Back for another year in Toronto, but in a new location this time around, Bestival kicked off on Saturday, June 11 at Woodbine Park.

While it’s a fresh location for the festival and only it’s second year in Toronto, the organizers of the event have obviously done this a few times before. It’s no surprise that the UK edition of the festival boasts a larger and more lavish roster, but this years programming in Toronto is a generous mix of music (split between 5 stages) for only 2 days of events.

Fans of more immersive electronic, techno and house music found themselves right at home at the festivals Bollywood Stage, which essentially served as a 10-hour dance party with music that didn’t stop between DJ’s. Those less into heady dance music and more into tidal waves of bass drops, high-octane dubstep and stadium bangers found themselves more at home at The Big Top, a stage whose reverberated throughout the entire park. The Balearic Bar was another electronic-driven stage with a nonstop flow of DJ’s, but was also used as a lounge by festival goers. Finally, there’s the Cosmic Commune, which isn’t so much a stage as it is a spiritual tent. With many unique musical performances and influences from around the globe, a sound healing session and much more, this space is just another unique activity available to attendees that didn’t come purely for the music.

Even with so many extracurricular things to get involved in, Bestival’s main appeal is still the music. With big names like Jamie XX, The Cure, Tame Impala and Grimes on the bill along with smaller indie and electronic names like Giraffage, The Twilight Sad or Skylar Spence, there’s a lot to take in here. Bestival’s programmers did a great job of pairing big musical draws with smaller names that deserving of exposure.

Plus, with a plethora of other activities are available to those seeking to escape reality for a couple of days, there was also plenty of that. Attendees could hit an inflatable church waiting ready to “marry” anyone who signed up in time, or deck themselves out in something way too hot for the weather in the dress up tent, or just engorge themselves with the abundance of food options available. Of course aside from the more eye-opening activities there’s still your standard offer of games, contests, puzzles, and free samples from the many sponsors and local businesses involved.

The weather initially called for thunderstorms on June 11, but that worry was quickly cast aside when everyone showed up to Woodbine park to find blazing sunlight throughout the day. By the evening, Woodbine Park was packed with people, and it’s fair to say that aside from some tech issues during Jamie XX’s set, things couldn’t have gone smoother.

Here are my highlights of Day 1 of Bestival Toronto:

GIRAFFAGE:

Charlie Yin, better known for his stage name Giraffage was slotted in amongst big-banger driven names like Thugli, Porter Robinson, and Madeon, making it a bit difficult for his brand of hip-hop and R&B dance tunes to be accepted initially. Yet within a couple of tracks he managed to get the crowd moving with a tasteful selection of pieces off his Needs tape as well as some great remixes of QT, Napolian, Drake and more. While The Big Tent stage seemed to serve as the haven for ravers and dancers that just love a good drop, Yin worked the floor like a seasoned champ and pulling everyone into his bright and fun mix of tunes. As an added bonus, Giraffage’s projected visuals were likely the best of the entire day, with a whirlwind of pixelated cats, dogs, pizza, Sailor Moon, and Studio Ghibli images flashing behind him. The visuals were hypnotic enough, but Giraffage delivered some fantastic music to pair them with, making for one of the most immersive sets of the day.

JAMIE XX:

There’s something to be admired in a DJ who spins vinyl when their vinyl is at risk of melting in the blaring sunlight. Alright, maybe it wasn’t quite that hot out. After calmly walking on stage in a fresh collared white shirt, Jamie XX’s sensual set kicked off with the In Colour single “Loud Places,” jolting the audience into a frenzy for this well-respected DJ and producer.

While many people probably expected a set mainly consisting of Jamie XX’s own pieces, he only played a handful of his tracks, leaving much of the rest of his set open to playing the dance pieces that he loves. Working his way through a very tasteful mix of soca-inspired dance music, deep house, and techno, he kept the good vibes flowing as the festival headed into the evening. While they weren’t apparent at first to most audience members, technical issues were stacking up during Jamie’s set. The screen behind him wasn’t displaying any visuals throughout the set, for example, and right as he transitioned into his closing piece “Gosh,” the power cut out. Tech members scattered around the stage for five minutes before the sound returned and Jamie was able to play “Gosh” before heading offstage. It was an upsetting ending, but his flawless performance leading up to the cutout was truly hypnotic and a treat for this Toronto crowd.

Jamie XX @jamie___xx @bestivaltoronto #VSCO #vscocam #bestivalTO

A photo posted by j a n i o (@janiopt) on Jun 13, 2016 at 9:23pm PDT

 

BOLLYWOOD STAGE:

While the names playing the Bollywood stage aren’t as well known as the Main Stage or The Big Top, the environment here was nothing short of infectious. The lavish stage is beautiful in it’s own right, but add the pyrotechnics, dancers, lights, and moving decorations to the mix and you’re left with one of the most interesting stages you’ll ever see. A slew of great DJ’s took over the decks on the Bollywood stage, including Jonathan Rosa, Art Department, Gaiser, and even Bestival founder Rob Da Bank. Even if you weren’t into the specific songs being played, it was very easy to get inspired to join the dance party by the incredible environment alone.

TAME IMPALA:

Australian Psych-Rockers Tame Impala may initially seem a little out of place on this roster, but any concerns were quickly alleviated once they took the stage. Easily the day’s largest crowd gathered at the Main Stage to zone out to Kevin Parker and his gentle but hard-hitting serenades.

They maintained a focus on their newest LP Currents, while providing some die hard fans with pieces off their earlier records, like the Innerspeaker standout “Alter Ego.” Any tech problems were fixed by this point, since Tame Impala’s set sounded impeccable, with a kaleidoscope of colours swirling behind the band as they played. It was both a beautiful sounding and looking set, a sight to take in.

Despite tireless touring, Kevin Parker and the rest of Tame Impala are some of the most humbling performers you’ll see. “I’m going to be really upset if one of those beachballs doesn’t make it up on stage” is definitely not something that you hear often from seasoned performers at festivals, save maybe Wayne Coyne. By the end of what seemed like a short set (but at an hour and a half, it was anything but), Parker bowed to the audience before heading offstage. No need for that, Mr. Parker. We bow to you.


Of course, Bestival’s Day One could have gone without its small hiccups, but none were big enough to take away from the huge selection of things to enjoy. I can only wonder how much of that free water got drank, since the weather was the hottest I can remember for an early June festival. And with Day Two lining up to be just as nice a day as well with just as much great music, it was an exciting way to start a weekend full of music.