This is a story of two festivals, two cultures, music, mountains, new friends, rain storms and secret back stage sessions. And alcohol. This is the story of BBK Live 2017.

BBK Live is an indie rock festival in the North of Spain hidden amongst the mountains behind the old industrial city of Bilbao. The festival emerged in 2006 and, despite growing, has retained an intimate and exclusive feel. In July, I travelled to BBK Live from Madrid with two friends, spending three days at the festival before continuing on to Barcelona. Simply, the festival was an incredible experience. Despite the popular names on the line up, including Depeche Mode, The Killers, Die Antwood and The 1975, the festival emanated a sense of secrecy, of having discovered something unique, undisclosed and exciting.  There are a number of factors which conspired to ensure that BBK Live was such a fulfilling and invigorating experience.

Although Leeds Festival was enjoyable, it was a test of endurance characterised by alcohol, drugs and mud

Having attended Leeds Festival last year, I was intrigued to see how BBK would compare. The differences between the two festivals were amazing. Although Leeds Festival was enjoyable, it was a test of endurance characterised by alcohol, drugs and mud. The music was incredible, but the drinking culture was all encompassing and the camping involved stumbling aimlessly in the dark, sinking into knee deep mud and desperately attempting to avoid paralytic 20 year olds adorned in Harambe costumes.

“we woke up within the clouds”

In comparison, BBK was relaxed and comfortable. The Festival site is located half way up Kobetamendi on the slopes of Mount Cobetas with the camping site on top of the mountain, ensuring on a number of mornings, we woke up within the clouds: a disorientating but awesome experience.

The music was varied and technically well produced with a great sound capacity, echoing through the valleys surrounding the city. It was extremely well organised with buses running from the campsite to the festival and into Bilbao continuously. The festival site itself was impressive, offering a condensed and intimate space sprinkled with fairy lights and lanterns which illuminated the hills and guided the path to one of my favourite areas – the DJ Stage which was concealed among strobe lit trees. The evenings at BBK were special as magic descended over the festival with the setting sun casting an orange glow over the crowd. Even during the rain, the magic endured as we reached into the clouds.

Although there wasn’t an absence of drinking at BBK, there was an absence of drunkenness

However, the overwhelming sense of calm which engulfed the festival was one of its main highlights. Despite the thousands of people present, the festival was relaxed, providing the opportunity to make new friends in a chilled environment. On reflection, I think this sense of calm reflects the different approaches to drinking in Spain in comparison to the UK. Although there wasn’t an absence of drinking at BBK, there was an absence of drunkenness. Accordingly, BBK Live is an interesting way to examine British drinking culture because removed from its domestic environment it manifests itself more potently. Alcohol is intricately stitched into the fabric of British culture, infiltrating the majority of social events to the extent that often it is unnoticeable or unacknowledged. However, travelling abroad for a festival, an event that inevitably encompasses heavy drinking in the UK, revealed the depth of British drinking culture.

“Alcohol was perceived as an accessory rather than an integral aspect of their festival experience”

It appeared that Spanish people drank more as an accompaniment to conversation rather than with the intention to get blindly drunk – alcohol was perceived as an accessory rather than an integral aspect of their festival experience. This enabled me to meet people from all over the world as everyone was relaxed and approachable. It allowed me to realise how quickly strangers can become friends. Interestingly, there was a common theme among the conversations I had with the people I met, particularly when the friends I was travelling with mentioned they were heading to Benicassim (FIB) festival in the south of Spain after BBK. The locals discussed how FIB was overrun with drunk British people to the extent that they now no longer attend. They also highlighted the fact that the only overly drunk people they had seen at BBK Live were British, describing them as frustrating and obnoxious.

Obviously not all British people act this way abroad, however it forced me to consider whether this drinking culture, maintained abroad, reflects a sense of entitlement. A disregard for other cultures emanating from reminiscence of colonialism; the sentiment that if we have paid to travel there, we belong there and are entitled to act as we please – British people never seem to behave like outsiders, even when we so obviously are. Possibly, this is connected to the universality of the English language and the sense of security this provides but that is actually naïve and arrogant.

I hate when people say they’d love to do something, just do it, there is nothing stopping you

I ended my BBK Live experience in Barcelona, sat overlooking the city on Bunkers Del Carmel as the sun set, sharing a picnic with friends I’d met just days before at the festival. The view was incredible, encouraging reflection on something one of my new friends has said. He was discussing having travelled to Africa on a volunteer programme and I said “I’d love to do that”, he responded “I hate when people say that”, “What?” I asked, “I hate when people say they’d love to do something, just do it, there is nothing stopping you”. And so if you have the opportunity to travel to BBK Live, do it, but maybe do it without the need for alcohol. I am not suggesting we should abandon alcohol entirely, simply that we should consider its role in our lives, where it is appropriate and how much of it is necessary. And recognise that there are some experiences in life which may be better without it.

Eleanor Gray

Featured image courtesy of ‘Alberto Cabello’ via Flickr

Image licence found here.

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