The good folks at Jack Daniels and Vice.com offered us the opportunity to go to Arenal festival in Spain, for free. All we would have to do is use their rather nifty reporter Facebook app, which automagically would take our gushing tweets and paste them across the app – surely the deal of a lifetime. Obviously we said yes straight away – let’s face it we could do with some sunshine and a free holiday. Well, that what we thought we were getting.
We woke up on Thursday, at 5am, to drive the Liverpool Airport, which is in the nicest possible way: looks, and feels, a bit like a glorified Supermarket, with the odd plane passing through. It wasn’t ideal, but at least we’d be flying back to Manchester on the return leg. After avoiding the food we were in the air, flying at over 400mph above the arse-end of the Northwest to sunny Alicante, Spain.
The flight time was a meagre 2 hours 30 – surely nothing could go wrong? Halfway through the flight one of thoe very annoying air stewardess passed-out on the drinks run, in the process she clattered her head on some poor fat northerners chair. Secretly we were pleased, she had been the one who tried to sell us all manner of useless crap when were trying to get a couple of hours sleep. Once karma had run its course we’d landed in Alicante, next stop Arenal sound.
Well, it wasn’t quite that simple, we were precisely 300km from our hotel and another 50km from the festival – so we grabbed our camp-as-you-like Fiat 500 convertible, programmed in our hotel and hit the open road. 3 hours later we arrived, we checked in to our room and went upstairs to survey the damage. From the outside the hotel looked ok, the location on the other hand was less ideal; it was essentially a glorified truckstop, right on a motorway and next to a high-speed rail link, just to compound things a little further. It certainly wasn’t how we’d imagined it be. We walked upstairs and into our room, to be greeted by a lonely towel strew across the floor, we picked it up to find a dead cockroach. Not a great start.
We then set sail to the festival – approximately 50 km away – after driving a stretch of motorway we eventually ended up in a dense maze of Oliver groves, after a few wrong turns we eventually made it to some form of civilisation where a festival was meant to be taking place. Once in the town of Burriana we followed the traffic to see where the festival was. Unfortunately, there was no official car park, no signs and no help – it was survival of the fittest, clearly – after driving around the narrow streets for two hours we managed to find an illegal parking space.
We got our hands on a festival guide, which broke down when the acts were playing and at what time. Naturally anyone we wanted to see where on at the very end between 3am-6am. As we scoured guide it dawned upon us that we’d be waiting a long time for Metronomy and we’d also miss two acts on the last day due our flight time. After a few hours of aimlessly wandering around a dusty, rocky site it was time for Metronomy. They provided us with some much needed entertainment as the lineup had more padding than a pillow factory. Essentially it was two or three named acts a night, and then the rest of the time it would be filled out with local acts; you know Spanish indie bands, punks bands and other odds and sods.
Metronomy played a lot of material from their new album, but it wasn’t clicking for us. They’ve never really been known for banging sets and as lovely as their soothing indie rock and folk set was – it was 3am, it just didn’t work. By this time, we thought we cut our losses at 4.30am and drive back to the hotel, 45 minutes away.
By this time it had suddenly dawned upon us this wasn’t going to be the trip of a life time, but some form of rock torture – we went to bed ultimately not satisfied, but more concerned that was only the first night. Having woken up on the Friday morning we now had 15 hours before Monarchy would be taking to the stage, so we hotfooted it to Benacassim 60km away. It’s a lovely Spanish town where the competition takes place. Unusually for August it was very quiet and was just the sort place we’d go if we were on holiday. After several hours killing time on the beach and drinking mohitos we headed back to Arenal. Surely it’s going to better than Thursday, we said to ourselves. While Arenal isn’t a terrible festival it’s just not what we were expecting; comprising of just three stages – the festival ran a policy of two acts on at anyone time – so when they do a change over, the other stage comes alive and vice versa. It’s not a brilliant way to do things, and ultimately we were craving the uninterrupted monotony of a dance music tent and not some poorly organised teen rock concert.
Monarchy played for 45 minutes and thankfully played a lot of tracks from their debut album as well as some new material from their as yet unnamed new album – and as a rare treat they even played their track with Belgium disco don Mickey. After that it was Kaiser Chiefs – we stayed to watch a bit of their show and eventually got bored and drove back to the hotel. The next day we caught Two Door Cinema Club and Felix Da Housecat – Two Door, played a set comprising of new material and a few classics – it’s didn’t blow us away, but were a lot more exciting than some of the shit Spanish bands on offer . Felix stole the show with some actual dance music, but it was 5am and we had already lost the will to live from the previous day.
We could go on and on; we could tell you about the cyclist who crashed into the hire car and destroyed his man-hood; we could tell you how no-one at the festival spoke any English; how the town of Burriana made Wythenshawe look like Saville Row; how the hotel was like a Spanish Faulty towers, where everyone was as incompetent as Manuel – but we won’t. Would we recommend Arenal sound to you? No. But not because it was bad, but the fact is if you go from the UK it’s going to cost anywhere up to £1,000 for flights etc. That’s a lot of money. And for the money you get to go to a four-day festival, where you might see some great bands, but, and most importantly, over the course of 4 days – whereas you could got to Reading Festival and see the same lineup in 10 hours for a of quarter of the price. It’s just doesn’t offer any form of value for money.
Essentially Arenal Sound caters for a Spanish market, it not something a techno tourist would ever consider. The overwhelming memory of Arenal was the walk from our car to the site, wading through the underage Spanish drinkers, sat in small drum circles getting shit-faced – they didn’t seem like they were even bothered by the music. It, ultimately, had the feeling of a place to simply get drunk without being bothered by the Guardia and not a diehard music festival, with a knowledgeable, up for it, crowd.
Words by Andrew Rafter & Thomas Chadwick