Festival Review // Bestival 2015

by EdwardClibbens
EdwardClibbens
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on 18 September 2015 in Features

Now into its 12th incredibly successful year, Bestival now carries with it rather hefty expectations. Not least from this writer, with this year being my fourth in a row. After the overwhelming triumphs that were 2013 and 2014, this year didn’t quite hit the same highs due to a number of misjudged bookings and some dodgy scheduling. That being said, it was still more than most festivals could ever wish to be.

As ever, proceedings began on the Thursday night with the Big Top hosting a sort-of-headline slot from Underworld. Preceded by the ever-mediocre Jamie XX, Underworld’s set was a surprising triumph. With most people initially just hanging around to catch ‘Born Slippy’, the infectious enthusiasm of frontman Karl Hyde made the whole set entirely worthwhile. Even if some of their newer material did slip worryingly close to Pet Shop Boys territory.

On Friday, the exceptional Drenge, opening the Big Top, probably brought the festival proper to life in incredible fashion. Only probably however, as I somehow managed to miss band I most wanted to see. Partly my own fault and partly due to some incredibly late schedule printing in the press tent… It wasn’t until about 6pm that I was informed of this, so the afternoon as a whole went by with spirits incredibly high. The first real highlight came from Australian psychedelic maestros, Pond. Despite operating in the same musical social circle as Tame Impala, Pond take themselves half as seriously and are twice as much fun for it. The more synth-laden songs from new album Man It Feels Like Space Again, sit perfectly alongside the guitar-led, psychedelic jamming of their earlier work. The monumental riff of ‘Giant Tortoise’ is a real moment of jaw dropping musicianship, whilst their set as a whole would turn out to be the best of the weekend.

 

Following Pond was Fat White Family. Although good on record, Fat White Family are best experienced as a live act. Slightly unhinged and worryingly gaunt, there are echoes of Nick Cave amidst their surf rock influenced sound. ‘Touch The Leather’ emerges as an unlikely festival anthem as the whole crowd are putty in their hands. Completing a brilliant hat-trick of acts on the Big Top is Action Bronson. Queens, NY’s foremost bearded, ginger, Albanian rapper draws an enormous and overly excitable crowd. This is all the more impressive considering the shocking decision to schedule Jurassic 5 on the Main Stage at the same time. Playing hits from his acclaimed Blue Chips mixtapes, as well as from his debut LP Mr. Wonderful, the crowd seem to almost worship the larger than larger than life character. He simply oozes a charisma and strange likeability that very few from the world of hip-hop can manage.

Over on The Port stage, home of the major electronic acts across the weekend, Four Tet has a strange 1:30pm slot. In broad daylight, he often veers too much towards crowd pleasing simplicity, never quite doing justice to the kaleidoscopic brilliance of his albums. In a similar vein, headlining the Big Top, Tame Impala play things a bit safe. Although impressive in their sound, it all sounds a bit too perfect. Tracks such as ‘Yes I’m Changing’ from their widely lauded new record, Currents, do sound better live but they lack any sense of adventure. As much as the crowd lap up the likes of ‘Cause I’m A Man’ and the ever brilliant ‘Elephant’, they could do worse than to take a few lessons from their mates in Pond and just let loose now and again.

On the Main Stage, headliners Duran Duran don’t really deserve much in the way of a review. The whole thing was a mess of embarrassing pyrotechnics, even more embarrassing dancing and a selection of terribly dated songs. Even brilliant tracks such as ‘The Chauffeur’ sound weak and unconvincing. The fact that they were booked to headline the Friday, whilst Missy Elliot was given the earlier Sunday night slot, shows that the organisers made quite a serious misjudgement. Either that, or a gamble that just didn’t pay off.

Saturday brought with it the biggest mistake of all, the ‘Special Guest’. After months of unlikely rumours surrounding Muse, we were left with House Of Pain. Nothing more needs to be said on the matter, other than the fact it was about as big an anti-climax as is humanly possible. Before all that nonsense though, local boys Level 42 brought fantastic energy and world-class musicianship to a sunny afternoon on the Main Stage. Unlike their 80s contemporaries Duran Duran, they were care-free and let the music do the talking. It was the perfect set to ease everyone into the day. Once again, the real treats came on the Big Top. Dinosaur Pile-Up provided a rare dose of meaty guitars which, coupled with fantastic sound, left the small but appreciative crowd thoroughly satisfied. Set-closer ‘Nature Nurture’ was one of the best songs of the weekend. Later in the evening, Slaves drew a gigantic crowd and brought the whole tent to its knees. Although their debut LP, Are You Satisfied?, may not have been all it could have been, they remain one of the most exciting live bands you could wish to see. By the end of ‘Hey’, the Big Top is a sweaty mess and the band leave the stage having triumphed over another festival. Unsurprisingly though, it is Baltimore’s unique and mesmerising Future Islands who steal the show.

As Samuel T. Herring and co. take to the stage, the crowd is still gathering, many of who are yet to experience the primal energy and otherworldly dancing the he brings to the stage. The band’s hour long set is further proof of just how good they are live. As remarkable a frontman as he may be, the outlandish dance moves would not be justified were they not backed up by equally good songs. Unafraid to dip into their relatively unknown back catalogue, the crowd’s interest never falters and this is the ultimate testament to Future Islands being a great band.

Other highlights of Saturday were Jungle, who proved to be the perfect festival band as the sun was going down, The Chemical Brothers, who overcame some very dodgy sound whilst headlining the Main Stage and also Kate Tempest who, with (almost) only her words as her weapon, had the Main Stage crowd utterly transfixed during her late afternoon slot. Similarly, Sleaford Mods, playing to a significantly diminished post-Slaves crowd (karma for very openly slagging them off perhaps?), demonstrated the power of wit and clever wordplay. A more unexpected joy came at the wrong side of 2am over on the Invaders of the Future stage. The Skints, with their fusion of ska, dub and hip-hop played to a crowd seemingly made up of hard-core fans, and me. Their performance was admirable for many reasons, not least the relentless energy and Joshua Waters Rudge’s impressive abilities as an MC.

Ahhhh, Sunday, the final day. The day when you most need a mouth-watering line-up of musical wonders to keep you going. Sadly, Bestival didn’t provide anything of the sort this year. Grime legends Boy Better Know’s set was great fun, although a little disjointed, whilst The Jacksons took a while to grow into their set. Oddly enough, it was The Jacksons’ more obscure and more recent material that sounded the best. All the classics simply felt empty in the absence of a certain fifth brother. The only saving grace was Missy Elliot. Headlining the earlier Sunday night slot, the queen of hip-hop lifted the spirits of everyone after a thoroughly damp and disappointing day. There were costume changes aplenty, bonkers backing dancers, fire, some more fire, novelty Westwood-esque DJ sound-effects at every opportunity and no shortage of massive tunes. It was everything that should have happened on Friday night.

And there it is, another year at Bestival; another year of horrible ferry journeys, surprisingly good weather and, as ever, a varied and often bizarre mix of treats, musical and otherwise. Although not the best Bestival by any means, they can still call themselves the best festival with total assurance for another few years at least.

 

 

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