The last three days have been quite a whirlwind for Madrid’s Mad Cool Festival. Some 45,000 revellers went into the weekender expecting endless sun and an atmosphere hard to match across the rest of Europe. Instead, they were met with torrential thunderstorms and a tragedy (more on that here) which looks set to unfortunately tar Mad Cool’s reputation for editions to come. However, this should not take away from the fact that the Caja Magica spectacle has the potential to become one of Europe’s biggest festivals. Boasting a star-studded line-up spearheaded by Foo Fighters, Green Day and Kings of Leon, Mad Cool had something for everyone. From relaxing on the artificial grass surface to the sound of Wilco’s dulcet tones to losing your shit in the pit courtesy of Rancid, festivalgoers were treated to a varied selection of performances from across a broad range of different styles. We spent the weekend enjoying the best of what Madrid had to offer, and you can find out below exactly which performances stood out far and wide above the rest within the confines of La Caja Magica’s sprawling festival site.
15 Kings of Leon
Now it’s safe to say that Kings of Leon haven’t had the best live reputation of late, often being described as dull, uninterested in their own performance or just downright lazy. However, there seems to have been something in the Spanish water ahead of the Caleb Followill-fronted quartet’s set, because it seemed as though Kings of Leon had a spring in their step. Whether it be Followill’s personal cause for celebration, or the fact that the crowd were making the most of the weekend’s grim occurences, it was almost scary how much the band had “improved” compared to other recent performances. That’s not to say that the performance was perfect, though; a strong start was halted by a slightly lazier mid-passage which drew largely from lacklustre new album WALLS, before the set came to an end on the slightly less impressive Waste a Moment. Set highlights Supersoaker and Sex on Fire followed one another in quick succession, hyping up the crowd for an ending which was on the verge of falling short of the mark. It may not have been a show-stopping performance, but it was definitely above the (low) standard which we’re used to from the Nashville indie rockers.
14 Aurora & the Betrayers
In an unfortunate twist of fate, Scandinavian indie poppers Peter, Bjorn & John had to swap their early evening set time on the KOKO UK Stage with Madrid’s very own Aurora & the Betrayers. Having originally been scheduled to appear on the smallest stage at 2am, Aurora Garcia and co. pulled off their raw and gritty rock ‘n roll with effortless ease, almost as if the big stage was made for them. The initial swap wasn’t made aware to the crowd beforehand, meaning that festivalgoers expecting sickly sweet indie pop were greeted with a hefty wake up call. Discovery of the weekend, anyone?
13 The Lumineers
The festival’s first day was one unfortunately met with torrential rain and thunderstorms, meaning that Colorado’s The Lumineers performed for a mere twenty minutes. Despite this, though, it was evident that Wesley Schultz and co. had plenty up their sleeve for the duration of their six songs onstage. Breakthrough hit Ho Hey featured early on, enabling the crowd to grow by the minute as their careered towards a close. Newer cut Ophelia stood out as well, incorporating twinkling harmonies and sweet Americana guitars. It may have been short, but it was certainly sweet.
12 Kurt Vile & the Violators
Every festival needs a good comedown moment, and on Thursday this task was up to slacker hero Kurt Vile and his band the Violators. The 37 year-old singer songwriter took to the KOKO UK Stage following a blistering set by Foo Fighters, giving Madrid some room to breathe, relax and smoke up as he (somewhat lazily, as expected) presented the Spanish capital with cuts from 2015 LP b’lieve I’m going down. He hasn’t followed the album up just yet, however his set was just powerful enough to put Madrid in a marijuana-infused trance. By the time Vile puts out some new music, it wouldn’t be all too surprising if he’d been elevated to even higher heights.
11 George Ezra
Singer songwriters seemed to do well at Mad Cool Festival, with the boy next door George Ezra hitting the KOKO UK Stage on the festival’s first day. New single Don’t Matter Now is the first hint of creativity from camp Ezra since 2014’s Wanted on Voyage, which he’ll be following up this year with a brand new collection of music. Taking to the stage just after the rain stopped, golden boy Ezra charmed the crowd with his effortlessly catchy indie pop, utilizing his soothing voice to get the sunny party started. It was by no means a spectacular show-stopper of a performance, however it didn’t need to be that in order for Ezra to give Madrid exactly what they needed: fun anthems with lilting guitar lines and catchy choruses. Breakthrough hit Budapest garnered the biggest reception of the set, with Listen to the Man and Don’t Matter Now also making for a memorable moment early on in the day.
10 Xavier Rudd
You know what they say: it isn’t a successful festival without a fun performance by a wacky Aussie. Xavier Rudd ticked that box at Mad Cool, bringing his didgeridoo to Madrid for an hour of danceable fun which got heavier and more encapsulating as time passed. He hasn’t released a studio album since 2015, but it didn’t seem to faze the crowd much; in fact, it enabled Rudd to simply focus on the songs which everyone loved, and boy did Madrid lap it up on what was the final date of the musician’s European tour. Taking place not even a day after the tragic accident on Friday night, Rudd presented Spain with the exact feel good vibes they needed to overcome the numb feelings many had gathered over the course of the preceding 24 hours.
9 Green Day
Cali punkers Green Day had what was most certainly the toughest job of the weekend, only they didn’t even know it. Billie Joe Armstrong and co. topped the festival’s main stage not even an hour after acrobat Pedro Monroy fell to his death during an aerial acrobatics performance. Due to reasons unknown, the band were never informed and took to the stage under the impression that they were presenting Madrid with a classic, by-numbers Green Day show. It’s exactly what the band did, but the crowd’s response was lukewarm to say the least. Set opener Know Your Enemy saw one lucky fan sing the last verse with Armstrong, before fellow show staples Holiday, Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Hitchin’ a Ride all featured alongside a hefty dose of new album Revolution Radio. Had no incident occurred, then the 45,000-strong crowd would have definitely helped Green Day celebrate the end of their European festival tour in style. However, it wasn’t meant to be, and the band could do nothing about it.
Ska-punkers Rancid opened the festival’s main stage on Friday, performing a set which spanned some 22 songs and served as a peek into Tim Armstrong and co.’s expansive back catalogue. The quartet’s energy seemed boundless as Armstrong and his men energetically bounded about the stage, with new album Trouble Maker featuring throughout the course of the outfit’s hour and a half long set. Show highlight Time Bomb featured towards the very end of the show, with the rest of the set seemingly building up to this certainly exciting climax. They’ve spent the summer on the road together with Green Day, and their stage presence certainly seems to have rubbed off on Rancid.
7 Foster the People
If one thing’s certain, then it’s that Foster the People may well be one of Mad Cool’s best bookings this year. The Californian outfit are only playing a handful of festival dates this summer ahead of new album Sacred Hearts Club, a record which seems to have absolutely kicked the band up a few notches on the live front. New track SHC opened the set with pulsating energy as frontman Mark Foster energetically made his way around the stage, before fan favourite Helena Beat and breakthrough track Pumped up Kicks both turned proceedings up to 11, remaining there until the final notes of set closer Lotus Eater became mute. Foster the People are set to have a massive year, and they’re only just getting started.
Cult heroes Wilco don’t half get around now, do they? Jeff Tweedy and co. are one of the biggest bands in the world that most people won’t have heard of, performing a career-spanning set on Mad Cool’s main stage in front of a packed field. Classic album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot featured predominantly, with the first half of the set also drawing from the more recent Star Wars. The twinkling Random Name Generator kicked off proceedings, showcasing each band member’s unique abilities and the different ways in which they all come together to form a spectacular whole. Wilco’s show climaxed on the mesmerising Impossible Germany, before coming to an end on the captivating I’m a Wheel. There’s no stopping Wilco, however it doesn’t seem like they want to either.
It’s all fair and well if a band has a great back catalogue, but what’s the point if they can’t translate it to the big stage and put some sort of spectacular production around it? Luckily for alt-J, this isn’t too much of a problem. Debut album An Awesome Wave and its follow-up This is All Yours are both equally as timeless as one another, spawning festival anthems in the form of the scuzzy Fitzpleasure, lilting Breezeblocks and groovy Left Hand Free. Now, Joe Newman and co. have another, more introverted collection to their name: the sparse and twinkling RELAXER. It’s by no means as memorable or forward-thinking as alt-J’s first two records; rather, it’s a snapshot of a band comfortable in the position they’re in. Their Mad Cool set opened on RELAXER’s 3WW, with the track receiving just as wild of a reception as their older cuts did later on. Newman’s voice is still as strong as ever, and the production surrounding the band perfectly complemented the music: sparse, yet grandiose. Alt-J are still working their way up towards the upper echelons of festival posters, and it won’t be soon before they find themselves at the summit.
The Jehnny Beth-fronted Savages only seem to go from strength to strength. London’s grizzliest punkers don’t shy away from packing a punch wherever they go, leaving a hole in the wall upon departure regardless of where they go. Beth and co. performed in front of a packed crowd in Madrid, one which grew by the song until set closer Fuckers saw strobe lights flicker in all directions at a similair pace to frontwoman Beth and her band. If there was ever a moment this weekend where a whole crowd stood still and watched in awe amongst all the madness, then it was during Savages’ set.
Oxfordshire’s very own Foals have slowly but surely become seasoned festival veterans over the last few years, releasing a constant stream of enviably destructive music with every step they take. It’s been a couple of years since they last shared new music (2015’s What Went Down), but they’re still going strong and look ready to release another collection of music this year. Frontman Yannis Phillippakis is still an absolute beast of a musician, commanding the crowd effortlessly and hoisting them into the palm of his hand at short notice. Set highlight Inhaler enabled the packed crowd to go mental once more, with pits erupting left, right and centre. And quite rightly so, because Philippakis and co. are bill-toppers of the future.
2 Cage the Elephant
You never know what to expect when Matt Shultz and his men in Cage the Elephant take to the stage. Will they give a straightforward rock show, or will they go all out and give the crowd a night to remember? Taking to the stage all the way across the festival site from where tragic events took place some two hours before, Shultz and co. seemed to brush it all aside and give the packed crowd a reason to take their mind off things. Set opener Cry Baby was just the beginning, with guitarist Brad Shultz making his first of three forays into the crowd. It instantly set the tone for a night which was nothing short of absolute carnage, taking in songs from across the band’s vast back catalogue. The pummelling Spiderhead featured early on, with newer cuts Cold Cold Cold and Trouble (both taken from 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty) making for anthemic moments. The show only became crazier by the minute, coming to a cataclysmic close on the absolutely destructive Teeth. Matt Shultz is one hell of a showman, channelling his inner Mick Jagger as he left no stone unturned. Just like many of the other acts performing in Madrid this weekend, Cage the Elephant are festival headliners of the future.
1 Foo Fighters
The best performance of the whole weekend could only be reserved for the biggest band on the bill – Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl and co. are currently gearing up to put out new album Concrete and Gold in September, with lead single Run making its way into the set by means of a rousing, upbeat rendition. It was just one of many highlights which Grohl and his men made for, kicking off proceedings on the massive Everlong. The hits didn’t stop coming, with Monkey Wrench and Learn to Fly following in quick succession. Newer hits Something From Nothing and the ferocious The Pretender also made early appearances, with the 45,000-strong crowd lapping up every moment and giving the seasoned rockers (who were all in celebratory moods) something worth smiling about. There never tends to be a dull moment during a Foo Fighters show, and their show-stopping performance in Madrid was no different. Set closer Best of You saw a full field of rabid Spanish fans chant along in unison, much in the same way that they’d cheered on the band all night long. For an opening day, Foo Fighters set the bar so high that no other performance has managed to surpass its greatness.
Mad Cool Festival will return next year, taking place from 12-14 July 2018. Check out an assorted gallery of shots from across the weekend below.