Across a deep deep sea, in a deep deep valley, some animals are arriving at Robin Hill Park…
The Isle of Wight once again plays host to a family of freaks and fiends, this time dressed in a frightening array of leopard print, fur, wings and extra legs. There are beetles and Beatles, spiders and birds, butterflies, dragons, whales and squirrels… fantastic foxes, wise owls and long necked giraffes as well as a few Bill Oddie looking gentlemen and fierce looking hunters with a wild look in their eye.
Thursday’s campsite frenzy is as comedic as ever, particularly in the case of a very heated debate over ‘space-saving’ which eventually warranted the input of security guards after a threat of tent-burning was made. Despite a few tiffs here and there, everyone seems to already be in the festival spirit as the fizz and crack of cans opening can be heard all around and the suspicious smells of herb waft past.
Thursday is no longer just a hang around the camp night – Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ lights up the crowd and Alabama Shakes play to a packed out tent, but Bestival favourites Hot Chip headline the Big Top to what seems like all forty thousand of today’s arrivals. Unfortunately the sound quality outside of the bursting at the seams tent doesn’t inspire much more than a wish to lounge around with a burrito, it’s not exactly the Hot Chip electronic spectacular we were hoping for. The real action is to be found at Arcadia, with enough fire and lasers to make your eyes burn and rave kids absolutely living it up on the first night. Just around the corner in the Healing Field (????) is the pod café, where you can laze in a padded pod swinging above your own little swamp (no, we don’t have a clue why…) and eat food from pretty much any cuisine you can think of, the halloumi wraps were exceptional.
Friday hails an Indian Summer, the number one wish of all Bestivalites, and the sun shines hard enough to cook campers right out of their tents. After a breakfast of turbo’ed Strongbow (with Jack Daniels, yes we’re exactly that classy) it’s off for a look around the enormous site. There’s way more to see and do at Bestival than anyone can fit in, but we attempt a go at as much as we can. Mainstage goodies include First Aid Kit and Adam Ant, the latter wearing his signature Napoleonic costumery and looking as mental as ever as he plays ‘Stand and Deliver’ to a sun lazy crowd. ‘Get It On’ gains applause and ‘Prince Charming’ sees a surprising amount of youngsters getting into the dance moves, it’s clear we have Adam Ant to thank for the likes of the ‘Macarena’ and ‘Saturday Night’.
Gallows draw a fair sized crowd but it’s cutesy Emeli Sandé who turns up the volume with ‘Heaven’ and ‘My Kind of Love’ as well as a quick rendition of Bob Marley & The Wailers ‘One Love/No Woman No Cry’. The XX’s main stage show certainly goes down well but stand out performance of the day goes to Scroobius Pip (plus his excellent live band) performing the last set of album tour ‘Distraction Pieces’. The Replay tent is wall to wall writhing bodies as Pip explodes onto the stage yelling ‘Let’s Get Rowdy’ and has a fight with the microphone. Wearing his signature trucker cap and hightops, (as well as a Sharpe tshirt and shark backpack, a nod to the wildlife theme maybe?) Pip burns through ‘Let Em Come’ and ‘Domestic Silence’ as well as the hugely popular, and rather funny ‘The Struggle’. After inciting a circle pit around the central pillar of the tent, the wiley Pip decides to go for a crowd surf around which ends in him hurriedly escaping back over the barrier when excited hands accidentally dropped him, stopping on the way to take a photo or two with some ecstatic animals.
Headline act Florence & The Machine take their new romanticism to a new level, as Flo’ swirls around the stage with her red hair streaming behind her looking every bit the fairy queen her music embodies. Hits ‘Rabbit Heart’ and ‘Drumming song’ get euphoric applause from the huge arena but closing ‘Dog Days’ is the all out karaoke song of the night with every voice in the crowd turned up to eleven trying to join in.
As any Besti-goer knows, the close of the main stage is never the close of the night and this is no more apparent than at the Big Top where 2ManyDJ’s are blasting out a series of hits and mashups, or Jamie XX blowing up the Roller Disco. If that’s not really your cup of chai, the Ambient Forest is full of exciting nooks and crannies, a band here, a DJ there, even late night films at the Amphitheatre.
Saturday early birds catch Mr. Motivator’s, ahem… worm? The man is a Besti-legend, and still has way more energy than he ought to. Dressed in his lycra onesie and headset microphone he gets the crowd up and jumping ready for the day ahead. Soulful Delilah rocks a Tiger print jumpsuit and performs new single ‘Shades of Grey’ protesting “It’s got nothing to do with the book”, and vocal behemoths Sister Sledge give everyone a good retro hit of ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’ whilst pulling a variety of wildlife up on stage with them. After a quick Katsu Curry at the new and extremely popular Wagamama lounge, it’s off to Beardyman at the Big Top, who samples himself complaining that “They always want a set list… I haven’t got a set list”.
In the streaming heat, Archerio, Kengo-san and a hibiscus adorned throne lifted by 4 burly stage hands, carrying Miguel of The Cuban Brothers, bring a touch of naughtiness to proceedings with their instance that everyone “touch each other”. Apparently Miguel can’t walk as he’s broken his banjo string, and instead brandishes his crutches as they “make love to [our] ear tunnels” with renditions of funk and hip hop classics. Archerio and Kengo delight with head spinning, rollerskates, break dancing and general smuttery, Bestival wouldn’t be the same without them. After they’ve given us our fill of ‘Mind bumming’ and a fun cover of Motorhead’s ‘The Ace of Spades’ we get to experience one of The Cuban’s idols – De La Soul. The hip hop trio pull out all the stops and give a classy performace, mirrored by some very poor attempts at Fresh Prince style dance moves in the crowd.
A bit of a rest in the Lost Picture Show for Jaws is a lesson in Bestival love, the giant mattress covered floor is strewn with limp bodies until famous quote ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat’ is uttered, gaining cheers all round. Headliner New Order come over a little dull in comparison to some of the previous energetic acts of the day, but they put on a solid enough performance, with a few Joy Division tracks mixed in. Back out in Arcadia, Kissy Sellout is burning up the open air dancefloor with heavy dirty beats and some truly brilliant samples, followed by the Arcadia cabaret and a lunatic performing acrobatic feats 100 feet in the air without a harness. Amazing.
Sunday is a gruelling get up after the excesses of the night before, but a breakfast burrito, corn on the cob or a lovely rotisserie chicken is all you need to revitalise. If you’re a little more precious about your morning routine, a wristband for the spa (saunas, Jacuzzis, massage etc.) might be more your thing, but the morning is a bit grey and windy so it’s off to warm up with a trip around the site. Pop into the Insect Circus Museum, see the Wall of Death riders, or get a saucy tickle at Time for Tease, or perhaps learn to breakdance in Club Dada, ride the big wheel or create your own nipple tassels this crafternoon. The drag show at The Grand Palace of Entertainment is the naughty front to a secret debauched club in the back, and the Dressing Up Tent is full of everything sparkly, furry and fierce you could want. Oh and don’t forget your pint of Bestivale from the Wonderland Inn before you slump at the Bandstand.
The main stage sees dynamic duo Rizzle Kicks, perform their high energy hits ‘Down With The Trumpets’ and ‘When I was Younger’ wearing Tiger and Red Panda onesies. During ‘Mama Do The Hump’ many an animal tail is given the Beyonce treatment, and comedy musical snippets of James Bond, Harry Potter and a cover of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Like I Love You’ get the crowd giggling along with the jokers. Unfortunately the first rain of the whole weekend trickles down to an unfortunate renaming… Drizzle Kicks.
Bat for Lashes put a downer on the excitement with a less than interesting set. It’s not that they’re bad per se, but it’s hard to get on board with something so sombre and soft when you’ve just had the upbeat Kicks in your ears. New single ‘Laura’ is better received but it’s still not enough to make a mark. Following on in the melancholy style is Iceland’s Sigur Rós, whose ethereal and somewhat pretentious style doesn’t really travel further than their current fanbase. There’s something a bit weird about band based on wailing unintelligibly into the microphone and using violin bows to play non-violin instruments. A quick look around the front row belies the truth, everyone is bored stupid. Yes yes, we know you’re supposed to like Sigur Rós because they’re all experimental and weird and that makes you ‘cool’, but this is Bestival, home of all out wildness and fun times. It’s not all bad, when the band get going and it becomes more orchestral, it can be great, but it’s permeated by way too much self-indulgence.
Luckily Stevie Wonder comes along to save the day with his soulful voice and plethora of anthems. Though his mic dips out here and there and the roar of the crowd sometimes drowns him out, this is a musical tour de force through the likes of ‘Master Blaster (Jammin’)’, ‘Signed Sealed Delivered’ and ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ as well as a couple of Marvin Gaye covers for good measure. The legendary musician stuns all hopping off his piano stool to belt out ‘Superstition’ and goes out with a bang singing the truly funny ‘Happy Birthday’. As the fireworks light up the Magic Meadow over the giant I (heart) Bestival sign, the oohs and ahhs come thick and fast from the mesmerised crowd. There are so many people here we must be creating a hot spot visable from space. As the arena clears, the exodus to the campsites and carparks of those getting on late night/early morning ferries is huge, but for those of us who can keep our eyes open, there’s lots more fun to be had this night. Deep in the dark woods, a cheer goes up for the Mulholland Drive lesbian erotica scene in the Amphitheatre and we settle in with a bag of free toffee popcorn for a bit of Blue Velvet, amongst the creepily blue lit trees.
Over at the Swamp Shack, although the outdoor stage is shut for the night, through the misty bayou into the back room is a sweaty dancefloor filled with bodies for B. Dolan’s Church of Love and Ruin. American rapper B. Dolan flaps out in purple papal robes to deliver a punch of political remedies, yelling “Who’s skint? After four days of drinking five pound beers?” and dropping into ‘Earth Movers’, ‘Which Side Are You On’ and ‘Film The Police’ and a rapped over sample of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Heard it Through the Grapevine’.
Bestival may be over for another year, but as sleepy little tigers and turtles creep for the last time into their tents, grins plastered over their chops, it’s clear that the memories of this one will keep them going through their winter hibernation. With important developments (like adding more camping space, and more exciting stuff to do) it seems Bestival went and got even better. On the precipice of becoming too big and losing a bit of the fraternity of it’s past last year, it seems Rob and co. have managed to pull it back from the brink and preserve the distinct feeling of home here on the IOW. It’s all over, and we already can’t wait for next year.