This year I attended the much hyped about Mad Cool Festival, with what was slated as one of the best line-ups in Europe this summer, I knew that I had to attend or miss out on epic concerts such as Depeche Mode, Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails amongst others.
Mad Cool was organised by Javier Arnáiz y Xabier Arretxe. Javier Arnáiz is one of the names behind the popular festival in Bilbao: BBK Live.
The concerts were as epic as I predicted. However, the experience of the festival proved to be one of the worst organised festivals I’ve ever attended.
The first day was a veritable disaster, upon arriving at around 19:00 we were greeted with an queue that began from the exit of the metro station, the queue seemed unending, and we waited more than an hour and a half under the baking hot sun in July, crushed together with hundreds of other people without any water or shade.
Apparently, this queue was caused by a collapse in the system and networks which meant that the bar code scanners could not read the bracelet passes, this collapse meant that all the POS card terminals stopped working and there was no network coverage in the entire festival site.
In blind panic, the organisers closed the gates and hordes of people waiting outside for hours with no information, furious festival goers missed out on their concerts and began to chant and shout, whilst others looked as if they were going to faint in the sweltering heat. In fact, several people did faint and there were no first aid responders in sight.
When the gates opened, the crowd surged forward and it was a miracle that there was no stampede or more serious incident at the festival. Security guards and ticket staff were overwhelmed by the wave of people and little was done with regards to searches or even checks to see whether people had tickets.
Having doubled the numbers from last year’s festival of 40,000 attendees to this year’s staggering number of 80,000 attendees, the organisers seemed ill-prepared for this quantity of people.
Hours of waiting in queues for everything: water, toilets, food. As water was not permitted to be brought in from outside, people were forced to wait hours for a bottle of water. Surprisingly, nothing worse came out of this disaster as heat and dehydration could have caused much more serious consequences. It was reported on social media that first aid responders were told to not give water to dehydrated attendees as it would take away from their profit margin.
The failure of the network meant that people were not able to pay by card and there was no cash machine to take out cash for payment, this led to massive queues for drinks and as a result, an aspect which could have become a great moneymaker for the organisers, turned out to sell much less than expected as people gave up trying to purchase beers and drinks after being put off by the unending queues.
The situation improved on the second day when festival goers were allowed to bring in bottles of water without caps which provided some relief. Queues also moved much more rapidly.
One issue that was brought up in numerous complaints was the fact that Mad Cool organisers could not deliver what they promised. Having promised Cabify and Uber drivers to ease the movement to and from the Feria de Madrid, people waited for up to two hours to get a taxi or Cabify that charged up to 100 euros for a single journey.
Police on the outside of the festival were controlling the traffic and causing a pile up of taxi drivers who informed other drivers not to bother coming to the festival as they would end up wasting over an hour to pick up one fare. As a result, an insufficient number of taxis came to transport the thousands of people back to the city.
Mad Cool had also organised with the local government of Madrid to collaborate with their public transportation services, but only having thought of this solution just one week before the festival launch date. Metros from Feria de Madrid were to shuttle festival goers back and forth all night long to Nuevos Ministerios. Madrid buses were contracted all night to take people to Plaza de Castilla and Colon, jam packed to the gills with festival goers and heavily overloaded.
People paid for the bus service whilst others who didn’t pay were also able to board as there were no controls or ticket checks.
On the final day, an empty bus returning from Mad Cool derailed and ended up hanging over an overpass. Luckily it was empty. Having seen how packed the buses were it was a miracle that nothing happened to any of the other over-packed shuttles.
Many people complained that the festival was just a way to leech money from the festival goers with little consideration to the needs. One newspaper said that it was another example of festivals without soul that treat their customers like cattle.
Massive Attack Cancels
On top of the organisational disasters that plagued the first day, on the second day Massive Attack cancelled their performance while thousands of people awaited in the Loop Tent.
Apparently, they had stipulated in their contract that they were to be the only band playing without interference from other stages, two other performances were delayed as a result. However, Franz Ferdinand were playing at the same time (albeit at a lower volume) and Massive Attack refused to go on stage
Javier Arnaiz, the director of Mad Cool stated that Massive Attack were “very reluctant” to play from the start, and none of the alternatives that were offered made any difference. “They were really out of shape right from the morning, because we did everything possible to put the concert on,” Arnaiz told EL PAÍS. “There was a huge amount of people waiting and it was a complete lack of respect toward everyone,” he adds. “We couldn’t leave 25,000 fans in the lurch with their mouths watering.”
Resolute, Massive Attack remained in their dressing room while their manager negotiated with the organizers, resulting in a reduction in the volume of the nearby Franz Ferdinand concert. “We spoke to the Franz Ferdinand manager and explained the situation,” Arnaiz explains. “They get on well with Massive Attack and they were understanding. They gave us the OK, but it wasn’t a solution as far as Massive Attack were concerned.” They even tried to convince Franze Ferdinand to finish 10 minutes early but Massive Attack refused to play.
As a result thousands of fans were left for nearly two hours without a single communication from the organisers.
Death at Mad Cool
Nothing can compare to the disaster of Mad Cool last year, where news rocked the international press: an aerial acrobatic act was staged to be performed from the height of 30 meters without a safety net.
During the performance one of the artists, Pedro Aunión, was changing harnesses when he committed an error which cost him his life. He fell 30 meters to his death just before Green Day took to the stage.
In a panic not to lose their star act, Mad Cool organisers did not inform Green Day of the tragedy that took place, Billy Armstrong from Green Day later criticised the organisers for not having informed them, saying “When we were told the shocking news about Pedro. All of us were in disbelief. I don’t know why the authorities chose not to tell us about the accident before our concert. All we know is what was said after our concert. This has never happened in the 30 years Green Day have been performing live. If we had known prior to our performance we most likely would not have played at all. We are not heartless people. The safety and well being at any of our concerts absolutely comes first.”
The callousness and the way that the accident was handled should have been indicative of the attitude of Mad Cool organisers.
In short, I have to say that despite the stellar performances of the bands at the festival, Mad Cool is not a festival I will be returning to anytime soon. After three years of organising Mad Cool and more years of organising other festivals, it appears that the organisers have no clue about how to run a successful music festival nor have learned from any of their mistakes.
After massive promotion overseas in Europe, attracting thousands of foreigners to attend the festival only to be discover be embarrassed by failure after failure upon the part of the organisers.
My advice: go to another music festival.