It’s that time of year again, where the rest of the UK has basically resigned itself to Autumn but Bestival-goers know that there is one last high summer fling to be had. Cars crammed with people and gear are flooding the ferry docks, horns are blaring, people are already on the drinks at 9am… off we go to the Isle.
Upon arriving at Robin Hill, it’s clear something has gone awry. For some unknown reason they’ve decided to trickle-open the carparks, meaning those wanting to camp in yellow can’t actually park in yellow because it’s currently closed. For those not au fait with Bestival’s layout – the giant hill/massive walk through three campsites to get from Red parking (which is the only one open right now) to yellow camping, is utterly soul destroying when you’re carrying 4 days’ worth of binge-drinking materials. The second fail of the day (related) is that by not opening multiple car-parks and therefore access gates, EVERYONE IN THE WORLD is queuing for red entry. Two hours to get in is beyond mental, hopefully this will be rectified for next year because it was truly the worst entry system we’ve encountered at a festival this year, and Bestival have done it so right the last five years or so before.
After finally trudging over and setting up camp (in a field where toilets haven’t been delivered yet… what is going on?!), it’s time to head over to the arena to see what’s what. Next big shock of the day… where on earth is the main stage? The stage that sits in its’ place is about a quarter of the size of last years’ behemoth and is low-down, downhill. There are a lot of short people who are going to be seeing absolutely nothing this weekend that’s for sure.
Luckily, The Magic Meadow is up and running with the true Bestival vibe to make us feel better about everything. Happily The Feast Collective has only been moved here, not banished because everyone is starving and the food is just incredible. Where else can you side by side order a grilled-shrimp-and-samphire burger, raclette draped chips and a spicy beef rendang? With a pint of Bestivale in hand it’s off to scout out some early bands.
Asylums on the Invaders of the Future stage are punky and lively, you can’t really argue with a band who love to perform. ‘Joy in a Small Wage’ is perfect rock band fayre, easy to sing along, great to dance to, and the band themselves are leaping around the stage as they play in front of the Day of the Dead bar.
The highlight of Thursday is Besti-faves, Hot Chip in the Big Top. Weird and wonderful as always they play to a busy tent despite starting at nearly one am, and their electronic melodies can be heard far and wide across the still-filling campsites.
Friday sees ferries delayed by the discovery of a World War II torpedo in Portsmouth harbour which is later disposed of by controlled explosion, but with everything soon back on schedule it’s becoming apparent that not enough camping has been opened by the festival this year. Having sold only 40,000 tickets compared to years’ 50,000+ it seems that a decision was made to condense campsites. However, they clearly went a field too far and people are scrabbling for space today.
Anyway, on to the first proper arena day and we find ourselves drawn in by the presence of The World’s Biggest Bouncy Castle over on top of The Grassy Hill. At a price of £5 for ten minutes of bouncing, it’s pretty damn steep, but hey we’re drunk and ready to throw some shapes. After knackering ourselves out, getting told off by the flip police, and avoiding serious damage it’s time to explore Caravanserai over in the Stardust Field.
What can I say about Caravanserai except, it’s magical. Surrounded by half-caravan seating booths, a carousel stage and Wurlitzer carts, it almost feels as if you’ve stepped into an American Horror Story set, without the inherent creepiness I guess. An area is being roped off by toothless yokels who are swigging something foul from an xxxx bottle and people are being called up to ‘dance off’ against each other, choosing ‘beats’ or ‘junk’ as backing tracks. As people crowd in we see a wookiee face off against a cheerleader who is throwing flips on a perilously downhill slant, a pole-dancer takes on a guy with a bizarre rope-tied tiny tears doll, and an extraordinarily drunk flying squirrel twerks at an Adidas clad musician. It’s bizarre and brilliant.
Heading out to the main stage for something a little less frenzied we catch Kitty Daisy & Lewis on the main stage as they whip out the harmonica for some bluesy riffs.
Next up are Bestival legends and all-round disgracefully wonderful pervs, The Cuban Brothers. No Bestival could be complete without them and their crazy array of stunts, tricks, the tightest jumpsuits ever seen outside of Olympic gymnastics and old school hip-hop vibes. Starting off in traditional carpet-print suits, Archerio and Kengo hit the stage with their dance duo which we as always attempt to emulate badly. Miguelito rocks ‘Mike For President’ in his gold wrasslin’ belt, and guest BAM from hip hop crew The Jungle Brothers comes out just in time to be accused of #sexyfavours. As they sing “I’m a Jungle Brother, and he’s a Cuban Brother” we see Juan Erection and Kengo bust out the big moves with huge flares, head spins and tucks. Mike pops into the crowd for a bit of fondling and then busts out the swan pants with absolutely zero shame. The Cuban Brothers are party central and the huge crowd is laughing and dancing along with them. The only sad bit? Kengo brings out his skates but the stage appears to be a bit wet to see him do any tricks. Damn!
Next up, Norwegian waif Aurora is elfin and adorable. Wearing a ton of knitwear in the high summer heat, she has a touch of Tilda Swinton about her, but oh that voice. She soars with ‘Winter Bird’ and instantly endears herself to us when by breaking her ethereal spell to say “I really had to pee before I came on stage, but when I started to sing… it went away. I didn’t pee myself on stage though!!”.
Years & Years hit the stage with a light-show based on the lines of their album cover and some pretty fabulous futuristic outfits. Frontman Olly Alexander is dressed in metallic geometric 8-bit armour which kind of looks like a Minecraft/Moschino collaboration and with huge ticker tape explosions they race through hit after hit. ‘Take Shelter’ and ‘Ties’ have everyone mesmerised and as snappy modern dancers flood the stage it’s clear the band have upped their production value in the last two years. Finishing up with everyone singing along to ‘King’, Olly yelling “I love this festival” and a massive rainbow streamer explosion from the top of the stage, they have been a perfect Bestival band.
Over in Bollywood there’s a sweaty crowd dancing their hearts out whilst cocktails are flowing at the cocktail bus next door. A tiny rave is happening in Sunday Best and there are people spread out all over sampling the culinary delights on offer here. Anna Mae’s Mac & Cheese deserves a mention for being the stodge that saved our souls after two bags of wine. Yes, bags. Praise cheesus!
Heading into the Ambient Forest for a bit of a calm-down, we take a stroll into the revamped Amphitheatre (amazing new design) but we are a little sad that the late-night movies have been axed this year, along with Scroobius Pip’s much loved Satin Lizard Lounge. The forest itself is full of new seating nooks and artistic installations like the Tron-esque musical pipes, and the tinkling of ivories can be heard through the secret entrance to the Gatsby-esque Blind Tiger.
Back to the main stage and Skepta has drawn a massive crowd for ‘It Ain’t Safe’ but it’s Major Lazer who really take it up a notch with thousands pouring into the arena for the likes of ‘Lean On’ and ‘Light It Up’.
Over at the Spaceport, set in a giant fuse box underneath a massive rocket, Carl Cox is lighting up the night with some solid beats, followed by Diplo straight off the back of his main stage performance. The ribbon-wrapped area, flanked by two huge astronaut installations is awesome, but the layout does make access quite difficult with thousands of bodies piled in.
Alas, predictions were true and the rain has put a stop to many of the wild and wonderful costumes we’re used to on a Bestival Saturday, not to mention the main parade has been cancelled due to ground conditions. Such a shame! However, spirits are never dampened at Besti when Mr Motivator is on hand for an early shakedown. There’s something weirdly comforting about a man espousing health in the midst of our foul hungover scurvy-wracked state. No I haven’t had any fruit for three days except in a cocktail, but I’m pretty sure I can keep up with these aerobics… probably…
The Chuckle Brothers are obviously both terrible and nostalgically hilarious but it’s Wolf Alice who deserve a much bigger, less soggy crowd for their soft, rock style. ‘Bros’ and ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ are brilliant and should have been sun-drenched. Hopefully we can catch them again at a less damp future Bestival. Lady Leshurr is a powerhouse performer with hit 'Brush Your Teeth' and clearly everyone is loving the return of Craig David, no matter how many times he says his own name.
Over at Invaders, Pretty Vicious’ ‘Cave Song’ has a huge crowd up and jumping including a rowdy bunch of people dressed as their older selves with inflatable zimmer frames – The Future, I geddit, very clever. Followed up by rowdy bijou band Hinds who rock so much pocket-power they practically eclipse the main stage sound, we are loving their energy. Yelling “What’s up Bestival! Bestival is the first festival we did as a band… we were so excited because it was the first time we ever had like an artists wristband!” they echo the sentiments of quite a lot of new bands who were given their first chances at this festival. Rob Da Bank and co. have always been right on the cutting edge of booking up-and-comers, allowing new acts to flow into the festival mainstream.
Onto tonight’s main stage headliner – The Cure. With probably half the crowd never having heard of them, it’s a pretty great turnout. Hits ‘Friday I’m In Love’ and ‘Just Like Heaven’ are absolutely amazing, but the three encores and an almost three hour set they perhaps go a step too far.
Next door on the Invaders stage, PC Music Allstars followed by Danny L Harle bring a small slice of electronic rave, then euphoria to the side of the Magic Meadow and the glowsticks are out in force (ermegherrrd right?) and as we head back to the campsites later on, the STA Travel garden is inexplicably packed with people winding to… Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl. Yep, that’s the last song in my head before sleep. Thanks guys.
Waking up to thankfully clearer skies it’s a chance to break out all the sparkly shit we couldn’t wear yesterday and walking through the tent graveyard, uh, campsite – it’s clear some people have gone full feral now. Broken poles poke holes in the sky as wellies (with feet still in them) protrude from tents, their owners flat out in oblivion.
The arena mud has dried enough to provide safe passage and it’s soon time for a bit of Electro-Swing with French movers and shakers Caravan Palace. At first a fairly small crowd has gathered but as they begin to blast out their strange mix of high tempo beats and jazz-swing riffs the arena suddenly becomes a bouncing, writhing mass of bodies throwing down together. It’s a big statement but I think CP are ‘the’ band of the entire weekend, the sun is out and the set is just incredible. Bow-ties and braces are the look, and cute and firey vocalist Zoé Colotis Charleston’s across the stage like she was born in the wrong decade. Hopping into the crowd to pull on a fans’ Union Jack tshirt, Zoé yells “We don’t care about Brexit, we love the UK!”. It’s a stellar performance and a great book for Bestival.
Over in the Big Top, a very different type of electro-swing-come-dubstep is going on with an incredible array of circus type acts to boot. Slamboree are fiercely Burning-Man in style, there’s a hint of cabaret mixed with Mad Max and freakshow vibes. Their sound is new, fresh and the fire-performers, skeletal dancers, fabric-winged fairies and kabuki masked creeps are amazing.
Taking a little time out up at Slow Motion, we laze in Solace with tea and cake, marvel at the Owl and Falconry display and laugh at Llama’s butts before attempting drunken hoop twirling and some hefty/danger fraught poi. The yoga tent looks great, but we are way beyond balance at this point.
In the Ambient Forest we stumble into becoming performers ourselves with the Uke band by The Gypsy caravans. With a song book filled with unlikely and brilliant options, we stay for renditions of Don’t Stop Believing, Friday I’m In Love, and go all out at the top of our voiced for The Final Countdown. This is the kind of unexpected happening that sets Bestival apart from other festivals, unplanned weirdness is always memorable.
The Out of Africa Bar & Disco Shed provide a little downtime as we listen to Michael Jackson jams and drink enormous cocktails whilst ducking to avoid the frenzied games of swirly tennis (swingball?) going on behind us. Grabbing some free fabric wristbands from the merch tent (if these were made up, why did we all get crap plastic wristbands for entry this year?) we stomp our way back to the main stage for Bastille.
Returning triumphantly to Bestival, Bastille are this time dressed in white jumpsuits with ww.com on the back, depicting their brand new album ‘Wild World’. Kicking off with old favourite ‘Bad Blood’ we know it’s going to be a good one, and the crowd is absolutely sardine-rammed into the arena. ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ and ‘These Streets’ are brilliant, and new track ‘Good Grief’ gets a great reception. Despite it not really being a surprise any more, we all get down with their cover/re-working of No Scrubs ‘No Angels’ and ‘Of The Night’ a mashup of ‘Rhythm of the Night’ and ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’.
Dual headliners Sean Paul and Wiz Khalifa make their mark on Bestival, with everyone getting their groove on, reliving their noughties youth. Though ticket sales say that this years’ headline choices perhaps weren’t up to Bestival’s usual standard, it’s clear those who are here are having a rowdy good time.
Now, hugging your mates and telling them you intensely love them is pretty standard practice at Bestival, it’s just that kind of place that makes you love the world, but the closing fireworks is where you can hold each other tight and reminisce on the great/hazy memories you’ve made this weekend. Soon you’ll be trawling through blurry pictures of yourself looking an absolute state and missing every single moment of this magical festival, but for now – we’re oohing and aahing at this amazing Prince Tribute. Complete with screened video, purple smoke and confetti, we are truly sad that Prince never made it to Bestival, the kind of place that would truly have revered him and his music. The solar system rings of fire glow below as massive rockets flower in the sky and it is beautiful.
The night is still young for those squeezing every last ounce of Bestival into their souls, and The Human League are playing to a huge crowd in The Big Top. ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ and ‘Don’t You Want Me’ go way beyond karaoke and into the you-can’t-hear-the-band-because-everyone-is-singing territory.
Caravanserai is also full of life, with fire performers, aerialists and tightrope walkers walking high above cosy groups of people laughing in waltzer cars, whilst bursts of fire flame into the night from The Spaceport in the distance. Grabbing some gourmet grilled cheese we make the last trek back to the tents, watched by the shining eyes of the Lovebot.
There have been many harsh reviews floating about for Bestival this year which I think are largely unfounded. Yes things were very different which definitely came as a shock after the sheer grandiosity of the last few years, but the atmosphere was as ever, oh so Bestival. The creativity, beauty and balance was still there – all the things Bestival is renowned for. For every mad moment where something truly serendipitous has caught you off guard, where something held you in the kind of wonderment you thought you’d lost after childhood, and for every second you forgot your problems and just let loose, Bestival is the engineer. The thought that drives this festival is apparent in every corner, no matter the budget. I will be there next year with bells on. Or whatever stuff the new theme requires really.
All photographs © Andy McHardy – please do not use without permission.