There may not be a swankier, or more invigorating way to bid the summer goodbye other than the rambling festivities happening on the Isle of Wight, titled as Bestival. This year the founders of Bestival, Rob Da Bank and Josie, adopted the theme of Desert Island Disco and entranced Robin Park with bright colours, pineapples, tropical shindigs and the world’s largest disco ball, as deemed by the Guinness Book of World Records. Desert Island Disco gave the audience the crazy-fuelled and creative opportunity to dress up as anything from a joint palm tree to fabulously ridiculous and matching rainbow lycra wetsuits. Fancy-dress madness aside, whilst imaginative festival-goers are keen on paying the gratifying £200 for the five day delirium that is Bestival, I was not at any financial liberty to do so at the time, and that’s where Festaff pretty much saved the day for me.
As I know that anybody reading this review will be adamant on reading about the music and the festival in general, I’ll keep my comments about Festaff to a minimum. You work (as a volunteer) two 8-hour shifts, meet amazing people, may easily switch shifts with someone else (to see the acts you wish to see) and are overall treated like family by all super-friendly Festaff members. On top of that, your deposit (£30) is returned to you before the festival ends with a tip of £5 along with free meals during your shifts. So if you’re into the volunteering spirit and short of cash, I don’t see the reason why not to do this for every festival. Now let’s get down to the serious stuff.
During the festival, I found myself constantly pondering why certain (very popular) acts, like La Roux, tUnE-yArDs, SBTRKT and Bonobo, were in the Big Top and not on the Main Stage. There was not only a problem in terms of over-crowded capacity, but they would have been thoroughly more aesthetically pleasing on the Main Stage. Headliners like Outkast were underwhelming in the vast, grassy and open space that is the Main Stage – they might have been more suited to a large tent like the Big Top as it’s bound to get sweaty, bumpy and grimy just like their music.
But it all didn’t go wrong on the Main Stage. Laura Mvula’s emotive hymns graced the audience on the Friday afternoon, offering nirvana to on-lookers laying about on the grassy hill above the Main Stage. Entertaining and ridiculing acts like the quirky and over-the-top Cuban Brothers kept audiences entertained and giggly throughout their Japanese performer interactive ensemble on the Sunday afternoon. Busta-Rhymes never showed up having cancelled his European Tour, but that just meant that the glorious record-scratching of DJ Yoda was to fill his spot on the Main Stage, getting bodies to move in contorting ways on the final day of Bestival.
At the Big Top, La Roux, taking headliner spot for the Friday night, was surprisingly breath-taking to say the least, given her synth-pop sound and the release of her 5-year-wait new album. Perhaps she would have been able to take up the (at the time) empty performer spot on the Main Stage and delivered even more dynamically and to a larger crowd, instead of letting a tent over-flow with fans and in consequence leaving many untouched by her magic.
Preceding La Roux, an upbeat and slightly raw performance by tUnE-yArDs set a great start to Friday evening in the Big Top. The layered and looped drum patterns accompanied by delightfully senseless chanting got people moving the right way and interacting playfully with the band. Nevertheless, their almost afrobeat performance would have been better suited in an outdoor space seeing as they played off tribal vibes – maybe Main Stage material?
Regardless of minor staging hiccups, Darkside did the tent’s ambience (and smoky, strobing lights) justice on Saturday evening, playing off the atmospheric vibes of the sunset. It was one of the most outstanding and visually pleasing performances of Bestival, and not just because of Nicolas Jaar’s brooding attitude, leaving enough room for people to sway. Unlike Bonobo and SBTRKT, who caused a ‘let’s all rush to the Big Top’ uproar, which overflowed over 20 rows of people outside the tent.
Unfortunately their performances were too painfully average for me to stick around until the end and indulge in; I would have preferred to be able to sway to Bonobo’s music rather than be crushed slowly and painfully by a crowd who were only there to hear North Borders. Regardless of this issue, you must admire BBC Radio 6 for curating such a beautiful line up at the Big Top, and if you’re not tiny like me you would have possibly enjoyed the vertically ascending setting.
The Invaders of the Future tent was a new addition to Bestival this year, carrying three acts who I’d never had the pleasure of experiencing; Glass Animals, Factory Floor and Pional. On Thursday’s opening night, the Invaders tent was one of the few stages ready for artists (the Main Stage opened on Friday). Being located in one of the busiest camping and food areas of Bestival, and given the rising popularity of Glass Animals, Invaders of the Future tent was invaded by fresh festival fiends.
Despite their 45-minute soundcheck tardiness, their performance was outstanding, as it revelled even better than their album. The soothing vocals complimented the vigorous bass to the point that it riled up the crowd to not only dance but also throw their inflatable coconuts and other tropical items into the air. The only trouble was that they were only allowed to deliver for 20 minutes as a consequence of their lateness, which is completely understandable on Bestival’s part. I would have hoped that the unique sound they produce would come along with professional conduct on their part, and from what I know they have been late to soundcheck at many other festivals like Dimensions, thus they should look to correct it.
It was a busy night for the Invaders of the Future. However, as the festival progressed, I realised how people didn’t pay much attention to the tent, perhaps due to the fact that everyone was rambling towards the Arena where the Main Stage and the Big Top were situated.
It was a shame as I saw two very talented live acts on the Saturday night; Factory Floor and Pional, who merely had 30-40 people listening in. Factory Floor engorged me into a deep trance-like state of dance, and watching them perform was something special, as one would use a violin string or drum-stick to create sound from her guitar.
Whilst Factory Floor had retained the odd 30-40 listeners, Pional only had 10-20 audience members; it was getting late and Basement Jaxx were also performing a thoroughly robust and bouncy set at the Big Top. Pional’s performance for me was actually the most pleasant and unexpected surprise during Bestival. So young, and yet being in complete control of all aspects of the music (vocals, beats, synths, etc.) is admirable to say the least, but his rendition of ‘Blanc 1’ blew me away even more than just listening to it being played out by a DJ. He easily could have been an addition to one of the more popular stages, and I’d keep my eye out for Pional within the next couple of years – hopefully there will be a more deserving turn-out!
The Indian flavours weren’t just coming from all the delicious curries around the food stalls, but also the extravagantly decorated Bollywood Stage. Bright hanging stars and neon-splattered elephants would grace you as soon as you entered, immediately giving off the exotic vibe that dominated and merged with the DJs who were set to play there. Prime example of the merge happening between DJs and the space would be Awesome Tapes from Africa, who played for a couple of hours during the Friday afternoon. Brian Shimkovitz, who runs Awesome Tapes from Africa as a record label that collects tapes as artefacts and uses them to DJ, indulged us with African-drum vibrating beats and sounds that I can only describe as the perfect hybrid between disco and afro-beat music perfect for the outlandishly decorated Bollywood.
The Indian ambience to Bollywood wouldn’t be the same without the hot, sticky and sweaty dancing bodies that would pack it during the night hours. Such was the case when David Rodigan, John Talabot and Âme took the stage once the light had vanished from the sky and the real Bestival foolishness ensued. Unfortunately, trying to get to the stage whilst David Rodigan was playing was simply impossible as it was packed full and you could feel the heat coming from the tent from 2 feet away; but from what I could hear, I would have really enjoyed it had I gotten myself there earlier, as he blasted away with an entertaining variety of electronic classics and dub reggae.
I must admit that I was very disappointed to hear John Talabot’s set, as I am a big fangirl for his productions and album ƒIN, but his set failed to recreate the feeling that his productions stir in me; the musical selections for his set were dull, repetitive and unadventurous. The same, however, cannot be said for one part of Âme, Kristian, who I also crush and ‘go-gaga’ for; he was nice enough to take a picture with me and pull a face for it whilst I was drunk and in a Pikachu onesie in the past, so you may say it was love at first sight. Regardless of this, Kristian always serves the best unreleased gems to the public, and that’s why I adore him and his music taste so much. Delivering bass-lines and synth-lines that warm my heart, thus making me look to the ceiling thinking about how great my life is at the given moment, but at the same time keeping it funky enough to keep bodies moving and creating a moist and warm sweat drip on the roof of the tent. Disgusting, but at that point the music was so good that nobody cared and neither did I.
The Red Bull Academy Stage is renowned for putting on the best electronic acts and DJs, providing the public with infinite moments of boogying bliss at festivals such as Sonar. I was eager to listen to what was happening on the Saturday night, when DJ Harvey was hosting his ‘Discothèque!’ in which himself, Daniel Avery and the Pachanga Boys were playing.
Showing up to the stage, mid-afternoon, for DJ Harvey’s intro, I felt myself be let down by his performance since he played an almost ambient and progressively minimal set which had no beat or flow to it, thus letting most of the crowd there down as everyone was itching to get a warm-up set and not a ‘sit-down’ set. However, Daniel Avery and Pachanga Boys certainly did please the crowd, Avery going in strong with his usual acid techno and deep basslines. Sometimes I wish he’d show a little bit more diversity in what he plays, but he was incredible regardless, and he’s young so he’s still growing.
Pachanga Boys, much older and more experienced, blew everyone away with their playful, almost-verging-on-disco beats. When ‘Legs’ came on, fires starting splurting on either side of the stage as if the technicians were listening to the instructions that Pachanga Boys were giving: ‘Let’s set the place on fire!’. The warmth on my cheeks felt like bliss and I would gladly catch them play again, anywhere.
While it’s all fine and dandy to write about the big and more popular acts that were playing on the big stages, I can’t stress enough how important it is to give support to those who don’t have a fancy PR team behind them. Bryan Whellams, or otherwise known as Flying White Dots, captivated all of those in the Ambient Forest on the Saturday night. Offering a striking contrast to what Bestival usually offers, his set played chilling gems such as Erik Satie, Cinematic Orchestra, Pink Floyd and Boards of Canada.
For most of us, it was a nice break from all the intensity that was Bestival, however I can’t seem to get over the fact that whenever the music lowered a bit, all you could hear was Annie Mac’s piercing atrocities coming from the Port. Worst of all, once Mr. Whellams had finished his set, I was stranded in the forest, which meant that I got to hear the full set from Annie Mac. I’m going to take two or three lines to describe this ‘un-notable’ mention because that’s how upset I got at the time. Not only does Annie Mac treat the crowd like children, constantly talking into the microphone and telling everybody to bounce harder like it’s an aerobics class, but I don’t think she grasps what it means as a DJ to create a journey for their crowd. You cannot, and it is distasteful to, play ‘Walking with Elephants’ by Ten Walls in between two very commercial, typical, cheap house tunes and also mix it in horribly while ignoring the build-up; it just doesn’t work.
So now that my rant is over, I’d like to talk about Ushti Baba, who played at the Polka Stage in the Travelling Barn, and might be described as Balkan beat-boxing. Ushti Baba are a 7-piece ensemble Balkan band who have introduced gypsy music with beat-boxing as a form of percussion. They were vibrant and had a great stage presence which had everybody in the tent dancing a fast folk-step.
A pleasant and hidden surprise I stumbled upon on the Sunday night included Mungo Jerry! The ’70s band were playing in Pig’s Big Ballroom, one of the smaller tents at the festival, but it was nice to hear that they haven’t lost their touch, and in addition to that, see the much older crowds at Bestival interact with the younger ones.
In the Grand Palace of entertainment, Gutterslut were delivering tasteful electronic dance music of all kinds, but more importantly it was at one of the ‘queer-er’ and more controversial stages of Bestival; they had inflatable penises and other such toys floating about amongst the crowd, keeping them entertained. Gutterslut are an ensemble in London who focus on entertainment as a platform for the LGBTQ masses there, and it was the final act I was curious to see before returning to my shift and leaving the Festival on Monday afternoon.
The winning factor of Bestival is that it has so much more to offer than just music. The Amphitheatre put up plays everyday throughout the day, such as Shitfaced Shakespeare, but make sure you get there in advance because to my surprise they are so popular that we were denied entry because capacity was full. A lot of spoken word took place around Bestival, including a Roundhouse Cabaret put up in The Grand Palace of Entertainment, which I had the joy to watch. And it’s not all about the entertainment, as a lot of campaigns such as the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) had set up a stall and were getting people to paint and receive a free tattoo supporting them. The Carnival, which takes place every year at Bestival, featured extraordinary floats and costumes, including giant rainbow peacocks, live drumming and samba band/dance ensembles for people to stand and stare at, or have the guts to join in!
If there is one feeling to describe Bestival with, it would be joy. Bestival is one of the most joyful festivals, that also offers a variety of things to do on the rare occasion that there is nobody performing that you particularly want to see. And if that’s not enough, the 10-minute blazing firework display, along with the raising of the world’s largest disco ball, was a magical spectacle that would get you to go even if you aren’t that interested in the music. I would definitely return, and as clichéd as this may sound, it is called Bestival for a reason.