The air in Benicassim throbs with heat, with screams, with expectation. Overhead somewhere, the sky must be thick with darkness but right here, right now, everything is bright. We hurry through a makeshift corridor, flanked by security, and burst into open space as the crowd goes wild.
Sixty thousand people applaud and scream, their outstretched hands rippling like stalks of corn in a hurricane. We’ve arrived at the same time as Kasabian and we stand in the few metres that separate the stage from the audience.
This is the Benicassim Festival and we’re just getting started.
Nights at the party, days by the beach. That’s the hedonistic promise made by the music festival in Benicassim. Forget the mud of Glastonbury, forget that FiberFIB sounds like a constipation product. Grab a ticket to Spain and party for four days, both beneath and in front of the stars.
From where I’m standing, of course, that’s only partly true. The spotlights blind out the stars overhead but those on stage are only a metre away. Tom Meighan, Kasabian’s lead singer, comes within reach of my hand as I’m leaning on a speaker, trying to get a shot.
It’s a surreal feeling, to come this close. For although the eyes of thousands are watching him, someone now watches me.
Forget about the party, in the few square metres of the photo pit, everyone has a job to do – and that includes security.
As for me, I have only three songs before the outstretched hand of security clamps over the lens of my camera. In the Spanish summer heat, between darkness and disorienting sapphire light, I feel as though I am swimming in music. What the earplugs dampen, the reverberations amplify and the screams of the crowds mash up. The occasional thump from security adds an improvised note of percussion.
“I told you to look out,” yells a giant of a man in a fluorescent jacket as he almost drops a dehydrated and damaged girl onto another photographer. Both shrug and continue, ducking around cables, lenses, and each other to get on with the job at hand.
Sweat glistens, no-one smiles. Security pull the vulnerable from the crowd, pour water over their heads and then frogmarch them away. They never relax for a moment – and I can understand why. Every year, at some concert or another, someone dies in a crush –and no-one wants that on their watch.
Of course, not all bands attract so much attention. FIB has at least another two stages (plus a dance hall that I never venture into), where audiences sway rather than stampede. Scattered across the grass and tarmac, young faces smile, wearing glitter on their cheeks and flowers in their hair, oblivious to the hard work and strategy going on around them.
And these faces are young, with dreamy eyes and innocent enthusiasm, something that can’t be said for most of the performers (nor photographers when it comes to that!) John Lydon from the Sex Pistols snarls and snarks with Public Image Ltd, while Peter Hook rocks and rolls with a tricky looking hip. Even The Prodigy, Saturday’s headline band and general crowd-pleaser, first screeched Firestarter while I was still at school.
With the exception of perhaps Vampire Weekend and Dizzee Rascal – where is this generation’s music? Where are the older generation’s fans? Tucked up in the VIP area, perhaps, having earned a few more pay cheques and lost all desire to sidestep the odd pile of vomit.
The VIP entrance stands next to the piercing kiosk and opposite a giant glow-in-the-dark Doc Marten. Inside, there’s an illuminated swimming pool, violet-glow trees and white leather mattresses that lounge in front of panelled screens.
This is the way to watch a music festival – with easy access to the stage and then a comfortable and quiet place to sit afterwards. I must be getting old.
Or am I? With the exception of the media lurking in the shadows, the bona fide VIPs look as though it’s their very first time around the block. Perhaps lazy and chilled really is the new black and these days people party within this capsule of sophistication.
The trip to the Portaloos brings me back to reality.
By the fourth and final day, I am well and truly into the FIB groove. Heck, I am even the Mayor of the VIP area on FourSquare (for those of you care what that means.) FIB has quite a line-up, even if Lily Allen did pull out for the second year running. The Prodigy, Kasabian, Vampire Weekend, The Gorillaz, Ellie Goulding, John Lydon, Ash, DJ Shadow, The Specials, Peter Hook, GoldFrapp and all the others I didn’t manage to see.
By day I’ve been hiking, kayaking, swimming and flying. By night, I check the permissions list, buy vouchers for beer, grab earplugs and camera and head to the stage.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tired, but as the security guards shine a torch on my pass and I stride around that corner, the surrounding screams, swirling spotlights and throbbing baseline energise me.
For a brief, flicker of a moment – I’m living like a rock star.