Bestival: Robin Hill County Park, 06-09/08/12

And so September arrives. The summer is waning, term looming but Bestival raises its bejewelled head once again. It’s time to don the glitter, argue over clashes, grab your intoxicants and then forget it all in a flash of trees, lights and revelling. Rob and Josie da Bank put on a show that never leaves you wanting and we’re all here together. So off we trot.

Friday’s line-up was wonderful; an early evening performance by Alt-J was packed to the rafters, with people clambering on top of any available space in order to get a view over the swarm that had descended. As they reeled through their set, the undeniable lyrical master ship and unique vocal delivery coupled with those rattling hooks to demonstrate how An Awesome Wave has earned a coveted Mercury nomination. Favourites “Breezeblocks” and “Matilda” were pitch perfect whilst Something Good was nothing but eponymous. Watch them.

Nightfall brought The xx’s first festival performance in two years. Romy and Oliver’s duets were so close, even in that field, that you almost felt intrusive but elated to be invited along to the love-in. Jamie ran around the stage from drum machine, to mixing deck, to steel drum dropping in some of his signature solo sound. The notes seemed to permeate the crowd, lending a balance of vulnerability and control to their stage presence. Candid harmonies of “Islands” and “Angels” were the triumphs of a setlist fans wouldn’t dare wish for. Theatrics were unnecessary as the black-clad trio held the stage, the grandest prop being a gigantic X emitting an iridescent glow during the last moments of their performance.

Florence and her ever-expanding-Machine could have taken something from this. Joined on stage by a full choir and band, the ethereal Florence spirited about engaging the audience. Every breathless utterance from Welch was paralleled by an unfaltering bellowing of her lyrics by the crowd. It was a shame then that, despite this adoration, she bandied out the same spiel used elsewhere about needing ‘sacrifices’ and all that kooky drivel. Overall, quite impersonal; it left a yearning for smaller performances c.2009 when her zaniness felt spontaneous and less stage managed.

Saturday Main Stage was a field of nostalgia hosting the likes of Sister Sledge and De La Soul. Anthems of the 80s and 90s were pumped out; inescapably joyous but slightly out of place. New Order’s set felt long but the crowd seemed engaged. For those not initiated beyond the likes of Blue Monday this set was slightly lost. Each song started so well, but the vocal performance lacked the panache and showmanship of fellow ‘mature’ frontman, and last year’s showstopper, Robert Smith of The Cure.

Saturday’s best were in the afternoon. After cancellation by Azealia Banks, Jessie Ware was bumped up, giving a show without pretence (“I’m so snotty”, she cutely declared) and a cracking set of vocal cords making every track impassioned but humble. Disclosure, delivering on a burnout at Beacons, played a set laden with deep house favourites produced by the filial pair. The zenith came with a return to the stage from Jessie Ware providing live vocals for their rework of Running. Ben Howard was riotously received with every song prompting sing-along and a disbelieving smile from the Devonshire boy. Saturday’s line-up proved that bigger is not necessarily better.

Sunday, and Stevie, was the slot everyone was waiting for. Even non-diehards knew this was going to be something memorable; it was certainly that, not just for the incredible show, but also because Stevie is actually kinda’ odd. After covering Michael Jackson he called for us to chant ‘Michael’, for a little bit too long. But we’ll forgive him that because its Stevie f*cking Wonder y’all. Isn’t She Lovely was lifted to a point of pure elation as Stevie was joined by his daughter on stage. Bestival couldn’t have hoped for a better final night headline act. It’s impossible not to dance to “Superstition” or sing your heart out to “Signed Sealed Delivered”, even if the couple in front of you is practically engaging in coitus; the power of Stevie cannot be understated.

Sigur Ros, as headline warm-up, were disappointing with more drown-out bass than you’d expect and songs that were lost in the huge space. Lucy Rose performed a tender set of songs, evidently grown in confidence on stage from a couple of years ago. Four Tet B2B with Caribou were relentless, transporting you from Bestival to the hedonistic spaces of Berlin and back again. Four Tet finished off with the sublime Burial collab “Nova”, a track which transcends and allows you to just thrill in the feeling of movement and the ripple of the bass. The peak of the night came with Friendly Fires who battled against the odds of over-lapping with Stevie, fireworks and mass exodus to deliver an ecstatic performance that, with hits like “Paris” and “Hurting”, brought a carnival atmosphere to Sunday night. Singer Ed Macfarlane danced like Beyonce stuck in a white man’s body; his happiness infectious and jubilant and just brilliant.

The site, as always, threw up some lovely surprises; the ever-mystical woods are a favourite area. Running around the Ambient Forest is good enough but stumbling on a clearing full of people thrashing to Chemical Brothers footage with oversized yellow balloons was almost too much to handle. Further in one finds communal hammocks and UV ping-pong and reality begins to escape you. The wonderful thing is that you can wander off from the main areas and venture up to a Wall of Death or an underground restaurant. Clichéd as it may be, Bestival is an experience.

In fact, Bestival defies expectation. Year on year whipping you up in a whirlwind of acts, genres, and a Kate Bush cover act who sounds like she’s being felched. This year packed with a consistently eclectic and enticing line-up (here’s looking at you, Stevie) Bestival 2012 cemented its reputation as the place to be. Amongst rumblings that it has outgrown itself, I’ll say that Mr and Mrs da Bank have stuck to their guns; throwing a party exactly the way they want. Luckily 50,000 other people want it that way too.

Rosalind Hayes