Mad Cool triumphs over 5 days of stellar shows and glorious Spanish sunshine
Spread over 5 days in the sweltering Spanish capital, Mad Cool triumphed in its post-covid come back and exceeded expectations in so many ways. The eclectic line up packed with globally renowned names provided something for everyone, from die hard rock veterans to glitter-dusted influencers in the wild, to entire families spanning several generations. All came to watch, sing, dance, and party along to what was one of the best festival line-ups this year.
Wolf Alice, photographed by Carrie Tang
Top acts worthy of mention include Wolf Alice who blasted out a genre-defying mix of older anthems including ‘Bros’ and ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’, while ‘You’re A Germ’ and the riff-heavy ‘Giant Peach’ continued to keep the eager crowd engaged and bobbing along. Lead singer Ellie Roswell oozed sass, style, and cool confidence, with angelic vocals that can only be fully appreciated live. Even more so with crystal clear sound quality and the levels cranked right up. This is one band who never fail to deliver when it comes to energy and swagger-stacked charisma, and this performance was no exception.
Hands down favourite set goes to Florence + The Machine. Haunting, beautiful, passionate, and a true rollercoaster of emotions, I always find their shows a cathartic experience that leave me feeling like I want to hug everyone I see. But also like I’ve just watched all six seasons of This Is Us.
Florence + The Machine, photographed by Carrie Tang
Despite her delicate appearance and softly spoken voice, the band’s powerful front woman has a reputation for being unpredictable. For example, the show was full of wonderful little moments, like asking the crowd to put away their phones, connect with eachother, and be present in the moment with her. Another highlight was the human “gifts” Florence requested before singing the final of two encores ‘Rabbit Herat (Raise It Up). Asking for “offerings” in the shape of people getting onto each other’s shoulders, Florence proceeded to count the number of gifts in the crowd – much to the disapproval of a few security crew – before launching into her final song. We were also treated to a rare performance of ‘Never Let Me Go’, which she’d not sung live in nearly a decade. Florence explained it was a track she’d written when very hungover, at a point in her life far removed from where she is today. “For years, this song was very difficult for me to perform… but you’ve all been so kind to me this evening, and have given me everything, so you deserve it.” She also joked it was a hard song to sing in the literal sense – but performed it flawlessly. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house, including mine.
Brilliant and dynamic, Florence was all things ethereal and daredevil. At times she’d be sprinting across the stage, bare footed at full speed. The next moment she’d be a spinning whirlwind of motion, with only backlighting to silhouette flashes of her hair and dress. But the biggest draw of all, other than her otherworldly voice and divine prowess, is her ability to connect with her fans. There were many Florence-inspired dresses and floral crowns in the audience, together with a sea of voices and many tears singing along to the likes of ‘Dog Days Are Over’, ‘Cosmic Love’, and ‘King’ – as well as the fiery ‘What Kind Of Man’ and the therapeutic ‘Shake It Out’. In my (watery) eyes, Florence + The Machine undoubtedly reigned supreme as the biggest, brightest, most powerful act of the festival.
MØ, photographed by Carrie Tang
Another firm favourite was Danish electro-pop singer songwriter MØ, a fierce act with the ability to evoke a spectrum of emotion with killer hooks and moorish piano crescendos. Tracks like ‘Lean On’, ‘New Moon’, and ‘Cool to Cry’ saw a very loyal fanbase singing and jumping along to punchy vocals that sailed over catchy guitar melodies. While splashy synths and rolling drum beats kept the exhilarating front woman demonstrating her boundless stamina, as she sung and danced her way through her set. Another artist who strongly connects with her audience, MØ seemingly spent just as much time in the crowd as she did on stage – at one point losing her balance and falling safely backwards into the arms of her adoring fans.
MØ, photographed by Carrie Tang
Headliners Muse and Metallica both delivered the goods, providing meaty performances that satisfied thousands of fans. Never before had I seen so many Metallica shirts in one location. The band played the longest set of the festival, which included extended solos and dozens of hits. Muse were all about the theatrics, with post apocalyptic visuals that introduced the band followed by outfits consisting of hooded silver masks. Both were epic shows and very worthy headline choices. I was surprised at how subdued the crowd was for Muse's set, with groups of people jumping and headbanging few and far between. Still, I’d much rather that than being thrust into mayhem and having to dodge suspect bottles flying through the air.
Alt-J, photographed by Carrie Tang
Other noteworthy sets came from alt-J, Local Natives, and the mighty Don Broco, giving us track after track of high-octane songs and an endlessly thrilling performance. The boisterous Bedford rock band blasted out tracks like ‘Pretty’, ‘Uber’, and Endorphins’, the latter two from the latest Amazing Things album – a collection of tracks about being alive during trying times, dealing with global pandemics, and ongoing culture wars. Commanding frontman Rob Damiani was phenomenally loud and lively. His roaring vocals spilled out with colour, emotion, vibrancy and uninhibited imagination, strengthened by the unique chemistry of the band who instantly worked loyal fans up into a frenzy – and into a mosh pit only three tracks in.
South Yorkshire band The Sherlocks were a great surprise and best new (for me) bands of the festival. Tinged with pop and post-punk sounds, they sound like a joyous and familiar amalgamation of Oasis and Artic Monkeys. Tracks like ‘Falling’. World I Understand’, ‘Live For The Moment’, and ‘NYC (Sing It Loud)’ featured catchy anthemic choruses, punchy drums, and beasty riffs, all played with unapologetic vigour and indie rock charm under a dark sweaty tent. A band I’ll be closely following, and one whom I’ve been listening to since being back home.
The Sherlocks, photographed by Carrie Tang
Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes were another immense act I’ll definitely be looking out for on future festival bills. Having never seen them before I didn’t’ know what to expect, and was totally blown away by the sheer energy they reigned down into the crowd. The set was packed with cheeky shenanigans and highly amusing song intros from loveable front man Frank Carter. Seeing him perform in a black velour tracksuit in the scorching Madrid sunshine as a sight to behold in itself. A particular highlight for me was his creation of a “safe space” for a girls-only mosh pit. Asking all surrounding men to protect the pit, he ensured the ladies could go all in without fear and was a real gentlemanly touch that showed the softer side to the at times, ferocious front man. The set spanned a mix of recent singles like ‘Sticky’ and ‘Go Get A Tattoo’ plus early releases like ‘Juggernaut’ and ‘Devil Inside Of Me’, culminating in the ultimate combination of heart, unadulterated fun, and action-packed chaos.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, photographed by Carrie Tang
An hour-long show from Kings of Leon pulled in thousands of fans who spilled out way past the edges of the Madrid Is Life stage. For me they are one of those bands who somehow sound even better live, with a gritty feel to front man Caleb Followill’s vocals that really pulls at your heart strings. ‘Sex On Fire’ predictably got the crowd singing along, along with ‘Waste A Moment’, and the anthemic ‘Revelery’ and ‘Use Somebody’. Newer tracks like ‘The Bandit’ were also well received, adding to a solidly good set fuelled by soaring choruses and emotional power.
Most unexpected set of the festival goes to Californian sisters HAIM who emerged onto a stage decorated with what appeared to be giant sausages. Or maybe chorizo given the location. Performance-wise we got a set list of guitar-heavy tracks on the pop side of rock, including tunes like ‘Forever’, ‘My Song 5’, and ‘Now I’m In It’, ‘Want You Back’, with some weird stage banter thrown in that was as questionable as the giant sausages. Throughout the set the girls clearly put their all into each and every song, together with non-stop smiles and at times, the most wildly hyped expressions. 10/10 for entertainment factor.
Haim, photographed by Carrie Tang
Aside from the music, the organisation and set up was excellent. The two main stages were situated next to each other, allowing one act to start pretty much as soon as the other stage finished. Then there were several smaller stages and tents, including the Vibra Mahou Disco, a seemingly never-ending sweat pit of fun. The whole site was easy to navigate. Sound quality was great too, with minimal bleed. Pre-festival comms were timely and informative, with a handy app hosting a site map, set times, and food truck locations. I didn’t experience any queues to get in, the toilets were kept clean and re-stocked, and it was never more than three deep at the bars.
I was also really impressed with Mad Cools sustainability ethos, which for a festival of its size and in our current climate, is of paramount importance. Reusable cups, recyclable Astroturf, and a product waste separation system are just some of the efforts they went to, to reduce environmental impact.
Fans at Mad Cool 2022, photographed by Carrie Tang
A special shout out also goes to the predominantly Spanish crowd. Having attended a huge variety of festivals around the world I’ve probably met every type of audience there is, but Mad Cool has to be one of the friendliest and most chilled. To the point where I heard. someone complaining that they didn’t get “involved’ enough when some of the headliners were playing. I mean, how is that even a bad thing?! I found the locals nothing short of polite and welcoming, which made a refreshing change to some of the more rowdy and less conscious audiences I’ve met.
Negatives were the lack of drinks variety at the bars, prices were pretty steep (around €12 for a spirit and mixer, €9 for a beer, €12 for a burger). Perhaps there could have been more shaded areas too, especially infront of the main stages where the sun was relentless for the earlier acts. And the Uber situation…. There was a fast-track system if you took an Uber to the festival, dropping you off closer to the site vs any other mode of transport. Coming out, you’d have to pre-order your Uber, show the booking to the crew to be let through into the waiting area, then wait for your driver to tell you which lane they’re in. With 1000’s of people trying to get home, there were some hour+ long waits and cases of drivers disappearing… That said Mad Cool did provide an Uber waiting area / party with beanbag and DJs to help ease the pain. And all in all, looking back it was a small price to pay in exchange for staying until the end of your favourite artists set in such beautiful surrounds.
Local Natives, photographed by Carrie Tang
I was heartbroken being unable to stay for the final day, and at the prospect of missing Sam Fender, Jack White, and Blood Red Shoes. But the time I did spend at Mad Cool was more than enough to affirm its place as one of the best festival line-ups I’ve had the privilege of experiencing. I could see the Coachella comparison, but this to me felt more authentic, and a lot more chilled despite the gargantuan lineup. It also played host to some of Europe’s most interesting artists, like Ukrainian singer and rapper Alina Pash, along with many local acts - some of whom performed in their mother tongue. Maybe it’s the sense of culture then that was the key differentiator. Either way, nothing will beat the collective feeling of pure bliss when you’re in a sea of like-minded people, amassing the same palpable energy from a shared love of music. Especially after a two-year live music hiatus. And especially in the arms of a welcoming, wonderous festival like Mad Cool.
Mad Cool 2022, , photographed by Carrie Tang
Words and photos by Carrie Tang.