Thursday 5th to Sunday 8th September 2013 – Bestival @ Robin Hill Country Park, Isle of Wight
It’s been a special year for Rob Da Bank and his close-knit team at Bestival. Celebrating their tenth anniversary, the festival organisers made every effort to ensure that it was the best, biggest and craziest event to date.
Described by some as a “scaled-down Glastonbury” due to the vast array of music, comedy, poetry, arts, workshops, parades, fancy dress, and much more, Bestival really does offer something for everyone’s tastes. There are no fewer than twenty-five stages and tents, which means that – if anything – your biggest problem will be trying to fit everything in over the course of a weekend.
Arriving on Thursday gives you chance to have a wander around the site, explore and attempt to take everything in before the music begins in earnest on Friday. There were, however, a number of artists getting the ball rolling on the opening day; Kitty, Daisy & Lewis were a particular highlight in the Big Top. The brother/sister trio displayed their mesmerising talent, swapping instruments between almost every song and playing a foot-tapping mixture of blues, rock ‘n’ roll, ska and R&B, proving along the way why they deserve a whole lot more recognition than they currently receive.
Closing out the same tent on the first evening was the genre-bending M.I.A. Packed to the rafters, the Big Top feels like a constant workout thanks to its punishing uphill slope towards the stage. This is in fact true of much of the festival site; if you’re attending in future years, remember to pack a good pair of boots and stretch those calves off!
The line-up for Friday was typically chock-a-block and despite bleak weather forecasts, the sun decided to play fair and cast a warming glow over the Isle of Wight. The first eagerly-awaited act of the weekend came in the shape of New York’s finest, angriest hip-hop outfit – Wu Tang Clan. Poor sound quality and an overflowing main arena resulted in a slightly disappointing experience for some - and this may not be a rap collective at the height of their powers - but tracks such as ‘Bring Da Ruckus’ and ‘Shame On a N****’ still go down a treat for fans of the genre.
Touted by Zane Lowe (and bizarrely Labour MP Tom Watson) as one of rock music’s hottest new acts, Drenge were a pleasant surprise for those who stumbled across their performance in the Replay with Rob Da Bank tent. The brothers from the Peak District deliver a heart-stopping run-through consisting of filthy, driving riffs and brutal, raucous vocals.
Later that afternoon, the Bollywood tent really came to life with David Rodigan’s Ram Jam collective featuring a manic, northern drum & bass set from Dub Phizix & MC Strategy, a lesson in dubstep from Magnetic Man’s Artwork and a party-starting mix of reggae and jungle from Mr Rodigan (MBE) himself. With a low ceiling and smouldering temperature, this tent is where a lot of the intense raving sessions tend to go down (if you can handle the heat).
Fatboy Slim (AKA Norman Cook) was not only the first main stage headliner of the weekend but, as a friend and previous performer at the festival, also brought with him a special 10th Birthday Bash set to really blow the proverbial roof off this ever-growing event. The hour-and-a-half that Cook graced the stage proved to be a magical experience for the delighted crowd. A mesmerising set of visuals, a light show, inflatable balls – this set really had it all. That is not even to mention the tunes; ‘The Rockafeller Skank’, ‘Right Here, Right Now’, the infectious new single ‘Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat’ and ‘Praise You’ which featured an appearance from the Medina Community Choir. All in all, this was a once in a lifetime experience and the highlight of the weekend for many.
Saturday saw a main stage set packed full of energy and exquisite musicality from The Roots before Recreate played successfully on the unstoppable wave currently being ridden by Daft Punk, presenting a full cover rendition of the French duo’s 2001 album, ‘Discovery’.
Manchester legend Johnny Marr captured the imaginations of the Big Top with a selection of tracks from his debut solo album as well as the truly classic Smiths tracks ‘Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’, ‘How Soon Is Now’, ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ and ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’. Marr may be a guitarist-turned-frontman but he has made the transition seamlessly and his performances are a treat for fans of his work.
The midpoint of the festival also consisted of an extremely rare UK appearance from none other than Snoop Dogg. Hailing the crowds for sticking by him and switching occasionally between his Snoop Dogg and Snoop Lion personas, the rapper was constantly flanked by scantily-clad female dancers as he gave an airing to hits such as ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ and ‘Who Am I(What’s My Name?)’. An impressive set from the Doggfather to end the Saturday night in style!
If you are looking to experience something non-musical as well, Bestival is just the place for your needs. Scroobius Pip’s Satin Lizard Lounge presented a wonderful selection of spoken word and poetry over the course of the weekend and you will be certain to stumble across drag acts, parades and workshops on your travels.
Having been discovered by a large number of fans following his appearance with Ed Sheeran, quite a crowd gathered for the Sunday lunchtime slot occupied by Mikill Pane. Playing a number of tracks from his album (out this week) including ‘Chairman of the Bored’ and ‘Good Feeling’, the urban star originating from Hackney quickly endeared himself to those who had wandered into the Big Top with no knowledge of his work.
The Port is a fantastic setting for any energetic DJ set and the Hospitality Takeover proved just that with appearances from Fred V & Grafix, Nu:Logic, High Contrast and Danny Byrd which attracted an afternoon crowd of huge proportions for a who’s-who the drum & bass genre. The stage – fashioned out of a boat – plays home to nautical-themed dancers, pyrotechnics and acrobats to create a true visual spectacle.
One of the most highly anticipated acts of the weekend, following an astonishingly successful festival season, Chic Ft. Nile Rodgers did not disappoint. Rodgers announces early in the set “Let’s not get this twisted. I don’t want you to wonder why we’re playing all these songs by other bands – I wrote all of these songs!” Having cleared that up, the disco outfit proceed to work their way through what felt like the majority of the last thirty years of chart hits. Tracks made famous by David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran, Diana Ross and many more all make an appearance – it is a non-stop ninety minute party and a fascinating musical experience.
For a change of pace, Detroit rapper Angel Haze makes her way from the stage to the audience and back again on multiple occasions whilst spitting a whirlwind of ferocious, hard-hitting lyrics. She oozes cool and is certainly one to check out before her popularity balloons beyond recognition.
One of the most impressive festival bookings of the year closes out the main stage for the weekend with Elton John and his Band playing to an enormous crowd gathering. Even for those who would not usually list old Elton in their musical preferences, it as an experience not to be missed – an “I was there” kind of moment, if you will – and there is something moving about witnessing him crooning over his piano for ‘Candle in the Wind’ as well as producing unmistakable hits ‘Tiny Dancer’ and ‘I’m Still Standing’. Elton sees out the festival in style before a stunning closing firework display that epitomises the Bestival spirit.
For those not quite ready to put the festival season to bed, Knife Party blow The Port to pieces one last time with a heavy, sweaty onslaught of a set and Pete Tong sees things roll into the early hours in the Bollywood tent with his trademark house and electronica beats.
As it’s very name suggests, Bestival is a festival well worth experiencing. The far-flung setting may not be the easiest location to get to for us Northerners but’s it’s undoubtedly well worth the effort. Here’s to decades more of carnage, fancy dress and amazing music on the Isle of Wight!
CLICK HERE to see 61 amazing photos of Bestival 2013 featuring all the hottest acts and, of course, the crazy revelers!
Words: Craig Muff
Photos: Dan Dennison, Victor Frankowski, Ian Taylor, Carolina Faruolo