Mad Cool, Madrid’s most famous music festival

In July this year I went to Mad Cool, a huge music festival that takes place in Madrid every summer. It was my first proper music festival; I’ve been to one before in Slovenia, but it was rather small. In this post I focus on Mad Cool 2018 itself, as well as music festivals in general. Even though I have only been to two, I believe they generally have the basic features in common. My question is: are they worth the money? In the end I’ll also briefly describe some cool spots I managed to visit in Madrid!

Mad Cool Space 2018

Common characteristics

What you can probably expect from any music festival is for it to last for a couple of days up to a week. Normally several bands perform every day, some of them at the same time as there are several stages. Festivals also tend to be very crowded, at least this one was. The price will generally be higher than what a ticket for an ordinary concert normally costs, which is completely understandable. It also depends on the country and city where it takes place, and, of course, on who’s playing. Some festivals offer camping as well; Mad Cool didn’t.

Fab colours

Mad Cool itself

Okay, so let’s talk money first: Mad Cool costs something between one and two hundred euros, depending on when you buy the tickets; I paid about 160 if I remember correctly. We bought them when Mad Cool had already announced lots of major bands, and that normally plays a big role in the price. The event took place in Valdebebas, which is to the northeast of the city centre. It was all covered in fake grass and could hold up to 80,000 people. There were 7 different stages and numerous bars and food stalls. The event even hosted a couple of fashion shows and offered shops, a Ferris wheel, the GOT throne on which you could take pics, and various other activities that kept you entertained in case you showed up too early.

Something to bear in mind: if you only have the tickets and you haven’t been sent the bracelet, make sure to get to Mad Cool Space early the first day. The first bands start playing at 6; the concerts usually end at around 4.30 in the morning, so it’s quite intense. I’d recommend taking it easy during the day (which we didn’t do, and we felt the consequences). The security won’t allow you to bring liquid or food inside, and if you have an empty plastic bottle, they will take the cap. There were water fountains inside, but only in one place, and you can imagine how long it took to get there.

Day 1

Day 1 (I apologise for the poor quality of this one and the following two pics).

As you can see, the line-up was crazy. I didn’t even know a third of all the bands and I was still able to see more than four that I loved every night! It started great: with Fleet Foxes, followed by Tame Impala and then by Kasabian. I probably enjoyed Tame Impala the most, as I know them better than the other two. And then there was Pearl Jam who had a longer concert than all the others, and it was scheduled quite late as well. They were great, but I remember how tired I was after a day of sightseeing at 35 degrees Celsius. It was also a nightmare to get back to the hostel that night. We didn’t know the tube was working, so we looked for buses and it took about three years until we finally got to sleep.

Day 2

Day 2

At the Drive-In were the first band we saw the second day, and I didn’t know them well before; a friend recommended them. They were great, though! Then we listened to Snow Patrol for a while, even though I only knew two songs. Jack White was incredible, especially when he was playing old White Stripes songs. That day was also the first time I saw the Arctic Monkeys, and I wish I had been more rested for that. It was great anyway, as were Franz Ferdinand after that. I must admit, though, that I was sitting on the floor falling asleep, as hard as I wished I had the energy to dance to Do You Want to. Pathetic, I know.

Day 3

Day 3

To my disappointment, Rufus T. Firefly played at the same time as the Queens of the Stone Age. I’ve seen Queens before, but I love them, plus I was there with a guy who’s seen Rufus T. Firefly and is a huge fan of Queens, so missing any part of their concert wasn’t an option. The place was too huge and crowded to see both; we’d just lose time walking around and would miss half of both concerts. So, Queens it was, with classic Homme trying to convince people to take over the VIP place. They were fab as usual and got us in the right mood for Depeche Mode and then for Nine Inch Nails. After that we were completely dead, but we waited for JET anyway, just to hear Are You Gonna Be My Girl.

The good stuff

I was able to hear bands I dreamt of hearing for ages, the atmosphere was great, and Madrid was a lovely city to sightsee in between the gigs. The line-up for Mad Cool was honestly the best one I’ve ever seen (when talking about modern festivals,  obviously, not Woodstock, Live Aid etc.). It was one of the best “holidays” I’ve ever had, and whenever I think of it, I smile. It was just the combination of travelling after an exam period, of seeing all these incredible bands, of spending time with the boyfriend after more than a month of staring at him through a screen. I also had a lovely time wandering around Madrid with a friend who was there doing her Erasmus practice at the time.

The bad stuff

The sightseeing did take its toll. We felt exhausted because of all the walking in the heat, followed by hours of standing and dancing. My back always started aching after a few hours into the concerts, and I know I would have probably enjoyed the bands even more had I slept properly and walked less during the day. But these things were my own fault.

The prices, though, were shamelessly high. The food was quite expensive (even though I must admit the vegan options didn’t look too bad). I didn’t buy anything as we smuggled some biscuits from Lidl inside. The most ridiculously expensive thing were naturally the drinks. The beer and the tinto de verano (which is basically just red wine and soda) came in huge plastic glasses which had the line-up printed on them. It looks cool and I still have one, but the drink wasn’t worth 9 euros anyway.

9 euros

Was it worth it?

For me: absolutely. BUT – the line-up played a huge role in that, even though I think I’d enjoy the same line-up just as much if it were somewhere in Croatia or in Poland, at a festival that would be a lot less fancy and for half the price. The thing about this festival that I didn’t expect was how, well, posh it was. The fashion shows, the expensive drinks, the fake grass … I didn’t hate it or anything,  it was cool in a way, and most of the visitors were like any people you’d see at any festival (that wouldn’t be strictly punk or metal). The British girls with glitter on their faces were the only exception; they fitted in perfectly.

What about Madrid?

I visited Madrid twice, but I still don’t feel like I can write a proper blog post about it. The first time was when I was in high school and I don’t remember much, and this time there just wasn’t enough time. I’ll just list some interesting stuff that we’ve seen.

Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)
  • Museo del Prado: Free to enter if you’re under 25. My boyfriend’s into art and he loved it. I felt okay in there for an hour, and then I wanted to leave; I’m not a museum person, though, so that doesn’t say much.
  • Círculo de Bellas Artes (rooftop): absolutely amazing views of Madrid and a fancy rooftop bar. They also hold exhibitions in the building.
  • Parque del Buen Retiro: a huge beautiful park with a big lake where you can rent boats. It reminded me of London, just that it was sunny and hot.
  • Templo de Debod: an ancient Egyptian temple that looks totally random in such a typically European city. It’s beautiful, though, and I remember it the most from the first time I visited Madrid.
  • Lavapiés: a barrio (neighbourhood) with many international residents and therefore interesting shops and restaurants; there are many Indian ones.
  • Malasaña: another cool barrio with lots of shops and rock bars.
sightseeing during Mad Cool: Parque del Buen Retiro
Parque del Buen Retiro

That’s all we’ve managed to see in the four days we spent there, when we weren’t at the festival. As for (vegan) food, I’d recommend Ecocentro: they have a shop and a restaurant. Part of the restaurant is a buffet with cheap tasty vegetarian and vegan food.

sightseeing during Mad Cool festival: Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)
Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)

My recommendations

If you only like a band or two that’s playing at a festival, I think you’d enjoy them more if you just waited for them to go on tour. They usually play a bit longer if its their own concert, and you’re usually less tired and more concentrated because you only came to see them. If you like many or just want to experience a music festival, then absolutely go for it. I think it’s also great if the festival’s in a cool place that you can see during the day. It did make me tired, but more importantly it made me happy. I’d totally go again: to Madrid as well as to Mad Cool.

Thanks so much for reading! In case you’re interested in other Spain-related stuff, or better said cities, I have a post on Valencia, as well as one on Barcelona.