Originally published: Virgin
Prior to Bestival kicking-off for its seventh year, its curator Rob da Bank said in an interview with Dazed Digital: “It’s like anyone who has a party round their house, you want it to go well, you want everyone to have a good time, you want them to go home happy. There are 46,000 people at Bestival but it’s no different to having thirty people there, you want to make sure everyone has the best possible time.”
Arriving on the Isle of Wight, you wonder if there has ever been a party there where more than 30 people have attended, ever, other than at a wake. So when an expected 46,000 people descend upon an aging isle’s population that is treating it like God’s waiting room, the sight of hoards of young hopefuls looking to tear a new arsehole into its peace and serenity in the hope of a ‘good time’ must result in a few grumbles.
But there is little to worry for those seeing out their innings there, as the Bestival-bound are boated in and bussed out to the Robin Hill county park without too much chaos (mainly due to Englishness and our innate ability to queue without fuss). Those that choose to go it alone and try and make it to the site through their own impatience may find themselves lost in a scene from The Wicker Man at best; at worst, they find themselves in the back of a police van wishing they were to be sacrificed to some pagan lord having been caught in possession of ‘good time’ supplies.
But this is the risk people run, as did Virgin Music, of sorts, when arriving on the Friday in the hope that their would still be space to pitch to new tent of unknown dimensions. And it was a risk that doesn’t pay off, especially when pitching involves the movement of four tents in the vicinity so your ‘porch door’ can be erected and you’re listening to the Wild Beasts’ set downwind in the campsite as a result.
With Delphic riding out the last of their appeal in front of a young crowd before they are uncovered as the over hyped charlatans that they are, Gil Scott Heron is showing his age during an hour’s set. “I know I was meant to play some stuff from the new album,” he reveals before pausing, “but I forgot.” ‘I’ll Take Care of You’ does make an appearance, but many of the songs that he churns out are reduced to a two-chord jam format for simplicity and ease on his withered frame.
Having won the Mercury Music prize the week previous, The xx’s appeal is far greater than the Big Top tent’s capacity. Their sound is somewhat distorted by the sound of laughing gas being unloaded into balloons by wide-eyed teens already buzzing around like bees in a Coke can, the softened sentiment of their debut album reaching those inside the tent, but not the 30-deep fans that gather outside.
Visually, the monolithic stature of Flying Lotus hanging over the decks is something to be feared; aurally, the electronic glitches that he spews into the air are something to embrace. Twisting and layering beats with great impunity, his workings from ‘1983’ and ‘Los Angeles’ are mangled into an electronic amitotic fluid of undulating rhythms that work the crowd into a euphoric bliss.
Despite having a crowd warmed to the stomach with E’s and whiz, Hot Chip do little to add to the flutters. Having turned to playing it safe with their Radio 2 friendly hits in recent releases, Hot Chip appear to have become banal careerists in order to beat the recession with their water coloured electro pop. I mean, if you are going to sell out, do it properly like Dizzee Rascal. Turn out the tunes hard and proper, so if you are going to be set up for a banger, you might as well churn out something as omnipresent and derivative as ‘Bonkers’ rather than leaving a crowd having to drop fire crackers down their pants in a vain attempt for excitement and movement.
Bestival is well known for its fancy dress-themed days, and this year the theme is fantasy. This literally means that anything goes, and ultimately, is only limited by the extent of one’s own imagination, eccentricities, or perversions.
Playing songs from his debut solo album ‘Familial’, Radiohead drummer Philip Selway isn’t dressed for the occasion, although his material does a pretty good impersonation of Simon and Garfunkel.
Dressed as everyone’s favourite hipster, Darwin Deez distracts everyone from how poor he is on a live setting by leading a workout in between every song. The trouble is, when your debut album has a backbone of two chintzy tunes (‘Constellations’ and ‘Radar Detector’) and a body of matted bum fluff around it, you barely have a leg to stand on, let alone to squat and thrust on.
Folk troupe Mumford and Sons didn’t win the Mercury, but their appearance on the main stage still had a triumphant air about it. And as a throng of fantasy-attired festival-goers gather before the group dressed as the musketeers, the rousing thrum of ‘The Cave’ and ‘Little Lion Man’ enrapture all in spirit and song.
With facial features that look like they have been chiselled out solid oak, Roxy Music’s Brian Ferry has aged tremendously well – as have the band’s tunes. Suited and booted, they rocket through the pop hits of ‘Virginia Plain’ and ‘Love is a Drug’ with an avant-garde demure, as well as cinematic swing of ‘Jealuous Guy’.
The Flaming Lips should be a quintessential festival band with their elaborate live shows, it’s just a shame that no one outside of their unhinged fan base can follow their tunes. But they live up to expectations: entering the stage from a visually-projected vagina on the back screen; Wayne Coyne emerging from the floor in an inflated plastic ball, only to attempt to run out on the crowd and fall arse-over-tit like a retarded hamster; psychedelic light displays; confetti guns; and of course, Wayne’s massive hands. Every show is a celebration of love and weirdness for the Lips, and this was certainly no different to any other as the crowd stood static, perplexed and weirded-out.
What better way to start the Sunday by waking up in a sea of sweat in your tent. It’s the only day to see sunshine over a weekend otherwise dominated by rain and cloud, so surprisingly, the film of dampness is a welcome alternative to precipitation.
Tunng help to add something of a lysergic glaze to the afternoon. Brooding and moving with every thrum, the London-based six-piece are grander and more earnest than their folktronic label grants them. Playing tracks from their most recently critically acclaimed album ‘…And Then We Saw Land’, their set also saw fan favourites ‘Bullets’, ‘Bricks’ and ‘Naked in the Rain’ played with great zeal – none more so than from lead singer Mike Lindsay, who bounces around on stage like a playful child.
Marc Almond looks like he has spent the summer months hanging next to veal in a shed in Yorkshire, so it’s fair to say that he is not content with playing an afternoon set in the last of the summer sun. “I’m not used to playing in the sunlight,” he would exclaim between songs for banter. Indeed, all the sunshine and possible happiness that it can bring does not suit his dark posturing, but the hits just keep on coming from the Soft Cell back catalogue; similarly with his latest solo effort ‘Variete’, which is just as camp but lacking the hooks of ‘Sex Dwarf’ and ‘Tainted Love’.
Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch is as charming as he is Liverpudlian. “It’s lovely to be here,” he greets the crowd as the band tune up. There’s an awkward silence before he continues: “Hurry up lads, I don’t have anything else to say to them.” Despite his lack of charm, his music still resonates with a dark splendour after all these years.
London’s Beardyman is as exciting as he is confusing. Looping and layering what he spits into the mic, the beatboxing champ is something of an autistic sound machine as he slips with ease through the beat-based genres.
Drawing a wonderful festival to a close, The Prodigy’s headline set was sure to go up in flames. Their recent album ‘Invaders Must Die’ has helped them bridge the gap between Old Man Rave of the Nineties and a new generation of aurally aggressive go-getting teens. And it’s easy to see why, what with the popularity of Chase and Status and Pendulum playing on their every influence.
Moving from the likes of ‘Breathe’ to ‘Invaders Must Die’ to ‘Poison’ with ease, they electronically weaved a thread through their back catalogue with a sense of classic neatness.
Aurally aggressive and intimidating throughout, Maxim’s delivery and sheer demonic presence is masterful. Referring to the audience as his “warriors” and “people”, a 30-foot circle opens at his command as ‘Warrior’s Dance’ kicks like a disgruntled mule, as a maelstrom of movement bustles to the build and break of the bass’s whoomp. Again, when he informs the crowd to ‘get down on the floor’ like an enraged gunman chomping at the bit as ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ gurgles in the background, they duly comply; jumping into the air on the cerebral command of the sub-bass shooting through the floor.
Apart from the histrionic firework display and disintegration of a tree house that followed, not much could top what was already a phenomenally well-run festival. Bestival has a spirit about it in the same way that Glastonbury does: there is always something going on; it can either be incredibly calming or ridiculously debauched; and you feel that you can take a break from your usual self once you’re there. Ultimately, if you’re not being entertained by the acts, you’re being entertained by those that attend in one way or another. Closing the festival season, it’s a definite must to party out the last of the summer or as a stay-casion at the least.