Last weekend 50,000 eager revelers descended on a, usually, sleepy seaside village on the Isle of Wight for a wealth of musical delights. Signaling the end of the UK festival season, each year Bestival ensures that the period is given a suitably lavish finish. Radio 1’s Rob Da Bank has developed the event from a small boutique festival to one that can legitimately claim to be one of the best of its kind. While Bestival cannot compete with Glastonbury in size, its diversity and attention to detail have made it a genuine rival and, arguably, the musical connoisseur’s festival of choice.
There’s a different given theme for each event, with attendees encouraged to devise a suitable costume for Saturday’s fancy dress day. This year it was announced that it would be Rock Stars, Pop Stars and Divas, causing a seemingly never ending wave of Gaga’s and Freddie Mercury’s stumbling across the site. As one can imagine, it certainly made for an interesting spectacle. While weather reports leading up to the event suggested a washout, the sun made a lasting appearance over the weekend; meaning those with more elaborate outfits didn’t have to hide them under waterproof coats.
Headlining the bill were stadium dance/rock lords Pendulum; legendary indie godfathers The Cure and, fresh from making her latest album, Björk. However, as anyone who’s been to Bestival before knows, the weekend is by no means dictated by the headliners. Read on for our roundup of acts performing.
While Thursday night the Big Top hosted both Santigold and Hercules and Love affair, the festival officially kicked off on Friday. UK grunge revivalists Yuck opened the main stage with a brutally loud set of raucous rock; their eponymous debut still remains one of our standout albums of the year. Using only noises form his body (and with the help of some recording equipment) Beardyman managed to fully entertain a huge crowd from the main stage, despite the emerging noise from the Big Top.
Heading over to the huge tent, we caught SBTRKT entertaining a bourgeoning crowd. In a canny marketing ploy, someone from his label had given out hundreds of replicas of his trademark facemask; meaning the young producer played to a crowd of clones. Following this Cut Copy continued to lift spirits with a set littered with tracks from their last two albums; however, it seems that the biggest applause was saved for their older tracks. Something they may want to bear in mind when recording album number four.
One of the biggest crowd draws of the day came for Public Enemy, who ensured they delved well into their bag of hits for their set. ‘911 Is A Joke’ and ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’ got the crowd fist pumping in no time, however hearing Flavor Flav give out his Twitter address was an unnecessary extra. Strangely for a group consisting largely of two men and a vocoder, Chromeo have become festival stalwarts over the last few years. Dave 1 and P-Thug delivered a polished set of punk-funk hits, which perfectly set the tone for the evenings events. The name on everyone’s lips that night seemed to be Skrillex, whose exceptionally lairy take on dance music seems to conjure messiah like appreciation from his fans. While Pendulum attracted their fair share of the crowd, we gave Friday a suitably hectic finish by rounding off with Boys Noize.
The responsibility of opening up the main stage on Fancy Dress day could only fall to The Village People, who proved that they do have more than two songs (albeit with a couple of covers thrown into the mix). While Katy B showed she is more than adequately capable to entertain a large crowd, the turn in weather meant that many people started to explore the other, smaller tents. Those stumbling into the Bollywood tent may have thought they were listening to a part reggae set, part history lesson. However, this was the legendary David Rodigan; who once again proved to be one of the highlights of the weekend.
A-Trak showed again why hip hop’s most vain man, KanYe West, wanted him as his DJ, with a baffling set that mixed electro, hip hop and a few of his standout tracks. His ‘Robot Rock’ mix still has us scratching our heads. Fresh from her recent Mercury win, PJ Harvey was on jubilant form as she ran through tracks from said album, ‘Let England Shake’.
For many though, Saturday was about one band only: The Cure. Playing a monstrous set that lasted over two hours and three encores, Robert Smith led his legendary combo through a career spanning set that saw jaws hit the flaw. While the band have previously been criticised for introspective performances, tonight The Cure delivered everything you wanted and more. ‘Friday I’m In Love’; ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and ‘Just Like Heaven’ were just some of the standout tracks from a set list that read like a fan’s dream. Speaking of which, Primal Scream also delivered a once in a lifetime set for many with their ‘Screamadelica Live’ performance over in the Big Top later that night; after which we had to wedge ourselves into the tiny Psychedelic Worm tent to see Metronomy play at some ungodly hour in the morning.
At this time in proceedings, the Bestival crowd needed something special to ensure they didn’t spend all day wallowing in their campsites- thankfully Omar Souleyman provided this. If you’ve never experienced the wonder of Syria’s finest musical export, check out some of his previous performances on YouTube. His upbeat delivery was certainly greeted enthusiastically from the small dedicated audience. While The Drums attracted a crowd that stretched across the huge field of the main stage, they played as if it was a bored handful of punters in a Shoreditch bar. While nonchalant cool has always been part of their appeal, a slight inkling of excitement would have been appreciated.
Stepping into the Bollywood tent later in the day, you could have been forgiven for thinking you’d ventured into a sweaty provincial nightclub. Thankfully Mike Pickering quickly made way for Tensnake, who slowed down the tempo and cleared out the scary shirtless gurning element from the crowd.
The final headline performance came from Björk, who provided a stunning climax. As always, the Icelandic songwriter’s performances are almost opera like in their stunning detail. Backed by a huge choir, we were treated to a set consisting largely of tracks from her latest album ‘Biophilia’. While this may have been a risky move for some, this chanteuse had us hypnotised from start to finish.
Not to be outdone by this spectacle, DJ Shadow performed inside a huge illuminated globe; which projected a constant stream of moving images throughout his show. The influential DJ also pulled an ace from his sleeve when he invited Tom Vek onstage to perform their new collaboration ‘Warning Call’.
With a notably larger site than last year, Bestival continues to successfully tread the line between boutique and behemoth. Rob Da Bank’s genuine love and enthusiasm for the artists and the event is evident when you walk around. While he has a job on his hands trying to top this year’s line-up, that’s a task I’m sure him and his team have already begun to plan for Bestival 2012.
Photos by Andrew Whitton (The Cure and Primal Scream), Jamie Baker (Björk) and Louise Roberts (Public Enemy & Crowd).