Bestival Brings Out Of This World Music To The South

by Camilo Oswald

Photo: Major Lazer. Credit: Victor Frankowski/Bestival

Over the past decade, Rob Da Bank’s Bestival has been commonly regarded as the last major festival of the summer. After many months of tent-less timewasting, we finally embarked on the ferry, which, judging by the punters’ attire, was seemingly heading to outer space. We arrived to Robin Hill Country Park on Thursday afternoon and made no bones about our intention of starting our first interdimensional Bestival experience as soon as possible – thoughtlessly launching our pathetic pop-up tent into the air and grounding it with our bags before heading off. Thursdays aren’t traditionally the night of heavyweights; instead Shy FX’s Party On the Moon served as the perfect housewarming rave on the Big Top, later hosting indie electronica giants Hot Chip in a masterclass on how to make pop people can’t help but dance to.

After a surprising Friday hangover, we headed over to Invaders of the Future to catch tastemaker favourites Spring King, who turned a small crowd of wet onlookers into a sweaty moshpit of dedicated fans within minutes of their air-tight, surf-rock-indebted garage bangers. Equally well-rehearsed and well-performed were Sheffield indie band The Sherlocks who, despite their excellent repertoire of laddish anthems and stadium-sized singalongs, didn’t resonate with the crowd as well as their predecessors. The proximity of Invaders of the Future to the Main Stage would prove a major advantage over the weekend and also meant accidentally catching Years & Years, who despite not being my cup of tea, brought the first great crowd-pleasers of the weekend. Frontman Ollie proved to be immensely entertaining, providing a powerful vocal performance, trying to out-sexify all his dancers, and bringing out the sun with his ‘sun dance’ – for which he has my eternal gratitude.

Later on, whilst everyone flocked to the carnival promised by Major Lazer, I thought I’d be ever the contrarian and go to see breezy B-town heroes JAWS, whose performance was a marriage of warm bass, liquid guitars and light. Notwithstanding, “when in Bestival” one must run to catch the tail end of Major Lazer and experience a gargantuan, reworked rendition of Lean On, which one cannot fault in the slightest. Honey-voiced producer-songwriter Royce Wood Junior sweetened the post-headliner lull, and a raucous 3am set by Katy B ensured the party kept going through the night.

On the other hand, our Saturday line-up seemed tailor-made for the heavy-headed, starting out with Pretty Vicious and ending with Skream. The former’s set was feral and uncompromising, often giving you the impression the teenage members thought they were headlining – which is the ambition you want from newcomers. Wolf Alice’s main stage set was a thing of wonder; Ellie Rowsell’s voice has never sounded better and guitarist Joff Oddie axe trickery was impressive enough not to be cheesy, and it seems one forgets the devout, youthful following some indie bands still have the ability to muster.

VANT’s efficient blend of rousing, politically-driven, hook-laden 2-minute anthems with a punk edge stirred up a racket at Invaders of the Future, which culminated in frontman and songwriter Mattie Vant’s shirtless recognition that it’s not all doom and gloom and that this set had restored his faith in humanity. Be that as it may, the award for most feel-good performance of the festival has to go to Hinds, whose music, judging by the group hugging in the audience and the sheer fun onstage, is effectively the sound of friendship. Their off-hand vocal delivery and heavy Spanish accent is only punchier and more emphasised, adding to the adhoc, easy nature of their music. They were the only band of the festival to incite a successful stage invasion. We rounded off the night with PC Music and then Skream at new stage The Spaceport, which was a blast in more ways than one (spectacular set-design and pyrotechnics).

After 3 days of early morning raving, Sunday promised to be of a mellower disposition. But after all, festival promises are meant to be broken as Sunflower Bean kicked our day off with the one-two punch of hazy 80’s inspired New York psychedelia and slick garage rock á la 2008. HONNE then managed to provide the most blissed-out set of the festival with a breezy blend of R&B and Balearic beats, mellowing the crowd somewhat before Mura Masa – but nothing Alex Crossan couldn’t turn around with radio earworms Firefly and Lovesick. Keeping the Big Top weird and wonderful were groovy Aussie psych-rockers Jagwar Ma, reprising their 2013 Invaders of the Future set with hits such as Uncertainty and Come Save Me, much to the delight of an outrageously wavy crowd.

Over at the Main Stage, Bastille were providing radio-friendly singalongs for days, with the unexpected highlight being a cover of TLC’s No Scrubs which was frankly fantastic. Headliner Sean Paul followed, and it proved to be the sort of booking most people felt entitled to bemoan beforehand but during which they know and enjoy every song; Temperature has certainly not been forgotten by anyone over the last 11 years and 2012’s She Doesn’t Mind seemed to be the mating call that was needed to start grinding proceedings. Our night ended with Sunday’s last big booking, Fatboy Slim at The Spaceport, and the internationally renowned DJ did not disappoint, reading the crowd masterfully. Despite it having been our first Bestival, it is easy to tell that this festival has its uniquely cultivated identity a planet away from those on the mainland. It comes heavily recommended for those of you who never manage to get festivals organised in time, but who will go all out and embody the spiritual ethos of the festival once in your wellies.