The last, and undoubtedly most diverse, British festival of the summer is Bestival. Created by DJ and producer Rob da Bank in 2004, this carnival of colour and excitement continues to grow from a small boutique of choice music picks into a full scale alternate reality.
A four day phantasmagoria situated on the Isle of Wight, Bestival is typified by world class music acts such as this year’s headliners ‘The Cure’, ‘Primal Scream’ and ‘Björk’; all the while wrapped in a warm electric bubble of vibrancy that is bigger than the music itself.
The inflatable church, erected to let you marry a beautiful stranger; the poky ‘polka’ dance tent; an all day roller disco; transcendental meditation in the ambient forest; the freestyle skating ramp; the WI tent; Shisha by Bollywood, Club Tropicana; The ‘Wishing Tree’ club in enclosed in bark and then so, so much more .The reason Bestival continues to grow and to succeed in world where the once great Reading Festival has tickets left to sell days, let alone minutes, after they go on sale is because Bestival does not draw solely on the music itself for an identity. Not bound by genre Bestival is as much an overnight carnival as it as musical festival.
If so inclined you might easily spend four blissful days on fair ground rides, painting in the forest, lounging in fancy dress on the magic meadow and never even get round to seeing a single act at Bestival. There is so much to see and to do at that you’re not ever marching between stages in the rain, but instead fighting against sleep deprivation just to see it all.
Of course festival die hards often mock what they consider to be ‘lesser’ festivals with comments of “it’s sold out”, “it’s too commercial” and other vapid mouth pap – but Bestival does not have to contend that problem. It’s small, it’s intimate and because it’s not tied to a single musical genre, but instead marked by it’s atmosphere, it can choose to put on any type of acts it likes. Interestingly though and perhaps due to this, it’s flexibility allows Bestival is able to attract the very best acts in the world, both old and new regardless from across the spectrum of music.
2011 was another great year for Bestival and here is your round up for just how it went down.
Travelling to the Isle of Wight it’s always hard to say exactly when Bestival begins. Is it with the eager faced festival beauties on the ferry over? Amidst the chorus of car horns as you finally reach port? In the race of small three door cars filled with tents and booze desperate to get to the campsite? Or, could it be packed in with your first sight of the Big Top and streaming flags as you reach the edge of Robin Hill Country Park?
Whatever it may be, the transition from reality into the festival far, far away is not necessarily a tangible process but regardless, the atmosphere for anticipation is always readily palpable. 2011′s adventure was no exception.
Although the acts themselves didn’t begin till five in the Big Top on Thursday the sights and sounds were already waiting upon arrival.
Music from Bestival FM and the free sports park could be heard throughout the campsite and as the evening crept in the the Island was onset by a layer of low lying fog, the soft strings of warm bulbs holding the camp in a state of almost fairy tale ambience as Bestival goers entered the arena for the first time.
Filling the Big Top with bass Thursday’s ‘Back to the Phuture’ set held host to a range of choice acts ready to kick the weekend off with a rhythmic bang. ‘Santigold’ especially marking herself out as the Thursday night highlight by pulling in the clean and keen beans for their first proper hard and fast dance of the weekend.
All in all Thursday’s chunk of the action was more than just a few taster beats but instead a night with two legs of its own.
Da Bank himself has said that they like to kick Bestival off with a bang and friday certainly made good on this promise. The comedy tent started racking up the acts, the Sailor Jerry’s stage and the second half of the festival arena were opened up. Generally the full festival atmosphere got into motion and Bestival first timers were treated to the second half of delights on offer round the clock.
Now it was possible to get to the dress up tent, to see a burlesque show, to take a yoga class in the forest or get on the toboggan. Suffice to say, the cornucopia of delights on display this year were just as diverting as ever.
That’s not to mention the acts themselves. An aptly brilliant set from ‘Beardyman’ in the sun on the main stage; a blistering live performance from the band that need to be seen live: ‘The Correspondence’; then onto old school appeal from ‘Public Enemy’ in the afternoon; audio sex and liquid funk from the incredible and unforgiving ‘Chromeo’; and headliners Pendulum delivering unending light and bass on the main stage. Friday in the fields was an all round success with act after act of pure musical class.
That’s not to mention the slew of other acts that appeared in the Big Top, each heavy hitter demanding you dance till death with the likes of ‘Mogwai’, ‘Skrillex’, ‘Groove Armada’ and Boys Noize’ all beefing up the beats and squeezing the sweat out of fancy dress party goers.
All in all friday took no prisoners and rocked the crowds from one morning right through till the next.
Friday’s mention for best act however, and even pick of the whole festival for sheer live prowess, goes hands down to ‘Crystal Fighters’.
Despite being wrongly billed, both in terms of time and stage, the Fighters had no trouble packing out the big top with thousands of screaming and skanking fans.
It’s interesting to note that the band played an almost identical set in the Rock Tent in 2010 to a very small clutch of devoted fans, now they graduate to the second biggest stage and bring the punters with them. Since that time a year ago, the release of the band’s richly meaty album ‘Star Of Love’ and appearances on Jools Holland have rightly propelled the band into the consciousness of music lovers everywhere and cast them into one of the most exciting acts in the world today.
The set was equally ferocious now as it was then and interestingly felt just as intimate, despite the exponential explosion of fans in attendance. All in all ‘Crystal Fighters’, like Bestival itself, proved they’re undoubtedly on the up and worth keeping your good eye on.
11 am – Main stage – Mr Motivator. Bestival doesn’t want you to sleep and saturday was no different.
Although Saturday day had a distinctly poppy feel with performances from Katy B, Paloma Faith and the Village people on the main stage. Lovers of something a bit grittier could still get their teeth into the likes of ‘Yuck’ who shattered the silence of the Sailor Jerry’s stage or even something bassier like ‘Jaguar Skills’ in the Bollywood tent. The choice of talent may have been slim pickings for some but for others it was just what they had been waiting for – and either way it was certainly a nice reprieve before the emotionally intensive acts of the night to come.
Of course this build up to the big hitters of that evening (‘The Cure’, ‘Primal Scream’ and ‘Metronomy’) was not an altogether slow one. A disappointingly short set from the otherwise masterful purveyors of dark dance ‘Crystal Castles’ followed by a spine tingling beautiful set from two time Mercury Prize winner ‘PJ Harvey’ pushed the evening on with enough force to get festival goers in gear and ready for the big guns.
Then the day was over one way or another and the moment many had been waiting for had finally arrived . . .
Robert Smith walked onto stage to rapturous, incandescent, unimaginable excitement. The legendary ‘The Cure’ playing a sublime and heart breaking set that quite frankly cannot be recaptured or described in words alone. Playing for two and a half hours ‘The Cure’ proved to all in attendance why their place at the superlative peak of musicianship is utterly indisputable.
Playing a vast majority of their considerable number of hits, Smith and the boys proved that you don’t need a light show when you can write and perform such masterpieces as ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, ‘A Forest’ and ‘Friday I’m in Love’. Indeed, the band tore the Isle of Wight a new musical soul from out of the ether itself, playing two encores in an olympian set many had been waiting a lifetime for. The crowd were held utterly mesmerised while Robert Smith’s crystal clear voice spun out, lilting beautifully and washing over those lucky, lucky few.
Once ‘The Cure’ had left the stage for the final time and what the french call ‘le petit mort’ had set in, tears now dried, it was time for the next round.
No, the night was not over by a long shot as Primal Scream followed in weighty style headlining the Big Top with the most spectacular light show the festival had seen. Again by playing the entirety of ‘Screamadelica’ as a 20 year anniversary, this was for many the gig of a lifetime. Epic, soul quenching and spectacular; needless to say no one was disappointed by the second legendary British band of the night.
Meanwhile, across the way, ‘Metronomy’ almost literally brought The Psychedelic Worm tent down as fans desperately tried to force themselves into the tent to catch a glimpse of Joseph Mount and his awesome game changing band. Metronomy’s mix of silky soft vocals, electronic synthatsized dominance and affecting bass translate incredibly well live and the tent swooned with the power of this up and coming tour de force.
Proving that Bestival always had another trick up it’s sleeve the ‘English Nation Ballet’ kicked things off on the main stage sunday morning and where then followed shortly after by the musical comedy delight that are: ‘The Cuban Brothers’. An act which defy sense of paper – stripping, karaoke, break dancing – but are in fact a real joy and need to be seen
Sunday day was entertaining if not musically stimulating.
In fact Sunday’s main stage held the only really big chink in the line up armour it must be said. ‘The Drums’ played a decidedly uninspired and lacklustre afternoon set to a largely disinterested audience. Something genuinely disappointing considering the energy and worthiness of many acts of the other acts on smaller stages.
Nonetheless Kelis, and later Robyn, both proved that chart musicians certainly have a genuine place at the heart of Bestival. Both pop icons proving to be intensely fun, working the main stage with poise and equal droves of sex appeal. Both proving their right to be on the bill, in this otherwise rather ‘alternative’ festival.
Headlining the night, and to many the whole of Bestival itself was Icelandic goddess ‘Björk’. Appearing with a suitably cerebral video backdrop of erupting volcanoes, spasmodic DNA and the rotating moon ‘Björk’ was accompanied by a haunting choir of young girls who matched the etherial sound of her album beautifully.
Although ‘Björk’ took the potentially divisive risk of filling her set with mostly new music, it has to be said it really paid off. The whole field was transfixed by this, a live show more cohesive and arresting than most that try and incorporate video inserts and other flourishes. Indeed, rather than feeling extraneous or forced the whole show came together in an arresting display holding Bestival captive with it’s pervasive elegance.
What Sunday also proved was that often times Bestival’s greatest treats are hidden away out of sight. Whilst ‘DJ Shadow’s largely brilliant set (marred by the underwhelming new collaborative songs he pushed at the end) was finishing ‘Tweak Bird’ were getting ready to go on at Sailor Jerry’s. Similarly whilst ‘Fatboy Slim’ taught the Big Top a lesson in dance ‘Health’ were tuning up in the Psychedelic Worm.
‘Tweak Bird’ are a Illinois based brother duo of bass and drums and although they’re albums haven’t shaken the world apart outside their stoner rock fan base, the boys proved that they are utterly insatiable and affecting live. Partly improvising amidst their existing body of work the brothers where undoubtedly the highlight of heavy this weekend as they tore Sailor Jerry’s apart in the rain.
Meanwhile ‘Health’, who despite having toured with ‘Crystal Castles’, collaborated with them on ‘Crimewave’ and being the headliners of Psychedelic Worm, found it hard to draw a crowd on Sunday night. A shame that once again proves they are one of the most under appreciated and under rated acts world over.
Spawning a unique sound, drenched in backlight and smoke, ‘Health’ will go down as one the last acts of the festival and perhaps one too ahead of their time. Primal, insidious and captivating ‘Health’ finished off a festival as diverse and exciting as any drug induced dream or fairy tale.
All in all Bestival 2011 was a an incredible plethora of sensory gorgeousity. Acts you may have been waiting years to see; more trippy than a fight between Werner Herzog and David lynch; more exciting that taking MDMA on a school night and frankly sexier than those ‘lesser’ festivals.
But in all seriousness Bestival transcends it’s middleweight attendance figures, it’s friendlier than the commercial giants and has a love for the green. Bestival attracts veggies, ravers, families, music aficionados, the mad, the high and even festival virgins – but more importantly, they all enjoy themselves.
Until 2012 then.