Music Features

Bestival 2013 - Review

Walking through the Bestival campsite, looking for a spot to pitch my tent, I caught myself starting to smile. I’d only spent a few minutes wandering around the site at that point but I had already recognised a lot from last year’s festival, and the memories were flooding back. From the camping areas and the trails connecting one end of the site to the other, right down to the food and drink stalls; everything felt as it had done at Bestival 2012.

Indeed, much to my delight, I soon discovered that HMS Bestival 2013 had lost none of the unique charm that I had come to expect from my previous visit; it remained quirky and full of curiosities throughout. There were familiar sights such as the Swamp Shack, described by Bestival as a “ramshackle Louisiana bayou juke joint straight from the pages of a Southern Gothic fairytale” and new sights, including the Port, a full-size ship stationed at the top of a steep incline, complete with lasers, smoke screens and pyrotechnics from the funnels. There remained smaller areas that you could stumble across by chance, such as the Caravanserai, a small bric-a-brac camp built out of old vehicles, curiosities and objets d’art found on the road, as well as a record shop made out of cardboard and a giant inflatable model of Lionel Richie’s head. Wherever you went, there was one constant - people were in infectiously high spirits.

Then, of course, there was the music.

I was fortunate enough to be standing one row from the front barrier for Chic’s set on the main stage; a set which, somewhat unexpectedly, turned out to be my favourite of the weekend. Although I had little doubt that Chic's feel-good music would create a great atmosphere in the crowd, my knowledge of their repertoire was limited to their three or four most popular tracks and I was concerned that this would hamper my enjoyment of their set. As it turns out, Chic only performed a handful of their own songs. The remainder came from Nile Rodgers’ comprehensive back catalogue, which was exploited to maximum effect over the course of the group’s ninety minutes on stage. Featuring tracks made famous by a range of artists including Duran Duran, David Bowie, Madonna and, of course, Daft Punk, the set was full of surprises and had the crowd dancing and singing along throughout.

Another highlight came from Kate Boy, who performed early on Friday on the second stage, the Big Top arena. Their performance was proof that despite the volume of electro-pop released in recent years, the genre can still sound as fresh and exciting now as it ever has. Professional, confident and mesmerising, the group could easily have rivalled the performances of most artists on the main stage and are a name to watch out for in the future.

My final musical highlight comes from James Blake, who performed to a packed-out Big Top arena late on Sunday night. What impressed me most about Blake’s performance was how he was able to convert his intricate album recordings to a live audience. He played to a crowd of thousands, yet lost none of the intimacy of the recordings, supplementing haunting melodies with minimalist accompaniment and powerful, chest-pounding bass. After performances from Chic and Elton John on the main stage, Blake’s music could easily have sounded downbeat and depressing, maybe even boring. But it didn’t, and the fact that the tent remained full throughout his set is testimony to the strength of his performance.

Bestival balances the fun, quirky intimate nature of smaller festivals with the kind of music line-up that only major festivals can attract. It’s a joy to experience, both for its music and for its eccentricities. In my interview with Rob da Bank last year, he told me that “people know that as soon as they get on the ferry or come through the gates, they'll enter into a different world”. To me, the unique spirit of Bestival is now very clearly defined in my memory. It is a spirit of joy and adventure, of artistic excellence, fun and respect. And it’s one that truly needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.