With Britain’s Indian summer turning out to be more like the Asian monsoon season, there’s a sense of trepidation as we get out of the car at Bestival’s site at the Isle of White and discover we’ve somehow brought a pair of wellies that are a size too small.
On Friday morning however, the sun is burning bright as we wind our way through the vast coloured-coded camp sites to join friends who arrived the night before, Thursday night now a permanent fixture after last year’s successful experiment, the likes of Hercules & Love Affair and Santigold having already entertained the eager early birds.
The Big Top is just one of the tents dedicated to dance based beats and we break our Bestival virginity with Cut Copy, the Australian band whose new wave, madchester and early house influences hang heavy on their third album ‘Zonoscope’. Rousing the crowd, and working up a patchwork of sweat on their initially pristine pressed shirts, they’re just the first of numrous acts to pay tribute to Bestival onstage.
They’re followed by UK breakthrough SBTRKT, hordes of teenage kids in cardboard cut outs of his iconic mask swarming around us for tracks like ‘Living Like I Do’ which rises out of the soulful pipes of Sampha, SBTRKT set back behind a drum kit displaying his impressive stick skills.
One of the festival’s big coups is Public Enemy, the New York group whose bombastic agitprop albums like ‘It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’ and ‘Fear of A Black Planet’ remain a high point in hip-hop, both in terms of searing social, political and racial commentary and for their radical far-reaching sampling, something since quashed by the introduction of tighter copyright laws than in their late ‘80s and early ‘90s heyday.
With Chuck D and Flava Flav, who pulls his iconic clock on a chain out of his t-shirt to rapturous applause, the ultimate ying-and-yang of earnest directness and madcap mentalism, tracks such as ‘Bring the Noise’ and ‘ Night of the Living Bassheads’ sound refreshingly raw compared to the slick, overproduced pop pap of most modern day hip-hop. But when Flava Flav starts promoting his book, ‘Flava Flava: The Icon, The Memoir’ straight after ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’, no amount of ‘yeah boyees’ can cover up the fact that with their youth has gone the previously uncompromising mind set in favour of middle age pragmatism.
We can only assume that Red Bull is flying off the shelves as their musical association is going from strength to strength and throughout the weekend their stage, semi-exposed to the elements and dangling with anagrams of the brand name has some of the newest, most underground acts.
After a long wait due to technical difficulties Ghost Poet plays highlights from last year’s ‘Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam’ album, coming on like a bedsit living, baggy jumper wearing Root Maunva, before Numbers’ Jackmaster and Spencer are joined by Oneman for an all out garage and bass throwdown, various members of their entourage running onstage throughout to force rewinds.
Dressed in full on Eurythmic’s regalia the next day, complete with Dave Stewart weave, we hit the main site in time to get an overview of the main stage crowd signing in unison to The Village People’s ‘YMCA’. Compared to the day before though, essential acts are less obvious, until the early evening choice between Rustie and PJ Harvey, something that by our moto should have gone to the former but instead goes to the Mercury Music Prize winner who is dressed in an immaculate headpiece with a flawless performance to match.
The Rizzlab is another stage showing the cache afforded to dance music by big brands, the early evening seeing Hannah Holland spin dirty acid house after previous performances by Heat Wave, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and the disappointingly happy-clappy Frankie Knuckles.
Unmissable though is Primal Scream performing the seminal Andy Weatherall produced ‘Screamadelica’ in its entirety. Despite the legendary excesses and naked drug influences (‘Higher Than The Sun’ anyone?), Bobby Gillespie still appears to be in good nick, prowling the stage with all the energy of a 20 year old discovering his first eckie.
Equally enticing is the Night Slugs takeover of Bollywood, L-Vis 1990 returning to what he does best with a set of booty bass, funky and techno, Laurent Garnier’s ‘The Man With the Red Face’ cutting through the sweaty atmosphere to clear the air for Jam City to take over. We take a swift sojourn to see Tom Vek, but it’s soon back from Claude VonStoke who appears to be edging closer and closer to the broken beats of his drum and bass roots, his set rinsing the stacked speaker systems with resonant bass pressure from the likes of Eats Everything and Justin Martin.
Sunday arrives with tired eyes and legs, all dance drained out of us and the prospect of a 4am ferry ride home to work. A spontaneous sing-a-long by the entire waiting Big Top crowd to a brass band cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody aside, the moment everyone has been waiting for is Bjork. With a career that has veered from out and out dance to experimental Icelandic acappela, tonight she’s joined by a full choir for tracks off ‘Biophilia’, her latest opus while images of tectonic plates, jagged mountains and worms eating decaying flesh flash behind her. Dressed in giant orange wig and a blue outfit topped off by a shark fin, she bounces around the stage, taking the tone from soft and delicate to tough and obstinate like Bjork herself.
Topped off with an sudden rush of smoke filled bubble from amongst the crowd and a ten minute fireworks display set to a medley of tracks by everyone from Queen to DJ Hype, it’s an emotional climax to the weekend and while the music plays on, with the likes of Modeselektor and Fatboy Slim still to come, Bestival has truly Sunday bested us.
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