Review: Bestival

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Bestival brought British Festival Season to a shuddering, sun-bathed climax this September as the summer’s penultimate event. Way down on the Isle of Wight, 55,000 punters clung to their last few days of reckless abandon like babies to their mother’s bosom, stirring up an atmosphere of determined enthusiasm not just for the lineup, but for life in general. A record breaking wildlife-themed fancy dress, mind-blowing musical acts across the board, and peak temperatures of 27 degrees heightened that enthusiasm to delirious euphoria.

British festivals haven’t had an easy time of it this year. With no Glasto, disasters like London’s Bloc, and the public eye focused on the Olympics, ticket sales saw major dips. So Bestival, galloping forward at the end of the season like a knight in shining armour, was a much needed reminder of what those unwashed weekends are all about.


The four day extravaganza kicked off with a groovy set from Hot Chip, Gary Numan strutting about the Big Top stage in multiple coats of eyeliner, and an overwhelming sense of relief after the long journey South. With tents, fairy lights, and 4000 meters of bunting stretching as far as the eye could see, the site was a small city, and even boasted an inflatable cathedral to make it official.

Punters woke to 3 dazzling days of sunshine and meandered around the massive arena, finding the weird and the wonderful at every turn. Tightrope walkers, ‘lycra-clad bearded trannies’, a burlesque tea tent, and a make-your-own veggie instrument stand were just a handful of the hidden gems twinkling in the fields. With so much on offer, it would have been easy to while away the weekend without ever visiting a stage, but on Friday afternoon the music was already floating through the airwaves at curator Rob Da Bank’s Replay stage. Jake Bugg played his raspy, bluesy tunes, a massive turn out for humble Mercury Prize nominees Alt-J spilled out onto grass, and the haunting vocals of Norwegian goddess Ane Brun radiated out of the Big Top. Things got sentimental as the sun set and Lianne La Havas told Bestival crowds, ‘you truly are the best…of all’.

All this emotion and things hadn’t even started on the mainstage. The xx pulled in one of the largest crowds in Besti-history for their UK festival exclusive, followed by Florence and the Machine, the ethereal redhead galloping across the stage like some sort of woodland nymph. As the arena wound down for the night, diehard partiers moved to Arcadia, a laser show/mechanical spider/dubstep DJ booth nestled among the campsites, and sleepyheads ventured into the curious ‘slumber disco’ to bob about over their passed-out peers.

Saturday brought with it a kaleidoscope of wildlife, as everyone got their fancy dress on and joined in the animal parade. From jellyfish to crocodiles and an endless sea of primark onesies, it was an all out zoo. Crowds could bear-ly contain themselves and reached near panda-monium at the stampede of the day’s brilliant performances (sorry, couldn’t resist). Besti hosted a mind-boggling variety of genres, with everyone from Ben Howard, indie popsters Two Door Cinema Club, 80‘s legends New Order and French electronic duo Justice giving their all to the whisker-wearing masses. Bonobo and JJ DOOM were among the geniuses who hit the decks at Rizlab, and To Kill a King kept the authorities on their toes by bringing an entire field of drunken punters onto the Bandstand.

All that paled, however, in comparison to the brilliant crescendo of the weekend on Sunday. Far from feeling like the end of the festival, things were just getting started. BBC’s Sound of 2012 winner Michael Kiwanuka got the afternoon rolling with his soulful voice while Rizzle Kicks turned out in their animal ‘kigous’ and had everyone getting down with the trumpets. At Replay, Palma Violets delivered real rock-n-roll, with crowd surfing, growly guitars, and one dedicated female fan going taps-aff and tits-out on her friend’s willing shoulders. Despite a moved time-slot and technical difficulties, Sigur Ros still stormed the Mainstage and played what can only be described as a spiritual experience.

And then there was Stevie Wonder.

A moving two-hour set ranging from his own legendary anthems to covers of The Beatles and Alicia Keys and speeches about racism, Obama, and love, Stevie’s performance was a series of pinch-yourself moments. The show ended with an incredible firework display and a shower of heart-shaped confetti; needless to say, it was magical. Just when things seemed like they couldn’t possibly get any better, a visit to the fully functioning Roller Disco proved that oh, they definitely could.

As the sun rose on Monday over the empty Bestival arena, the summer truly did feel over. Campers trudged reluctantly towards the exit, tents were abandoned, and the sense of a collective comedown hung in the chilly air. If there was one last thought shared amongst the thousands of festival-goers as they went their separate ways, it was without a doubt, of nabbing tickets for the inevitable carnage of Bestival 2013.

Words: Tess Hokin








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