Roll up, roll up! It’s the most colourful show on earth! We’re back at Lulworth Castle for Bestival’s second year in it’s new location and it’s 15th Anniversary year, the UK is hotter than Mordor right now and we’ve packed enough glitter to ice an entire season of Drag Race.
Ok, first things first. Getting in. After a miscommunication about certain carparks being full (they weren’t) and half our group being sent miles across site, we finally a few hours later manage to pitch up in Rainbow Rave camp. The first thing we notice after grabbing ourselves a lanyard (sans tote bag and programme, we really miss those!) and setting up the tents, is that there appears to be precisely ONE block of portaloos for the entirety of Rainbow camp. Seriously. It’s by far the largest campsite too. That is so not going to be fun in the morning…
Heading into the arena for a first look around, we also notice that there are absolutely no food vendors in Rainbow either… meaning we can say goodbye to a nice morning stroll for breakfast before getting ready to go out for the day. Unimpressed is an understatement – it was considerably better on both food and toilet fronts last year, two things that can really make or break your camping experience.
However, one new development which we wholeheartedly approve of, is the new “integrated site” layout (which is actually just a return to Bestival’s of old) whereby there’s no discernable divide between campsite and arena. This crucially means that there are no bottle-neck lengthy security queues and you can take your camping alcohol along with you – anywhere!
It’s also great to note that since last year’s unfortunate drug-related death at the event, Bestival has immediately stepped up their game. There are police officers and dogs on the campsite gates, as well as ‘The Loop’ – a drug testing service on site and lots of very noticeable ‘Chill Welfare’ helpers dotted around the place, as well as an Amnesty bin. Drugs are always going to make it into events, no matter what precautions are put in place, so it’s great to see Bestival addressing the problem from multiple angles.
Anyway as we walk through the site we immediately spot some differences from last years’ debut – The Temple is now nestled at the bottom of a giant hill halfway between camping and the main arena, it looks absolutely stunning and now offers a place to sit back and take it all in, if you don’t feel like getting in the middle of it. Previously it was at the top of a slope instead but we think this orientation is going to work out so much better, it looks like a beautiful secret club in the woods, with a hillside covered in fluttering silk flags. HMS Bestival has also moved to less of a thoroughfare spot, but it is still disappointingly tiny compared to it’s original iteration as ‘The Port’.
We also spy a frankly MASSIVE trapeze set up on the hill and a high-wire fenced off in the centre of ‘Cuckoo Clump’. This whole area has changed completely, it’s considerably more open and inviting than last year’s higgledy piggledy maze of vendors and spaces. We spy Stacey’s and House of Vans on our way past but we’re heading straight for the Castle and The Feast Collective for some top notch grub. As we head through the lawn we pop over to say hello to DJ BBQ, who is enjoying a beer whilst standing in his own paddling pool. So jealous right now. He reliably informs us that he’ll be slinging more meat on tomorrow, as well as giving us frequent air guitar shows on his own miniature stage.
Now I’ve raved about The Feast Collective every single year, the variety and quality are unparalleled at any other festival in the UK, but oh my gosh. It’s hotter than hell in the tent but we are all overwhelmed by the smells and sounds, the long picnic tables down the centre and pretty fairy lights. My first festival meal has to be Shrimpy’s – a tray of battered prawns, hand cut proper chips and a heap of samphire. It’s effing decadent festival dining let me tell you. Following it up we give the edible cocktails a try, Blue Lagoon is horrific, but Espresso Martini is a delight, even if you do feel like you’re joining the ill-advised tide pod craze.
After a quick look at the Castle field we head into the Old Mout Kiwi Camp for a singalong, it’s always karaoke time in there and the tent is rammed, so we settle ourselves into a massive hammock thing and add our drunken voices to an absolutely dire rendition of Fugees ‘Killing Me Softly’. After a few more songs and a couple of ciders we decide to check out Bollywood, where some guys unwisely decided to try and teach us (the perpetually uncoordinated) to ‘tut’. Needless to say we were poor, and left laughing.
Over in my personal favourite space at Bestival; Caravanserai, we are mesmerized by Cirque Bijou’s trapeze, silk and rope artists, spinning and dropping above us in sparkly outfits. The whole place is absolutely alive with wonder and awe – something I’ve come to really appreciate about Bestival. It’s not often that adults allow themselves to be utterly swept away in the moment and give in to childlike feelings of amazement, I think that’s what feels so special about it.
We also catch a little of The Roustabout Collection on the carousel stage, who are exactly as rowdy and fun as the name suggests, grab ourselves an Elderflower Gin Fizz from one of the little bars and have a sit down in one of the old waltzers. Everyone is chatting, laughing, dancing and sparkling here – I feel so at home. After filling up our souls in Caravanserai, we begin the walk back to our campsite and decide to go via The Temple which is truly even more beautiful at night, bathed in the pink light of the lasers. There’s a sea of sweaty, uninhibited bodies jumping to the rhythm of beat, it’s almost hypnotic. Half of me wants to rush in and join them but the other half of me has spotted another festival staple – Anna Mae’s Mac n Cheese. It wins out and soon we’re digging our way through mac whilst trekking up the big hill home.
Oh dear lord it’s HOT. Wriggling into our first spangly outfits of the weekend (yes, we have brought theme-appropriate clothing for all three days) we head out as quickly as possible as we’re all starving. Breakfast is smashed avo on toast (basic bitch alert) followed by several average attempts at the Mitchum Ball Pool, in which you have to collect golden balls which spell out the brand name. Definitely aren’t going to be winners but they are pushing mini sample deodorant on us which we sincerely appreciate in this heat. Next door we grab ourselves free iced lattes from Nescafe Aezera and then truck up the hill to have a look at Gorilla Circus.
Little did we realise that you can just rock up and HAVE A GO. The trapeze is a giant hulking metal contraption that from the outside sort of resembles a bear trap, and is honestly no less terrifying. Some of my crew sign themselves up for a go and are pretty quickly let loose on skills like a leg-hold, back tuck and even a catch! It’s amazing and insane that this is just freely available to do at a festival, every time you think you know Bestival – they come up with something else absolutely shockingly brilliant to add to the lineup.
After the heights of the Trapeze and being out in the sun for hours, we traipse over to the Castle field for an icy slushie and some shade to watch Oh My God! It’s The Church. Having caught them last year in the Big Top, we knew they were not to be missed. The Reverend Birmingham Alabama in his gold suit is certifiably crackers, the band and vocalists are all incredible and we LOVE their rendition of Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’. If we weren’t trying to fend off sunstroke, we’d have been front and centre, but we take a precautionary manoeuvre and head up through Ambientland (the forest) in search of Slow Motion.
After a quick toot on the mushroom sound pipes (not a drug reference, one of the forest’s art installations) we wind our way out into a grassy field with a tent where ‘Bubble Meditation’ is going on. Relaxing music, everyone lying down in a meditative state and um… small children walking around with bubble-guns. It’s odd to say the least but hey, whatever floats your… bubble I guess.
We take a look inside The Frozen Mole, but can’t spy any actual frozen moles in the ceiling, and then settle into some deck chairs in the shade of a small tree, as a peacock walks by and some other people are getting themselves a rejuvenating IV drip at the tent next to us. You really couldn’t make it up, everything is weird and wonderful here.
Over on the main stage Idles are going absolutely berserk, yelling “This is a song about how much I love immigrants” and wearing the Choose Love refugee tshirts. I’ll be honest, it’s not my sort of thing – but I do appreciate the cute little circle pit that has sprung up in front of the stage. At The Feast Collective we’re lured into the tent by a lady with fried jackfruit samples, which entice us to buy truly one of the best burgers we’ve ever eaten at a festival – and all vegan too.
Refueled we head back out to see our Bestival faves, The Cuban Brothers. If you’ve never experienced the CB’s, you really need to. They’re comedy kings, with a side of hip hop funk, crazy dance moves and fringed leotards. What’s not to love? Bursting on stage Miguel notes that the CB’s are “…the only band to play all 15 years at Bestival” and they indeed Bestival personified. Kenny (The Bastard) and Archerio bust out some duo disco moves “Together they are… Double Penetration!” and Miguel notes that Arch is “…sweating like a pregnant nun for you tonight” – as a mum on the front row quickly clamps her hands over her young son’s ears.
We’re treated to Kenny’s artistic Whitney Houston ‘I wanna dance with somebody’ rendition, warm up our hip circles with Miguel and marvel at Juan Erection’s flips and breaking during ‘Ante Up’. Oh and a slew of families quickly escape the arena when Miguel takes all his clothes off except some very tiny pants, and starts banging the mic with his penis. Standard.
As the sun begins to set on this incredible first full day at Bestival, people are flooding into the arena in a host of sparkly costumes and accessories with glitter and smiles plastered all over their faces. We’re scouting out our perfect dancing spot for tonight’s headliner – Silk City.
After an incredible Bestival debut full of hard-hitting mixes, neon and raucous dancing, we really should be partied out… but at Bestival, the night is never really over. We head from the arena to The Temple to catch a bit of Kiwi, and drink in the image of all the gorgeous wild and free souls under the stars of Lulworth, there’s nothing quite like it.
After choking awake in our furnaces/tents we dress in appropriately Circus-themed outfits (ringmaster plus circus animals and props) and head into the arena for Kojey Radical, who is busting up the Castle stage in sparkly red converse, he deserves a much bigger crowd than there is down the front – but there are pools of people crammed into every available patch of shade, hiding from the heat. We grab ourselves a slushie and watch Rodrigo Pérez, aka The Human Cannonball blast himself 25 metres through the air onto a giant inflatable crash-mat. It’s exactly as mad as it sounds, even LoveBot looks concerned.
Stefflon Don is reportedly stuck in traffic and isn’t going to make it so we head off in search of energetic delights in the form of The World’s Biggest Bouncy Castle. It truly is humungous (taller than the Great Wall of China and roughly three times the size or the Berlin Wall, filled with 1143 cubic metres of air, in case you were wondering) and we are all giddy like five year olds hopped up on Birthday cake just looking at it. What we didn’t realise, as we gleefully ditched our shoes and socks is that it would be HOTTER THAN HADES on that thing, the rainbow canvas scorching our feet as we attempt to bounce ourselves right out of it. Great photos, loved it anyway – a must do Bestival experience.
Over in The Big Top, Black Honey are the perfect blend of indie rock and sparkle with vocalist Izzy Phillips owning the stage in a rainbow sequin dress, the band are great and really kindly come out after their set to hand out free EP’s and patches, even signing stuff and posing for selfies – they’ve definitely gained more than a few new fans on the back of this performance, a great pick from the Bestival team.
Up next are the funky and fun Superfood; we’d been pre-gaming with their stuff on the Bestival playlist and they certainly did not disappoint. We loved ‘Unstoppable’ and their eponymous song ‘Superfood’ has a very Radiohead-esque riff that we’re into but it’s you know… happier. We also have a quick catch up with the man Rob Da Bank himself, who just seems to be hopping around the site checking up on people and saying hello. Rob tells us that he hasn’t had a go on the trapeze himself yet and SFG accuse him of being a fraidy-cat.
Over on the main stage we are blown away by the stunningly talented First Aid Kit, playing in the blazing sunshine in coordinated zebra-print outfits. The Söderberg sisters’ vocals are unparalleled and they don’t hesitate to bring a political message along for the ride, yelling “…That was our protest punk song… for women… we’re really sick of being fucking afraid” and waxing lyrical about how rape crime is rife with victim blaming propaganda. The crowd roars in agreement as they gutsily shout “The blame and the shame always belong to the perpetrator, no more fucking excuses!”.
We couldn’t rave more about their Kate Bush ‘Running Up That Hill’ cover but our absolute favourite is the dark and brooding ‘Wolf Mother’ backed by cyclical wolf visuals on the big screen. The ambience is only slightly marred by the sight of two people wielding actual first-aid-kits attached to tent poles down the front; it did make us giggle. Finishing up with a crowd-wide crooning for Emmylou, their “little love song” and finally the outstanding ‘Silver Lining’ set against a galaxy backdrop as the sun begins to set gold over the whole arena. It is the perfect show.
We recharge with an insanely rich salted caramel brownie with ice-cream from The Green Brownie before bowling headlong into madness with the weird and wonderful, Grace Jones. Stalking on stage in a billowing black sheet and golden skull mask, she’s dramatically striking in appearance with vocals to match. We have to laugh when she disparages her trip to Bestival; “I had to take a helicopter… helicopter… but I wasn’t gonna miss it if I had to take some wings and fly myself…” and dons a metal feather mane whilst writhing on the floor of the stage. ‘My Jamaican Guy’ sees her casually whipping her extraordinarily beautiful pole-dancing man – who is covered in matching body paint, before she cracks out a massive pony-headdress and hops on the shoulders of a roadie to parade the pit area high-fiving fans on the front-line for ‘Pull Up to the Bumper’. The confetti cannon sprays the crowd with rainbow ticker tape as Jones comes back to the stage shouting “Who's camping out? My God… let’s go before they pull the plug on me” and we’re all going crazy for ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ and a good 15 minutes of solid hula-hooping whilst singing. The woman is a machine.
As Grace Jones exits the stage we all turn around to face Lulworth Castle and are met with an audio-visual anniversary spectacular played out on the castle itself – Bestival themes over the last 15 years, a bombardment of amazing fireworks and a lot of oohing and aahing. ‘Somewhere Beyond The Sea’ plays and the final message reads “Sail safe shipmates” – is this a clue to next year’s Bestival theme we wonder?
Strangely after this ‘firework finale’ which in previous years would mark the very end of the festival, we still have London Grammar to go on the main stage. It’s a bit of an emotional whiplash going from the party vibe of Grace Jones and the excitement of the fireworks into the soft, ambient vacuum of London Grammar, but they are stunningly beautiful.
As the Castle stage closes, we head out for the nightclubs of Bestival and oh we are spoiled for choice – Stacey’s and House of Vans are jumping, Caravanserai looks like a glittering chandelier and HMS Bestival’s lights pierce the darkness. Carpe PM!
Sunday morning at Bestival always feels slower. The toilet queue is visibly hungover and big sunglasses are a must. Luckily it’s marginally cooler today because in the harsh light of day it’s pretty clear a lot of little lobsters have been neglecting their sun-cream this weekend. We take a fortifying hike up to Slow Motion for a little life affirming Bollywood yoga and a wonky-veg slushie (which was a lot tastier than it looked, which is good because it looked like gators might live in it). Over on the Castle stage the soothing sounds of Songhoy Blues ring out over the site and bring us back to life, as we peep into The Frozen Mole where a tshirt design workshop is in full swing.
We tiptoe past aerial-yoga, where people appear to be fighting brightly coloured silks on A-frames in attempt to achieve inner peace, and head to the main arena for Gentleman’s Dub Club for a boogie – albeit a gentle one whilst we’re in recovery. Next up, with absolutely no remorse for our fragile states is the batshit crazy Dubioza Kolektiv, who appear to be dressed as crash-test dummies with boundless energy. Brandishing signs reading ‘make’, ‘some’ and ‘noise’ they yell “Find a person in the crowd to hug” and this being Bestival, that is exactly what happens – strangers hugging strangers, increasing the peace. We are in fits of laughter at their song ‘Free.mp3’ otherwise known as ‘The Pirate Bay Song’ with it’s repetitive message “Our music is for free, you can download mp3, keep it playing on repeat, if you hate it press delete” and their unashamed Pirate Bay flags – it’s going straight on our illegal playlists.
Hauling on stage a group of jump-ropers, they attempt to “teach the crowd some Bosnian lyrics” whilst skipping; “…jumping the rope is traditional Bosnian dance… we do this for 2 thousand years”. They’re mental, we love it.
Up next the arena is packed for Chaka Khan, who arrives on stage to backdrops of her signature, wearing a sparkly top also featuring her signature. You could say it’s a signature look… ha. Despite an initial kerfuffle with her mic being off, she launches into the good solid disco music we’ve all been waiting for, in the sunshine. It seems the sun-facing stage is a bit much for Chaka though as she gripes “How you doin… damn I hate this shit, I hate the sun in my face… I’m brown enough!”. The set is decent but in truth we’ve all been waiting for ‘I’m Every Woman’ which is exactly as fun as we’d hoped (there’s a man wearing fluffy fringing who looks like he’s been positively dipped in glitter, having the most fabulous time atop his friends’ shoulders) and ‘Ain’t Nobody’ is explosive with the addition of a confetti blast from the cannon. Magical.
Afterwards, the sad news about the passing of Barry Chuckle – a Bestival veteran, is screened on the main stage as sad “to me, to you” lines are spoken around the site, The Chuckle Brothers have been a big part of this festival for years, and indeed, most of our childhoods.
Plan B attacks the main stage with ‘Grateful’ wearing a curious outfit, half Peaky Blinders, half military tactical jacket, with a strange white chin-strap thing. It kind of looks like he’s sprained his beard. I don’t get it. As the tall tramway lights flicker, Drew asks “Can I get some vodka please?” and busts out fan favourite ‘Prayin’ and ‘She Said’ with the entire crowd singing along. It’s amazing how many people actually know the entire rap section actually. Calling out “Who’s drunk? No that’s not enough… who's drunk?” Plan B can’t hear this amusing response from the crowd; “You’re drunk! You put your highlighter on wrong son, blend honey!” but we’re all giggling as he heads into ‘Welcome to Hell’.
After all that dancing we’re desperate for nourishment and absolutely spoilt for choices still. Tonight it’s grilled steak and chips from The South West Food Collective, whose proceeds go to charity and who are collecting leftover food from Bestival vendors and campsite hubs tomorrow to be distributed to a local food bank. Not only that, the steak is crazy good, restaurant good. It’s things like this that Bestival draws in that really make the difference. The entire vibe of this festival is centered on its motto ‘Increase The Peace’ and rather than just say it, this is the festival that actually strives to model it.
Up next is the part artist, part activist, musically explosive M.I.A. smashing up The Castle Stage for the finale of Bestival 2018. She’s a force to be reckoned with, emerging from her temple doorway under yellow billowing curtains;
After M.I.A. we scurry over to the Cuckoo Clump for the grand finale, which begins with an incredible violinist in a glowing dress, surrounded by neon lit umbrellas dancing in unison at her feet. Above a perilous high wire, sans any form of safety net or harness sways ominously in the light breeze. We are utterly amazed by the three tightrope walkers from Cirque Bijou, who proceed to walk, lie-down, headstand and even climb over each other, but then they just continue to up the ante. There’s a guy walking on the top wire – even higher than the original wire… then they set it on fire… then he rides a bike across… then a girl attached to a harness sails along it with a balloon and danger dances with the man who has no harness… It’s nail-biting stuff. The accompanying fireworks exploding from three different locations, lighting up the helter-skelter are the cherry on top of the most fantastic layer-cake of this finale. I’ve seen some mad incredible things in my time at Bestival but I really think this has been one of the most incredible. I don’t know of any other experience on this earth that is as chaotic, mysterious, bizarre and awe inspiring. With that, we are off to Caravanserai to hide out in a camper, drink cocktails and dance like we don’t have to go home tomorrow. Rudimental are DJ’ing The Temple soon, and there are at least a few more heady hours of glorious freedom to be had. See you next year Bestival, you have well and truly got your mojo back.
Images © Andy McHardy for Summer Festival Guide