fri 14/06/2024

theartsdesk at Bestival 2012: Wild Times Across the Water | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk at Bestival 2012: Wild Times Across the Water

theartsdesk at Bestival 2012: Wild Times Across the Water

A raw, ragged, summer's end weekend with theartsdesk's man in the field(s)

New Order handing out a fine time on the Wight island

Friday 7th September

“Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones famously came to Keith Richards in a dream. Now it haunts mine. Not their classic version, though, oh no. Within an hour of pitching up my tent, setting sausages on the disposable barbecue and cracking into my cider supplies, I’ve heard it three times. This is just the beginning. My tent is within easy earshot of a double decker bus representing a new Playstation game wherein electric guitars can be plugged in and fret skills improved. To promote it, charisma-free corporate stooges spend their days on the bus’s open air upper deck encouraging passersby to join their riff karaoke. Thus “Satisfaction” and, if I’m lucky, Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” are a persistent backdrop to everything tent-centric. Best eat up and move out.

Bestival now starts properly on Thursday and this year had Gary Numan, Hot Chip, John Foxx and the Alabama Shakes to prove it. For a number of years Thursday was just an extra day for early campers but this year the majority of the 55,000 crowd make the effort to head to the Isle of Wight before the weekend begins. Not this writer, however. Instead Friday afternoon brings blazing sun, no queues for ferry or site, no police anywhere, even a minimum of posh sorts overheard loudly reviewing upmarket restaurants they’ve recently attended (unfortunately, we must now accept that, for all its pleasures, the Bestival has become the preferred playground of the fruitier-voiced bourgeoisie).

xxMy pal Key and I make our way to the main stage where a large crowd has assembled for The xx (pictured right). I’m amazed at their popularity. We stay for four songs. It’s 8.30pm and surely time for something a bit lively but, no, everyone seems swept gently along by their Spartan gloom-pop. To my ears it sounds like the Velvet Underground’s smackiest songs with Duane Eddy on guitar, marinated in subtle electronica. Actually, that makes it sound essential but both Key and I quickly lose interest, finding it morose. There is so much to see, from the Ambient Forest, woodland with chilled DJ noodlings, to a roller derby in full effect to the sound of dubstep. Somehow, however, Key and I end up sitting about at the far end of the site with two associates from Shakeyourtailfeather south coast party crew, swapping stories and naughty powders while a gaggle of honky tonk blues rockers called The Dirty Gentlemen entertain Pig’s Big Ballroom at our side. Festivals, especially when the weather is so fine, are as much about sofas in fields, good company and illicit mischief as they are about Florence + the Machine who we suddenly realise we’re missing on the main stage.

Watch The xx play "Angels" at Bestival 2012

I pop over and have a look as Flozza wellies into her cover of The Source featuring Candi Staton’s “You Got The Love”. The fact that this and her song with Calvin Harris are her most famous tunes must say something. Nevertheless, I saw her recently at Alexandra Palace and she puts on an all bells’n’whistles show. Tonight acres of Boho girls channelling the spirit of Isadora Duncan wave their arms in the air and scream. Key and I, however, retreat to a marquee where New York DJ François Kervorkian, ever-reliable, is blowing the socks and shoes off his crowd with rubbery techno and steely house. After working up a bit or perspiration we head to the Bollywood tent where cocktails are flying out from behind the bar at a rate of knots. The dancefloor is surrounded by requisite Bombay cinema imagery and plenty of Hindi-flavoured temple décor hangs from the ceiling, as well as a massive and garish shrine-style statue out front. Unfortunately the music of DJs Oneman and Jackmaster does not hit the spot. Initially they play R Kelly, for whom there’s never really an excuse, and then move onto R&B funk with a dubstep tinge. We leave, only to run into a tatty, confused man who seems somewhat refreshed and repeatedly, urgently asks “Where’s Skepta playing? Where’s Skepta? I know he’s playing, Skepta is.” We tell him Skepta has already played, as have 100% Beefcock & the Tits Burster who all of us also sadly missed.

Eventually it’s 2am and in the Psychedelic Worm Tent, as ever easily identifiable by a giant pink fluoro-worm Loch Ness Monstering through the grass outside, it’s time for Slagsmålsklubben. This Swedish six-piece appear on stage dressed in multi-coloured safari suits with pith helmets, occasional frontman Frej Larsson also clad in a pimp-style acrylic fur coat. Before them they have a studio’s worth of analogue synthesizers which they proceed to coax into making their unique sound, part techno, part Bontempi mentalism, part sweet easy listening melody, and part BBC Radiophonic sound exploration. They draw a final bundle of energy from the swelling crowd who cannot make out what sort of band they are - one moment it’s the sleek housey throb of “Brutal Weapons”, the next it sounds like incidental music from a Seventies childrens show played as gabber. After an hour people behind the scenes ask them to quit but they return for one final round of cheers and their catchiest tune, “Sponsored By Destiny”, which has something of Royksopp about it. Time, then, to flop on top of my sleeping bag now that all versions of “Satisfaction” and “Breaking the Law” have long stopped for the night

Saturday 8th September

It turns out that Friday’s early hours are as cold as the day was hot. There is much talk of this in the morning. Near my tent the bodies are piled high, wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags, mounds toasting in the late morning sun, broiling gently in their dreams, unbothered by the guitar game bus – they shall not have the oxygen of a brand name here  – giving us their versions of Pixies' “Where is my Mind”, as well, of course, as “Satisfaction”. A lunchtime trip to the main stage for Mister Motivator’s kitschy aerobic antics, followed by rising folky hoedown sorts Skinny Lister (whose set involved a real proposal of marriage) starts the blood flowing and then media sluts such as I have a date at the Underground Restaurant.

Tilting on a hill, in a pirate-themed marquee in a field containing an inflatable church and a club shaped like a giant tree, a Ent rave, perhaps, the representatives of various newspapers mingle with the crew who run Bestival – including its ever-unpretentious creator Rob da Bank himself. Prosecco flows, multiple cocktails are consumed, a three course meal is served. The highlight is an impromptu acoustic set by Skinny Lister who employ a gaggle of attractive women clad in figure-hugging pastoral dresses, rushing around dancing and flashing their knickers. Underground Restaurant founder Kerstin Rogers clambers up a ladder to photograph the whole thing only to become part of the show as frontwoman Lorna Thomas stamps bawdily up and down one of the tables, sending food flying. It’s quite a show. Then I'm disgorged into the blazing day, alongside a couple of Britain’s better known music writers, their stomachs sated with clams, corn chowder and maybe a little too much fine wine.

Watch Skinny Lister play "Forty Pound Wedding" at Bestival 2012

It’s fancy dress day and the “wild life” theme has brought forth a mass of one-piece animal costumes, primarily lions, tigers and leopards, although there are some fantastic owls, creepy insectoids and fearsome big game hunters. I end up at the Bollywood tent where Mancunian electro innovator and early Hacienda DJ Greg Wilson has a rammed crowd in the palm of his hand, dropping a pulsing remix of The Beatles “Get Back” before letting a topless Theo Keating, in his Fake Blood DJ persona, take over. The music becomes less rolling and slips into a 4/4 groove with tough versions of Green Velvet’s “La La Land” and Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker” keeping the crowd moving. It’s now that I make an error of judgement, the first of two during the day. This one involves going to watch a showcase by LA’s spaced out maverick electronic Brainfeeder label, keen to hear Gaslamp Killer, Thundercat, Teebs and the rest do their thing. Suitably pepped and ready, I head to the Roller Disco as evening slowly draws in. It’s 6.15pm. There is a band onstage tuning up. I make text arrangements to meet my friend Dee Dee here. It’s 6.45pm. The band is still onstage tuning up. I think it’s Thundercat but the endless faffing about is akin to late period Weather Report at their most indulgent. Dee Dee doesn’t appear. It’s 7.15pm and the band is still tuning up. I want to slap the Brainfeeder crew wholesale, as well as myself for hanging around like a fool when there’s so much else to see. I'm missing Death in Vegas and The Time & Space Machine for this. Dee Dee arrives at 7.30pm and, after wearing a torrent of Brainfeeder-centric swearing from me, says, “Well, what did you expect from a bunch of Californian stoners?” He’s right – time-wasters!

new orderThere follows an extended sequence of whisky, super-salt candy, nitrous oxide and herbal cigs during which Dee Dee and I brilliantly sort out most of the world’s problems as well as our own. There’s a distinct lack of band-watching during this period but that’s OK as global harmony has been achieved. Unfortunately, there also follows my second error of judgment. Out by the Psychedelic Worm where King Krule is performing his skinny, faintly Joe Strummer-ish urban blues, we await Key and I decide it might be wise to take a salty refreshment break behind the pathside tents. I should note at this point that I’m wearing a peaked officer’s cap with a smiley badge on it. As I prepare the ingredients in time-honoured fashion I suddenly notice that a couple of yards away Dee Dee is talking to two gentlemen of the law, one of whom is on his way round the tent. Had Dee Dee not distracted them calmly with a site map this might have be a very different sort of report. The police had seen me disappear behind the tent and mistaken me for one of their own. They were naturally wondering what this fellow officer was doing, kneeling in the darkness. I rushed around the tent with a vast grin assuring them I’d been trying to wake a sleeping pal. We all had a nice friendly laugh together and they went on their way. The adrenalin lasted hours. At least, I think it was the adrenalin.

Suitably buzzed we make our way to New Order (pictured above) who lift the night up, up, up and prove to be one of the acts of the weekend. I heard complaints later about a muddy sound for the first half of the set but was up near the front with Dee Dee and his crew of Irish rogues and it sounded fine there. They take a while to warm up but by the time they reach “Bizarre Love Triangle” they were on a roll which first peaked with “Perfect Kiss” and, naturally, “Blue Monday”. The crowd lapped it up, a good showing of the older Bestival spectrum, admittedly, but heads thrown back shouting Bernard Sumner’s words right back at him. I almost lost my high old mind when they encored with Joy Division classic “Transmission” and attempted to go hoarse yelling “dance, dance, dance to the radio”. Then they climaxed with “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and iconic imagery of Ian Curtis. They looked chuffed, especially Sumner and keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, and so they should.

Watch New Order play "Bizarre Love Triangle" at Bestival 2012

By now Dee Dee has disappeared to watch Justice in the uncomfortably rammed Big Top while Key has vamoosed with a London crew pop-eyed on the old Leary business. Thus I dig The People Who Cannot Be Named from their work pods and we head over to one of Bestival’s new areas, Arcadia, which tonight features a German stunt artist clambering to the top of a wobbling pole 56 metres above the crowd and performing unfeasible balancing tricks. It’s shocking and daring and is followed by Stanton Warriors who kick in with breakbeat electro that puts the wiggle into everybody visible's step. The People Who Cannot Be Named take me to their special place. Time telescopes. Dance, dance, dance. Blather, blather, blather. Six o'clock arrives like it was driven at us by Jensen Button.

Sunday 9th September

Awake around lunchtime and set the final disposable barbecue alight. The sausages look and smell OK after two days unrefrigerated in a sun-fried tent but the burgers are a bit grey. I eat plenty of both in any case as all I ate since yesterday lunch was a bagel from an Airstream classic motor home manned by pink-clad transvestite waitresses (Camp Cooks, I think). I suddenly realise that if I don’t get a move on I shall miss New York band Friends, new favourites of mine. I rush to the Big Top in time to see them begin. They play tribal pop that’s part Santigold, part Big Apple hipster indie, all very catchy, fronted by the coyly freaky vocals of Samantha Urbani, who wears mousey ears. Their music is conbtagious, very pop, and the young crowd know all the words, right to the end when they play the deliciously confident and romantically stomping single, “I’m His Girl”.

Watch Friends play "I'm His Girl" at Bestival 2012

It’s a good start to the day although the skies have clouded over. It never really rains but there’s the odd moment when it tries to. It could be a hurricane and it wouldn’t bother Rizzle Kicks. It’s the third time I've seen them this summer and they’ve never been anything less than charming good value. It’s a shame they’ve been tarred as a teen pop group by muso’s as their stew of funked up rhythms, euphoric brass, laddish rapping and sing-along choruses has much to recommend it. Dressed in animal suit onesies they rip through “When I Was a Youngster”, “Dreamers”, the Fatboy Slim beats of “Mama do the Hump”, freestyling Justine Timberlake songs, cracking jokes, and ending with the ballistic good time of “Down With the Trumpets”. They are a great party band for all ages.

Everyone I know onsite either sleeps all today, is out of phone charge or working, so I spend Sunday on lone patrol. It’s great for many hours but I confess that it grew a bit odd during Stevie Wonder later on. Such "event headliners" are, perhaps, best shared with friends. But I’m getting ahead of myself. After Rizzle Kicks I visit the Polka Tent which I’d been passing for days without noticing. Kara-uke is taking place, a band of ukuleles accompanying audience members in songs of their choice. I watch impressively executed version of U2’s “With or Without You” and Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”  before a less successful take on Pulp’s “Common People” pushes me towards the exit.

Supplies are low but cider, sambuca, JD & coke and various illicit leftovers generate the final propulsive jet fuel needed to conquer Sunday after a rather hefty night before. Assisting in the process is the brilliantly off-the-wall Ida Barr, a cabaret performer in another small tent somewhere. Dragged up as a faded (to the point of zombification) music hall star, Ida Barr, an obscure performer from the early 20th century, is resurrected by one Chris Green as the perfect festival turn, fusing tired London pub piano standards with hip hop terminology and ancient parlour ballads, throwing in funk and electronic beats for good measure. It’s tight as can be yet, like much good comedy, appears utterly ramshackle. Barr has a small crowd holding hands, singing along to Kelis alongside music from long forgotten Shellac 78s given wide boy R&B makeovers - "innit" - and eventually has us doing the Hokey Cokey to stripped crunk beats. Great fun!

wonderFrom there there’s just time for a smidgeon of skiffle oldsters Railroad Bill and an even tinier taste of Krafty Kuts on the decks, dropping wob wob dubstep nastiness, before Stevie Wonder (pictured right) who arrives to the percussive intro to “Masterblaster”. He has a very full stage – three sets of drummers, for starters - and appears to treat the whole show as a casual jam, tinkling into anything he fancies. At one stage he leads a gigantic sing-along to The Beatles “She Loves You”, at another he noodles through John Lennon’s “Imagine”, and even has a crack at Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” (but substituting London for New York). The crowd is the biggest I’ve ever seen at Bestival and absolutely packed with women who,judging from the ratio of male to female, love Wonder even more than the men. Despite a tendency to slip away on occasional set-slackening jazz-funk asides, Wonder has the hits to get away with it, and he plays them, from “Signed, Delivered, I’m Yours” to “Superstition”. He’s a soul superstar and he knows it. Sure, we could have done without “I Just Called to Say I Love You” or his take on Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” but every time he played his harmonica it was gold and the closing version of “Happy Birthday” mustered a universal feel good spirit that was aptly followed by the Bestival firework spectacular.

Here I briefly run into Key but she’s carrying dead weight, notably a mate who has miscalculated his capabilities and is now semi-sentient and tricky to move. They head to Arcadia, very slowly. I head to Orbital. In the Big Top, before they hit the stage Rob da Bank and his mate Frank Tope are having fun spinning tunes, relaxed and enjoying themselves like it was a house party. Then its Orbital’s time to deliver something special. I have seen them many times over the last twenty years, usually thrilling but, particularly when they first returned from hiatus in 2009, sometimes perfunctory. Their new album, Wonky, has re-energized them and consequently they re-energize us, “Halcyon & On” with its Belinda Carlisle sample, “Chime”, of course, but also and just as effectively, Wonky’s title track and especially, the roof-rendering extended finale of “Where is it Going”, a tune every bit as muscular, engaging and electronically dynamic as anything they’ve ever done. They left me with nothing so I took my dance-drained frame away across the site and clambered into my sleeping bag, hedonistically fully stewed by Bestival once again.

Watch Bestival 2012 mini-film


Festivals, especially when the weather is so fine, are as much about sofas in fields, good company and illicit mischief as they are about Florence + the Machine


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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