Whether you fall into the belief that Reading and Leeds is a festival appropriate only for those stuck in the melodrama, which is the period between GCSE’s and A-levels, or whether you still see it as a fulfilling musical end to the summer, it’s impossible to argue with the notion that Bestival, which takes place a couple of weeks later and much further south, is everything that they are not. Now in its eleventh year, the festival reflects the love for left-field artists, predominantly dance acts, which owner Rob Da Bank (who runs Bestival alongside his wife Josie) used to play as a DJ for Radio 1. With a Desert Island Disco theme this year, it offers a final blowout before the shutters well and truly came down on the summer. And when that blowout comes in the form of bright colours, sunshine, and the world’s largest disco ball, the possibilities are seemingly endless.
The crowd at Bestival can for the most part be divided into those who see themselves as ‘serious’ music fans and those who replace their veg and fruit with DJ EZ and MDMA. This can probably be put down both to the fact that Bestival has been mentioned repeatedly on blogs etc. and increasingly seen as a mini Glastonbury alongside the extensive amount of dance music it offers. Basement Jaxx were the highlight in the Big Top tent on the Saturday night, running through a high-octane set before leading the giddy crowd into their most recognisable hit, ‘’Where’s Your Head At?’’ Their success lay in that their set was more than just a throb of beats and an epileptic light show, it was a proper fucking party. The 2 Bears, no matter how ridiculous they may appear to outsiders (and probably themselves for that matter), succeeded for similar reasons. Joe Goddard and Raf Rundell gave the crowd a performance packed with humour and beats in equal measure, and when someone tells you they would prefer to give you a bear hug than feel your tits, you’re probably safe in the assumption that they might be worth sticking around for.
tUnE-yArDs, aka Merrill Garbus, has been inducing the world with her infectious afro-beats and off-kilter pop since her third record Nikki Nack was released earlier this year to high praise. Her set at the Big Top was one I was not going to miss for Sam Smith any day of the week, and so while my friends stood howling at the Main Stage on the Friday afternoon, I made my way up the hill and into the Big Top tent once again. There was a small, tentative crowd gathered, causing a fellow member to explain to me/scream into my right ear how he ‘‘expected more people to turn up.’’ Ten minutes into the set, and the crowd was expanding nicely. Garbus and co. swung their way through a set crammed with character and flair, with highlights from Nikki Nack including ‘’Water Fountain’’ which served as proof that this outfit is more than a misguided mish-mash of influences and styles.
Two more female-led outfits with albums released in the last year or so, namely CHVRCHES and La Roux, provided engaging sets of pronounced electro-pop. CHVRCHES’ vocalist Lauren Mayberry’s vocals have improved significantly since the Scottish three-piece’s debut The Bones Of What You Believe came out in September last year, sounding far stronger than initial shows suggested. The tender and evocative electronics and vocals to ‘’The Mother We Share’’ and ‘’Recover’’ forced emotional contributions from the audience gathered, and the touring for the album has turned the three-piece into a well-oiled and well-versed outfit. La Roux provided more sass and led the way in a stunning show, both visually and sonically. Her presence on stage ensured there was not a head which wasn’t obsessed with her movements throughout the set, and with tracks like ‘’Bulletproof’’ and ‘’Kiss And Not Tell’’ up her sleeve, her perfromance proved to be a highlight of the weekend as a whole.
Scroobius Pip’s who played his last show with Dan Le Sac on Saturday and there was the Kooks, who popped up to play the Saturday secret performance. Growing Welsh phenomenon Catfish and the Bottlemen played a raucous set in the impeccably named Invaders of the Near Future tent on Sunday evening to a pretty packed out crowd, pleasing with tracks from their debut record The Balcony out next week. From singles ‘’Rango’’ and ‘’Kathleen’’ through to ‘’Cocoon’’ and ‘’Homesick,’’ an adoring crowd was drawn to the incessant hooks and feedback from the four piece. It was a show of intent and the band ahd apparently drawn in the biggest crowd in the tent all weekend. The same tent, and evening, also saw another of the UK’s most promising young groups who have evolved exponentially over the past year, namely Brighton-based three piece The Wytches. With their debut Annabel Dream Reader just out, their psychedelic grunge-rock smacked the festival’s final evening into life, further professing their status as a band with a bright future.
Despite the term ‘bright’ also being an appropriate term for Temples’ brand of indie psychedelic, as well as perhaps a literary parallel to the name of their most recent record, Sun Structures, it bore no relation to their set, which felt bland and dreary in comparison to tUnE-yArDs, who had performed just moments before. I hadn’t even intended on seeing Temples, but the immovable mass which had amalgamated in front of Disclosure’s set on the Main Stage meant it had at least seemed like the sensible option. Unfortunately, the Kettering-based band inspired nothing and offered very little, which in an environment as permissive and thriving as Bestival, was extremely disappointing.
Despite my best intentions, I seemed unable to make my way to the BBC Introducing Stage until the final day, meaning I missed great up and coming acts such as Eats Everything and Daniel Avery. Thankfully, I had the good sense of mind to ensure I saw Sheffield two-piece Nai Harvest, who played twenty-five minutes of nostalgic emo and indie from last year’s EP Hold Open My Head, as well as a couple of new singles. I managed to grab an autograph off of singer/guitarist Ben Thompson, who proved to be quite the gentleman as he scrambled off to find a pen. It’s rare other than festivals to be able to meet artists on such a personal level, a feature which will never get old and makes these smaller stages so appealing.
From the aspiring to the established, however, the headliners set for this year’s Bestival were, as they should be, a point of hot contention. It was to be Outkast’s only UK show, Foals’ last Holy Fire gig, and having made do with a far less glamorous billing last year, a closing set from Chic and Nile Rogers. Outkast’s experimental brand of hip-hop drew a plethora of fans of everything from ‘’Ms. Jackson’’ to the sugary ‘’Hey Ya!’’ Unfortunately, as soon as the latter was played halfway through the set, legions of people began evacuating towards the imploding tents based around the outskirts. This was perhaps unfair, as Outkast certainly aren’t remembered as one of hip-hop’s most important outfits for a couple of tracks, but when you open your set with ‘’B.O.B,’’ it’s hard to keep that sort of calibre going.
Foals on the other hand delivered a set with enough variation and precision to please everyone who found themselves within earshot of the Main Stage. Everything from ‘’Olympic Airwaves’’ to ‘’My Number’’ found a way into the show, which was closed with a rousing rendition of crowd favourite ‘’Two Steps Twice.’’ When Yannis Philippakis announced how it’ll be the last time they play ‘’Inhaler’’ for a while, the crowd cumulatively felt the strain the eighteen month tour the band must have felt. The journey to extended stardom the band have been on since Holy Fire came out eighteen (!) months ago has been a privilege to engage with, and to witness the end of such a thing was nothing short of humbling.
Final headliners Chic and Nile Rogers brought a set which showed what the heart of disco really looked like. Despite the unfortunate death of Rogers’ guitar technician only a few hours before the show, the 80’s pioneers danced through a career-spanning catalogue of hits, from classics such as ‘’Le Freak’’ through to more modern collaborations including ‘’Get Lucky.’’ With the record breaking disco ball levitating just behind their heads, it was a set which paid testament to the infectious liberality and joy which is Bestival, and set the festival to bed in perfect fashion. That is before we headed off to Bollywood, a place decked out with beautiful Indian decorations and injected with throbbing beats and wonky dance moves. The most beautiful of Bestival’s arenas, and my favourite by some way, it was the perfect environment to keep the blues at bay and try to keep this wonderful weekend stretch as far as we could possibly make it.
As Paloma Faith’s vocals ran down, Chase & Status began vacating The Port and we were all ushered out of the Wishing Tree, the audience at Bestival began the all-important mental preparation of closing down the festival season in one’s head. Many were packed up and off, with a friend of a friend getting his ferry at three AM in order to get back to London to start work. This sort of dedication may be bordering on stupid, but is indicative of what these festivals mean to those who attend. They are part of the summer/holiday/festival jumble which takes place between June and early September, and with Bestival being the final post, it’s important to get it right. With their Desert Island Disco, their otherworldly areas, and their overwhelming desire to just have a fucking great end to the summer, Bestival 2014 has ensured that its attendees will be entering the final stretch of the year with at least a little warmth to keep the cold winter months bearable, and draw them back in when the gates open once more in a year’s time.