Bestival 2014 @ Isle of Wight, 04/09/2014 – 07/09/2014

Bestival 2014If you surround a really big disco ball with 50,000 revellers, treat them to a miniature heatwave and plonk them on an island, what do you get? A Desert Island Disco-themed Bestival 2014, of course!

The Isle of Wight’s September shindig is the biggest end-of-summer festival of them all, shoulder-barging the likes of End of the Road and newcomer Festival No.6 well out of the picture when it comes to size and reputation. 2013 boasted bookings from Elton John to Fat Boy Slim - quite an eclectic mix - and with plenty of new names alongside Outkast, Basement Jaxx and Chic, Bestival 2014 seemed to be full to the brim with must-sees once again. Not to mention, the Guinness World Record for biggest disco ball was set to be broken. But would this year’s Bestival live up to the high expectations? Ask a harder question, please.

We all know summer’s a goner when the end of August arrives, but this glittering gem of a festival is an all speakers-blaring excuse to prolong the loveliest season of the lot for a few more days. It feels like a little holiday and it’s not too difficult to kid yourself that the Isle of Wight is another country. It’s away from the mainland, everyone wears crazy clothes and, best of all, it’s usually sunny. The only downside (there has to be one) is that it’s an absolute trek to get to. But after the hassle of making your way to Southampton, queuing for a ferry, trying not to be sick on board said ferry, waiting for a shuttle bus, lugging your bags to an empty pitch and setting up camp, you’ll certainly feel like you’ve earned the £4.50 pints you treat yourself to from thereon-in. A bittersweet bubble of end-of-summer blues where the sweetness of smiley faces, good music and a “let’s do this properly” attitude far outweigh the bitter. That’s Bestival.

On opening night, things get started with electro-indie-rock outfit Glass Animals, who show up half an hour late to play the brand new Invaders of the Future stage. Despite the delay, they manage to cling onto a healthy number of fans keen to hear funky alt-J-esque harmonies and witness their affection for tipsy synth. As a consequence of their lateness, however, the four-piece only have time to perform a snippet of what they’d intended to, so while “Pools” and “Gooey” get everyone singing and dancing along, the set feels like it’s over far too quickly. Even so, a promising start.

Next on the bill is first headliner and visitor from the other side of the Atlantic, Beck. The crowd is alight with first night-fever and unafraid to capitalise on the fact that neither sleep deprivation nor achy legs are yet a burden. In other words, everyone dances but it’s still not exactly exciting. The Reggae Roots stage nearby, on the other hand, is genuinely bouncing with the sound of producer Prince Fatty playing reggae classics and could-be classics alike. Happy happy happy!

We while-away a relaxing Friday morning loitering near the acoustic newcomers playing the Bandstand stage and the infectious offerings of the Disco Shed, sampling a bit of swing ball and drinking fruit cider along the way. Things don’t get really good until late afternoon rolls around, when, typically, the two artists we’ve been waiting to see clash. In the Big Top, Nick Mulvey plays a lovely array of charming folk songs reminiscent of the laid-back likes of Dustin Tebbutt and Benjamin Francis Leftwich. Once the halfway point comes and goes, we meander through Mulvey’s foot-tapping admirers to catch Laura Mvula belting summery sing-a-longs from the Main Stage to a crowd sunbathing on the grassy hill facing it. Flitting between them is like turning a page between two individuals who express their happiness in completely different but equally uplifting, ways. Both encapsulate perfectly the atmosphere of contentment which fills every lazy Bestival afternoon.

In the evening, the Big Top sees relative newcomers to the scene, Temples, deliver an assertive, guitar-focused set with a classic-meets-experimental sound reminiscent of bands like Tribes and Tame Impala. Afterwards, as star-freckled darkness descends over a suitably party-ready crowd, Outkast, the most highly anticipated headliners of the weekend, take to the Main Stage. This is their only reunion tour show in the UK and, sandwiching decade-spanning hits like “Ms. Jackson", “Roses" and most memorably of all, “Hey Ya" between lesser-known tracks, they don’t disappoint. Twenty years into their career and sounding as fresh as ever, the duo certainly know how to bring the “disco” to the, uh, “desert island,” and carry it far into the night.

Saturday is fancy dress but besides throwing a Hawaiian shirt over sunburned shoulders, hiding dark circles with tropical sunglasses and jazzing it all up with loads of glitter, no one makes much effort. The jazzy attire still brightens up an emotional afternoon, however, when the realisation that it’s Dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip’s last ever set together hits like a coconut to the skull. 4.45pm comes and for 40 minutes, 11,000 bodies in a sweaty tent rub shoulders, echo Pip’s preached words and bow in unison to the beats his other half puts to them, mourning the end of an era reluctantly with chants of “we want more!” which linger as technicians sweep onto the stage. We get a little bit sad, only to be distracted by the cheery, cheesy secondary school flashbacks offered by surprise act The Kooks, who take over straight afterwards, offering quite the contrast.

We struggle to decide who to see that evening, with London Grammar and Foals on the main stage battling Basement Jaxx and Bonobo up the hill. The group splits but nobody need worry, with all sides returning to camp banging on about just how great all four were. Basement Jaxx are an unbeatable end to a top day and a memorable beginning to the evening, blasting irresistible numbers like “Do Your Thing” and “Where’s Your Head At?” to a Big Top bursting at the tent poles. Bonobo is completely entrancing, mesmerising and captivating: three words which mean the same thing, because one of them just doesn’t do him justice. We hear London Grammar’s name thrown around all night - a “must-see,” apparently, which we frustratingly didn’t see - and same with Foals. But even so, it’s hard to feel like you’re missing out when Bestival throws madness and brilliance at you with every corner you turn.

Sunday - last chance to kid yourself it’s still summer - comes hand in hand with a hangover and the feeling that we’d really better make the most of this. Bestival is kind in that it lets you have a lie in without the fear of missing anything worth missing and so, when all heads have poked out of tents, we go for a little wander. Ice cream at the Bandstand, a bit of a dance and some much-needed swing ball therapy later and we’re busy being denied entry to Shitfaced Shakespeare in the amphitheatre, a cosy stage buried deep in the enchanted forest. It’s rammed to the rafters with people wanting to see great plays performed by drunk actors. Understandable, really.

Dejected, we head back to the main arena and catch the end of Sohn’s mystical mis-matching of harrowing harmonies and glitchy, electronic backdrops instead. It’s not as striking as the recorded version but still, “The Wheel,” pours smoulderingly over the tent, deafening audience ears to the distant rumblings of DJ Yoda. 

Evening creeps up far too quickly and we file into the amphitheatre - actually getting seats this time - to see some spoken word. A highlight of 2013, we have high expectations of the Satin Lizard Lounge hosted  by Scroobius Pip, and it doesn’t disappoint. The amphitheatre has wooden benches which are hard on your backside and a never-ending toilet queue. Nevertheless, it’s a delightful piece of respite to be found in a  haven hidden between the trees. Magical things happen there. We hear a poem about love and lust from John Berkavitch, a slice of comedy genius from Joshua Idahen and, most notably, a mix of the two by an English teacher-turned-rapper, Mark Grist. Finally, Scroobius Pip wraps things up with a slot combining his most famous and lesser-known pieces, of course complete with costume changes and profound messages. Top stuff.

Afterwards, we make our way out of the woods to see Sunday headliners, Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, grace the main stage. They lift spirits with classics as the world’s biggest disco ball, hoisted high atop the Bestival hill, shimmers above their heads and it’s impossible not to smile even though we are standing at the back, cold and tired.

The performance concludes with a sparkling show of fireworks that look like a handful of glitter being blown into the air and ones that bounce up and down, banging each time. Streams of people carry heavy legs back to messy tents, sucking on ketchup-soaked, salt-caked chips and linking arms merrily. Others saunter between DJ sets and confetti tents in a stubborn drunken stupor, reluctant to give in to the last festival bedtime of the season.

But as accumulative sleep loss, festival flu and lack of money claim their victims and bundle them into stuffy tents and sleeping bags, we say goodnight to the weekend in high spirits. Good job yet again, Rob Da Bank. Bestival really is the “best of all.”

Yep, I said it.

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One Response to “Bestival 2014 @ Isle of Wight, 04/09/2014 – 07/09/2014”

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