Bestival 2015 @ Isle of Wight, 10 – 13/09/2015

Bestival 2015Bestival – a cheekily playful, if knowingly naff, portmanteau name for a festival. You know it’s the wrong one, though – a better moniker would most definitely be Messtival. Goddamn, the whole thing is one big, shameless clusterfuck; an experience from which one emerges mentally discombobulated to the point of uncertainty in one’s own identity. Is your correspondent the same person who rocked up on the Isle of Wight one sunny Thursday afternoon, pitched up and cracked open an innocent can of already tent-temperature Stella? Who knows, but let us perhaps try to piece together the liquefied grey matter, the shards of eyeball and a fissured marble that may have once been an eardrum, and see if we can present a picture of those three and a half days of shameless debauchery.

To be honest, most of my recollections of Bestival 2015 are laser-firing, seizure-inducing visuals, dat bassline and dancing in that sort of Lego meat polygon way you do when you’re spanjaxed to the extent that a phonecall from your mother makes you want to bite into the screen of your phone to make sure it never happens again. But as silly as your Isle of Wight correspondent is being right now, here’s a thing. This is the point of a festival, right? Particularly one founded by a man who used to do a show on the nation’s biggest radio station aimed exclusively at those who’ve been dunking disco biscuits into their evening cuppas – unless all-night truckers have developed a sudden passion for glitchy ambient electronica (please, all-night truckers, make contact to let us know).

In a Western world where the extent of our liberty only makes us feel more keenly the arbitrary limitations placed on our quotidian existences, places like Bestival exist as a space in which we can be – to an extent at least – free to do what we want. Since the beginning of time, mankind has only wanted to do one thing: put on some stupid clothes and get as fucked as possible. We want to do it in a safe space where this kind of thing is accepted and celebrated. It is an experience of life, as it would be, were we not obligated to put on harsh, grey fabrics and type numbers into a spreadsheet whose ultimate purpose is to precisely calculate the moment of your by then welcome death. We can eat (maybe), drink, dance, think, love as we please, by our own clocks and desires. Look at the photos on the Bestival 2015 website – is that not a utopia? A wonderful realm of freedom (obviously with the overt references to Frenchmen selling ‘fresh’ acid censored out because you don’t want old Johnny Law swooping down on you).

It’s a pretty wonderful place, no doubt about that at all, but I want to qualify this image a little. Firstly, there is an expense barrier to this utopia. It may sound like a blah point to say “festivals are expensive.” I apologise for that, but the thing about the rave culture from which Bestival 2015 has emerged - as opposed to the more chin-stroking varsities out there - is that it was very much for everyone, and not just those with the disposable income to consider a weekend in Paris as viable an alternative for your Friday and Saturday night as ganning the boozer for a dozen jars. And the other? Not unconnected; despite all the sparkles and freethinking portrayed in the festival’s imagery... This doesn’t really reflect the reality. We all know festivals are mainstream now, and that is fine – everyone should be allowed to have fun, and that. It’s just that when you’re constantly battling your way through crowds of privileged Normals in bloody sportswear, squawking in that sort of self-important way they do, giving you agro at the bar, fist pumping their way through entire sets, it kind of takes the magic away. It’s incredibly snobbish to talk about people like this, naturally, and churlish to bemoan the changing face of music crowds, but at the same time it’s a tiny bit deflating to be brought back to earth this way. Again, it’s a ridiculously fun festival, just not as transcendent as this first timer was hoping.

Anyway, if you’re interested in the music that happened, here are some fragments in no particular order.

Jamie XX remains a point of confusion for me. People, including the crowd at Bestival 2015, seem to worship at his feet. However his set feels dry, misjudged, uninspired, and – cardinal sin for a DJ – like he’s planned the whole thing before rather than playing to the room. Someone explain him to me, please!?

Underworld, on the other hand, are commanding and compelling – and pleasingly cerebral in that earnest way 90s dance bands were. Perhaps by the end of the set, it seems a bit same-y, but a damn good performance from the veterans. Even the bloody kids are lapping it up, and they don’t even have to play “Born Slippy”. On the subject of big 90s dance groups, The Chemical Brothers are a bit less of an unqualified success. As ever, it’s all turned up to 11. However somehow, rather than being just the thing for Saturday night, it’s all a bit in your face and yawn; relentless and somewhat outmoded. They feel like dinosaurs, and not cool ones either.

Duran Duran, cocky and mercilessly professional, are cool dinosaurs, though. They smash through a robust but predictable set list. You know what that is? Fucking perfect. Exactly what you want from them. The start of every tune fills this reviewer’s cold, dead heart with something approaching unbridled joy. But, you know, soft spot and that.

Another group of old timers smash out one of the sets of the weekend: The Jacksons. Being violently drilled into tightness by Old Man Jackson seems to have done the trick. They are some funky motherfuckers, and their not inconsiderable energy is exactly what you need before the big Sunday night push. Such uncontrollable dancing! Such Times™!

Elsewhere Róisín Murphy puts on quite the left field performance, chucking in some old Moloko classics for good measure. She’s oozing with charisma, and though her slot is potentially during a point of low energy, there’s more than enough for the mind and the body to be kept ticking over. Her live band is a nice touch too, adding a bit of texture to help you leverage the brain fizz to your advantage.

Four Tet perform a couple of sets – your correspondent happened to catch the later of these. They are nice and low key, and a good way to see out an evening perhaps – but you know, that’s what Four Tet do best. There is, however, a case for saying he's a little boring.

You know what was definitely not boring? A packed-out daytime tent for the fucking Chuckle Brothers. It makes no sense. They smash through the two or three tunes they have (including the one they did with Tinchy Stryder, though obviously sans Stryder), talk some bollocks... And it’s amazing! So much joy is in the room – so much bellowing of, “To me!”, “To you!” Genuinely one of the best things all weekend.

Terms like ‘seminal DJ’ get thrown about a lot at events such as Bestival 2015. One might use that particularly in reference to Andrew Weatherall. This is justified. If you get a chance to see him, do it (and get nicely smashed) – especially if he’s playing off the side of a huge boat while people are getting swung about on cranes overhead. Steam coming out the ears, like. In a good way.

Later on the same boat, we have Rob da Bank and Annie Mac putting in a shift. I can’t tell you much about this apart from LASERS! DANCING! WHERE AM I!? I think it was fun? I’m not sure anyone who was actually there would be able to tell you if it was or not, to be honest. Let’s say it was.

Tame Impala also join the ranks of Bestival 2015, and do a nice line in urbane electro pop, getting us all shaking the old rumps. Meanwhile Derbyshire hipster cavemen Drenge offer a pleasing change of pace. It’s quite nice to hear some grunge guitar in the electronic sea of this festival, but it’s not just headbanging noise – they’re actually pretty sophisticated given their MO. A most pleasant surprise.

Sleaford Mods are less of surprise. We all know they’re fucking brilliant. That power, man... That power, and that rarest of things in 2015: political music. Music that’s about something. Yes please, chaps. Yes, please.

Someone who we weren’t aware of the brilliance of before Bestival 2015 is one Lianne La Havas. She’s going to go far – her music is eminently sell-able, and she’s got bucketloads of charisma to boot. It’s not just mass appeal – the range of influences one can read are vast and varied: everything from Britpop to tropicalia to jazz, combined into something that ends up being delightfully original – speaks of one hell of an artistic talent. It took some convincing for this old cynic to have a look. He’s glad he did.

And lastly, our man from the land of sophisticated electro (that’s Norway, kids), Todd Terje. Again, not too much to say as he’s just as brilliant as you hope he would be. In the preview for Bestival 2015, I posited that Todd’s music manages to engage the brains, the genitals and the heart. I stand by that.

But of course, a lot of the joy just comes from wondering into random tents and checking out what they’ve got. A bit harder to concretely review, but rest assured, you’re never going to be going to be short of some good shit to get down to! Conclusion: go to Bestival. Have mindless fun. Try not to speak to anyone for the following week or so. It won’t go well.

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