Music Features

Bestival 2012: Review

I can't remember ever approaching a festival with as much anticipation as this year's Bestival.  The line-up had swelled over a number of months to create the most outstanding programme at any festival this summer.  There was a good group of us in our party - all good fun to be around and obsessed with music, and each with their own list of bands they were determined to see.  And I knew from people that I talked to who had been to Bestival before that this festival was a unique experience; the festival-goers are passionate about their music and determined to have a good time.

My excitement peaked in the days before the event, as in addition to these already strong foundations, the weather forecasts revealed that no rain was expected.  Indeed, the four days of Bestival were due to be bathed in glorious sunshine for all but a few hours on the Sunday.  In one of the wettest and coldest summers for some years, with some festivals experiencing serious difficulties as a result of poor weather conditions (such as Isle of Wight Festival itself) and some even leading to cancellation (such as Creamfields), I'd been preparing myself for the worst.

In hindsight, with such high expectations of the event, I realise I had a strong chance of feeling disappointed; I had built up how much I would enjoy the festival in my mind to an impossibly high standard.  It's testament to how truly great Bestival is that I came away from the event not feeling disappointed, but instead impressed, excited and utterly exhausted.  I enjoyed the event even more than I was expecting to.

A huge part of this is down to the people that visit Bestival.  They are not your typical Latitude middle-class types as I had been expecting, but nor are they the arrogant, selfish know-it-alls like I always seem to encounter at Reading.  Instead, they are enthusiastic and energetic, friendly and happy people; people who indulge and party to the nth degree, whilst remaining respectful to others.

Of course, an equally large contributor to my enjoyment of the weekend was the music.  If you haven't already done so, have a look at the Bestival music line-up and marvel at its magnitude.  Such is the scale of the line-up that, even after the event, looking down the list I see artists and bands who I forgot had performed and who I had missed due to seeing someone else on another stage.

Somewhat unusually for a festival of this size, the music is spread over four days, rather than three.  The first day, the Thursday, is on a smaller scale than the other three days, but the line-up is equally as strong.  Highlights on the Thursday of this year's event included a DJ set by 2 Bears (which included a stunning live version of Bear Hug), Alabama Shakes, Hot Chip and a special DJ set by Rob da Bank in Arcadia.

At this point, it’s worth expanding on Arcadia, which is unlike any stage I've seen anywhere, ever – it has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Arcadia is a huge tower-like structure which houses a DJ.  Strobe lights and lasers are built into the stage and operate in time with the music, with spotlights rotating furiously, spinning in all directions and shooting into the dark sky.  In addition, surrounding the stage are a number of tall lanterns which spew fire into the sky with such intensity that it's possible to feel the warmth generated by every shot.  The combined effect is truly immersive.  Oh, and did I mention that this stage sits between several campsites?!

Back to the festival, and on the other three days, the music starts late in the morning and runs through until the early hours (or the not-so-early hours – often later than 4am).  Even in the dead of night, the tents are packed out and the quality of the music is still outstanding, so you have no choice but to stay up if you want to catch everything.  Skream and Benga, Kevin Saunderson and Field Music all had sets starting after 2am, and there were many more.

The undisputed highlight on Friday was The xx, who gave a spectacular set - confident in its minimalism and excitingly intense.  Bondax's DJ set at Rizlab showed off their considerable skills in making house music sound fresh and relevant to a young crowd.  Alt-J and Jake Bugg both attracted crowds that far exceeded the capacity of the comparatively small Replay With Rob da Bank stage, and both demonstrating they justify the hype surrounding them.  The headliner for the Friday, Florence + the Machine, was a little disappointing.  Whilst her voice was, as always, incredible, and the band were great, there was little of interest on stage and the setlist played safe.  A duet with The xx, who preceded her, would have been lapped up by the crowd. However, there were no guests, and the only variance from a normal Florence concert was her tribute to Jamie xx, a medley of I'll Take Care Of U and Drake's Take Care.

The Saturday started with one of the most uplifting experiences of my life (seriously) - a workout session by Mr Motivator.  His enthusiasm was infectious and transfused into the crowd, the spread of enthusiasm helped by those who were dressed in costume for the day's "wildlife" theme.  Soon after came Sister Sledge, a genuinely surprising highlight of the weekend.  The sunshine and high spirits sat perfectly with the disco, and whilst the performance was perhaps a little cheesy, there was demonstrable talent on show and the group looked like they were enjoying themselves as much as the audience.  Zulu Winter, a somewhat underrated indie band with a hint of electro, gave a great performance covered in bits of tree and bark in the Psychedelic Worm tent.  I'm yet to be convinced by Jessie Ware, who came across as a little arrogant during her set.  Fast-forward to later on the Saturday and the electronic line-up was incredible.  Whilst Two Door Cinema Club and New Order performed on the main stage, I headed to the Big Top to watch Major Lazer, Diplo's alter-ego, provide a fantastic, wild and well-appreciated mix of dancehall, bass and dub.  The tent was full to capacity, but somehow became even busier for Annie Mac, who was DJing before Justice took over.  Annie's set was far less accessible than usual, focussing mainly on underground dance genres including moombahton and trap.  The tent was getting so busy that I chose to retire for the day.

The Sunday opened on the main stage with Fake Bush, a surprise set by the Kate Bush tribute act.  She was followed shortly afterwards by Little Dragon, who played an upbeat set that drew a huge crowd (but, sadly, did not include classic Twice).  We followed up Little Dragon with an amusing set from Dot to Dot Festival favourites, Friends.  Their set includes a permanent replacement of their bass player live onstage (the existing bass player literally picks up her things and walks off mid-set), the final ever play of Joe Rivers' favourite Friends' song, My Boo, and a cover of Bom Bom by Sam and the Womp.  It's an odd 40 minutes.  Before we knew it, the end of the festival was in sight and we returned to the main stage for the final three headline acts: Bat for Lashes, Sigur Rós and Stevie Wonder.  It was hardly a bad way to spend a Sunday evening.  Natasha Khan was in fine form and delivered a beautiful set, encompassing songs from her first two albums and her forthcoming third, The Haunted Man.  Sigur Rós had a troublesome set, with various instruments not working properly.  Despite this, and their subsequent and unexpected apology to their fans, the set was mind-blowing in its beautiful intensity.  And then, Stevie Wonder. I've never seen an act so respected by a crowd; so loved by young and old alike.  Playing a set comprising his most popular classics and covers by The Beatles, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson, he was, quite simply, incredible.

As No Ripcord is an online music magazine, I've focussed this article on the music side of the festival.  But there's so much more to see, including the airing of classic movies, live comedy, various funfair attractions, a roller disco, and even an insect circus.  There was too much to fit into this article and too much to see and do in one weekend.  In a way, that's the downside of Bestival.  But it's a downside that I'm definitely prepared to live with.

Not had enough of Bestival 2012 yet? Elsewhere on No Ripcord, we’ve got on-site interviews with both dan le sac and Emily Barker, and stay tuned for an interview with singer-songwriter Mary Epworth in the coming days.