Bilbao Exhibition Centre, Spain
26 - 27 October

Bizkaia International Music Experience (or BIME for short), takes place in the frankly massive Bilbao Exhibition Centre.

Its size has made it a hotspot for huge live shows – MTV 2018 Europe Music Awards will take place in the Exhibition Centre just five days after BIME wraps up. You could easily fit a couple of aircraft for safe-keeping in here, but over this particular weekend, the space swallows four massive stages, a huddle of street food trucks, some artfully scattered scaffolding to perch on, and a variety of different branded bars. Running over two nights, the music starts late-ish – things don’t really start kicking off till seven in the evening – but acts roll on through to the extremely early hours.

The BIME line-up is excitingly, if disconcertingly, ambitious. On the first night shoegaze soothers Slowdive and OTT beat-crusher Aphex Twin are lined up on the Thunder Bitch stage with only a short break between. You have to wonder if this is a strategy to bring a disparate Venn diagram of festival-goers into perfect harmony for the first time, or a slightly mad throwing together of stuff to get loads of people in. Neither proves wrong. Slowdive’s subtleties are appreciated by the hushed crowd as the five-strong band’s powerful chords soar over their heads. The soft, pastel-coloured lighting adds to an almost romantic mood.

Aphex Twin, as ever, is a whole other story. If people were tranquilised into quiet by Slowdive, now people are stunned into speechlessness (or they can’t hear each other over the ear-splitting bedlam that has just been unleashed). RDJ rips and mixes tracks feverishly, not leaving room for breath. As he did with his Field Day show last year, when the going gets really heavy, he switches the onstage visuals to views of the crowd, so you can see just how startled the front row are by the weighty beatdown. A mild sheen of sweat shows on everyone’s foreheads as lasers shout above us and distorted versions of celebrities blister and ripple across the massive screens ahead. Even Bert and Ernie aren’t safe, bless them.

Thunder Bitch’s twin stage, the Heineken Stage (placed about 100 metres to the right) had its fair share of highlights, too. John Maus is as unflinching and urgent as ever, doing his best ‘man in a padded room’ act against a backdrop of spare beats. He fills the huge space with sheer determination, gruffly barking out his orders to the audience who dutifully dance along. Elsewhere, Aussie indie all-rounders Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever bring new levels of energy early in the evening with their crowd-cajoling antics, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra are also a surprise delight, heading out into the audience to shred their joyful psychedelica mercilessly amongst the grinning festival-goers.

While the two aforementioned larger stages could be found at pretty much any festival (their grand light shows notwithstanding), the Stage Anzerkia offers something a bit more intimate. Its red curtains and staggered seating are reminiscent of the theatre, and ionnalee’s show is a definitive spectacle. It’s also pleasing to catch a woman on the line-up, of which there are few. Indulging in her own brand of gracefully limb-flailing modern dance throughout, the stage is packed out for the Swedish pop star’s futuristic turn. There’s even a costume change. On the more disappointing end of the scale, Sun Kil Moon’s show borders on bad spoken word, even backed by a grand piano – it’s a rare disappointing moment though. Thanks to the festival’s incredible lighting displays, impressive sound and gorgeous set design, you sense the music really does come first. And with the beautiful city of Bilbao set around it, BIME becomes yet another reason to ship off to the Basque region.