on Spanish faces. Cheeyurs.

Santas, aliens, Marvel superheroes, canons firing streamers and oversize hands can mean only one thing: The Flaming Lips are in town. As the band strike up, Wayne Coyne tumbles out over our heads in his giant plastic bubble, performing a couple of laps before emerging triumphantly on stage. Cue Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and everyone is won over already. Admittedly, the music doesn’t always match the spectacle, but Coyne is as likeable as ever. He exclaims that he thought he’d be tired after the Barcelona leg, but now that he’s here he “feels like he’s smoked crack or something”. And with all those people in Santa suits dancing about with torches in their hands, so do we.

The main attraction of the entire festival was next up and it wasn’t the Kaiser Chiefs, or Air, or the Scissor Sisters, but the Arcade Fire. Disappointingly, it’s impossible to get anywhere near the sublime Montreal mini-orchestra, and with the volume faint and fans bellowing in our ears, the impact of their rousing music is significantly dampened. We head towards the bar with Rebellion (Lies) flitting over the hill. When a band are so good, and so popular, we can’t all see them the way they’re meant to be seen.We make sure we have a better position for Bloc Party, who kick off their show just after 2am. They play a solid if unspectacular hour of material that strangely suits this time of night. Live, even some of the more pedestrian songs from ‘A Weekend in the City’ are transformed, and the driving rhythm of Banquet and the bittersweet sentiment of The Prayer lift the band above their more complacent indie contemporaries.

We had to let all of Kele Okereke’s urban angst out of our system somehow, so what better release than an hour of LCD Soundsystem? James Murphy may not look like one of the coolest men in the music industry right now with his chunky frame and unstyled barnet, but image counts for nothing when you’ve got enthusiasm on tap and some of the most danceable tracks of the past five years up your sleeve. Predictably, the hangar-style venue becomes a sweaty, hedonistic, full-blown rave as the Spaniards aim to end their festival on a high note. Señors and señoritas groove in the darkness to songs like Get Innocuous, Us v Them and evident crowd favourite Tribulations. There’s hardly a let-up between songs, and although Murphy has his band in tow, a clubbing atmosphere prevails.

At this late stage, The Skinny admits that the effects of one too many cervezas may have impaired its ability to report on the remainder of proceedings. What we can remember is 2manydjs playing us out with their brand of cool-meets-kitsch disco tunes. Their record rummaging may be too obvious for the purists, but sod them. When you’re extremely intoxicated, all you want to do is jump around to a heady mix of Justice, Nirvana, Cold War Kids and Daft Punk.

With the music at an end, all that’s left to do is to order one last beer, watch the sun rise over the scorched Spanish soil and find our way back to the city. Which we do, miraculously. 

The verdict 

Two-year-olds are notoriously badly-behaved, but not Summercase. To British festival-goers accustomed to enduring all manner of discomfort and unpleasantness at UK festivals, this relaxed gathering will come as a refreshing change. That’s not to say they don’t know how to party – they just do it with smiles on their faces. The fans come for the music, not just a lost weekend of debauchery – though we did witness some of that. Other major plus points are the considerate timetabling of acts, the nocturnal party atmosphere, all-night t-shirt temperatures and the relatively low ticket price.

Summercase doesn’t match the scale of line-up boasted by its immediate competitor Benicàssim, but the bands and DJs it does recruit are carefully selected to appeal to everyone from the casual fan to the committed vinyl junkie, albeit with a slight weighting towards the popular. We’ll be watching with interest how it shapes up for next year.

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