Bestival 2012: The Highs and Lows

by thewheatandthechaff

On Sunday night, Bestival brought the curtain down on the UK’s summer festival season. Now in its ninth outing, Bestival has deservedly built a reputation for eclectic programming, a fun crowd and a fantastic atmosphere. This year was no exception. Here are some of my highs and lows from Bestival 2012.

The Highs

1. Stevie Wonder

An absolutely joyful headline performance at the main stage on Sunday, in front of practically the entire 50,000 crowd united in a buoyant, celebratory mood was followed by a spectacular fireworks display and closed out the festival on a massive high. Yes, the preachy banter was occasionally jarring for some, but it was entirely forgivable, given that it came from an absolute living legend and only lightly peppered a greatest hits set that was simply magical in places.

There were brilliant renditions of everything from ‘Sir Duke’, ‘Higher Ground’ ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ and, of course ‘Superstition’, to tributes to John Lennon (‘Imagine’, The Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’), Michael Jackson (‘The Way You Make Me Feel’) and Marvin Gaye (‘What’s Going On’). Stevie’s voice sounded as good as it ever has, his big band were in great form, and the crowd danced and sang back every word along the way. It was absolutely, positively, bloody magnificent.

2. The XX

Wow. On Friday night, in their only UK festival appearance this year, the XX proved that sometimes less is definitely more.  They warmed up for what actually turned out to be a bit of an underwhelming headline set by Florence & the Machine – too full of self-indulgence and unnecessary embellishment here – with a poised, tightly controlled and truly mesmerizing performance of their own. A surprisingly huge crowd had gathered in front of the main stage to witness the coming of age of a very special British band, and they could not have been disappointed with what they saw.

In stark comparison to Flo Welch’s massive set-up – with her band, a mini-orchestra, backing singers, a piano and a harp – the stage for the XX was smoky, starkly lit and empty, save for the band, clad in black. The minimal set-up perfectly reflected the band’s now landmark sound: achingly intimate and slow songs with a daring sense of space.

Love them as I do, I’ve long had my doubts as to whether the XX – not exactly performers of huge singalong anthems or with buckets of stage presence – are suited to playing to crowds of this magnitude. What was genuinely surprising, then, was just how powerful these hushed and introverted songs sounded, drifting through the night air from the main stage. The band worked their way through tracks from both their first and newly released second album, speaking rarely between them, and the massive crowd were collectively awed into revered silence throughout, only applauding loudly when each perfectly rendered number had come to an end. A truly captivating performance.

3. Brodinski

Brodinski absolutely blew the roof off a packed-out Bollywood tent with a blistering final set on a Saturday night which had already played host to Claude Vonstroke, Justin Martin and Eats Everything. An absolute DJ masterclass, he moved effortlessly between three decks, several genres and various BPMs, chopping and screwing between Cocoon-style dark, locked-in techno, electro and grimy hip-hop bangers, working the crowd into an absolute frenzy. Just too fucking sick.

4. A daytime skank-out in the Bollywood Tent

Yes, we witnessed bigger and better acts over the weekend (see honourable mentions, below). No, The Nextmen might not be the coolest new DJs or the Next Big Thing anymore (were they ever?), and yes, admittedly their DJ sets haven’t changed much over the years, but when a tried and tested formula is this much fun, why mess with it? On Friday, from 4-5pm, the Nextmen duly played a crowd-pleasing set of old-school and classic hip hop, jungle and drum n bass duttyness and, in doing so, generously facilitated the kind of mid-afternoon skank-out that the Bollywood Tent is famed for. And a fantastic, sweaty time was had by all. Cheers boys.

5. The atmosphere

In yet another year of rain-soaked, miserable wash-outs at UK festivals, the Isle of Wight basked in some fantastic early September weather, and Bestival goers were the supremely lucky recipients of glorious sunshine for most of the weekend, with the heavens only finally opening in the early hours of Monday morning. The great weather undoubtedly boosted spirits at a festival already renowned for good vibes. It also definitely helps that the dickhead quota at Bestival is about as low as you could hope for from a UK festival.

Add in the customary fancy dress Saturday, some great music and all the other fantastic stuff which makes Bestival so unique (the ‘time for tease’ burlesque and cabaret shows, the Swamp Shack, the Wishing Tree, wedding, roller and silent discos, the jaw-dropping Arcadia mechanical cabaret arena and, most memorably of all, a tron style ping-pong room, to name but a few), and it all contributed to one last great big celebratory love-in of the summer.

Honourable mentions:


Hot Chip

Playing the Thursday night in the Big Top wasn’t the easiest of gigs for the Chip, with many looking to conserve their energy for the proper kick-off on Friday, but the band delivered a barnstorming set that kept everyone moving until the end, the highlight being a crowd singalong to a cheeky cover of Fleetwod Mac’s ‘Everywhere’. A perfect warm-up.

SBTRKT

SBTRKT’s debut album has been thoroughly rinsed since it’s release last summer, but that diminished little from a banging set on Friday night in the Big Top that rattled through ‘Wildfire’, ‘Hold On’ and ‘Pharoes’ with panache, much to the jubilant satisfaction of the packed out crowd.

Justice

I wasn’t hugely fussed about seeing Justice on the Saturday night, mainly because I’ve already seen them a tonne of times before and was not a massive fan of their second album, but sheeeeeeeeit, were they good. By now, everyone knows what Justice are all about, and sure enough, they went HAM up in there, but they displayed a knack for keeping the crowd on their toes and a technical mastery which must have been honed through extensive touring across the globe over the past few years, because it was largely and endearingly absent when I last saw them. Ending, of course, with arguably the zenith of electro bangers, Phantom Pt II, they had already smashed the shit out of the Big Top by that point and left the roadblocked tent absolutely blown to pieces at the end.

The Lows:

1. Flux Pavilion

A late stage change which we were completely unaware of saw Soulwax shifted to the Big Top to accommodate this wanker on the Main Stage on Friday afternoon. Under the mistaken belief that Soulwax were simply running late and that this bleach blonde fuckwit was some amateur DJ competition winner who was simply filling time until the Dewale brothers came on, I stood in horror for a full 20 minutes as my ears were filled with spastic brown noise. At that point we realised our error and made a dash to the Big Top to catch the rest of Soulwax, but by then the damage had already been done.

Flux Pavilion is a purveyor of the very worst kind of predictable, moronic shitstep, and is not only the worst act I had the displeasure of seeing at Bestival this year, but one of the worst I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Incidentally, down the front is where the entire dickhead quota of Bestival were gathered, new era caps all bobbing in unison, all ‘licking shots’ at each ridiculous squelch and fart that came out of the speakers, so I’ve no doubt this chancer is revered as a God at places like Reading Festival and SW4. Look at that picture, for fuck’s sake, he’s got a little desk fan to keep him cool while he ‘does his thing’. What an intolerable cunt.

2. Queues

I accept that queues are inevitable at festivals, and generally I’m happily resigned to this, but while waiting times in the main festival site were rarely long thanks to well-staffed bars and loads of facilities, the lack of toilets, water taps and showers in the actual camp sites was mystifying and frustrating. We were in red camp site and counted only 10 portaloos at the top of the site, and the same again for long drops at the other end. We queued for four hours on Saturday for a shower, probably because there were seemingly only ten cubicles catering to three camp sites – several thousands worth of people. Please sort it out next year, Mr Da Bank!

3. DOOM

I was really looking forward to catching underground legend DOOM at Bestival this year, but his performance turned out to be a big anti-climax for me. Live rap shows can be a pretty dull affair if there’s no live instrumentation or improvisation and this was no different.  DOOM rocked the classic set-up of hype men and supporting DJ to spin the tracks and the whole thing just fell a bit flat, despite frontloading the set with blunted classics from Madvillainy and Doomsday. I lost interest and left half way through. Oh well, at least he turned up, and at least it looked like the real deal on this occasion.

4. The Big Top

Don’t get me wrong, the Big Top hosted some of the biggest and best acts of the weekend and the sound system was incredible in there, but it’s positioning near the top of the hill, where the Main Stage used to be a few years ago, combined with a lack of entrance points meant that it was often rammed and difficult to dance on such an incline in huge crowds.

On the Thursday night during Hot Chip, a random moment of unexpected moshing near the front created a shockwave which sent what felt like hundreds of us tumbling backwards in a domino effect, unable to regain our balance on such a steep footing, and eventually stacking it on top of each other. We were quickly on our feet again helping each other back up, and could see that people had even been caught up in it towards the back of the tent. Luckily no one looked badly injured and everyone quickly got back on with the show, but it just wouldn’t have happened had the tent been on more even ground.

Often the problem of overcrowding was exacerbated by putting so many big acts in there with nothing else of a similar appeal going on elsewhere to sufficiently attract enough people away, and it led to constant battles just to get in and for enough space to move, which threatened to (but didn’t) ruin our enjoyment of the likes of SBTRKT, Justice and Friendly Fires, who I should also mention were bloody brilliant, as usual.

I admit I don’t know if there is an easy fix here, but we were definitely not alone in feeling that The Big Top would be more enjoyable if it were on more even ground and less packed out every night.

5. BBSSS (Big Band, Small Stage Syndrome)

Did you get to see buzz bands Alt J or Django Django at the weekend? We didn’t even manage to get in the same postcode. There’s not much the organisers can do about the hype that has enveloped these bands since they were added to the bill, but it was disappointing all the same that we didn’t get to see them because they played such small stages.

Dishonourable Mentions:

Roots Manuva

Nope, sorry. Just wasn’t feeling this.

De La Soul

A huge crowd was gathered in the afternoon sun at the Main Stage on Saturday for a brilliant old-school set from Plugs 1 & 2 of De La Soul, which featured all the classics, EXCEPT ‘The magic number’. Maybe this was out of respect for the absent Maseo, but come on! Seriously! No ‘Magic Number’…?? The DJ even started playing the track at the end and the guys just walked off. Not cool.

The 4am curfew

Everything shut down at 4am every night, leaving lots of people who weren’t yet ready to call it a night no option but to return to their camp sites, waking up lots of early-to-bedders with their alcohol fuelled, drug-addled chat, instead of being able to burn it off for a few more hours in somewhere like the Swamp Shack or the roller disco. If a few things were kept going until 6am, everyone would be better off, surely?

Most heart-warming moment:

The gent who proposed to his girlfriend on the big screen after Bat for Lashes (she said yes). Ahhhhhhhhhh…

Most ubiquitous drug:

Laughing gas.

Most ubiquitous site:

A toss-up between leopard print and discarded NOS cannisters.

Best food:

Egg, sausage, cheese and salsa breakfast burrito. Filth.

Worst moment:

Waiting four hours for a shower.

Best moment:

The shower.

Best Day:

Sunday. Of course.

Best Stevie Wonder song:

Superstition. Of course.

Quote of the Festival:

“I’m high on life right now… And MDMA. And laughing gas. And alcohol…”

That’s all folks. Roll on 2013.

 

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