It turns out, Madrid is hot in July. Not the kind of hot where staying hydrated and wearing light clothing can keep things in check. It’s the kind of hot that feels oppressive, with temperatures reaching triple digits and causing attendees of its Mad Cool Festival to seek shade wherever possible.
Obviously, Mad Cool isn’t the only festival in the world to bask in the sun’s unforgiving rays. Chicago’s Lollapalooza can feel relentless with its intense humidity, while New York’s Governors Ball can be sweltering when it isn’t being evacuated for thunderstorms. But the heat in Spain was reminiscent of another iconic festival: Coachella in Southern California.
It wasn’t just the dryness of the heat that felt familiar. It was also how the evening brought in a much-needed breeze, with the festival’s late start time and even later sunsets resulting in moments of sheer relief when the temps finally dipped in time for the headliners. Scanning around the grounds of the relatively young event (it’s in its fourth year), even the sights looked familiar, as the grounds were surrounded by palm trees that were illuminated with colorful lights after sundown.
But that’s pretty much where the similarities between Coachella and Mad Cool ended. Sure, both shared some acts this year: The 1975, Kaytranada, Jon Hopkins, and Rosalia. But the experience in seeing these artists in the California desert was entirely different than in one of the most spectacular old cities in the world. Rosalia for her part was playing to a home crowd, with the Spanish pop sensation able to ignite the audience to interact with her call-and-response requests, and in her native tongue no less. While The 1975, a band that is nearly to the point where it could headline major American festivals, was here relegated to counterprogramming against The Cure, seeing only a fraction of the audience size that was essentially all the youngest attendees. In America, where teens and twenty-somethings make up the vast majority of music festivals’ demographics, The Cure can hardly be booked at most events, and The 1975 are virtual gods. Matty Healy paid his respect to his heroes on the other side of the park, but his fans didn’t fear at all that they were missing out.
It’s not hard to discern that Mad Cool is made for a different kind of music fan than Coachella or most major US events. There’s the rock-centric lineup, which also featured American festival mainstays like Bon Iver, The National, and Vampire Weekend side-by-side with artists that most non-genre US music festivals would be hardpressed to find a placement for in 2019, like The Smashing Pumpkins, Bring Me The Horizon, Prophets Of Rage, Iggy Pop, and Noel Gallagher. If there was any doubt whether that skewed the audience, Ms. Lauryn Hill’s trusty DJ took an informal poll before playing a 30-minute warm-up set of mostly throwback jams, revealing the crowd to be filled with as many 30+ fans as those in their teens and twenties. This meant weird festival anomalies where Iggy Pop’s audience dwarfed The 1975 and Vince Staples’ at the same stage, but also meant that headlining sets from Bon Iver and The National featured as much sitting on the grounds’ vast astroturf as it did rabid fans vying to get close.