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Mad Cool Festival 2023 review: music royalty descend on Madrid for three days of greatness

Boasting one of the line-ups of the summer, Madrid proves why Mad Cool is quietly becoming one of Europe's most impressive festivals.

4.0 rating

By Rolling Stone UK

Liam Gallagher live at Mad Cool (Picture: Andre Iglesias)

It’s the first day of Madrid’s Mad Cool Festival and over at the McFlurry stand, business is a-boomin’. Demand for the delectable ice creams was always going to be high, but even more so when temperatures have hit the mid 30s and punters find themselves roasting in the uncompromising sun at what might just be the hottest event in the Spanish capital.

Hottest in both senses, we should add. This is a festival with one of the most stacked line-ups of the summer, and it means we’re provided with the chance to see The 1975 in what feels like one of their most intimate festival dates in years. Over on the Region of Madrid stage, they’re delivering an uncharacteristically early set to one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. It’s testament to tonight’s stacked bill that the group, mere days after playing to 60,000 fans at London’s Finsbury Park, have been placed on the festival’s third stage.

It’s a typically outlandish, whisky-swigging, cigarette in hand affair from Matty Healy and co that perfectly warms up the crowd for what’s next. Lizzo, over on the Madrid Is Life stage, delivers the kind of set that proves why she should be headlining festivals across the globe. The tunes are life-affirming and uplifting, sure, but it’s the all-encompassing talent of Lizzo herself that makes it such a perfect proposition as the sun goes down. Her positivity and endless encouragement of self-love proves the perfect tonic for Mad Cool-goers who are understandably knackered after a long day in the sun.

Lizzo at Mad Cool (Picture: Andre Iglesias)

Still, they prove there’s still gas in the tank by the time Robbie Williams arrives. Marking 25 years in the business, it’s a show which – according to the man himself – tracks the “highest of highs and the lowest of highs”. He might be yet to crack America, but he’s certainly cracked Europe – with the Spanish crowd lapping up every word of his note-perfect look at his career. As we’ve said before, Glastonbury is surely his next step.

It all proves for a high benchmark for day 2 to follow, but thankfully it does exactly that. Sam Smith’s early-evening set on the Main Stage is a masterclass in bringing arena-sized productions to a festival stage, complete with gold inflatables, costume changes, immaculate choreography and the storied back catalogue of Smith themselves. There’s an angelic energy as ‘Stay With Me’ casts a spell over the sweltering Spanish sunshine, but it’s descended into pure bacchanalia by the time they close with ‘Unholy’. The whole thing is near pop perfection.

Those looking for a rock ‘n’ roll riot are well served too. Over on the Madrid Is Life stage, Queens Of The Stone Age are delivering one of the greatest sets of the weekend. Opening with the crunching riffs of ‘No One Knows’ is a smart move to get the crowd onside, and the band are rewarded with unrepentant mosh-pits that don’t let up until the final bars of ‘Song For The Dead’ close the set. Josh Homme remarks at one point how Spain is one of his favourite countries too, and it seems the love-in is entirely mutual.

There’s a similar communal energy for Mumford & Sons over on the Mad Cool stage hours later too. While the two acts couldn’t be more sonically opposed, the appreciation shown from a Spanish crowd is duly reciprocated by frontman Marcus Mumford – who frequently climbs into the crowd and meets his faithful. By the time that fireworks rain down on Madrid, it feels like job well done.

And as day three dawns, there’s one name on everyone’s lips – Liam f*****g Gallagher. Bucket hats and Oasis t-shirts are the order of the day in anticipation for the arrival of the man himself. It might be the same set that Liam has delivered so familiarly over the last few years – Oasis bangers mixed in with a few solo offerings – but he’s perfected that act to such a brilliant level. There’s endearing banter too – a shout of ‘is anyone here from Halifax?’ comes from the man himself before playing ‘Stand By Me’, which soundtracked that very bank’s recent adverts.

While it’s followed by Red Hot Chilli Peppers, who draw the biggest crowd of the entire weekend, the true highlight comes in a closing set from The Prodigy. While fans may have questioned their decision to continue after the tragic passing of Keith Flint, here is a show that proves it was every bit the right decision. Flint’s longtime bandmate Maxim effortlessly grabs the frontman mantle and stalks the stage like a man possessed. Backed by mind-bending visuals and eternal rave classics like the warp-speed beat of ‘Firestarter’ and the later success of ‘Invaders Must Die’, it’s the perfect way to close our Mad Cool odyssey.

All considered, it’s a near-perfect pilgrimage for music fans across Europe. 2023 may have marked a new festival site for Mad Cool, but the charm, slickness and incredible line-up remained firmly intact. See you next year?