Mad Cool festival review: Europe’s answer to Coachella brings the heat and headbangers to Madrid

·3-min read
Florence and the Machine on stage at Mad Cool (Andres Iglesias)
Florence and the Machine on stage at Mad Cool (Andres Iglesias)

Mad Cool festival is the closest European music fans will get to Coachella without leaving the continent. There’s the Mad Max desert of a location (a dusty open-air space on the outskirts of Madrid), the astroturf, the Ferris wheel. But there’s a distinctively un-American feel to the festival too. The line-up contains just as many big hitters, yet posits them alongside Europe’s most interesting artists, many of whom perform in their mother tongues. There’s a sense of real culture here that Coachella has always lacked.

It feels odd to lead on a review of a music festival by mentioning the heat, but – given Madrid in July doesn’t feel like the most sensible place to host a festival – Mad Cool is optimally designed to alleviate the worst of it. It may be 39 degrees, but the crowds never feel, well, crowded. There’s also a lot of manufactured shade around – even dance tent The Loop is surprisingly airy (although it’s far too small a venue for Two Door Cinema Club’s set). Here, there’s no anxiously checking the weather app to see if you need to pull out the wellies. Walking is kept to a minimum – if you’ve been looking for the chance to live your influencer life and dress up for a festival, this is the place to do it.

If you were to only glance at the headliners, you’d be forgiven for thinking Mad Cool was a bit of a chorizo-fest. You can barely move for black band T-shirts on Wednesday, as fans engage in some back-to-back moshing for Metallica and Placebo’s sets. Headlining on Thursday, The Killers look as though they’re having the time of their life on stage, winning over even the biggest sceptics in time for inevitable set-closer “Mr Brightside”.

“Ain’t nobody in isolation tonight, this is a superspreader event,” frontman Brandon Flowers tells the crowd (yikes) – but what they’re spreading is “peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll”, apparently.

But away from the rock, Mad Cool’s organisers have been careful to provide variety (and even, if you can imagine, some women). Florence and the Machine is in her absolute element on Saturday night as she performs the hits and songs from her new album Dance Fever. The dry heat adds a magic quality to the performance – it’ll be interesting to see if that same essence translates when she inevitably brings it to the UK next summer.

Mad Cool’s Coachella-esque ferris wheel (Paco Poyato)
Mad Cool’s Coachella-esque ferris wheel (Paco Poyato)

Carly Rae Jepsen and Chvrches (who end with the soaring “Clearest Blue”) form the double bill closer on Wednesday, an experience I can only describe as euphoric. A simmering, sensual-sounding Hope Tala and energetic Tinashe also surprise and delight on Sunday. Elsewhere, it’s the battle of the Scandi pop queens, with Sigrid, Zara Larsson, Mo and Tove Lo all performing on the Region of Madrid stage. If you had to pick a winner, it’d be Lo, who treats the crowd to her underrated bop “Disco Tits” and a slammer of an unreleased track that samples “Popcorn” by Hot Butter.

There are some disappointing last-minute cancellations (Stormzy, Glass Animals, Arlo Parks), but these spots free up time to discover some of Europe’s finest artists, from Ukrainian pop star Alina Pash to French psych-rock band Le Femme. Sunday, the shortest day, ends up being dominated by Spanish-language artists and it’s great to see the local crowd let loose. From a first glance at the line-up, you’d be forgiven for thinking Mad Cool was a festival for rock fans only. Really, it’s a festival for everyone.

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