Friday 20 October 2017

Europe is our playground

Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

What a difference a year makes... This summer's festival landscape is a completely different ball game from 12 months ago. Punchestown will be a ghost town this July, as it'll be an Oxegen-free zone for the first time since its inception. Even Glastonbury has opted to take a year out, due in part to a Portaloo shortage thanks to the London Olympics.

In terms of large-scale events, Ireland's big festival options appear to be narrowed down to this weekend's Forbidden Fruit shenanigans and Electric Picnic, but not everywhere is witnessing such a marked festive decline.

Ireland and Spain have shared similar economic plights in recent times. We're both enduring high unemployment and our economies have been ravaged and ruined by the recession to a far worse degree that the rest of the eurozone.

Tourism has always been Spain's saving economic grace. Seemingly, their inspirational attitude is that it counts now more than ever. It's no coincidence that this round-up of the hottest festivals in Europe includes no less than three in Spain -- Primavera this weekend, their Oxegen equivalent Benacissim in July and the summer-long Ibiza Rocks festivities. And we haven't even mentioned Sonar, Jazzadalia and a host of others taking place all over sun-kissed Espana.

In most cases, tickets offer outstanding value for money and an almost cast-iron guarantee of good weather. Put it this way, would you rather watch the Stone Roses in a potentially rain-sodden Phoenix Park, or in the blistering Spanish sunshine followed by an all-night beach party?

Unless you're reading this on the redeye to BCN to catch the Cure tonight, going to Primavera this weekend on a last-minute whim will prove to be prohibitively expensive.

However, with a bit of advance planning, imagination and organisation, attending any of these events will cost you roughly the same, if not less, than a festival at home, even factoring in flights and accommodation.

If you don't fancy jet-setting overseas, Belsonic and Tennent's Vital boast perhaps the best bills of the whole summer, and they're both to be found a mere two hours up the road. If you want a festival fix and holiday all in one this year, get planning now... but please try to avoid a Paddy's lobster tan and pack some sunscreen, for the love of God!

In the space of a decade, Primavera has mushroomed from a small festival to one of the most prestigious on the planet. It's become so popular that for the first time ever they're running a new sister festival in Portugal next weekend. The Washington Post has deemed Primavera to be the best music festival in the world.

THE ACTS

Sadly, Bjork has pulled out, but you still get the first European appearance of both The Cure and The xx this year, plus too many more to mention. It arguably features the most thorough and cutting-edge programming in Europe, if not the world. "If anyone is going to decide the sound of the next decade, it's the taste makers at this extraordinary international event called Primavera Sound," gushed one smitten journo in 2010.

THE VIBE

The performances start at about 7pm and run to 7am the following morning, so it's a case of pacing yourself for a musical marathon.

MUST DO

Spend the next day on Llevant beach swimming and sunbathing off that hangover with a cocktail in your hand, which is a slightly more glamorous routine than two Solpadeine washed down with swig of cheap Tesco vodka in a smelly tent at Oxegen.

Spain's big one that's actually run by an Irish man. Yep, Vince Power from Waterford is the head honcho since buying the festival outright in 2010. He tells a good yarn about 2009 when the Kings of Leon cancelled due to weather conditions. "I was talking to Kings of Leon's tour manager, telling him it was safe to play," he says. "At that exact moment, a scaffolding pole flew through the air like a spear over my head and into their tour bus. His parting words to me as he rushed off the site were, 'You're completely mad.'"

THE ACTS

The Stone Roses, Bob Dylan (above), New Order, David Guetta, At the Drive In, Noel Gallagher, Bombay Bicycle Club, Chase & Status, Jessie J.

THE VIBE

Sun, sun, sun and fabulous aprés-festival beach parties have become the stuff of legend. Be warned, everyone complains about camping in such stifling heat, a problem you don't get in this part of the world.

MUST DO

The festival wrap party after all the bands have played and packed up for another year is supposed to be better than the festival itself, so hit the beach!

Because this is in Denmark, this isn't exactly the cheapest option, but it merits inclusion simply because of its status as one of the biggest festivals in Europe this summer in the absence of Glastonbury. At €240 a ticket, it's still cheaper than Electric Picnic and you get four days plus camping for your buck.

THE ACTS

Bruce Springsteen, The Cure, Bjork (above), Bon Iver, The Roots, Jack White.

THE VIBE

Despite being a runaway box-office success, it has still managed to retain a similar hippy vibe to Glasto. They come from all corners of Scandinavia, so the 'talent' for boys and girls alike is guaranteed to be absolutely cracking.

MUST DO

(Ahem) See above...

The statistics speak for themselves. During its short existence, Exit has been visited by two million people from more than 60 countries. Not bad for something that began as a student protest against the Milosevic regime. Renowned as one of the most hospitable and unique festivals on the continent.

THE ACTS

Guns N' Roses, Erykah Badu, New Order, Duran Duran, Plan B, Richie Hawtin.

THE VIBE

The imposing Petrovardin Fortress adds some breathtaking grandeur to this unique festival. You also get a stunning view of the second-largest city in Serbia, Novi Sad, and the fortress's acoustics are famously superb.

MUST DO

The dance stage has been repeatedly called the finest arena for festival dance music in the whole of Europe. You got to love its name too, roughly translating as 'Dance Arena -- Sunrise is just the beginning'.

I've a big soft spot for Belfast and I genuinely feel that right now it's the most happening scene for new music anywhere in the country. Belsonic and Vital rule the roost in August with absolutely cracking line-ups.

THE ACTS

Skrillex, Madness, Emeli Sandé, David Guetta (right, sold out), Tom Jones, Foo Fighters, Florence + The Machine, The Black Keys, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Two Door Cinema Club, The Minutes, The Stone Roses, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds.

MUST DO

Have a pint of plain in the Crown. Also, do try the wonderful Whitewater Brewery array of Belfast ales, stouts and lagers for pre and post-gig refreshment.

The brainchild of Rob Da Bank as an offshoot of his Sunday Best club nights and record label, Bestival has grown into one of the best-known and cutting-edge festivals in the UK. A brilliant booker, Rob Da Bank frequently lands considerable coups. For example, he got The Cure last year, a full year before they're hawking their wares and back-combed hair around to everyone else.

THE ACTS

Stevie Wonder (above), New Order, Sigur Ros, The xx, Justice and many more.

THE VIBE

They didn't win festival of the year three years in a row for nothing. Bestival is acclaimed as the most friendly and fun festivals to be found anywhere. Basically, it lives up to its name.

MUST DO

Follow Bestival tradition and go in fancy dress. It'll mean you may get to be in the Guinness Book Of Records for your troubles and you'll have even more fun.

The worst thing that ever happened to Ibiza was that horrendous Ibiza Uncovered reality TV crap. Take it from me, it's a beautiful and underrated island. Ibiza Rocks offer gig tickets and accommodation as a great value-for-money package. For example, you could attend the summer's closing party with Two Door Cinema Club for as little as €250 for two people for a week's stay. Bargain.

THE ACTS

Bloc Party, Tinie Tempah, Professor Green (above) and loads more. See Ibizarocks.com for full line-up and dates.

THE VIBE

Some of my favourite party memories are from this magical White Isle.

MUST DO

Watch the sunset from Café Del Mar. Potter around Ibiza Old Town. Try the seafood and have a blast.

Day & Night

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