When a Festival Is Defined by Its Name: Mad Cool 2019 Review

The top 10 performances Consequence of Sound caught in Madrid

Robyn Mad Cool 2019 Review Festival Ben Kaye
Robyn, photo by Ben Kaye

It’s not entirely a fair proposition to compare American festivals to European ones like Madrid, Spain’s Mad Cool. The cultures and tastes are obviously distinct, so it’s no shocker that their music scenes produce different types of events. What this does for an outsider, though, is create a unique opportunity to break out of the US’ increasingly homogenous fest circuit. From the top of the alt-rock-heavy lineup down to the most minor experiential activity, Mad Cool 2019 offered a refreshing respite from the sameness so often complained about on the other side of the Atlantic.

To be sure, there was plenty of familiarity between larger North American festivals and this comparatively compact Spanish one. You have your live art installations, your giant ferris wheel, your branded activations from HBO and Sephora. But when was the last time you saw bumper cars crashing into each other in the middle of a music event? Or beer servers carrying backpack kegs ready to pour you a pint wherever you bump into them? Or grounds completely covered in comfortable, clean astroturf? Choices like that are just some of the signs that Mad Cool is operating on a different playing field than similar events over here.

Perhaps the distinction that stands out the most is the hunger of the audience. Without painting with too broad a generalizing brush, the Mad Cool crowd was seemed to have a level of consideration and control that doesn’t feel like the norm back home. Fans were clearly there to enjoy the music, paying as much respect to their fellow attendees as the performers. Even during less well-attended sets, the audiences were attentive and energetic like a musician’s dream.

Mad Cool put together an experience to foster that attitude. Constantly engaging and fan-friendly, it never felt overcrowded and always felt lively. It’s the type of place where a music fan wants to have a good time, and where it’s hard not to. Especially when you have a lineup that produces performances like the 10 that follow here. These were the best sets we saw at 2019’s Mad Cool, and the type of experiences that will have us looking forward to 2020.

–Ben Kaye
News Editor

Editor’s Note: Consequence of Sound was an official media partner of Mad Cool 2019


10. NAO

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Mad Cool Festival, photo by Ben Kaye

NAO commanded the stage on the first afternoon of Mad Cool, drifting as if unswayed by gravity, yet simultaneously full of propellant energy. A fluorescent yellow hand fan matched her clothing perfectly, but worked equally well as a symbol of kinetic potential as a tool to bear back the scorching heat that lingered early in the day. “Whenever I come to Spain or Portugal, I know that NAO means no, but I don’t think that’s a good thing,” she chuckled — indicative of the boundless positivity that excels in songs like “Orbit” and “Fool to Love”. Still fresh off of last year’s Saturn, NAO showed just how much some love and sweetness could excel in dazzling sunlight as well as nighttime grooves. —Adam Kivel


09. Vetusta Morla

Hometown favorites Vetusta Morla stood tallest among the Spanish acts at Mad Cool — on the lineup, in crowd anticipation, and in performance. Weaned on Nirvana and an array of alternative rock staples, the Spanish sextet carry that same combustible energy though softened some with a radiant glee. Songwriter Juanma Latorre and vocalist Pucho led the charge, aglow in the joyful singalong delivered back to the stage. Summery guitars and a limber rhythm section unified the diverse set, but the dazzling peaks and slippery grooves proved that all the hype was more than deserved. –Adam Kivel


08. Pip Blum

Consequence of Sound was proud to present a stage of our very own at this year’s Mad Cool. Though Parquet Courts may have drawn by far the biggest crowd to our humble tent, it was Dutch indie outfit Pip Blom who put on the best show. Holding down the final time slot of the weekend against Robyn and Greta Van Fleet is no easy scheduling task, but this Amsterdam quartet were up to the job. Seeing all four members of a group fight for your attention isn’t the most common occurrence, yet everyone in Pip Blom feels like a centerpiece.

Obviously this is singer-songwriter Pip Blom’s project, but her untamed energy was mirrored by guitarist Tender Blom, with Darek Mercks rocking out bass in the middle. Even tucked back behind her kit and occasionally obscured by smoke, drummer Gini Cameron was a force, bouncing off her stool as she crashed her sticks with wild motions. This Amsterdam troupe nearly destroyed the speakers with their furious rawk, and with shows like this, there’s good money plenty more sound systems will face their challenge in years to come. — Ben Kaye


07. The Chemical Brothers

The Chemical Brothers Gif Mad Cool Festival Ben Kaye

The Chemical Brothers, gif by Ben Kaye

The anticipation for The Chemical Brothers to take the Madrid Te Abraza stage at nearly 3:00 a.m. was so pronounced that festival organizers actually pushed back the final hotel transportation shuttle just to accommodate the later set time. The electronic pair, unsurprisingly, delivered in thick, thumping spades. “Surprise” may not be the thing you expect an act like Chem Bros., of course, since their intricate and vast lighting design needs to be precisely timed to their music. While the setlist is never going to vary much, however, it doesn’t slow down the dance party — certainly not for a bunch of hyped-up diehards who stayed up till the wee hours just to be revitalized by the duo’s beats and lasers. Even if you aren’t the type to thrash about in the green-and-pink hues of the stage lights, the visuals are plenty engaging, especially the demon king that incited the crowd during “MAH”. — Ben Kaye


06. Gossip

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Gossip, photo by Andres Iglesias via Mad Cool

Gossip brought the disco to the big field on Saturday evening, drawing massive crowds eager to share in the absolute freedom of the Olympia, Washington trio’s hook-heavy material. And between dancing to gems like a cover of “Careless Whisper” (dedicated to George Michael and all the other “cool people who died too young”) and “Standing in the Way of Control”, vocalist Beth Ditto turned in a superstar banter performance. While a recurring Exorcist impression garnered big laughs, her overtures to Robert Smith and company may have been the highlight. “I really hope The Cure invite me to sing their entire set tonight,” she chuckled, before letting the crowd know about the popcorn she was keeping in her pocket. Gossip are totally un-afraid of fun, and brought that joy to the teeming masses.  — Adam Kivel


05. Sharon Van Etten

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Mad Cool Festival, photo by Ben Kaye

The first time I saw Sharon Van Etten, she was performing on the floor at a small local venue, an acoustic guitar slung over her shoulder. A few albums later, she had unleashed a new rock star version of herself—and the explosive power suits her just as well as the pained songwriter. Tracks from the masterful Remind Me Tomorrow like “Memorial Day” and “Comeback Kid” burst across the field, leading to delighted shout-alongs. Van Etten’s steely step and equally fiery vocals matched her leather and mesh attire, all culminating in a rare magnetism. Older songs like “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” and “Serpents” brought back more hum and crackle than feedback burst, but the all-time great “Seventeen” is the highlight, a song that will shine brightest in any set for years to come. — Adam Kivel


04. Prophets of Rage

I wasn’t sure how an act that seems to be so particularly tied to American political outrage would connect with a Spanish audience. It turns out they may actually be more into Prophets of Rage than Stateside audiences. There was an indisputable surge of energy when the band tore into tracks like Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerrilla Radio” or the “Insane in the Brain”/”Jump Around” Cypress Hill mashup.

If you’re thinking that’s just because those are iconic tracks from members of the supergroup’s “superior” original outfits, you should have seen how fans reacted to the premiere of new track “Made with Hate” or the PoR original “Unfuck the World”. Credit due to Chuck D, B-Real, and Tom Morello for bringing the ruckus for a solid hour-and-20-minutes, but equally impressive was how the Mad Cool attendees stayed with them all the way through the requisite closer “Killing in the Name”. — Ben Kaye


03. The Smashing Pumpkins

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The Smashing Pumpkins, photo by Andres Iglesias via Mad Cool

Chemistry is a funny thing. Sometimes you get the mixture just a little off and things blow up-and sometimes you can level things back out and get the formula exactly right. That seems to be the case with this latest reincarnation of Smashing Pumpkins — or at least they’re further down the road then they’ve been in years. With absolutely no disrespect to D’arcy, there’s a magic to the trio of Billy Corgan, James Iha, and Jimmy Chamberlain. The Pumpkins show has a newfound embrace of theatricality and lowered ego, the giant Nightmare Before Christmas-esque sculptures framing the band with grand splendor. The many “Zero”-shirted fans in the crowd crowded along to every SP hit you can imagine in a fan service set done with no pretension — a real nostalgia bomb and a rousing one at that. — Adam Kivel


02. The Cure

Two-hour headlining festival sets are rare these days, at least back here in the United States. Even more so for legacy acts that, well, are getting up there in age. The Cure went for 15 minutes longer than that, though, and despite an average age of nearly 60, the band felt as vital as any great modern rockers.

It’s nothing short of spectacular hearing Robert Smith’s voice at this point remaining so flawlessly strong. His modified vocal runs and quirks on “Friday” weren’t a means of covering up a diminishing voice, but rather evidence that he’s simply still good enough to pull out unexpected tricks.

As Smith’s utterly sincere bashfulness felt refreshingly lacking of ego, Roger O’Donnell basked in the beauty of The Cure’s own music behind his keyboard and Simon Gallup mugged about and ran the stage like the classic rock star he is. Considering how rock-focused Mad Cool is, it’s fitting that longest tenured artists on the bill drew the biggest and most appreciative audience of the weekend. — Ben Kaye


01. Robyn

With a clear focus on alternative rock and electronic music, there wasn’t a lot of space for pop on Mad Cool’s lineup. An act like Robyn, though, has the sort of dance jams (see, “Love Is Free”, “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do”) that bridge the electro-gap perfectly for the type of party people of which the festival is comprised. Besides, the Swedish singer is a distinctly European type of pop star, so it’s not at all unexpected that she drew some of the most ravenous fans of the fest. It’s not every artist that can drop out all their music and vocals for an entire chorus, toss it to the crowd for a deafening sing-a-long, and take a 15-second appreciation beat and still keep everyone completely in the palm of their hand. But that’s just the sort of masterful song “Dancing on My Own” is, and that’s just the type of performer Robyn is. — Ben Kaye