Being that Bestival is the brainchild of Rob Da Bank, is wildlife dress-up themed and boasts the likes of Rizzle Kicks gracing the lineup, you'd be forgiven for thinking it may not be the place to go if what you really want to do is dive into new music. Given the quality of this year's lineup, however, with some fantastic new acts alongside some well-established bands who we know are worth seeing, we thought, this time round, it might just be worth checking out.
Arriving on-site, the crowd doesn't quite have that V or Reading Festival need-to-be-back-at-school-on-Monday vibe, but there's barely anyone over the age of 24 or so in sight (I should add, I'm well under this bracket myself, so this is no complaint). Within minutes of being sat near the entrance, we're already approached by friendly Northern lads selling pills, a group of girls with a Waitrose-branded trolley overflowing with Gaymers and a guy who's already managed to lose his friends, and his phone. We know we're at a festival, and we're in a damn good mood about it.
First on our list for the evening's entertainment, Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard strides onto the stage with lion-like locks and a lion-like look in her eyes. Her powerful, soulful voice over the Americana-folk-R&B immediately transforms the audience - which clearly includes a fair few well-versed fans - into an amiable swaying mass, all singing along and looking forward to the rest of the weekend. Walls of noise from the guitars and thundery-folk rhythm section power through Hold On and Be Mine as the voluptuous front woman paces the stage, guitar almost part of her body, and we are ready for the rest of the night.
Next on the list come the geek chic, charisma-filled, well-respected and always fun Hot Chip, who are pretty much the perfect band for this festival. There's few who can't sing along to One Life Stand and Touch Too Much and the band are as tight as you'd expect from such longstanding pioneers of electro-rock cool. It's a shame, then, that the sound is so muddy the songs are almost unrecognisable for a good few bars, even if we're very familiar with them once we've worked out what they are. This isn't, of course, the band's fault but either way, most of the audience are too away with their intoxicant of choice to care much.
Kicking off our Friday afternoon, and kicking away the morning hangovers are the beautiful harmonies of Sweden's First Aid Kit. Starkly pure in sound and appearance, the band's two front women pound at keys and finger pick guitars, flooding the sunny weekend air with delicate, folky sweetness.
Ane Brun brings more Scandinavian gorgeousness to the day's proceedings, back in the sparsely filled Big Top. Dressed all in white flowing robes and commanding the room with a queen-like aura, the Norwegian songstress gets the crowd relaxed and dancing. Sound seems less of an issue here today - for now at least - and her powerful voice alongside double-drummer percussion action and three way backing harmonies brings the tent into a gently swaying mass of avant-pop pleasure.
More exceptionally attention grabbing ladies for a Friday, Warpaint stride on to the main stage, sporting Kingfisher-lager vests, caps and seemingly a whole new style. The new material, too, is noticeably more upbeat than their previously slow-burning, sway-inducing walls of guitar and makes for an aurally captivating set, even if the band are somewhat lacking in stage-presence today. Nevertheless, old favourite Undertow certainly seems to capture people for a minute. There is still, however, a looming trend of disinterest from the audience creeping in and this isn't the last we'll see of it.
The day continues with the ever-popular indie-boy stylings of Django Django in the Psychedelic Worm tent, who have the crowd bopping with their pleasing riffs and monotone vocals through the recognisable Hail Bop and Default. They're clearly exactly the right kind of thing for this crowd.
The beginnings of the real big boys of the line up, The xx float onto the main stage in front of a packed out audience of thousands. This is a name everybody knows and everyone's come down to see what the fuss is about. The band kick off with latest single Angels, Romy Madley Croft's lethargically sweet vocals swooping over the crowd, alongside the familiar minimalist guitar and electronics. There's no fault with the stage presence here, either. The chemistry between Croft and her cohort Oliver Sim is captivating and everything is set for a pretty good beginning to the evening. It's a shame, then, that by the time the band are three or four songs into the set, the Dave-told-us-these-guys-are-sick-so-we'll-pretend-to-listen attitude of many of the people around us seems to have worn off and, instead of being swayed by the bands lusciously simple melodies, we're party to one loud conversation - front left - about how 'fit' Gareth is or isn't, and another - centre right - about how many nos balloons someone once consumed in an hour. Essential talk, no doubt, but could perhaps have been left for later. I'm not usually one for getting angry at people at gigs, but for this crowd, ‘rage’ doesn’t quite cover it.
Another big name, another full-to-bursting main stage, Florence and the Machine's Florence Welch dances onto the stage looking enchanting all in green and propels her characteristically strong vocals out into the audience. Unfortunately, where we're standing nearer the back, said audience are also running with the disinterested theme. Still, it's a set that feels full of pop power and the high-in-the-mix percussion and recognisable, flowing melodies that make for an enjoyable show from the ever-popular lady-of-the-pop-manor. Largely, however, the won’t-dance, won’t-listen attitude of people watching means it's beginning to feel that the quirky cool which Bestival once held in its atmosphere, is fading into the mass appeal of the Reading and V kind of festival scene. To say the least, it seems like a bit of a shame.
Our faith in the people here is somewhat waining then, but luckily a smallish crowd back at the Psychedelic Worm for Porcelain Raft help give us back a little hope in humanity. Opening with single Drifting In and Out, Mauro Remiddi's shoe-gazy dream-pop immediately has the late-night crowd dancing and, whisper it, really looking like they're having a good time with the music. Falsetto vocals, woozy guitar and tight drumming come together to make a set of perfect Scandinavian pop, and end the night's musical endeavours on a very high note.
Saturday kicks off with more upbeat indie from Zulu Winter. Adorned with badger masks, the 5 boys are the same kind of thing we heard from Django Django yesterday and their fast, tight beats and electronic bleeps around the guitars get a pretty decent reception from the young crowd.
Soon we're heading off to catch a quick few songs from the sexy, leopard-print covered form of Delilah, who gives props to Dizzee Rascal, and moans her way through 'Inside My Love' with provocative charm before we're away to catch Jinja Safari. These Australian boys, full of Blink 182-esque bouncyness and an excellent combination of pop-rock with bongos on the side, are thoroughly entertaining and keep the crowd dancing through Mermaids, Moonshine, and endless 'Oh-oh-oh's, before the charismatic front man clambers atop the speaker stack and poses, clearly enjoying himself just as much as anyone at a festival should.
Back inside the Big Top, the ever-entertaining Beardyman takes to the stage with his unique mix of beatboxing and on-the-spot production to get people dancing, before breaking things down and leaving the more Chase and Status-affected of the crowd looking slightly bemused. It's glitchy and odd ball and fun, but we're soon up and out again to catch the next boys on our list.
Again in the same vein as Django Django and Zulu Winter, but with higher, falsetto vocals, arguably catchier songs and a much bigger audience, Two Door Cinema Club are touring around the release of their second album, with an already-huge following. The set opens with sing-along Undercover Martyn and also unveils some new material, which feels little different to the tight indie we know them for, but doesn't seem to have the audience so enthused. All we want is just to hear a song we kno-ow...
Playing in front of the original trippy music videos, complete with what would have been excitingly new animation technology (if this were the '80s), and weird reminders of their much younger selves and ex-bandmates, New Order play for nigh on two hours. The band run through many a recognisable tune, including Isolation and, of course, Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart to end the proceedings. This, alongside Ian Curtis' blown-up face plastered around the stage for the song, gets eveybody's attention and ends the set with a mass sing along from the whole of the main stage crowd. A lot of these kids may not really know who New Order or Joy Division or Ian Curtis are, but it's one hell of a nice moment.
Errors do a bit more for warming the music-lover soul with their tight post-rock/math-rock/electro geekiness. Soaring through Tusk and powering out Barton Spiring, the band work their uber-uncool-cool magic on us and keep our spirits high, their passion and enthusiasm getting the heart beating. It's undoubtedly one of the best sets so far, if not of the whole festival, and a great end to a Saturday night's music.
Sunday starts with a jaunt over to the main stage in the thankfully triumphant sun for Little Dragon. She's already played at the festival on Saturday and as the alt-pop princess flounces onto the stage, we're reliably informed it's not quite as stylishly cool as she managed at the previous performance. Despite the slight lack of stage charisma, however, she jumps around dutifully with a tambourine, while her growly voice hits the target perfectly throughout the percussion-rich, avant-pop set.
Next up, a haze of thundery drums and distortion drenched guitars meets us as we just make it into the Psychedelic Worm for the beginning of 2:54's set. Somehow, the lo-fi pop ladies are much more sophisticated and less grungy than we'd imagined, but still give off something of that riot grrrl vibe which we were so hoping to see, as they power their way through Scarlet, and give us a much needed dose of something loud and a little bit crashy.
Brooklynite cool, funk-pop, and captivatingly stylish, Friends again suffer from the bad sound of so many before, but nonetheless come out with a set of endlessly charming beats and off-beat synths to get our afternoon going. Saying goodbye to one bassist on stage and welcoming another with hugs and possibly tears all comes across as a little dramatic, but it's made up for a hundred times over by the charisma with which they power through the perfect pop of Girl Crush and I'm His Girl, even if this isn't as tight a set as we might have hoped for.
A surprisingly small crowd turns out to see Bat For Lashes enchantress Natasha Kahn float across the stage. She's looking a little less glitter-strewn and fairy-like than she has for previous tours, but she still manages to hold the magic for a captivating set. A few songs from the soon-to-be-released album, The Haunted Man, go down with a whole lot of enthusiasm, alongside many old favourites, and the whole main stage gets excited for Horse and I. There's enough young women belting through new-ish single Laura with her, too to imply that none of her captivating power has gone with the haircut, either. It's a beautiful set from a beautiful lady.
Sigur Ros begin on the still sun-lit main stage with a delicate single note which builds over long minutes to become a powerful, all-encompassing field of guitar, strings, percussion and powerful post-rock enchantment. The energy here is paramount, and as the band soar thought their 90 minute set, the crowd are awash with the grandure of the performance. Lead man, Jonsi, spends a good two minutes playing the guitar with his tongue, as the rest of the band throw and float themselves intermittently around the stage, through Hoppípolla and Ágætis Byrjun, making for a thoroughly captivating set.
It's a little strange, then, that after the performance, we learn that the band have pulled the set from the live stream of the festival and are apologising to the fans for a sub-standard performance. It is true that they are better seen in darkness with the light show in full force, and there’s a moment of the set when the guitars hit discordant notes and a few seconds of feedback, but it's still, by my standards at least, a spectacular performance.
And then, the cause of the commotion which had Sigur Ros on so early, Stevie Wonder in all his fabulous and dramatic glory takes to the stage in front of pretty much the entire festival. There's little else on and, let's face it, there aren't many who'd willingly miss the chance to see such an icon. It must be said that, for the first few songs, there's little time to concentrate on the music as more and more people try and force their way down closer to the flamboyant legend. The crowd at one point grows so vast and crushing that there are a good deal of people trying to force their way out, looking traumatised, as well as those still trying to make their way in. Once we've located a space we can comfortably watch from, however, Wonder's performance of 'Superstitious', 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours) and endless other classics is an unmissable experience.
That done with and the weekend drawing to a close, we catch the electronic wonder that is Gold Panda. He may be one of the now ubiquitous man-with-laptop live acts and the sight of his head bobbing repetitively over his large array of buttons and knobs may not be the most exciting thing we've seen this weekend, but his glitchy, scratched sounding electronic beats and pulsing synth noise more than make up for it. and Getting us dancing for what is almost the final time for the festival.
And finally, one of our most anticipated acts, Canada's Grimes, takes to the small Replay with Rob Da Bank stage at 1am, grinning and sporting what might be a blue CareBare onesie, for the final set of the weekend. Much loved echo-ridden, swooping singles Oblivion and Genesis get people dancing, but it's a shame that there seems to be some technical difficulties going on and Claire Boucher herself, the woman behind the moniker, looks uncomfortable and the set lacks some of the power which we've seen from her before. Nevertheless, her onstage electronic-mastery is something to behold alongside the weird dancers she carries with her and it's by no means a bad way to end the night's live music.
The night goes on and there's more dancing to be done, of course, as the crowd disappear into the night to lose themselves for a little longer and pretend for a while that they won't have to spend thirteen hours tomorrow getting off the island and back to London. We've no doubt seem some fantastic music this weekend and enjoyed the best kind of weather, but it's pretty clear that, despite the boutique charms Bestival may have held in the past, things are a little different now. If what you really want to do is watch some bands in a nice atmosphere, rather than just gain bragging rights for seeing them, regardless of sound quality, this may no longer be the place for you.
"Progress is impossible without change." This deceptively simple nugget of wisdom came from a man who knew a thing or two about music and literature, and remains the only person to have won both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. But the sentiment behind one of George Bernard Shaw's most profound utterances is as true today as it was in the late 19th Century, and one that Sónar 2013 has wholeheartedly embraced. [read more]