Review: Bestival 2015


Once again Bestival proved itself to be an essential final chapter to the summer festival calendar. Whilst Besitval boasts big names and a selection of sought after DJs, Rob da Bank’s four day isle of white extravaganza is just as much about the unexpected encounters you’ll experience as it is about the headliners.

There are a variety of different means of getting to the Isle of White, from hovercraft, to VIP helicopter services. The majority of punters, however, will likely have opted for one of the various ferry packages. Travelling by foot from Southampton, Red Funnel Ferries’ flexi ticket definitely seemed to be the most sure-fire option available. Foot passengers that had opted to book in for specific times found themselves waiting as the backlog of foot passengers already waiting were prioritized. Crossing the water is an inevitable choke point, so arriving early on the Thursday and taking the first ferry you can with a flexi ticket is the simplest way to minimize hassle.

Disembarking from the ferry at East Cowes, a fleet of island buses and coaches awaited on the Isle of White to shuttle the latest batch of arrivals to the festival site. The wait to board was relatively brief and the drive to Bestival site quick, however a lengthy queue of vehicles entering the drop off bays meant that the total journey was roughly 40 minutes as opposed to the predicted 20. Entry to the site was simple enough with a quick moving queue through the standard bag search and wristband exchange checkpoints.

The rolling hills of Robin Hill make for an ideal campsite and all around a colorful spectrum of tents sprung up quickly. As the evening drew in on Thursday the low rumble of bass carried over the campsite, luring the first flocks of campers into the arena. The Big Top was the focal point of Thursday’s proceedings with Black Butter records hosting a takeover that featured Karma Kid, Kidnap Kid, and a nice pairing of My Nu Leng and Oneman for a back to back set.

Jamie xx set the tone for the weekend later on opening his set with a performance of ‘Good Times’. However, with only a small portion of the other stages open for the Thursday night, the Big Top was predictably rammed for Jamie’s set. The tightly packed tent provided little room to dance, let alone stand comfortably, so picking a spot beyond the outer rim of the tent was the compromise made by many. Despite it being difficult to even catch a glimpse of Jamie in action from the fringes of the crowd, by the latter half of his set Jamie had locked everyone into his groove.

Swathes of revelers departed for Temple Island after Jamie xx had finished, whilst a staunch crowd remained for Underworld. Though the Cardiff born band receive far less attention now than they did in their heyday at the apex of Britain’s rave scene, their material undoubtedly stands the test of time. Throughout their set synths glided over intensifying beats pumped out by their analogue sequencers. Underworld’s set was a carefully orchestrated ebb and flow of energy; the slow celestial bleeping and whirring of ‘Rez’, counteracted by the boundless stamina of ‘Scribble’.

Vocalist Karl Hyde was the only visible face of Underworld, as his band-mates remained concealed behind their racks of hardware. Hyde’s unpredictable movements drew all eyes, at times he stood staunch still as he addressed his lyrics to the crowd and other times flailed frenetically at the wildest crescendos. The opening of Born Slippy provided an expectedly rapturous hands in the air moment to what felt like a very intimate and sincere performance.

With the full site opening up on Friday, Rob da Bank led an opening ceremony from the Port. I headed over just after, keen to hear Four Tet live for the first time. Kieran Hebden’s set was completely hypnotic, pulling in passers-by with tracks that had everyone swaying as if put under a dreamy trance. Whilst a lazy afternoon vibe is well suited to some of Four Tet’s more ambient sounds, Hebden by no means played a safe set. Presiding over the Port he opted for patient builds that readied the crowd for much bigger beats than I would have expected and was not afraid to work the dancefloor up into a mass of stomping feet.

Friday’s standout performance came from Flying Lotus. Elevated within his enormous see-through cube Fly-Lo had plenty of visual wow-factor. The main stage’s screens were electrified by ripples of static, as Fly-Lo’s enclosure emanated beams of electricity. The set was a barrage on the senses, yet at other times it was also surprising how casual he made it all seem. With Thundercat on bass guitar, the pair were at ease taking cues from one another, making it look as if they were just having a casual jam session. Hardcore Fly-Lo fans were ecstatic as he took to the mic to perform some material from his Captain Murphy alias, and later Thundercat took on MC duties too.

BST0002At first I had been disappointed on Friday to learn of the absence of the Red Bull Music Academy Stage. Designed by Mad Ferret, the stage had a striking aesthetic, something akin to a fire-breathing Aztec temple, and had proven to be a hub of talent last year. However, with a fuller exploration of the site on Friday I began to understand the need for the absence of this stage and others. Whilst Rob da Bank and co have kept some essential elements the same, rotating in a number of new stages and builds across the site is needed to keep the Bestival experience fresh from year to year.

As always the creative team had been hard at work designing quirky features to give Bestival the unique character it is so frequently praised for. Take the Love Bot for example. Bestival’s metallic monument to Peace and Love provided the focal point for meet ups and selfies, equivalent to last year’s enormous mirror ball, which, incidentally had been relegated to presiding over a nearby campsite.

There is always something waiting around the next corner to discover. On Friday evening as I was returning from Seth Troxler’s performance at the Port, via the enchanted forest, I encountered a shipping container that lead down into tiny lounge filled with a seated crowd listening to the wonky riffs of a pianist positioned among them. Every night the smaller stages were just as alive with energy as the Port and Bollywood. This year the wishing tree, a giant tree stump near the border between arena and campsite was a standout example of this. Upon opening its door every new entrant’s face would light up as they discovered the old wooden trunk was jam-packed to the walls with fifty-odd people dancing their hearts out. It’s moments like this that remind you of how unique Bestival is.

BST0004Portside on Saturday, Flava D made an authoritive entrance mid-afternoon with Rebound X’s ‘Rhythm n’ Gash’ instrumental before using the unmistakable intro of ‘Basscanon’, to transition into some pacey garage beats. Later on mainstage Jungle, proved to be a smart booking as an all-round easy-pleaser. Multi-instrumentalists Tom McFarland and Joshua Lloyd-Watson, the musical brains behind the operation, were joined by a full band who worked their way through hits ‘The Heat’, ‘Busy-Earning’ and others from the duo’s acclaimed debut album with ease.

Saturday well and truly belonged to the day’s headliners, The Chemical Brothers. The Mancunian duo fired up the crowd immediately with ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’, before powering into a succession of tracks that worked the crowd into overdrive. The pair slowed things down briefly after ‘Go’, giving everyone a moment to catch their breath, before launching into a set packed with hits.

The Chemical Brothers’ set was a clear stand-out from the weekend. Even though Flying Lotus had made an impact with his cube, it paled in comparison to the Chemical Brothers’ phenomenal production. The pair’s tighly choreographed video elements created a perfect synergy between their audio and visual elements, adding another dimension to each of their tracks culminating in truly one of the most immersive live performances I’ve ever seen.

On Sunday afternoon Mistajam took over the Port with Speaker Box Presents. Logan Sama, one of grime’s longest standing ambassadors was wrapping up his set as I made my way over. Sama made an endearingly crude attempt at playing matchmaker with an outro medley that consisted of Funky Dee’s ‘Are You Gonna Bang Doe’, and Safone’s ‘She Wants a Man from Brum’ before finishing on a more genuine and personal note, playing The Prodigy’s ‘No Good’ as a nod to his fellow 80s babies.

BST0018As Sama drew out the end of his set, it was apparent that Benga was delayed, and Klose One stepped up to bridge the interlude. Benga’s appearance on the lineup was a rare treat considering he had announced an end to DJing in early 2014, and fans were not to be dissapointed. Benga eventually emerged and instantly made his presence known by barraging the crowd with a chugging onslaught of dubstep. After this opening salvo Benga’s MC reminded the crowd that this was the sound of the ‘old Benga’ and proceeded to introduce a sound he labelled as ‘Future Funk’. By and large these were a selection of bass laden tracks, set to an off kilter rhythm that didn’t quite go so far as to veer into breakbeat. Benga had lost none of his finesse on the decks, and with Mistajam monitoring behind the scenes the quality of sound was absolutely pristine. Clocking in at about 40 minutes or so Benga’s set was short and sweet. In the following days Benga opened up about how being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia had been the cause for him stepping back in 2014. With this in mind, it was incredible to see Benga pulsing with energy on stage, and receiving so much in return from the crowd.

Appearing on mainstage in the early evening the full BBK crew were out in force, and it was no surprise to hear legions of fans shouting back lyrics to every track. Whilst Skepta has been championing Grime’s ascent to mainstream acceptance this year, his brother JME, gave him more than a run for his money, oozing charisma and stealing the stage with a far more animated performance.

The Jacksons’ feel good hits brought together Bestival for the final evening. Jermaine lead the majority of the tracks, whilst archive footage of the group throughout their career did more to highlight Michael’s absence than gloss over it. Soundbites in between some tracks narrated some of the groups finest moments giving the set a strangely removed quality, as if watching a live documentary.

BST0008Over at the Port, drum and bass was given a prime time slot on Sunday evening, and High Contrast turned in a memorable set to round it all off. Shortly after, the obligatory firework finale lit up the skies and reminded us all that Bestival was once again drawing to an end. The sweet upbeat sound of Neneh Cherry brought us into the Big Top, and at this point the evening drizzle began to build into something of a torrential downpour. Later on, Staying put to see Skepta perform for the second time seemed like a better plan than braving the elements.

The Big Top offered a change of environment that felt more intimate and better suited to a solo performance from Skepta. Whilst the set was something of a rerun of a lot of the same material played in BBKs set earlier on, it also offered the chance for Skepta to indulge fans by performing segments from his Blacklisted mixtape, as well as giving fans the option of two different opportunities to catch him in action.

The weekend had been blessed with great weather, however Sunday evening’s heavy downpours quickly turned the slopes of Robin Hill into mudslicks and sent everyone dashing for cover beneath the tents. With its crowd inflated by those seeking shelter, entering Bollywood to see Ben UFO play alongside Joy Orbison appeared to be an impossible task. With no signs of the rain letting up we reluctantly called it a night to make ready for an early morning departure to avoid ferry queues.

Bestival 2015’s Summer of Love once again proved that the Isle of White weekender sits in the upper echelons of Britain’s festival market. The Summer of Love was a comfortable repeat of all the qualities that make Bestival so popular. Whilst at face value this year’s outing appeared to have fewer innovations than previous years, and lacked the same thematic consistency across the site as last year’s Desert Island Disco, the curators once again delivered on providing a festival that it is a hell of a lot of fun and manages to keep more than a few surprises in store should you choose to scratch beneath the surface of the big name acts and larger stages.

8.0 Essential

Bestival executes the delicate balancing act of distributing live and electronic acts over a multitude of stages to offer a little bit of everything without losing any of its core appeal.

  • FOOD 10

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