Bestival - Isle of Wight 07-09.09.12

Larry Day reports back from Bestival

Sep 7th, 2012 at Robin Hill Country Park, Isle of Wight / By Larry Day
Grimes Friday

Boasting a rich and exciting line-up of fresh sounds and classic artists, Bestival marks the unofficial end of 2012's festival season. Despite many festivals suffering torrential rain or financial difficulties in the most chaotic of summers, Bestival manages to wrangle in the sunshine, and as the festival kicks off on Friday 7th, there isn't a cloud in the sky save for the jetstreams of passing aeroplanes.

Kicking off the Replay stage (curated by Rob da Bank), is the Isle Of Wight's own In Motion. With summery sweet duelling male/female vocals, they perform a vibrant hangover cure for the night before (which boasted Gary Numan, Alabama Shakes and Hot Chip, to name but a few), with big singalong choruses and pristine vocals drunk with peppiness. During the not-even-midday heat, the Bollywood stage serves up a dollop of trampoline funk-step remixes courtesy of KOAN Sound and their DJ set. Opening with a bombastic rehash of Ed Sheeran, they inject wobbling bass and trip-a-step drums into the pale pop, to create a wacky mess of funk horns and dubstep drops. Over on the main stage, acoustic-folk laced with glorious twinges of icy pop echoes out across the crowd. Hailing from IKEA-land, First Aid Kit are both fragile and enormous, their harmonic layers twinkling in the September heat. Peppered with glocks and piano, the Swedish group provide an intriguing take on acoustic pop- forgoing the bland wishy-washiness and focusing on that age-old Scandinavian staple of incredible music.

Adam Ant & The Good, The Mad and The Lovely Posse (try saying that three times fast...) saunter into the by now blazing sunshine, appearing as an amalgam of Dolly Parton, Bon Jovi and Jack Sparrow. Though Mr. Ant has had a tumultuous couple of decades, the Dandy Highwayman is in full swing today at Bestival. Wrapped in a Tricoloure, he sports a marvellous pencil 'tash, and whilst not quite his former knee-quaking self, he swaggers around the stage serenading the audience with his high-calibre back catalogue. Though there's a somewhat muted response from the younger audience, even the most fairweather fans do that dance to 'Prince Charming'. It's a hugely campy set from the king of new romantic heartthrobs, but we sure as hell love it.

Returning to more serious form, psych-rock ladies Warpaint take to the stage, weaving mystical battlegrounds of thickly affected guitar and haunting vocals. Trembling basslines and subterranean drums add a layer of motion, reigning in the otherwise floaty melodies; the overall result is a shot of sonic delirium which entrances the cider-soaked crowd. Showcasing mostly new material, they end on massive underwater electronica number 'Elephants' to uproarious cheers. Over on the Replay stage, hotly-tipped Alt-J overcrowd the tiny tent half an hour before even stepping onstage- their rocket-fuelled rise to fame is clearly not taken into account. Poised for the Mercury Prize, the electro-indie group croon their way through (already) fan favourites 'Dissolve Me', 'Breezeblocks' and the rampantly sexual 'Tessellate'. Singing along to every word, the crowd absorb every second of excellence. Unfortunately clashing over the way at the Psychedelic Worm Stage, Django Django seem to be experiencing a similar phenomenon.

Bringing their hollow, 4am-indie to the Main Stage, The xx play a near-perfect slew of first album hits and prime cuts from their newly released sophomore including fan favourites 'VCR' and 'Crystallised'. Opening with 'Angels' under a smog of dry ice and strobe lights, the smoky trio keep the Bestival crowd hypnotised with their sparse guitar, red-eye synths and ethereal bass. Masters of the gargantuan quiet, the Londoners' hazy noises wistfully whoosh into the ether of the Bestival, causing the vast populace in front of them to simultaneously hold their breath for fear of missing a second of the rarest, awe-inspiring sound. Dressed as Batman villain Poison Ivy, baroque-pop diva Florence + The Machine headlines the Main Stage tonight, accompanied by a choir (who seem to sing as much as she does) and a mini-orchestra. Wading through the hits and set-staples, Flo pauses intermittently to self-indulgently warble and gallop around the stage- the faux-frailty wears thin, and it comes across just a tad pathetic when she trails off at the end of sentences and limply flicks her hands- though her voice, as expected, is impeccable. Annoyingly, Flo is one of those singers who deserves the ego. As she parades across the screens, the sheer talent emanating from her ruby locks is tangible and she easily manages to enthral the weepy Bestival crowd.


Turning up about as fashionably late as you can be, Stealing Sheep finally arrive just as their set is due to end. Only just making it to the site after travelling down from Liverpool since the wee hours of the morning, they proceed to flawlessly but timidly belt an a cappella trio of tracks, including 'Genevieve' and 'Shut Eye'. Their set is filled with stumbles (and a fumble over the key of one song), and the girls seem genuinely irked by the 'official' cancellation- though it's a fun performance from the folksters anyway. Unpredictable stropstress Azealia Banks announced her non-appearance mere hours before her set, giving no reason (a quick dig around Twitter results in finding pictures of her going shopping). After weeks of umm-ing and ahh-ing, the fickle 21 year old Harlem native finally threw in the towel, cementing her poor reputation of showing up for sets and/or playing them fully. It would seem that the '212' singer's ego has outgrown Bestival following Frank Ocean's similar snub last month. At least he gave 'health reasons'.

Underneath the blue canopy of the Big Top, Ben Howard draws a staggering audience. Fingerpicking his way through a host of chant-worthy tracks, the Devonshire lad coyly grins as every word is sung back to the rafters. Backed by a cello, the sincerely humbled Howard lays hit after hit onto the feverish crowd. His wintry, crackling voice warms every heart- if wunderkind Ed Sheeran is the poster boy for acoustic-pop, Ben Howard is the folk hero. Adorned in a cat ears, Jessie Ware demonstrates why people are seeing big things in her. From the bottom of her impressive lungs, she delivers a wondrous set of sleek, chic soul-flecked R&B with an electro twist. After her debut shot in at number five, many people are seeing huge potential in the superstar-in-waiting, and rightly so.

Jangly indie popstars Two Door Cinema Club ignite Bestival and sow the seeds for a night of intense partying. Unleashing the eternally danceable furore of 'Something Good Can Work' and 'Undercover Martyn', the Northern Irish band lean heavily on safe first album efforts rather than delving into their commercially successful second LP. Fresh from his stint singing 'Caliban's Dream' at the Olympics, singer Alex Trimble conveys the meekness of someone tiptoeing in front of a microphone for the first time, not one who has wooed the nation. The jaunty, mechanical guitar ricochets across Bestival, serving one of the liveliest sets so far and giving each and every reveller a reason to dance like no-one's watching.

Obviously, Bestival isn't just about the music. The costume party features heavily and famously- this years theme is 'Wildlife'- and there are scores of Primarni tiger onesies, LED jellyfish and Wind In The Willows characters all drunkenly stumbling from one bar to the next. Even The Mighty Boosh's Crack Fox makes an appearance. There's the annual parade, spearheaded by Mr. Motivator and featuring Raven-clad samba-ists, an apocalyptic Noah's Ark and a ukulele orchestra. Scantily clad stilt walkers jiggle through the hills and Indian sword jugglers perform for wide-eyed festival-goers- before they actually vomit at one of the feats- a deft hook through the nose.

Many other tents host a plethora of spectacular events- there's the 40s themed dance-offs in Club Dada, the 'proper' English burlesque in Time For Tease and a bloomin' roller disco nestled next to where Jamie xx and Four Tet/Caribou spin DJ sets. The Swamp Shack brings the Louisiana bayou to the Wight Isle, and the Arachnoid horror of Copperdollar lurks near a pick 'n' mix shop- take from that what you will. Needless to say, there's a lot to do here. The scenery and general ambience is as much of a draw as the actual line-up, something rarely seen at festivals nowadays as many old-timers grumble of 'too much pop', 'too many youngsters' and 'the beer's too pricey'. Though there is a smorgasbord of sights and sounds and tastes, there is one defiantly herbal stench overpowering most of the fields.


With slick bouts of feverish fervour, crunchy beats and glassy synth work, Little Dragon lure a sizeable daytime crowd on the final day of this year’s Bestival. The skeletal electro-pop group provide a surefire means to bust-a-move and with bass heavy dance numbers like this, they'll no doubt attract plenty of bodies to their late-night DJ set in the Wagamama Lounge. 2:54 are like the bratty younger sisters of The xx. These real-life sisters, concoct a dark 'n' stormy brew of passionate psychedelica guitars and windswept vocals, painting the drug-addled guilt of a heroin relapse. These trouser-tenting femme fatales spew a seductive set of alluring-yet-dismissive indie rock, their smirking coyness swallowed by a steamy abyss of swirling bass and ICU drums. With fire in her eyes and smoke in her heart, vocalist Colette Thurlow exorcises her demons for the Bestival congregation.

Much spoke of Palma Violets are readying their sights on The Vaccines, poised to usurp the guitar-rock revival crown with their indie-punk onslaught. Strumming at oversold gigs up and down the country with Savages, the four boys unfurl a tight set of bagpipey synths and hard rock powers chords- they deploy a punk barrage during the first, unwelcome rain of the weekend. Clad in a floral cloak, indie pop songstress Bat For Lashes trawls her diaphragm for high-octane tracks, delivering a punchy set drenched in emotional surges. Endlessly captivating new single 'Laura' highlights Natasha Khan's fabulous, silky voice and even though the recorded version is tearjerking, her live performance is a quivering, sunlit sonata of stunning beauty. Bringing good friend 'Daniel' to the fray, she closes the show in a stellar fashion.

Icelandic post-rock gods Sigur Rós tonight unleash a spectacular sunset set, as the scorching orb in the sky descends, leaving a deep blue darkness. Waves of sensational sonic awe wash over the vast Bestival crowd, taking the breath from Bestival’s collective lungs. Apparently marred by technical difficulties, there is no sign of anything less than perfection from the avante-garde ambient band. Smacking basses with drumsticks and bowing guitars, every musician onstage gives it their all, and the octopus-like drummer stands out as a fervent performer. Predictably, Jonsí's falsetto is infallible, imbued with an apocalyptic calm and a violently desolate breathiness. Their set spans their entire record collection, but the pinnacle of their ninety minute set is BBC-favourite 'Hoppípolla', the iconic piano glimmer ringing through the ears of everyone in earshot. It's a once in a lifetime performance that won't be topped this weekend.

Motown legend Stevie Wonder pulls the ripcord on his hit-laden set, only pausing his relentless torrent of classic pop to endorse Obama, cover John Lennon's 'Imagine', Jay Z/Alicia Keys' 'Empire State Of Mind' and The Beatles' 'She Loves Me'. Oodles of slap bass and virtuosic keys strut at the forefront of his dramatically danceworthy songs, such as 'Higher Ground', 'Isn't She Lovely' and 'Very Superstitious'. The funkmeister general has choreographed his grooving music for an intensely kinaesthetic ending to Bestival 2012 where every money-maker is shakin'. As his set concludes, plumes of technicolour fireworks adorn the star-littered infinity above the festival. Though, this is not the end.

Friendly Fires induce full-body spasming with their electro-disco rhythms and infectious indie singalongability. Led by the spineless (in the literal sense of the word) gyrating from the thrusty Ed MacFarlane, the autumn-dappled dancefloor is a bubbling sea of motion. Their tried and tested set of eclectic dance-punk is aimed at making hips wiggle and that's exactly what it does. Backed by a RGB macaw, the sun kissed party tunes are endlessly energetic and draw from samba music to create a massive dance-fest under the Big Top. AlunaGeorge drop sparkling electro-soul, a mash-up of R&B pipes from Aluna Francis and grimy electronica synths from George Reid, proffering a fresh take on the Rihanna-dominated territory which is oh-so-welcome. Luxurious rhythms and crystal melodies infuse the music with a sense of vibrant glamour, and it's blatantly obvious why they've drawn such an audience this late at night.

Pint-sized Canadian producer Grimes (pictured) spins a haze of smoke-filled bass wobs and synth stings, all glazed with layers of crisp, sugary vocals. The intoxicating noises are akin to the would-be result of locking a seven-year-old hyped on speed in a room with a synthesizer- it's not something you hear everyday- but, godammit, you wish you would. Accompanied by a troupe of bizarre seizure-pitch dancers looking grimly vacant and wielding lightsabers, Claire Boucher (Grimes' alter-ego) is as peppy as a High School Musical dropout, far from being the aloof package of hip discontent that her music might lead you to believe. Delivering intense beats whilst donning a Care Bear onesie, she squeals through her set and ending on Blood Diamonds' track 'Phone Sex', on which she is the guest vocalist.

It's a mesmerising weekend of hedonistic pleasure, countless amazing bands and even more hidden gems. This is the festival Glastonbury wishes it still was, and something no other festival can replicate- there's a reason so many people return year after year to experience the uncanny event which is Bestival.