There is nothing like the utter glee of throwing off the shackles of work and life for one final splurge of hedonism at the festival season’s last hurrah – Bestival. Seasoned Besti-goers have sat back and watched the Glastovians, Creamfielders, V-lovers and Reading-heads toddle off for weekends of muddy silliness, and smirked a wry smile at the thousands of Moss-alikes in their tedious wellies-with-knicker-shorts combos. Now, the waiting game is over and Bestivites the country, nay world over, are flocking to the Isle of Wight for four uninterrupted days of pure high summer mayhem in the beautiful setting of Robin Hill, by hook or by crook (well, by ferry, hovercraft or swimming really…) they are chasing their bit of paradise.
Thursday saw campsites being opened early due to the large number of eager beavers waiting at the gates, and better parking organisation around the Yellow parking area meant that everything ran super smoothly getting in. With an array of campsites to choose from there’s a home-turf for everyone, and tribes are picking their areas, giggling with memories of campground legends from years past. The sun is already out as tents pop up, and the arena is beginning to buzz. Heading up to Peace Hill, sun-soakers are taking in a lively performance from Juke and The All Drunk Orchestra, with glittery hippy types up and dancing like loons immediately.
Many Bestivites count snacking on delicious butter-slathered corn-on-the-cob a rite of passage up on Peace Hill, but there’s also stunning Lobster and chips brought in from local Vetnor, fabulously flavoured ice creams (honey and ginger anyone?) and the very acceptable Bestivale available for the discerning gourmand. If you’re looking for a mental challenge, there are talks at Bestiversity all weekend, and the Science tent has many interesting experiments to try out with the help of some extremely knowledgeable scientists. Heading for a wander up the hill, Tiny Town is a giddy little exercise in hiding in kids playhouses to scare the living daylights out of each other, and the wooden Maze is surprisingly complicated, good for a race around and it’s always comical to bump into someone dressed as a Panda or Palm Tree, at speed.
Despite the woods and Bollywood/Port area being closed for Thursday, there are lights and sounds everywhere, with a million things going on. Caravanserai is a little wonderland through a magic door, you can sit in the sawn-halves of gaudily decorated proper caravans to drink your cocktails, have a boogie on the Carousel dancefloor or cuddle up with your mates in the Wurlitzer seats for a while. Next door is The Feast Collective, a new addition to the Bestival family. The big tent hosts a myriad of incredible food outlets to satisfy any craving – handmade maki rolls, raclette oozing over… everything, baked camembert, hearty goulash, Indian street food, great British pies, American loaded hotdogs and even incredible soft-shell crab burgers. The quality of food around the Bestival site always amazes, but this is truly a step into the weird and wonderful. To compliment all this, there are heaps more benches and tables out than in previous years and the music coming from the newly housed Polka Stage in the Travelling Barn is excellent. If none of that is quite enough, watching the sun shimmer on the record-breaking and truly incredible gigantic Disco Ball installation, or getting an eyeful of ‘Christina’ at The Grand Palace of Entertainment, or maybe some first night music like the odd brilliance of The Correspondents, or classic Beck to tip you over the edge into your Bestival adventure.
Friday sees the opening of Bollywood and The Port, the dance/electronic capital of Bestival. The Port is a huge ocean liner type installation where DJ’s play from the roof along with dancers, firebreathers, a couple of giant mermaids and arial acrobats suspended from a crane above the crowd, it’s like everything that could be hilariously weird to the terminally trippy has come together in one heart-pounding bass heavy place. The Sunday Best shop and cocktail lounge is selling jam jars full of icy mojitos, Bollywood is violently bright and brilliant, with people draped over the box seats underneath shimmering coin-laden umbrellas and the Helter Skelter/Wall of Death/toboggan run combo downfield is a big kids dream.
Heading into the deep dark woods there’s a noticeable increase in the number of giant net hammocks hiding amongst the trees, where naptime is a genuinely acceptable event for grown ups in the middle of the day. Glittering lights, waterfalls, playparks, hidden pools and a massive synthesiser installation to play with are just some of the things you can see in The Ambient Forest, before you burst into a clearing at The Amphitheatre. Spoken word artist/rapper Kate Tempest’s pre-show interview is witty, intelligent and truly captivating, hearing her talk about her work and life is a real insight to a genuinely talented individual. Back at the Main Stage, secret act Lethal Bizzle is hyping up the crowd with an attempt at a mosh pit and The Harlem Shake. Up next Laura Mvula’s beautiful vocals soar across the arena but there’s not much of a crowd, whilst over at The Bandstand, Motif are playing to a sun-baked audience and getting jazzy.
Back at The Amphitheatre, Scroobius Pip’s Satin Lizard Lounge is kicking off with spoken word artists Harry Baker (with a hilarious rendition of Ed Sheeran’s A-team based on desserts), the nervous ball of energy that is Tim Clare (we loved ‘Noah’s Ark and Grill’) and the raw, honest words of Kate Tempest.The evening sees the main stage light up for Disclosure, and a guest appearances from Eliza Doolittle for ‘Me & You’ and Sam Smith for ‘Latch’, gets the arena bouncing, but headliner Outkast come across a bit flat in some places. Hits ‘Ms Jackson’ and ‘Hey Ya’ have everyone up and screaming but more rap-based songs don’t quite hit the mark. Heading over to The Big Top, newly reinvented La Roux (with her band who are performing at a big UK festival for the first time) draws a huge crowd for her soaring vocals, and both new and old tracks go down a storm, particularly ‘Bulletproof’ – one of those perfect hazy Bestival night moments that everyone will remember.
Fancy dress Saturday is sort of a misnomer at Bestival now, everyone dresses up all weekend anyway, but Desert Island Disco is the theme and everyone seems to have embraced the sparkles, sequins, rainbow and afro combination with wild abandon. Though the theme isn’t as clear as previous years and there aren’t as many ‘big’ costumes as we’ve seen before, everyone is joining in, and there’s a pleasingly distinct minority of the sort of people who buy “Festival Fashion” that seem to come in droves at other festivals. An early start and crazy booking for Welsh Reggae-Metal band Skindred, who usually hit up festivals like Download at Donington Park and have a distinctly black-tshirt wearing fanbase. They absolutely tear it up on the main stage, gaining many new fans with current album tracks such as ‘Ninja’ and anthem ‘Warning’ – getting the crowd to join in for some t-shirt whirling for their ‘Newport Helicopter’. Despite a sparse and lazily sunbathing crowd, pop princess Sophie Ellis Bextor surprise all with a solid set featuring hits and covers, notably Moloko’s ‘Sing It Back’, as well as ditching her red-ridinghood dress halfway through for a theme appropriate saucy grass skirt costume. Joking “If the giant disco ball were to fall on me and kill me, it would of course be… Murder on the Dancefloor” she ends the set with a giggle. Bestival stalwarts and kings of comedy The Cuban Brothers are always the funniest thing you’re going to see all weekend and this is no exception. Lewdness, rudeness, downright dirtiness, nothing is out of bounds for Miguel and co. but the music and the dancing holds up, Archerio, Kengo and Dominico one up each other with B-boy and breaking moves whilst Miguel takes his keks off and gets busted by security whilst quipping that he used to “do too much nose-whiskey” and telling everyone to “touch each other in the correct manner”. Kengo/Kenny (“the bastard”!) comes out in a white jumpsuit to do a touching rendition of Whitnney’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ and the finale of three Cubans doing a press-up tower with Dom barrel-flipping over the top is truly impressive.
Over in The Big Top, a very special event is the final show of Dan le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip, before they head off to pursue their own individual projects. Personally introduced by Bestival curator Rob Da Bank himself, the duo come busting in with ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’ Dan and Pip show why their three album collaboration has been so successful, as the crowd go mental. Pip laments “The first time that we played was here in this tent. We weren’t even allowed on the stage, we were in a DJ booth on the front and it was really late”. ‘Sick Tonight’ is powerful and has everyone singing along despite the speed of Pip’s verse and the pair joke “Can they jump and clap? Yeah! This is Bestival it ain’t no fucking Reading or Leeds crowd!”. ‘Get Better’ is a fan favourite and their first ever song ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ (with a little addition of ‘Thou shalt not question Rob Da Bank’) is perfectly executed. Sharing a hug and final photo on stage, Dan and Pip go out with a bang. It’s the end of an era and Bestivites who’ve been with them from the beginning are right there with them.
After a recharge up at The Solace Tent, and an open-mouthed stare at the sheer size of Bestival from the hill-top, it’s down to the main stage for the ambient and soulful London Grammar, followed by headliner Foals, whose sound gets a bit lost in the noise of the surrounding tents. The grassy area outside The Polka Club is ambushed by the tartan clad New York Brass Band playing a rousing rendition of ‘Happy’ and The Big Top is packed from the inside of the tent right out to the food outlets surrounding for Basement Jaxx. Many are questioning the decision to put Foals on the main stage and Jaxx in the tent, as the sound is severely dampened from the outside, and from the view that Foals did not hold a particularly dense headline crowd earlier compared to the thousands who are trying to get into the Big Top. ‘Good Luck’ and ‘Red Alert’ almost lift the roof off the tent and security try in vain to get those who’ve shinned the poles for a better view, to get down.
The final day at Bestival has come, and Sunday’s vast lineup of music, poetry and activities is no less full or impressive than the last few days. Clean Bandit take to the main stage for an amazing sunshine filled electronic set with the crowning jewel ‘Rather Be’ belting out across the arena and proving to be the perfectly apt lyrics for the Bestival crowd who are hugging each other close; “We’re a thousand miles from comfort, we have travelled land and sea, but as long as you are with me, there’s no place I’d rather be”. Due to the cancellation of Busta Rhymes, the main stage crowd is instead treated to another member of the Bestival family, DJ Yoda – whose hilarious AV show and samples from movies and TV are played on the giant stage screen, along with a flashing line of text proclaiming “I am not Busta Rhymes’.
Major Lazer play a raft of current mixed up current hits such as Oliver Helden’s ‘Gecko (Overdrive)’ and Keisza’s ‘Hideaway’ whilst club dancers thrash about on the stage and Diplo pretty much steals stage gimmicks from everyone (Skindred’s Newport helicopter as seen earlier in the day, neon ticker tape canons, even the Zorbing ball a la The Flaming Lips and a frankly embarrassing attempt at a circle pit…). In the Big Top one of the most incredible shows of the weekend – Chvrches completely makes up for the aural assault of Major Lazer, with swooningly beautiful vocals and the kind of electronic wizardry that makes you feel like your heart is trying to get out of your mouth. The tent wasn’t full, but the people who made it in there can count themselves lucky to have caught an absolutely stunning set from the Scottish band.
Sunday headliner Chic Featuring Nile Rodgers was beset by a band tragedy – guitar tech and long time friend Terry Brauer having died just before the show began, and Nile broke into tears a number of times during the set. Despite this, it was the great disco showdown that we had been promised by Bestival, Nile’s incredible discography speaks for itself and the sheer quality of Chic shone through. Hits a plenty had everyone pulling out their best Saturday Night Fever style moves and winding up Bestival in the best way possible, pure unadulterated party. The closing ceremony saw the giant disco-ball hoisted into the air via crane, glittering in the spotlights, and a barrage of incredible fireworks lighting up the arena over Peace Hill, and anyone who grabbed a pair of shimmery glasses from the physics area of the Science tent got an extra special psychedelic show on top of it all.
Of course, nothing’s ever really the end at Bestival… The woods are calling with secret parties and DJ sets, The Port is aflame and going strong, The Grand Palace of Entertainment is still as indecent as ever, and ‘Almost Famous’ is being screened in The Amphitheatre… we’re going wherever the night takes us, for one last time this year…
Photos by James Bridle