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Bestival 2011

| On 18, Sep 2011

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Is Bestival the best festival? Well, the event won ‘best major festival’ at the 2010 UK Festival Awards, so I guess the case is closed. In truth, Glastonbury is the best UK festival (arguably the best festival in the world) but Bestival is perhaps the strongest contender for second best. And it does have one thing that will appeal to those who think Glastonbury is just a bit too much: its size. This fancy dress jollification on the Isle of Wight has the perfect capacity (around 55,000) and the most manageable site area of any festival I have been to, especially for a lineup of its magnitude. For many, the 200,000 or so who descend on Glastonbury and the city size/layout of the site is insufferable, and, at the other end of the spectrum, the small 26,000 capacity, relatively small site and barely-there lineup of Secret Garden Party is underwhelming. Rob da Bank (Bestival’s curator, record label honcho, and DJ) has – over its eight-year existence – managed to lure a lineup as commercial, eclectic and extensive as Glastonbury, but maintain the boutique-like charm of an anti-corporate festival like Secret Garden Party.

Friday:

First up is Ghostpoet – who has seen a significant increase in exposure since his Mercury Prize nod – over on the Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) Stage. Oh, actually a passing sound desk guy informs me that he is going to be delayed by a mere five hours (!), so I leave the impatient crowd of confused Ghostpoet fans and check out Aussie’s 80s-inspired electro-pop band Cut Copy in the Big Top. They may be pretty, and the singles from their sophomore album ‘In Ghost Colours’ do create a bit of a stir, but their set sadly sounds as flat as their most recent album ‘Zonocope.’ The Beach Boys’ ‘Surfing USA’ will always cause hysteria, but since Brian Wilson is a living legend it’s a shame his Main Stage show is lifeless – since this may well be his last ever festival appearance it would’ve been nice if he could have brought a little charisma to Bestival. I catch the start of Chromeo, but the funk-disco-electro of the energetic duo is a little repetitive (especially if you’ve seen them before). I then head over to the Roller Disco stage (literally a stage where half the crowd area is a roller disco arena – health and safety anyone?) for DJ Roska’s sublime dub/house/funky set with Jamie George. George may not be the most natural MC (he is an RnB singer after all), but he is sweet and talented enough to hold attention, and Roska is on the form of his life.

The first big dance act of the evening comes courtesy of Magnetic Man – with producers Skream, Benga, and Artwork bringing a good (not great) visual show, a larger than life MC, and a surprisingly big sound (considering dance music tends to be lost on Main Stages) along with their trademark pop-laden, euphoric dubstep. Yes, they have an overtly commercial sound – but that was always the intention. Sadly, all I am able to catch of the Numbers showcase on the RBMA Stage is Deadboy – who continues to impress – before I head nice and early over to the tiny Sailor Jerry Ink City stage for Frank Turner’s short, sharp, solo (semi-secret) set. Yes, I boycotted Pendulum’s headline set – there are only so many times I can listen that ear-molesting siren riff (time to learn a new trick perhaps?). The crowd sing along to every one of Turner’s word with such incredible passion and volume that the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and starting singing along as well – especially on singles ‘Photosynthesis’ and ‘I Still Believe.’ Without question: England’s finest touring singer-songwriter. Groove Armada Presents Red Light (good, but nothing compared their now retired live show) and Boys Noize (playing a standard electro-techno set) bring the night (well, my night) to a close in the Big Top.

 

Saturday:

Thus far, the weather – predicted to be pretty devastating – has held off, but as of Saturday afternoon the temperature noticeably drops and the intermittent showers begin to spit down. This only delays my entrance into the site for an hour or so, but eventually Mr. Basics Rum fills me with enough bravery to head in to check out Ghostpoet. Oh, actually a passing attendee tells me I’ve already missed him. Dear Ghostpoet: I give up. Over to the Big Top to listen to the ever so talented A-Trak (who won the DMC World DJ Championship at the age of 15!) impressively scratch and mix his way through a selection of unimpressive and generic pop-dance tunes. His remix of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘Heads Will Roll’ will never get old, but his Armand Van Helden collaboration ‘Barbara Streisand’ was born old (think Benjamin Button). Boycotting the terrible skills, the arrogant chat, and the generic setlist of Grandmaster Flash (he may have been a pioneer of hiphop DJing – a fact he likes to repeat before, after, and in between each song – but everyone who came after him was much, much better) I chill on the sofas in the hidden, unmarked Converse Tent. Once Flash has well and truly left the Main Stage, I head back for Crystal Castles, who are fine, which is a real shame. The chaotic sound Crystal Castles produce is always lost on an outdoor stage, but that never matters because frontwoman Alice Glass is just so watchable trashing the stage, smacking soundmen/fans, climbing anything/everything, or just generally stalking the stage screaming profanities – but today they (relatively) sedately play muffled song after muffled song. Shame.

I then elbow my way through a thousand Village People (the fancy dress of choice, since Village People played earlier in the day) to check out some of the Annie Mac Presents… showcase in the Big Top. Toddla T (who, according to one ‘friend,’ looks like a lesbian) plugs his new album with a respectable sound quality and an unanticipated likeability, before Ms. Dynamite – starting late – gets everybody jumping and shouting thanks to her massive, massive stage presence. She takes the most accessible parts of dubstep, DnB, garage etc. to create a pop show that appeals to almost everyone (not unlike Katy B) – her distinctive voice marking her out as one of the most beloved UK dance/pop crossover artists. I catch some of Carte Blanche’s set (RIP DJ Mehdi, who sadly died three days after this show) and then head back over to the secluded Converse Stage tent for an intimate and secret-ish SBTRKT live show. Aided by a superb live drummer, SBTRKT displays cuts from his latest album, bouncing and programming along as he sings live, hitting each note spot on – one of the festival highlights.

Now for the big headliner: The Cure. Yes, they are legends, having been performing for over 40 years (even if Robert Smith is the only continuous member), and yes, they are Rob da Bank’s dream Bestival headliner, but are they an appropriate headliner? Not quite. Most of their 180 minute set of gothic, new wave pop-rock bypasses the crowd. Even a few of their ‘hits’ go unnoticed – perhaps because the sound isn’t that loud, or perhaps because the younger generations are missing out on the dark beauty of their lyrics and basslines. Nonetheless, hits like ‘Friday I’m In Love’ and ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ get the massive sing-a-longs The Cure deserve. I catch the end of Diplo’s set in the Big Top (including the infectious slash infuriating ‘Pon De Floor’) and wait patiently for Primal Scream Presents Screamadelica (the real headliner of the evening). It was one of Glastonbury 2011’s highlights, and it is one of Bestival 2011’s highlights – with Bobby Gillespie groaning and gyrating in front of a psychedelic visual show and enticing the greatest crowd sing-and-hug-a-longs of the whole weekend.

Sunday:

Everyone always feels a little blue at the start of the last evening of a festival (especially when stewards are announcing that all ferries off the Isle of Wight tomorrow will be cancelled due to hurricane winds), so what better way to start proceedings than by wallowing around in those blue feelings with a live James Blake show in the Big Top. He’s solid, but his usual atmosphere is missing in a tent so cavernous, and surrounded by pesky daylight. This is no problem for LA’s Nosaj Thing on the RBMA Stage, who despite being a couple of hours late and sans his usual AV show (due to “miscommunications”), puts on the finest DJ set of the weekend – transcendent hiphop laced, Burial-esque (post) dubstep. I then wander over to the Main Stage where James Blake is standing on the side, unnoticed, doing an uninspiring DJ set.

Then comes the world exclusive: Björk. She was only announced as the final Bestival headliner a few weeks beforehand, she hasn’t played a festival in four years, and she won’t play another one this year. There is no doubting that she is amazing, amazing, amazing on record, and has been amazing, amazing, amazing live in the past, but tonight she is just a bit amazing. Her visuals are the most interesting I’ve seen all year, her 30-girl backing choir is tremendous, her sound, her costume, her accent, her closing fireworks etc are all astounding. However, Björk’s set is too somber for this kind of festival, and she plays far too much new material from ‘Biophilia.’ But her rendition of ‘Hyperballad’ is the single best performance of Bestival 2011. With the bulk of the music over, it’s over to the DJs to close the festival: DJ Shadow’s visuals are, as always, incredible (the new AV bubble vehicle he performs in is one of the best things I have ever seen), Fatboy Slim displeases everyone, as always, by bypassing his own hits in favour of mediocre house tunes (save the snippet of ‘Praise You’ he teasingly uses as his intro), and Joker and the rest of the Hyperdub showcase round things off inoffensively in the Roller Disco tent. Time to head off into the hurricane to wherever my tent has blown and call it a night….

 

For many, Bestival is the last music festival of the year, but for others it marks the end of the Summer as whole – so amongst the ‘Bessie’ crowd there are the regular festival hippies and music junkies, but also families (bringing along their babies), hen/stag parties, and those who just like dressing up and checking out circuses, mazes, fairgrounds, karaoke, art installations, and/or giant, sinister tree bars with dwarves serving drinks (yes, really…). This reviewer only managed to see a portion of the musical events, and in doing so missed out many of the other, alternative festivities (the toboggan ride being the one I most regret). One fully realises the true charm of Bestival having left the site, perhaps on the ferry or in the car parks, or when reminiscing on social networks: every individual has a different experience and therefore has a different festival highlight, because the range of what there is to do and see is just so damn vibrant and exhaustive. Here’s to Rob da Bank and the second best UK festival…

 

Author: Clive Rozario

 

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Getting to the Isle of Wight can be a bit tricky. Usually, no problem – add a massively humungoid music festival and you got a whole other transportation issue. That, my chummies, is what its all about. Welcome!

 

I secretly hope to get onto site and set up well before the madden crowd. and thankfully get on site and sorted in good time. My tent is pitched in the blinking of the eye and im ready to go…. that is until the heavens open and I hide away in said nylon fortress for shelter, and emerge some time later to find thousands of wet punters setting up shop all around.

 

A few hours later and the gang are together, we crack open a brew to celebrate another fine year and head off into the strange.

 

Although the event doesn’t get started right, until Friday, the good people at Bestival HQ always have something up them wizards sleeves so we find stages open, bars and discos – its all very welcome and kinda familiar.

 

Friday takes hold and offers us tasty breakfast options and hot/cold beverages in abundance. We sit back and soak up the Bestival vibe over our ample meal before heading to the stages and getting our work on.

 

The variety of the main stage alone is a revolving door of decades and genres and would suffice even the most complicated tastes, but we are treated to Big Tops, Dance tents, secret things, small intimate gigs, cocktail bars (with stages) on and on and on…. and not enough time or days to get it all in. But we persevere. Catching Cut Copy slapping on the pop/dance in thick applications whilst busting some adventuress moves, reminiscent to using an invisible oversize rubics cube.

 

Its not long before the effects of walking for miles and carrying loads of gear starts to take its toll, so we head for a comfy seating area and enjoy a relaxing cool lager or 2 and watch the crowds heave and pour from stage to stage. The main stage area has been busy all day, and there are many folks taking their places for tonight’s headliners – and I must say the Aussies have had a good turn out this year – Pendulum, those crazy, jumpy types with their fast paces tracks and ‘minds me ears guvnur’ deep bass. The stage is all terminator, with surreal flashing/ animated backdrops and a whole spiders web of lasers. As expected the ‘still damp’ punters go ape shit as a sea of light pans over the faceless thousands and reveals the extent of those who came to witness.

 

The party continues till the sun comes up.

 

Saturday brings more tasty breakfast treats and a little bit of sunshine. And today is also fancy dress up day – and there are many Freddie’s, Elvis’s and even a Gary Glitter! (but just the one).

The fancy dress parade rides into the main arena with Monsieur Motivator at the reigns and a carnival atmosphere flooding in behind.

Today has the feel of being the bestest day, and its of to a good start, hits a bit of a bump with The Village People and gets going again with Public Enemy (them boys sure is gittin old an’ shee).

It getting kinda muddy under foot and yet we still witness the masses showing out in white deck shoes or converse – maybe their first festival??

 

PJ Harvery (ie Pajama Harvey) bowels onto stage with a somewhat Edwardian ensemble, and trots and shrieks through the first few numbers before breaking out the axe and getting a rock on.

All this and still The Cure to come….. who do, for a monster set of over 2 hours – stage presence is a little lacking but tunes are not and the crowd give way for a barrage of golden oldies mixed with a few not so well known bits…

And although we all love The Cure, I could not stand still any longer and dragged my ass off to see what’s happening before Primal Scream do an albums worth.

 

Its seems as though this night is destined not to end, and we find ourselves chatting and dancing until the sun comes up. Then bed.

 

Bestival truly is a thing to enjoy – without reservation. Its a magical theme park for grown ups, with endless delights around every corner, as far as the eye can see.

Thank you Bestival, Bruce, Aiden and the gang. See you soon.

 

 

Author & Photos: Dave Livingstone