I’ve never seen so many pineapples.
Ladies with yellow faces and spiky headpieces are all around, swinging their hips in time with the ‘Desert Island Disco’ soundtrack. I’d heard of this magical place on the Isle of Wight, where music fans congregate in a whirl of face-glitter and lycra jumpsuits around an annual and ridiculous theme. But Bestival is clearly more than an excuse for Rob Da Bank to play God with over 50,000 people’s attire. In its eleventh year, Bestival is still working as hard as ever to live up to that superlative moniker.
Aside from the usual smatterings of insanity that make this festival so glorious – yunno, the WI tent where old ladies serve you cakes and the gigantic Roland TR-909 in the woods – it’s the line-up that makes it incessantly strong. Bestival is deft at creating the kind of itinerary that draws music fans across that sliver of water, but keeps the, for want of a better phrase, total arseholes at bay. Seriously, the ratio of dicks to non-dicks is astounding. They’re still there, but most of them say “Sorry” when they hit you in the kidneys during a set. And that’s because, when seeing most of these bands, it’s impossible to be anything other than totally joyous.
Take tUnE-yArDs as an example. Even the band’s protagonist, Merrill Garbus, is unconvinced by the prospect of doing another festival. But then the tent inflates with the noise of a crowd attempting to sing along with some of the most vocally-challenging pop songs of the year. The ruckus is rousing. Garbus, with a newly dyed mop that gives her a halo worthy of a high priestess, is converted. “It’s like playing in a playground,” she grins.
…the two create a mellow climate that they relish shattering…
She performs on the Friday evening, beautifully singing-in the sunset. Her Saturday night counterparts are Darkside (aka Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington) whose more ambient take on dusk is as ominous as it is beautiful. Silhouetted like 2D shapes against a wall of smoke and gradients, the two create a mellow climate that they relish shattering. By the end, the crowd are in full-on rave mode, with only Harrington’s slight fringe-bop showing just how much Darkside must be enjoying the experience.
Electronica is always well represented at Bestival – there’s a punter wandering about wearing a ‘Deep House’ t-shirt with a picture of Hugh Laurie looking contemplative. He acts as an excellent microcosm for the good-natured but serious affection for these acts that abounds. And that’s why Daniel Avery’s stint on the rather small Red Bull stage seems a bit perplexing. However, there were enough other draws on the Friday night to keep the audience size perfectly balanced between atmospheric and movement-inducing. A crowd of dandies and Essex kids alike move carefully to Avery’s well-judged and highly textured noises. My companion says it sounds like he is “playing a glockenspiel made of rubber,” which was much too good a phrase not to pinch.
…a show that apparently included a giant robot on stage…
Basement Jaxx also sounded great… from half a mile away. In probably the biggest disappointment of Bestival, ‘Good Luck’ and the rest of Jaxx’s set is impossible to see because it’s not on the Main Stage. Thousands spilled beyond the tent’s boundaries, trying desperately to catch a glimpse of a show that apparently included a giant robot on stage. Alas, we will never know if such reports are true.
Acts that straddle the electronic and guitar-based alternative fared well over the course of the weekend, with Chvrches’ sweetly-sung hymns packing out the Big Top and MØ absolutely owning the Invaders of Future stage. Miss MØ herself is the main draw; her sports bra and boxing shorts prove popular with show-goers, and a cover of ‘Say You’ll Be There’ is completely inspired. It’s like if ‘sports luxe’ spoke Swedish and was a musical genre.
…visuals I can only describe as a series of epeieptic arses…
As for the Main Stage, Outkast somewhat violated it. Hilariously my notes include the phrase ‘surprisingly tasteful’, which was scrawled down about a minute before Andre 3000 and Big Boi launched into ‘GhettoMusick’, accompanied by visuals I can only describe as a series of epeieptic arses. Still, no matter how upsetting I find the fact that one of my favourite hip hop acts is, yunno, a hip hop act, they did an excellent job of holding the festival’s attention through anything that wasn’t ‘Hey Ya’. Around half way back from the stage things felt a little quiet, with Andre’s ‘I Think I’m In Love Again’ (the closest modern music gets to Erotica), falling a unfortunately flat, but thundering hits like ‘Gasoline Dreams’, ‘B.O.B’ and, of course, ‘Roses’ sound as huge as they should. Also, their t-shirts have their tour dates on the back. Excellent.
Candi Staton on a Saturday afternoon was also a highlight, with thousands belting ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ across Robin Hill Country Park after the 74 year-old (who looked FABULOUS by the way) gave the crowd what can only be described as a marital counselling session. London Grammar were, from a self-induced distance, a little lacklustre, while Sam Smith had me running for the comedy tent in a flash. But I think he’s terrible and didn’t give him a chance. Sorry, most-of-Britain.
Clean Bandit also had a late-afternoon jab at the Main Stage, which felt deflated. I sauntered away from their set with the overwhelming sense I’d just watched an N-Dubz set, had Dappy have gone to private school. The strings were of course beautiful, but coupled with their infuriatingly crap anti-design visuals and lyrics beyond vacuity, there was little to be excited about that.
…no amount of twerking dancers could stop me from having the best f**king time…
It doesn’t help that they were then followed by Major Lazer, who, despite being equally vacuous, have no pretensions. This music has no shame. They are the children’s entertainers of the adult world, and no amount of twerking dancers could stop me from having the best f**king time. Diplo’s shirt screamed ‘YOU ARE NOT DEAD YET’, while the speakers shouted out Sean-ah Paul remixes and Snoop Dogg snippets. Thousands even took off their shirts and swung them about their heads to create a pleasing visual representation of all the sonic insanity. The reasons why they’ve become such a festival staple were finally revealed to me, as the scales were lifted from mine eyes and a lazer gun placed within my hands.
Sunday night headliners Chic came with a sad tale, announcing when they got on stage that one of their roadies, who had been attending them for 18 years, had died minutes before the set. Nile Rodgers was visibly emotional, asking the crowd to shout “Terry, Terry” in his honour. The night’s funk was dedicated to him, and it was undoubtedly an excellent tribute. Nile placed the crowd in the middle of his palm, and gave them a jiggle all around with Chic classics and Rodger-written chart hits like David Bowie’s ‘Dance’ and Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’. There was a particularly euphoric rendition of ‘Get Lucky’, as instructions on when to ‘scream’, ‘dance’ and ‘sing’ rolled across the big screen in the tackiest, most cursive letters known to mankind. It was hugely disco. And Bestival’s record-breaking disco ball (10.33m in diameter) was hung aloft for the entirety of the set, bathing onlookers in reflection of the end-of-party fireworks. Whatever else you may say about Bestival: to pull off this sort of event requires some massive balls. And they’ve bloody well got one anyway.