Live review

Florence + The Machine, Foals and Amyl & the Sniffers swing big at the second year of Málaga’s Cala Mijas

31st August - 2nd September 2023

As for Friday headliners The Strokes, it’s a tale of two halves…

Though the Spanish festival scene is one of Europe’s most fertile, there seems to be an unspoken understanding of how the country’s various summer weekenders work together. If Primavera is essentially Hackney on Sea, and Benicassim aims squarely at the post-A Levels teenage getaway crowd, relative newcomer Cala Mijas - set in the Málagan village on the Costa Del Sol - has already staked its claim in two years as Spain’s answer to All Points East: a relatively compact affair whose credible programming aims heavier and higher than its size might suggest.

Split primarily between three main stages, with a forest dance area pulsing in the corner for the ‘heads, you can whip from one end of the site to the other in under five minutes but catch Glastonbury headliner-level artists while you’re at it. Chuck in a glimmering beach (complete with afternoon local band stage) that’s a short walk away, and there’s already a lot to love.

As with most festivals on the continent, the action starts late and ends much, much later, which means that by the time Foals take to the stage on the first night, the synthy pulse of recent single ‘2am’ has taken on an added significance. Couple that with the epic undulations of ‘Spanish Sahara’ that beam out across the dusty Málagan scrubland, and ‘Mountain At My Gate’ which is delivered against a backdrop of actual mountains, and it’s like Yannis Philippakis and co have somehow magicked this exact environment into existence for their own pleasures. Thankfully for the good folk of Mijas, this trick doesn’t extend to a blistering final third of the set, where a thunderous run of ‘Black Bull’, ‘Inhaler’ and ‘What Went Down’ could equate to some sort of primal uprising - but it’s a neat trick all the same.

Earlier in the evening, punk OG Siouxsie still cuts an effortlessly unfuckwithable silhouette, several decades on from her late-’70s heyday. Booming through the Banshees’ skulking ‘Happy House’ and deceptively upbeat crossover hit ‘Hong Kong Garden’, she sets the tone for a weekend categorised by true performers. Whether it’s Baxter Dury, who cavorts his way around the Victoria Stage, gradually stripping down to a white vest, howling and posing throughout the likes of ‘I’m Not Your Dog’ and new album standout ‘Celebrate Me’, or IDLES, who have honed their stagecraft to an inimitable mix of unhinged ferocity and playful camp, everyone here knows exactly how to put on a show.

Cala Mijas, Málaga, Spain Cala Mijas, Málaga, Spain Cala Mijas, Málaga, Spain

It’s a spirit of leaving it all on the field that clearly has not reached Friday night headliners, The Strokes. Over on the Sunset Stage, Italian disco purveyors Nu Genea are good vibes personified; earlier in the evening on the Sunrise main stage, meanwhile, Amyl & the Sniffers give a masterclass in how to make the most unrelenting of music an open-hearted experience. Instructing her bandmates to take their “shirts off, slippery boys” before later breaking into a drinking chant and weightlifter poses, Amy Taylor is the undimmable ball of energy that we’ve come to expect. Yet there’s oodles of empathy there too, not least on closer ‘Knifey’ - a frustrated rally against violence to women.

When The Strokes arrive for their packed headline performance, however, the All Points East comparisons ramp up a notch. Where the rest of the weekend’s acoustics are huge and satisfying, yet again the New Yorkers are greeted with chants to "turn it up"; clearly the maddeningly muddy mix is a conscious choice from the band rather than a fault from either festival. Informing the field that he “just woke up”, Julian Casablancas spends the first portion of the set in self-indulgent form, taking a break from his barely audible vocals to fiddle around on a synth and tell the crowd they’ve “got no heart” when his noodles are greeted with a less-than-vociferous reaction.

But then, just as you’re about to throw in the towel, something clicks. ‘Soma’ sounds fresh; ‘Someday’ even better; the cranky oddity of ‘Welcome To Japan’ transports the field into the band’s own twitchy computer game and then ‘Reptilia’ blasts everyone right back out into the moment, dancing at the altar of one of the best songs of the century. It’s a final 30 minutes of magic that makes Casablancas’ contrary opening all the more frustrating, as though he’s been saddled with this canon of greatest hits against his will. Alex Turner might have crooned on ‘Star Treatment’ that he “just wanted to be one of The Strokes”, but in 2023, Casablancas seems less sure.

Cala Mijas, Málaga, Spain Cala Mijas, Málaga, Spain Cala Mijas, Málaga, Spain

While M83 bring the sort of light-soaked, visually opulent set to the Victoria Stage that perfectly offsets the sprightly euphoria of their music, Metronomy are clearly deep in their transitional phase following last year’s more meditative ‘Small World’ LP. The first half of their Saturday night set draws heavily from that album, with a dip into the softer side of their earlier wares (‘Everything Goes My Way’) and recent Biig Piig collab ‘405’. It’s gentle in a way that would never have been applied to the group before, and then… “May I introduce you to the party band of the century!” declares Joe Mount, and we’re into the bleepy bloopy brilliance we’ve always known and loved, from ‘Boy Racers’ to a final blitz through debut album rager ‘You Could Easily Have Me’. It’ll be intriguing to see how Mount and co continue to balance growth and expectation as the years continue.

Though Belle & Sebastian aren’t your classic 2am band, the Scottish stalwarts have a lightness to the likes of an early ‘Step Into My Office Baby’ that somehow works in the balmy night air, but it’s Saturday bill-topper Florence + the Machine who steals the weekend. Playing the final show of her ‘Dance Fever’ tour, there's an emotional weight on display that’s felt by every one of the wide-eyed, flower-crowned congregation that support the singer as she regularly climbs atop the barrier to grasp at hands and cradle faces.

There’s brief mention of the “life-saving” treatment she received not a fortnight previously following the cancellation of several shows; “Something very bad happened to me a few weeks ago and I'll talk about it sometime but not today,” she tells the crowd before ‘Morning Elvis’. But whatever the issue, Florence clearly isn’t letting it affect her. Twirling the stage in a purple, iridescent caped dress in front of a white altar, she closes a weekend of superlative characters with a performance that’s in turn otherworldly and wonderfully, swearily human. Such is the reason Flo has become a semi-mythical figure to her numerous acolytes and, as she rounds out the night with a rarely-played ‘Never Let Me Go’ before crescendoing with a final ‘Shake It Out’ and ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’, there’s a sense of joyful communion that’s impossible to deny.

Tags: Amyl & The Sniffers, Baxter Dury, Florence + The Machine, Foals, Metronomy, The Strokes, Cala Mijas, Festivals, Reviews, Live Reviews

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