thu 18/07/2024

Camp Bestival 2016 | reviews, news & interviews

Camp Bestival 2016

Camp Bestival 2016

Top space-themed family-friendly barney pulls the rabbit out of the hat

Shoulders above the rest... Camp Bestival works for one young viewerHeader, Tears For Fears and Cuban Brothers images © Camp Bestival, sausage © Tess Bartlett, all other shots © James Ridpath

Camp Bestival, curated by DJ Rob da Bank, has taken place at Lulworth Castle in Dorset since 2008. It’s now an institution of sorts, rammed to the gills with ageing ravers pulling around colourfully decorated trollies and paying over the odds for “reimagined Eritrean street food” and the like. It is, as I’ve written many times before, the Waitrose of festivals but that’s no bad thing.

An easy-to-ridicule, surface middle-classness masks a haven where parents and children can enjoy the wild, colourful, surrealist carnival of festival-land together, as well as a plethora of good music. theartsdesk attended as one of two familes, including three 13-year-old girls. Summed up as a series of lists, this was our experience...

Top Camp Bestival Moment

Fatboy Slim

decorationVenerable DJ Norman Cook embraced Camp Bestival 2016’s outer space theme and came onstage dressed as an astronaut to the sound of his millennial hit “Sunset (Bird of Prey)”. One of the weekend’s bigger crowds was there to greet him, a sea of glowsticks and other luminous paraphernalia. He is, of course, a DJ rather than a proper live act, but his show is, in essence, a party, fine-tuned on this occasion to a family audience. His usual spectacular live visuals took in everything from his smiley face-adorned Brighton home to a mind-boggling series of famous faces morphing into each other. Marvin Gaye, Prince and his own multiple hits, the latter shorn of their swears (“Fatboy Slim is ______ in Heaven”), were all enhanced by the use of confetti cannons. Put simply, he blew the lid off Saturday night, building his set almost completely around an EDM/hard house 4/4 stomp, but decorated with so much cheek and pop suss that the result was all-inclusive. By the end, grizzled old techno-heads and CBeebies-loving toddlers alike had their hands in the air like they just didn’t care.

Camp Bestival's Top Five Live Acts

1. My Baby

my babyIn the main tent of the Caravanserai enclosure, late on Friday evening the terribly named Dutch three-piece My Baby (pictured left) let loose a torrent of throbbing space-funk that astounded. They were fronted by female bass-player Caro van Dijck, who was clad in psychedelic loon-pants, Aztec neck jewellery, a bra top and a gauze cape. While she hurled herself into their sonic stew, attacking the vocals like Janis Joplin, virtuoso support was offered by her brother Joost on drums and the Santana-like guitar of New Zealander Daniel Johnston. Their sound, which they aptly termed “trance boogie”, veered between disco wah-wah and T-Rex bounce, jazz rhythms never far off, and the whiff of Ozric Tentacles-style jamming ever-present. The result was a lysergic noise-squall grounded in the visceral drive of dance music’s energy. It was sexy, fired-up and gripping.

2. The Cuban Brothers

cubanThe Cuban Brothers seem to have become Rob da Bank’s house band. Although they’ve put out their own funked-up music, they’re essentially a party turn, but what a party turn! Their gumbo of costumed silliness, break-dancing, bawdiness, disco and hip hop always succeeds. They arrived on stage half an hour late – due to a “masturbation accident”, they claimed – but soon had the restive crowd in the palm of their hands.  Wandering from Kurtis Blow to Lionel Richie to their own music, the four of them exuded epic energy, with breakdancing skills in full effect, which was especially incongruous when done by the stocky – portly, even – “Archerio”, clad in a tassled jumpsuit. The show culminated in “Miguel” (pictured above right) stripping down to a preposterous swan thong, about which he gave a long and ludicrous monologue. They were brilliant and side-splittingly funny entertainment.

3. Xylaroo

This sister duo appeared on the main stage early on Sunday afternoon and seduced a sprinkling of an audience which, until then, had been snoozing in the sun. For my money their debut album, Sweetooth, is the album of the year so far, a collection of beautifully harmonised cosmic campfire songs with a mystic, even apocalyptic edge, in tune with these dangerous times. They appeared with only Coco Chant’s guitar for company, while her sister Holly simply stood at the mic and sang. As well as luscious album material such as the impeccable likes of “On My Way” and “The Devil in Me”, they turn Arctic Monkeys’ “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” into heart-rending country ballads, and offer new songs which push the pair even further into a territory midway between Leonard Cohen’s wry, poetic bleakness and the sweetness of Dolly Parton. Xylaroo are a cut above. The crowd would seem to agree, judging by the way the wandering merch seller was shifting albums.

4. The AntiPoet

antipoetIn the real ale venue known as The Travelling Barn on Friday afternoon two men clambered onto a small stage to play to a half-empty tent of small children sitting with their mums. One of them, Ian Newman, was tall, with long dark hair, a Dali moustache and studded, knee-high black kinky boots. He played a double bass and made occasional interjections. The other, Paul Eccentric, was shorter with receding spiked punky hair, goth make-up and a black leather kilt with handcuffs attached. He fired out poems, giving them hammy theatre. From the start they revelled in the fact the venue was completely unsuitable for their set and songs such as “Gimp Night Down at the Fighting Cocks” (pictured above left), shorn of its naughtier bits, were all the funnier for it. They also sent themselves up with bitter amusement, portraying themselves as perennial losers stuck on the festival/toilet circuit. The set was very funny but also had bite and pith. By the end they’d won a small crowd, including red-faced mums at the front, and our group was enthralled, especially when they ended with a song exposing the mind of a middle-aged man trying not to ogle girls. “Tights not stockings,” ran the desperate chorus. They were a classic example of the sort of band you stumble across at a festival. If you do so, stick around; the AntiPoet come recommended.

5. KT Tunstall

On a Sunday afternoon, after a couple of less impressive acts, KT Tunstall injected an upbeat energy to proceedings. I admit she wasn’t really on my “to do” list and I only knew the one song (“Suddenly I See”), which she ended with in a crowd sing-along. However, clad in silver trousers and mirrored Lennon glasses, she put on a proper show, many miles from her Scottish folk beginnings, running the gamut from synth-pop to rock and laced with snippets of cover versions such as The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” and, more notably, The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”, with its famous riff played on a kazoo. She’s had a 12-year career of hit albums, so I shouldn’t be so surprised, but KT Tunstall, previously a name and a single song to me, proved to be a hugely likeable performer with charisma and charm.

Top 10 Camp Bestival Things

1. The Outer Space Theme

astronautThe whole festival being centred on outer space was a genius touch, from the two giant astronauts which dominated the festival’s central field (one, pictured right) to the presence of Clangers everywhere (including a main stage appearance, although I missed that). With some festivals, the theme is an afterthought, but Camp Bestival integrated it superbly into everything, from the Royal Albert Hall’s “education and outreach ensemble” performing a space symphony to the rich array of brain-engaging surprises offered by the Mission Control marquee (featuring intriguing stalls representing the National Space Centre, The Royal Observatory, and more in a similar vein). And at Sunday’s close came the logistic-defyingly well-choreographed, space-themed firework finale (the final song was Sarah Brightman’s “I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper”).

2. The Weather

It’s well-known by those in the know that Rob da Bank has promised his earthly soul to both Ra and Baal. The result of this for Camp Bestival was, once again, a supremely unlikely spell of fabulous weather. Forecasts predicted clouds and rain with glimpses of sun but, in fact, it was almost non-stop sun. The spooky thing was that it, literally, stopped raining as we turned up on Thursday afternoon and, then, as we packed the final items into the car on Monday lunchtime and turned the ignition key, the drizzle began again.

3. Fancy Dress

right stuffOn Saturday Camp Bestival turned out in its galactic best, from babies in rocket-powered prams to endless Princess Leia yummy mums, from the crew of the Starship Enterprise to the vending machine aliens from Toy Story to a brilliantly executed collection of Right Stuff-style astronauts (pictured above).

4. Caravanserai

Of the many venues round the site, Caravanserai was a stand-out. Overseen by festival perennial Chris Tofu, it’s a deconstructed, burlesque gypsy caravan corral, with all kinds of booths and nooks. Entertainments ranged from tightrope walkers to a man who juggled knives atop a ladder made of machetes but at Caravanserai’s heart was a stage on which ska, psyche, Balkan and alt-funk dominated. It became our late night Mecca.

5. The Programme

One area where Camp Bestival has it over Glastonbury – a very rare feat – is the programme. Where Glastonbury’s programme, undoubtedly due to the vast quantity of acts and stages, has become merely a listing of what’s on, Camp Bestival’s is full of entertaining snippets and well-written interviews with everyone from Bananarama to Eddie the Eagle.

6. Celestial Dreaming

pigsIn the Magic Meadow was a space called Celestial Dreaming. I know, I know, the sentence sounds like hippy vomit, but Celestial Dreaming was an eye-pleasing space, themed around the cosmos and lit at night by 450 oil buckets. A lucky few, clad in sliver costumes provided and tinsel space-hats, were given guided tours.

7. Wood Turning Area

It wasn’t called “Wood Turning Area”. I don’t know what it was called but there was a section of the site that was like walking into a Game of Thrones village, albeit without the bared breasts and killing. Within this rustic, hutted space all manner of ancient trades continued, most taught and practiced by medieval-looking men with beards, from basket-weaving to blacksmithing, and not a gaudy sponsor in sight.

8. Blue Coats

In its early incarnations Camp Bestival was loosely modelled on the TV show Hi-de-Hi! (for younger readers Hi-de-Hi! was an Eighties sitcom about a cheesy holiday camp, set in the late Fifties). The festival has now blossomed into something more sprawling but the Blue Coats remain, a purposefully bizarre alternative to Butlins’ Redcoats, with their own small stage organising unhinged activities for children, such as a game of football played in the daytime wearing night vision goggles (so it looked). Every time we passed this area, something lively and strange was happening.

9. Carnivals

Led by samba bands, carnivals parade regularly through Camp Bestival. My favourite was one that appeared at dusk featuring fluorescent skeletons riding ghost-horses and stilt-walking insect-aliens.

10. Big Fish Little Fish

The children’n’parents afternoon rave dominated the afternoons at the Bollywood Stage. It was amusing to see Nineties classics such as 2 Bad Mice’s “Bombscare” (actually played by 2 Bad Mice) jiggled to by four-year-olds.

Five Camp Bestival Fails

1. Dawn Penn Pulled Offstage

aliensReggae perennial Dawn Penn played a cheerful late afternoon set on Saturday, suiting the sunshine, but really her crowd were only waiting to hear her one-hit-wonder classic “You Don’t Love Me (No, No No)”. Just as she announced she was going to play it, she was told she had to stop. The result was a chorus of boos and catcalls and, eventually, a singing of the song itself by the crowd. Penn’s band had undoubtedly been slack in their timing but this was one occasion when a sensible stage manager might have given her a few more minutes to air the only song anyone cared about.

2. Gross Tap Water

The tap drinking water, at least in Purple Camping where we were tented, was almost undrinkably chlorinated. Of course it’s vital to be safe but Camp Bestival has always managed this before without giving us water that tastes like TCP.

3. Glam Sacks at £50

Glam sacks are rolls of fabric that look like sofa-sized lips when inflated and seemed to be fun to roll around on. They were retailing for £50 from the Cosy Camper stall. That's £50. As in £50.

4. The “Morning Morning” Boys

A group of men were camped next to us WHO DIDN’T HAVE CHILDREN WITH THEM but all got up at 7.45 am Friday morning and started saying “Morning Morning” to each other in rich, creamy Hampshire country pub voices and loudly beginning the day while everyone else, even those with families in tow, tried to sleep.

5. Haloumi Faux-Pas

sausageI have reviewed Camp Bestival many times and often mocked its uber-bourgeois aspects. So, in fairness, I must admit that as I started to cook up food on Thursday evening I loudly announced to the assembled, “We’ll have haloumi starters and then I’ll barbecue the salmon.” I was put on notice and made to do penance.

One Corporate Like

Skippy Peanut Butter

Skippy Peanut Butter sent representatives round the camp sites handing out free pouches of peanut butter – or “freenut butter” as we wittily termed it. They were quite happy to dole it out time after time and everyone was very happy to receive it. Winner!

One Corporate Dislike

The Volvo Stall

Clearly Camp Bestival needs to somehow fund its multiplicity of wonders. Sometimes this means shaking hands with the Devil, but do we really have to have Volvo’s ugly conference-style stall with its big 4x4 out front. At least Hotpoint and Indesit’s areas have an aesthetic and purpose that somewhat camouflages their corporate nature (food and football, respectively) but Volvo’s area is an eyesore of Home Counties tedium.

Two DJs Who Were Great Value

David Rodigan and Altern-8

rozFriday night was ruled by Rodigan’s Ram Jam sessions featuring Trevor Nelson on sparkling pop-funk form and the man himself, as ever, giving reggae history lessons with aplomb. Meanwhile Saturday was owned by Mark Archer of dustmask-wearing Nineties ravers Altern-8, bangin’ out the breakbeat monsters of a bygone era. The much anticipated Sasha who came after him, by contrast, played a coolly throbbing set that would have worked well with an E'd-up club crowd but didn’t really catch here.

Four Vintage Acts

1. Tears For Fears

tearsThe most anticipated act of the weekend were 1980s behemoths Tears For Fears. They have rarely played the UK for years but headlined Sunday night. The duo have a few fantastic songs and, although their music is mostly rather slow and maudlin, the best of it has a heart-rending earnest quality that could make festival gold. They started with the gigantic “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and both appeared looking very much the svelte older pop statesmen, Roland Orzabal (pictured above right) still boasting big, dark hair and Curt Smith a trim gym-toned figure. Unfortunately, the short of it is they lack performance charisma, especially when they self-consciously tell anecdotes between songs. What their music needs is added pep – like the even more lethargic-sounding Adele delivers in concert (or even Coldplay, arguably their contemporary equivalent). Thus the over-arching vibe is one of sluggishness and, although it’s a mighty thing to yell along to “Pale Shelter” and the peerless “Mad World”, it’s not enough. They even turn a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” into something dirge-like. Despite Smith’s great voice and Orzabal’s desire to connect they come across as proggy studio musicians, uncomfortable in the limelight. By the time they ended, with an audience-singalong to the wrist-slitting terrace anthem “Shout”, they had, at least, reminded everyone that they could once write fantastic angst-pop.

2. Squeeze

Squeeze have become festival perennials, always good value, but rarely surprising (as, say, Madness managed to be at Glastonbury this year). And thus they were at Camp Bestival, giving an engaging performance, despite having been trapped in traffic for 10 hours on their way there. They offered a welcome mix of newies and oldies, even giving “Cool for Cats”, which they sometimes play dismissively, a good going-over. By the time they closed with a delicious “Goodbye Girl”, they left a happy, sated audience behind in the Friday afternoon sun.

3. Bananarama

Bananarama are, famously, one of the most successful girl bands of all time and, funnily enough, their brand of easy, empty chart pop sounds curiously contemporary. It felt as if all the oldsters had gathered on Sunday afternoon to have a look at this huge name from their Eighties youth, but as the bubbly, occasionally Stock, Aitken & Waterman-assisted froth flowed past, capably buoyed by a decent pick-up band, everyone but a scrum of mums down the front remembered that Bananarama was something they never particularly liked that once happened to be on Radio One all the time. The duo, cheerful and keen (and blinded by the sun until crowd members offered them sunglasses), looked casual and were dressed in unpretentious every-woman style. The hits kept coming – “Cruel Summer”, “Shy Boy”, even the amusing “Robert de Niro’s Waiting" – but our group gradually retreated, leaving Bananarama to terminal fans of retro-kitsch.

4. Brand New Heavies

To be fair, I never liked the Brand New Heavies back in their 1990s heyday. To be even fairer, it should be mentioned that they were having serious sound problems. But their screech-voiced jazz-funk burblings were not the way I’d ever want to spend another Sunday afternoon in the sun.

Three Youthful Turns Representing the Feeble State of Pop

clangerFriday night headliner Jess Glynne (likeable, good voice, a sack of mediocre pop-soul hits), Ghanian-British X-Factor alumni Reggie’n’Bollie (jolly karaoke wedding disco pap), and rising female London singer Espa (sub-James Blake R&B-jazz stylings of the kind everyone and their aunt is now doing) were all distinctly underwhelming, despite the first two drawing some of the largest crowds of the weekend. A depressing reflection of contemporary pop.

One Good Reason Why We Didn’t Catch Any Acts on Saturday Daytime

The beautiful, scenic Durdle Door Beach is an 11-minute/four-mile drive from Lulworth Castle.

One Final Interaction Between An Adult and Small Children

Opening a red-covered trolley shaped like an HG Wells moon rocket, an adult male to two small children: “I said, do nice drawing together. That doesn’t sound at all like nice drawing.”

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