If there’s been one reason to wish the summer away this year, it’s the end-of-summer flock to the Isle of Wight, where sandy beaches and palm trees (!) lie at Bestival’s desert island disco. In “the best Bestival yet”, 50,000 castaways migrated to Rob & Josie da Bank’s curated giant playground for those who’ve grown up in physique, but not necessarily in mind.
Photo by Howard Melnyczuk
By Thursday’s mid-afternoon, attractions on site start opening up and it’s a dubbed day for exploration. Since music doesn’t kick off until dusk, the Bandstand, with less familiar bands, gets the biggest audience it’ll have for the rest of the weekend. Fellowship of Groove served up some afrobeat in the sun, with a sweet selection of brass (special kudos for the gorilla playing the trumpet) and a female dancer jiving for the crowd.
As the Sun goes down, the lights sparkle on and music arises. Formerly a comedy marquee, the ‘Invaders of the Future’ tent gave us Glass Animals, kicking off the evening with some kooky indie rock. Sadly, a sound-check overrunning by 45 minutes meant a honeyed but condensed set, half of which there still remained technical issues with the vocals.
The headline of the night, Beck, gathered a nicely sized crowd to the Big Top; and the American rock band gave us a ‘real show’. Musically speaking, it was a great performance, but I couldn’t help cringing at the “improv” towards the end and feeling like I’d caught a pre-rehearsed jam session. More convincing improv could be seen on Grassy Hill at the people’s Front Room, which is exactly what it sounds like, but in a tent and with musical instruments.
Photo by Dan Dennison
Friday kicked off through the temple entrance into the hand-stitched shelter of Bollywood, where Brian Shimkovitz played to laid-down onlookers a selection of his Awesome Tapes From Africa. Launching from a state of ambience, Shimkovitz shifted to merry African disco, almost completely unaware of his onlookers.
At the Red Bull Stage, the heavily bearded and hyped-up DJ Harvey introduced Harvey’s Discotheque to a smaller bunch, snail-pacing through a little-too-minimally-ambient music that occasionally teased a driving upbeat force, but sadly, failed to deliver. Repaying a visit to the Discotheque later in the evening, we caught the engagingly slower, sensually emotive side of techno from Daniel Avery, followed by the playful, future-friendly “Hippie Dance” nature of the Pachanga Boys. The duo seemed to glide from strength to strength, with a selection of dreamy house-cum-disco and enough fire to satisfy everyone’s inner pyromaniac.
Photo by Victor Frankowski
Moving to the main stage, Laura Mvula graced Bestival with charm and flair. Mvula possesses something in her nature candid enough to make the vast area feel like a small, personal plot, and her melodies seemed to encourage the gathering around the stage to dance and illustrate visible shades of love.
The energised pop mavericks tUnE-yArDs exemplified as the sun was setting just why the Big Top is notorious for its electric eclecticism. In a spacious yet intimate venue, the face of tUnE-yArDs Merrill Garbus demonstrated skill in live impulsive drum loops, polished with ukulele melodies and textured vocals. It was at the Big Top our Friday finished, catching an unexpectedly bold and brilliant show from La Roux. It’s been five years between their original appearance in 2009 and their new release; travelling through a darker realm of synthpop, Jackson’s vocals were entrancing and well worth the wait to listen to.
Photo by Dan Dennison
Saturday at Bestival is renowned for being a haven of fancy dress. The theme being Desert Island Disco, castaways donning disco ball masks and grass skirts, disco pants and leis, ambled around the arena for a jam-packed schedule of music delights. Soul-infused legend Candi Staton set the disco dynamics on the main stage for the afternoon – and then proceeded to advertise herself on Facebook and Instagram to the audience (wince).
Showing knowledge of music that exceeds his twenty young years, Karma Kid played two sets throughout Saturday, with a fresh assortment of material to paint contrasting atmospheres. The afternoon-ravers at Temple Island danced into a house-meets-disco frenzy, keeping things light and funky, rolling into a heavier atmosphere in Bollywood Field later in the night.
Gem after gem hit the Big Top on Saturday night. Plunging into the elusive air of DARKSIDE, Jaar and Harrington conquered the hearts of Bestival in what will allegedly be one of their last shows together. The signature dark and subdued lighting empowered the sultry guitar riffs and percussion gradually oozing throughout the set, disappearing off into the night as the smoke and white noise took over the stage. By the time SBTRKT came to the Big Top, the masses gathered from all directions for what turned out to be a pretty downtempo live set, with pressing vocals from the likes of Sampha protruding over beating percussions. The simplistic sound of Bonobo followed, and though technically precise, it seemed to lose its charm and spirit in the space of the tent, unlike Green’s hypnotising concerts.
Vocalist, producer, and DJ Pional was an absolute treasure on The Invaders of The Future stage, and it seemed a shame that so few people were there to witness his gentle and delicate voice sliding over soft synth and electronic goodness. With so much talent in his fibres, Pional is someone to keep a beady eye on for the looming future, until a moment of apt recognition greets him.
The most visually stunning stage, The Port, targets its audience as fans of EDM and commercial electronic music, such as the uninspiring Annie Mac, who clearly has a better publicist than innovation. It was an interesting turn of events, then, to see 1-800-Dinosaur emerge with a four to the floor and bring intelligence and intrigue to the decks, as acrobats slowly span from a crane over the crowd. Regrettably, the dreary noise of an MC slumped over the sound throughout.
Photo by Dan Dennison
My personal favourite area of Bestival, the Ambient Forest, is a true labyrinth of vibrant splashes of light and hammocks stretching between the trees. Soothing notes led us through the maze to the fairy-tale setting of the Ambient Lake, where Flying White Dots treated us to a moment of complete serenity, somehow managing to shadow out the noisy antics of the Port. Finishing with the timeless To Build a Home, Bryan Whellams ended Saturday night in an upsurge of euphoria.
Photo by Carolina Faruolo
Sunday saw The Radiophonic Workshop reunite once more in an experimental electronic fusion, drifting through the sounds of sci-fi, while the Dub Pistols played the desert island the twisted tune of rebellious skank from a handful of dub, ska, punk and a pinch of techno. Finishing our night in Bollywood, Âme stirred up a cocktail of Detroit-influenced deep house with a dash of eroticism, in a tent so crowded, sweat showered from the roof. Visible from the very parameters of the campsite, fireworks bedazzled the island’s castaways. To top off the show-stopping finale, the world record-breaking sized disco ball was hoisted into the air, with bewitching illuminations reflecting in every direction, sending Bestival into dizzying heights of disco.
Photo by Dan Dennison