Bestival, Isle of Wight, September 6-9 2012
By Woodrow Whyte
Bestival, like a good prostitute, is anything you want it to be. There is simply so much going on that anyone will find their cultural fetishes thoroughly satisfied if you look hard enough.
If it’s the big hitters you’re after, look no further than main stage behemoths like Stevie Wonder, New Order or Florence and the Machine. Or if you fancy a bit of academia or poetry, then the Amphitheatre in the Ambient Forest will play host to your itching intelligentsia needs. But maybe you like nothing more than taking a few pills and pretending melodies never existed, well the Bollywood, Roller Disco and Arcadia stages will keep you raving almost all day and all night. But if your me, perhaps its waking from a red wine coma at 4am to discover your dancing topless in a tiny, sweaty room with Sink the Pink, the most outrageous group of drag queens this side of New York.
Bestival is just that kind of place! You can see living legends, superstar DJs, the hottest new bands, learn how to break dance, have a spa treatment and still end up with a man dressed with nothing but tinsel round his cock shoving his balls in your face. Needless to say, it’s amazing.
Thankfully at some point during the proceedings I managed to escape these frisky hussies and watch some actual music. So without further ado, here are some of the best artists I caught at Bestival 2012…
Things as beautiful and universally loved as the xx are a rare thing. Thanks to a well timed week-early album stream of their new record, there was no disconnect between the newer and older material, nor between the band and audience. Coming to stage in the dark, just before headliner Florence, the new songs drew mass sing-along, particularly lead single and set opener ‘Angels’. The excitement and emotion was palpable. It’s impossible not to feel an air of destiny – that we are witnessing a band that will be recognised as one of the greats of our time. And given their confident performance – Romy, Oliver and Jamie might just be starting to feel it too.
Buraka Som Sistema
Earlier in the day, an altogether different experience was to be had in the form of Buraka Som Sistema. Frenetic, hyperactive, convulsive come no where near to describing how crazy this kuduro band are when they unleash the beast live. Their sound is a shaken cocktail of rave-y-house/techno with African street party vibes. The crowd in the Big Top went wild, as did the band, ending in about 20 girls raiding the stage, one of many, many stage invasions of the weekend – thus proving Bestival is still the biggest party festival in the UK, and perhaps Buraka Som Sistema its reigning kings and queens.
Everyone needs to chill sometimes, guys – I can’t be shaking my booty like Beyoncé all the time – so a late night set from musical magpie, big-bass electronica wizard Kwes was just what the festival doctor ordered. The fact that Kwes might be the most humble and endearing man alive only made his wistful and tender ditties all the more magnificent. With a small crowd of spaced out festival-goers stretched out under the stars at the Replay Stage, with the faint echoes of drum‘n’bass rippling through the air, it was the perfect setting for Kwes and his melancholic sounds.
Earth, Wind and Fire
Where to begin?! The synchronized dance moves? The ear-bending harmonies? The millisecond precision of the band? Or was it just the ridiculousness of 20,000 people jumping around in exotic wildlife outfits to disco-classic ‘September’? Earth, Wind and Fire were nothing short of sensational. Even better, I imagine that most people probably didn’t know more than two or three songs of their songs, yet were still dancing like Donna Summer at a party with the Bee Gees on the set of Saturday Night Fever!
With no new material and a slightly fraught reunion thanks to the departure of Peter Hook, the promise of a Saturday headliner set from New Order didn’t really feel like one of the most exciting prospects. Yet despite the odds, New Order were on fighting form and utterly addictive and transfixing to watch. Hits were thrown left, right and centre with ‘Blue Monday’ dropped halfway through the set, which predictably sent the crowd into a frenzy. The inclusion of Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’ and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ was the knock-out punch. Never, ever, doubt New Order.
Sunday morning, after a bizarre and rather surreal main stage performance from the Kate Bush impersonator, Fake Bush, Little Dragon bounced on to stage to wake Bestival from its slumber. The Swedish electo/funk/soul band with possibly the coolest vocalist to grace the planet in the form of Yukimi Nagano did a sterling job to get limbs moving in a way that on a usual Sunday morning would medically be impossible. No sign of any new material yet but it doesn’t matter when the tunes still sound fresh and the sun is still out….
…And just as we were about to plaster enough suncream to survive on Mercury, the first clouds of the weekend descend and everyone ran for cover. However the darker settings seemed apt for doom-and-gloom, post-grunge quartet 2:54. Falling under the radar since an initial burst of buzz late last year, they still have a small but devoted crowd, who turned up at the Psychedelic Worm tent. Similar to ‘Stupid Girl’-era Garbage, their songs can be as destructive as they are cathartic. Singer Hannah Thurlow’s pouts and poses round the stage, every bit the rock star, whilst the band run through the majority of the self-titled debut. They even crack a few smiles at the end.
As recent news stories have shown, DOOM, (or as he used to be known, MF DOOM), can be a bit of a dickhead – who in their right mind doesn’t show up to a show but sends a body double instead? Well, I can safely say he went some way to redeeming himself with what might be called a ‘greatest hits’ set in the Big Top on Sunday. He threw in some Madvillain and Danger Doom tracks as well as some funny banter with his DJ and another rapper. It all made for a fun and lively performance, which went down well with the stoners dressed in uniform LRG t-shirts and Nike Air high-tops.
I can imagine if you haven’t seen Stevie Wonder by now, it must be hard with everybody going on about his amazing sets at Glastonbury two years ago and this year at Bestival. But the truth of the matter is, he’s is one of the best festival headliners around. He’s got a bag of hits bigger than a kangaroo’s scrotum and more charm, character and life than any of his peers, who are usually too miserable or rich to give a fuck anymore. The preachy monologues about god and saving the planet might have been a little over the top, but all is forgiven when you hear nearly 50,000 singing along to ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’. It just doesn’t get any better.
Being one of the very last acts on Sunday night at 1am, the Grimes set was always going to be packed to the rafters, but unlike her club shows where its nigh on impossible to move, the Replay stage was just big enough to keep the crowd bouncing throughout her set. She previewed a new song right at the end, which, if indicative of more new material, gives the impression of a more pop and polished pathway. But despite this, she still remains the most interesting and unique of breakout artists in 2012.