Bestival: Isle of Wight, 05-08/09/13
Bestival’s 10th birthday was always going to be spectacular. With a reputation for good times, fancy dress and great acts – Bestival did not disappoint on its 10 year anniversary and delivered a memorable weekend.
Despite the awkward nature of being located on the Isle of Wight, the atmosphere was buzzing at the Robin Hill Country Park. Hastily pitching the tent at dusk and heading into the arena – the first band I caught was Dog is Dead playing the Replay Stage. A solid set of indie was delivered and was a great warm up for M.I.A. on the Big Top Stage. The tent was packed out as she blitzed through an hour of music ending on the ubiquitous “Paper Planes” sing-along.
The theme this year was HMS Bestival and as usual the organisers Josie and Rob Da Bank went the extra mile to deck out the site in full nautical gear. Without question, the best HMS-themed addition to the site was the Port stage, a giant ship with strobe lights, lasers, fire cannons and a whole host of dancers and performance artists soundtracked by the best in dance music. The site itself is very well laid out, spacious but not too far spaced apart, stages rarely encounter sound intrusion from other stages. An abundance of food stalls and free stuff (Thank you Berocca!) made for a well distributed crowd. Logistically, the only downside for Bestival was the dire state of the toilets – especially on the Thursday night. It’s to be expected at a festival but the organisers clearly hadn’t expected such a packed out arena by 5pm Thursday. To give the organisers credit – they literally sorted their shit out and everything was much improved throughout the weekend.
The big names failed to disappoint. Headliners all did exactly what they said on the tin; Fatboy Slim was simplistic 90s party music, Snoop Dogg performed his handful of solo tunes and most of his guest features (including California Girls) and Elton John did all the crowd pleasers minus the Lion King. All professionals who have played to big crowds before, their sets were a showcase of what you get when you pay money for people who’ve been doing their thing for a long time. The only criticism is directly related – all the headliners were over 40. Sunday’s headliners Chic ft. Nile Rodgers and then Elton John attracted an older crowd – conspicuously absent throughout the rest of the weekend.
Of the names lower down the bill, the Flaming Lips confused the crowd by not playing their crowd pleasing and opting for a psychedelic set of grungey newer stuff rather than the upbeat stuff of old. Still, “Do You Realize?” had one man in the crowd in floods of tears as the big screen highlighted to the crowd. Chic and Nile Rodgers really got the party started on Sunday smashing out hit after hit to a brilliantly receptive crowd. Wu-Tang Clan played an odd afternoon slot to a huge audience, all the hits were doled out and the crowd along with a constant reminder that this was “real hip-hop”. Popstars of 2012 Bastille and Disclosure packed out the crowds and played their radio friendly stuff to a receptive audience. Johnny Marr delivered one of the more confusing sets of the weekend, the Smiths stuff went down a treat; “Big Mouth Strikes Again” and “How Soon Is Now” brought the house down but Marr’s own songs completely bombed and got almost no reaction from the crowd. He must be used to it by now but for an audience member it was a strange juxtaposition of adoration and boredom. Jon Hopkins delivered (in this reviewers opinion) the set of the weekend, choosing to play his intense, industrial stuff over the ambient and floaty piano led numbers. “Collider” was an assault of sound and every tune was mixed expertly, a master of suspense, building to a climax and release – Hopkins teased the crowd into a frenzy and delivered a seriously impressive hour. A hugely talented man.
The weekends DJs were very very good. Friday night was house night: Seth Troxler, Richie Hawtin and Maya Jane Coles all took to the stage and gave the elaborate stage the show it deserved. Saturday night hosted ‘Annie Mac Presents’ – Cyril Hahn played an hour of his trademark floaty, warped brand of dance music but sadly didn’t play his remix of Haim’s “Don’t Save Me”. Bashmore did his thing as we headed to Snoop, as we returned Toddla T was finishing off a raucous set before DJ EZ took to the stage. His drum and bass influenced kept the crowd going with the help of his energetic MC. Finally, headlining the Port was Hudson Mohawke, he dropped all his big tunes including TNGHT’s “Higher Ground” and the track he produced for Kanye’s Yeezus – “Blood on the Leaves”. A tight set packed with songs that the crowd went wild for – Hudson Mohawke was the perfect headliner. Sunday was drum and bass courtesy of the always dependable Hospitality. Then Knife Party took to the stage and the less said about them the better.
The weekend was an absolute blur, as soon as we’d landed we were back on the ferry. Regardless of who plays, Bestival is all about the atmosphere – the festival-goers all seem to be cheerier and less aggressive than other festivals of this size. It’s a tag that any festival would be proud of, it must be something in the Isle of Wight air that makes it so friendly. Here is to ten more successful years of Bestival.