Bestival is a surreal old event. I’ve never been before, but it’s been talked about the most entertaining, fun, laid back and friendly festivals around. “It’s one big party, dude. The atmosphere is incredible”. I get it. Atmosphere rules. That’s even before you get to the line up of bands playing which is abso-lutley-mutha-flipping-jawesome! (Er, Fleet Foxes, Vetitver, Efterklang, Passion Pit, Dirty Projectors, Kraftwerk MGMT, Bat For Lashes to randomly name just a handful) This year, a bunch of friends were going so I thought I’d mooch along like the leech that I am to see what the fuss was about. It’s amazing what a free lift can do for the soul. All I knew beforehand was that it’s the brainchild of Radio One’s finest Rob Da Bank, is a 3-dayer and is located on lovely Isle of Wight… Ah, I love ferries. Oh and one more thing – every year, the festival is renowned for its fancy dress theme, and 2009 was no different. The theme was ‘outer space’! I went as a Jedi warrior (ie. I just wore my big hoodie and found a glowing light saber. ahem)… and also I took my gruesome pig mask. (Moonpig dot com, any one? No…)
So on the Friday morning, 3am no less, the gang and I take the drive down to Portsmouth for the early ferry. I feel rubbish, sleepy and cranky. Ugh. I’ve never been a morning person. Turns out we’re taking the Hovercraft instead. No ferry. Even better. 10 minutes it took to speedily cruise across… Amazing. It took me 10 minutes to write that, that’s how fast it was. Took the coach, got our wristbands and set up camp in the Red Zone. Now, I’ve never been a good camper (I am blaming you ATP) so I invested in one of those instant pop-up tents which simply builds itself just by throwing it in the year. Genius. Welcome to the 21st century… Another invention to make us lazier. We built the gazebo, enjoyed a couple of tasty savoury snacks and mildly warm alcoholic beverages in the sun (utter bliss) and we’re good to go. I do my usual festival ritual and study my program, picking and choosing all the top choices, with a yellow highlighter pen. And first up, it’s Efterklang in the big top tent! And what a way to open proceedings. Such is the general laid back, relaxed vibe, that people are sitting down … Now Efterklang aren’t a particularly quiet band. This afternoon there are seven musicians onstage, and the man conducted this beautiful organized racket is mustachioed Casper Clausen, who spends a large chunk of the set jumping up and down, bashing misshapen cymbals and crooning into his microphone. These musicians clearly love and believe in what they are doing, and their enthusiasm is truly infectious. My friends seem pretty impressed too with my recommendation. Win!
Then it’s off to the pretty massive Main Stage. Now, there’s something very peculiar about this stage which I only really noticed when I got up close. It’s on a pretty huge slant where the left side is much closer to the ground and gradually gets lower and lower – which means any one on the right hand side will start struggling for a decent view. Plus there was a massive black sheet which made it a real pain for photographers trying to capture that elusive “shot” they all so yearn for. Maybe something to look into next year me thinks. But anyway, next up it’s the very lovely The Acorn playing out to a reasonable turnout of what could be called a mellow set. Perhaps a bit too mellow. Personally, I felt they were a bit lost on the main stage and didn’t they know it. Apart from the diehard 17 fans standing right at the front (front-left stage I mean) most people seemed indifferent to them. Lead vocalist and guitarist Rolf Klausener called the tiny crowd “wankers” in a very much tongue-in-a-cheek faux-Brit accent but no one seemed to notice. They effortlessly drifted through ‘Hold Your Breath’, ‘Even While You’re Sleeping’ and the quite delicious ‘Antenna’, with Rolf dryly claiming they’re going straight to End of the Road festival after their set to play and can’t wait. Cue boos, but he meant it in jest… They’re followed by 65 Days of Static and Passion Pit who again play strong sets but don’t again really seem quite ready to bring it on a mass scale and seem almost overwhelmed by their surroundings. Passion Pit drop ‘I’ve Got Your Number’ and ‘Better Things’ which get people cheering and screaming, but they lose their impact in the open but their feel good sense of well being still shines through under the scorching sun.
That doesn’t last too long. Why? Because up next, it’s The Horrors. They scowl and snarl their way through some choice cuts from Primary Colours including ‘Mirror’s Image’, which nearly takes the roof off the big top when it goes into stellar overdrive, and Scarlett Fields’. They sound brutal. They sound vicious. The crowd go mental. I’m impressed but it’s not a big barrel of feel good times and not every one’s cup of tea. My friends have ditched me to party on down to Friendly Fires. I want to catch them if only to rejoin the group but I walk past the Red Bull tent and notice that Dent May & Ukulele is playing. I heard he supported Animal Collective once upon time so I thought I’d see what the fuss was about. Wasn’t what I expected at all. It was sweet and enjoyable but overall quite formulaic and ultimately quite forgettable. The novelty of a guy playing twee pop songs wears away rather quickly. Sad face.
I mosey on down to see Florence & The Machine. I’ve never seen so many people trying to cram inside a photo pit. It’s actually insane. So much so that photographers had to be divided into groups and taken in 2 minute installments which worked a treat. But Florence was definitely the big buzz artist of the day, and perhaps the festival. She offered a solid set and competently worked the crowd and gave them a treat with an imaginative stage set up and costume attire. Her cover of “You’ve Got The Love” is exhilarating, perhaps even surpassing the original, and ‘Rabbit Heart’ is left til the very end to ensure the crowd leave on a high. Although I will say, as enjoyable as the songs were, she really does struggle to hit the notes occasionally. So much that I hurt my teeth from cringing … Honestly.
I stick around to see Soulwax and I had mixed feelings. I’ve loved Soulwax since I was a geeky, acne-ridden teenager but tonight it’s more 2ManyDjs (who are actually playing this very festival the same evening) than the Soulwax I’ve come to know and love ie: ‘Conversation Intercom’, ‘Saturday’, ‘Much Against Everyone’s Advice’ etc. Still, I’ve had a few drinks, I’m feeling good, I’ve got my light saber, I’m going to totally going along for the ride for this electro fuelled set full of vigour and drive. I’ve never seen so many people smiling… Good times! I leave towards to catch Pivot at the big top but it’s practically empty and I literally catch the final 8 bars…. Annoying. I rush back to the Main Stage to see MGMT who take forever to come onstage. The crowd are getting restless. When they eventually do decide to grace us with their presence, they are actually something really brilliant. I’ve never been a fan but I find myself bopping my head and singing along to songs I don’t even know the lyrics too. I actually had no idea how many songs I knew of theirs… subconsciously. ‘Weekend Wars’ was a personally highlight but it’s the anthem that is ‘Kids’ and ‘Time To Pretend’ which gets the hands raised with diamond shapes and some serious moshing action happening. Massive Attack again seem to take an age to join us, but unfortunately it’s not worth the wait this time around. They sound dire and way too lethargic. Martina Topley Bird joins them on a couple of songs which is a nice touch and all the youngsters who stuck around after MGMT on the front row, look bewildered and oblivious. I wish I took photos of their expressions… Absolutely priceless.
I skip off a bit early in anticipation for Bat For Lashes. You can feel the excitement bubbling under. It’s simmering nicely and expectations are ridiculously high but credit to Natasha Khan, she delivers. With a large howling wolf backdrop, she opens with ‘Glass’, driven by forceful, bombastic percussion from Sarah Jones, an extraordinary drummer who makes her instrument sound like thunder itself, clapping in the darkness and Charlotte Heatherly ably supporting her with guitar otherworldly flourishes and subtle but sweet backing vocals. All of the songs tonight are done with a slightly different skew than before, and none benefit more so than ‘Daniel’. As her most widely-known song to date, it runs the risk of being a stale live number, but here it has a deeper, richer sound than the album offers. The most triumphant moment tonight belongs to ‘Siren Song’.
Saturday is day which peaks far too early. The first act I catch is Dirty Projectors and they take my breath away. They played literally to 100 people on a stage which resembled more of an intimate pub stage. So intimate it was that you could see the whites of Dave Longstreth’s eyes. Dave and Angel Deradoorian open on ‘Two Doves’ is a bizarre opening but they bring it around when joined by the full band with a set peppered with all the big hitters from the recent (and perhaps my album of the year) Bitte Orca record. Particular highlights being Amber Coffman’s vocal take and dance moves on ‘Stillness Is The Move’ and the explosive wig out climax to ‘Useless Chambers’ will stay long in the memory for me. I LOVE THIS BAND SO MUCH. Nothing from Rise Above though … Sniff.
I decide to take it more of the festival surroundings on the Saturday and there’s a lot more else on offer at the festival than just the live music I’ll have you know. We ended up checking out the surprisingly excellent Beatles Rock Band stage. I played bass on ‘Twist & Shout’. I was awesome. Saw recent Mercury Music Prize winner Speech who was a last minute addition to the line up. Can’t see the fuss really then Lilly Allen (who was infectiously catchy and thoroughly HOT I must add!. That dress she wore… Wow) and Jack Penate (who was infectiously catchy and thoroughly enjoyable I must add!) and Mika (who was infectiously catchy and thoroughly annoying I must add!) checked out ‘The Pamper Lounge’, a relaxing retreat where I got a lovely head and shoulder massage. Caught some of Seasick Steve and Metronomy who drew completely different crowds but were equally brilliant in their own right. Even greater was the authentic Thai food and delicious pie and mash (Love Pieminster!) I sampled. The evening concluded with The Klaxons, who drew a large crowd but the new songs didn’t really live up to much and people were streaming out after they dropped ‘Golden Scans’. I think the expectancy for the evening was more Kraftwerk. Personally never been a huge fan but always respected what they’ve done and how much they’ve influenced electronic music. Every song was a classic (‘Model’, ‘Trans-Europe Express’) and the backing video visuals were stunning but that’s all it was. A glorified light show. Seemed like they were playing to backing tapes and not entirely sure how much of the set was indeed, live. I think the part where the curtain closed and opened and the band are replaced by robot versions of themselves during ‘Man-Machine’ answered that question. Still, a band to tick off the list. (Incidentally, next on the list is The Scorpions). La Roux ended the night. 2 things. 1. She must use an awful lot of hairspray. 2. She played that ‘Doing it for the kill’ for the last song. That’s all you need to you know about that.
I wake up Sunday feeling absolutely rubbish and hung-over. I danced way too long last night and couldn’t find my tent. I really need a shower (wet wipes just don’t do it for me.) and I have serious cramp in my leg and froze my arse off in the tent through the night! NOT GOOD. But thankfully, first act I see is the legend, the man, the piano of Michael Nyman. He provides the much needed remedy to help ease me back in to the groove. He’s pieces are beautifully arranged sounding delicately fragile. At one point he’s even joined by Marc Almond who lends his vocals to a new project their working on. My eyes are closed and he’s taking me to wonderful places in my mind. Thank you Michael Nyman. You saved my life. I meet some kids at the front who look bored … I ask them what’s wrong. “We’re just here waiting for Elbow. Don’t care about any one else!”… Jeez, that’s a 10 hour wait. Hardcore. (I must add I missed Elbow because I needed to catch the last hovercraft and last train from Portsmouth to go to work the next morning. Oh yeah, and I think Elbow suck!) I make my way to the Rizla stage and admire every one’s imaginative sci fi costumes (Honestly, the effort some people made was commendable. Personal favourite – Bender from Futurama. I salute you good sir!) and the thumping hip hop karaoke which I really wanted to, but didn’t summon up enough courage to do it (Still D.R.E. I would’ve done if you must know). The girl who did the LL Cool J song though. If you are out there and reading this, I love you.
Caught brief moments of sets from Vetitver, who were perfect for a late Sunday slot. Ideal, lazy and laid back and Doves too, who take to festivals like a duck to water. Very surprised that they were so low on the bill though, now overtaken by THE band I wanted to see. Fleet Foxes. What a couple of years this band has enjoyed. Unbelievable that this band was playing Hoxton Bar & Grill last year for £5 and wasn’t even sold out and here they are now – at the top side of the bill at such a large festival. They played as the sun was just coming down and provided one of the moments of the festival with Blue Ridge Mountain. I actually started feeling teary eyed at one point… lump in the throat moment. Like most bands who have struggled to acclimatize and fill the vast space, their joyous blend of harmonies, heartbreaking melodies and honest lyrics wash over every one like a warm fuzzy blanket. The sun goes down, I’m absolutely shattered and smell terrible but it’s a perfect way to conclude this weekend. They were right y’know, the atmosphere did indeed rule.