Stepping Into a World of Enchantment at Bilbao BBK Live 2023
An exceptional festival, nestled in the breathtaking Basque Country in northern Spain, Bilbao BBK Livecaptivates its attendees with its fusion of music, art, gastronomy and nature. Set against the stunning backdrop of Mount Kobetamendi in Bilbao, this annual event attracts over 120,000 visitors for three unforgettable days. Prepare to be immersed in an extraordinary lineup of renowned artists across twelve stages, all within a picturesque natural landscape you won’t want to leave.
The day after the festival, as I recovered from the weekend’s adventures and sipped my customary coffee, I had the opportunity to visit the renowned Guggenheim, courtesy of festival promotors, Last Tour. Among the exhibitions, one stood out to me: “Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now”. Born in Matsumoto, Japan in 1939, Kusama began painting at a young age as an escape from a challenging childhood. Growing up near her family’s greenhouses, she developed a deep connection with nature, which she refers to as “organic life”. This connection, she believes is intertwined with the cosmos, bridging the celestial and earthly realms. By observing the anatomy and life cycles of plants, Kusama discovered a profound biocosmic union between the sky and earth.
To me, Bilbao BBK Live was a complete biocosmic experience. With its privileged location and an exceptional lineup, the festival fostered a connection to something far greater than ourselves, something inexplicable. It was not about any deity; it was about dancing in the rain to the rhythm of “Wait” by M83, fully immersed, soaked but exhilarated, jumping, dancing and smiling with pure happiness.
DAY 1: THURSDAY 6TH OF JULY
Thursday at Bilbao BBK Live was an explosive start to the festival, with a lineup that left us in awe and craving for more. We kicked off the evening with Amaia, who graced the stage with her soulful vocals and undeniable talent for 60 minutes. The connection between her and the audience was electric, creating a truly magical atmosphere. I was happy to see her come out of her shell, she is pretty shy and that day she was much more mischievous and at the same time sweet and close to her audience.
As the sun began to set, M83 took us on an emotional journey with their ethereal soundscapes. Hits like “Midnight City” or “My Tears Are Becoming a Sea” struck a nostalgic chord, bringing back memories and filling the air with an overwhelming sense of euphoria. At the beginning of the concert, it started pouring, and the timing was perfect. You could see couples, groups of friends and even families with kids enjoying the performance under the rain. You know that feeling when you’re in front of the sea during a storm and it weirdly has a calming effect on you? That’s what happened at the San Miguel stage – it truly felt like a spiritual cleansing, especially when they played songs like “Wait” and “Outro”, a beautiful throwback to their 2011 album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”.
But it wasFlorence + The Machine who stole the show. Once the storm was over, Florence Welch’s powerful voice reverberated through the Nagusia stage as she delivered unforgettable anthems like “Shake It Out”, “Never Let Me Go” and “Dog Days Are Over”. The crowd was completely enraptured, singing along with every word and surrendering to the sheer magic of the moment.
As night fell, The Chemical Brothersunleashed an electronic storm upon us. The pulsating beats and mind-bending visuals created an otherworldly experience. We danced, lost ourselves in the music, and for those few hours, nothing else mattered. The powerful set by Call Super at the Basoa stage was, undoubtedly, one of the hidden gems of the festival. The carefully curated beats and infectious energy of the London-born, Berlin-based DJ, producer and visual artist transported us to another dimension for 3 and a half hours. After that set, the sun rose and my twitching eyelids got a chance to rest after a long day and a much longer night.
DAY 2: FRIDAY 7TH OF JULY
Friday brought a diverse range of talent that catered to every musical taste.Róisín Murphytook the stage and delivered a performance that was nothing short of spectacular. With her infectious energy, dazzling costume changes and nods to disco music, she had the crowd eating out the palm of her hand. It was the first time I saw her perform and it was pure joy from start to finish, she had a funky, disco sound that reminded me of something I couldn’t identify. Later on, I realized that the sound engineer sounded familiar, after a while I approached the control booth and I remembered where I knew him from. Rick Pope has worked with my favorite band, Jamiroquai, for almost 30 years, and the week before BBK I met him at a festival in Madrid where they performed, when I was trying to get the setlist. This time I got the setlist and I gave it to one of my best friends, who was at the festival with me, is really passionate about music, and enjoyed Róisín’s set like no other.
Phoenix took us on a trip down memory lane, reviving the best indie hits of the 2000s. The crowd sang along to every word of “Lisztomania” at the very beginning and “1901” as the set ended, and many classics inbetween. I would’ve loved to hear their new single “Odyssey” with Beck, but we’ll have to wait and catch that at a future show. This show was all about honouring nostalgia and their path as musicians as we celebrated the timeless power of their feel-good music.
The Blaze created a bedazzling atmosphere with their hypnotic rhythms and emotional melodies. With their back-to-back, the Alric cousins did what they do best: creating a meaningful experience for their listeners and evoking intimacy, nostalgia, poetry, dance… The combination of their visuals and songs like the classics “She” and “Territory” or “Eyes” and “Madly” from their latest album “Jungle” enveloped us, creating a magical experience that left us in awe and craving for more. I remember being truly happy at that performance. To understand what the festival goers were feeling I recommend watching their last music video.
And let’s not forget the infectious beats ofJamie XX and the immersive sonic journey curated by Ben UFO. These talented artists brought their unique styles to the stages, captivating us and keeping the energy high throughout the night.
DAY 3: SATURDAY 8TH JULY
The final day of Bilbao BBK Live was an epic conclusion to an unforgettable festival experience. The crowd was buzzing with anticipation as the performances of the day were approaching.
The stage came alive with the mesmerizing performance by 070 Shake, setting the tone for the evening. Her unique blend of genres and magnetic stage presence captivated the audience, creating an electric and friendly atmosphere. As a matter of fact, there was a fight in one of the front rows of the Beefeater stage during her show and she stopped it, explained that that kind of behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated at her show and made them hug and apologize. Honestly making them kiss and make up in the middle of the performance was a real power move and we all loved it.
Arctic Monkeys took the stage and were responsible for the sold-out tickets that day. Their anthemic hits had the crowd in a frenzy, singing along with pure passion and energy. It was a highly awaited concert, although we must admit that the sheer amount of people could be overwhelming at times. Alex Turner’s diva attitude was evident, but despite all of that, it’s clear why they have the recognition they do. The rock concert was fun, danceable and an absolute blast. My 16-year-old self wouldn’t have believed I got the chance to see them 7 years later.
After the exhilarating performances by 070 Shake and Artic Monkeys, I couldn’t contain my excitement as I dashed towards the Basoa stage. Meaning “the forest” in Basque, it is undoubtedly the best stage of the festival, and I couldn’t miss the last part of Young Marco’s set. This Dutch DJ’s style is simply extraordinary, seamlessly blending genres and creating a sonic landscape that takes you on a wild ride. I had seen a video of his Boiler Room set at Dekmantel in Amsterdam, where he closed with the infectious track “What You Say?” and I was thrilled to witness it live. It was a moment of pure euphoria, with the whole crows dancing and singing along with sheer delight.
But the music didn’t stop there. As Marco’s set came to an end, Avalon Emerson took over the decks, and the energy on the dancefloor was palpable. This boundary-pushing DJ and producer brought her unique vision to the electronic music scene. Hailing from the desert of Arizona and now based in Berlin, Emerson defies conventions with her innovative approach to music production. It was a nonstop dance party.
So, while Röyksopp and Idles may have been playing on another stage at the same time, I couldn’t resist the allure of Basoa and the magnetic pull of Young Marco and Avalon Emerson. That’s the only hard part about festivals, it’s all fun and games until you have to decide where to go when two or more artists that you like overlap. With a carefully calculated plan and a bit of a sprint I was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Marco’s incredible performance and to see the whole Avalon Emerson set. I made the right decision: it was a night of musical magic that I will cherish forever.
The festival’s location was undeniably a gift, where nature played a vital role, almost serving as one of the festival’s headliners. Mari, the primary deity of the Basque pre-Christian mythology, personifies the mother earth, nature, and all the forces that comprise it. In this paradise-like setting, with unpredictable weather and temperatures, Mari seemingly blessed us with favorable conditions. Perhaps she acknowledged the festival’s commitment to sustainability and respect for nature, witnessing that all attendees came to enjoy and seek a cathartic experience. Of course, it rained. Expecting a rain free festival in the Basque Country would be as naive as expecting that in the UK or the Netherlands. But it was a bearable rain, pretty convenient for the high temperatures and I actually enjoyed it, except for the time I was running from the shower towards my tent as little hailstones fell on my head and shoulders.
Festival goers had two options for accommodation: camping or staying in Bilbao. While I advocate for the complete festival experience offered by the camping, choosing to stay in Bilbao is not a bad idea, especially if rest is a priority to you. The festival grounds were located around a half-hour walk from the camping area, which could be a bit inconvenient after spending hours on your feet. To avoid the sometimes tiresome walk, official buses were available, but queues were inevitable. Personally, I appreciate that the camping area is situated away from the concert zone, as long as it is well connected, which it was. I have never been able to sleep at festivals where the camping area is right next to the stages; it’s simply impossible.
In conclusion, Bilbao BBK Live is more than just a music festival. It’s an immersive experience that combines the power of music, nature and camaraderie. The lineup is carefully curated, with renowned national and international artists gracing the stages and delivering unforgettable performances. The breathtaking location against Mount Kobetamendi adds and extra layer of charm to the festival, creating a unique and magical atmosphere. Whether you’re dancing in the rain, singing along to the anthems, or losing yourself on the dancefloor, BBK Live is a celebration of music and the shared moments that leave a lasting impact. Prepare to be transported to a world of enchantment and leave with memories that will stay with you for a lifetime.