Review of Bestival 2010

With the rise of the 'boutique' festival in recent years - think the vegan and marijuana corners of Glastonbury - it was inevitable one would grow to corner the market, swallowing all those in its wake. And with safety concerns losing Suffolk's Latitude Festival its family-friendly reputation, its Isle of Wight contemporary is left to set the standards.


Now in its seventh year, the Rob Da Bank-curated Bestival weekend sits pretty at the culmination of a busy festival season, yet to call it the pinnacle is to over-exaggerate its successes somewhat - where else can you see Rolf Harris go head-to-head with Radiohead drummer Phil Selway for example? - make no mistake, Bestival is as hit-and-miss as a festival can be.

It's something best defined by its headliners. While both Dizzee Rascal and The Prodigy are surefire crowd-pleasers - the former a lesson in the crossover grime that's made him a household name, the latter a reminder of the stadium-filling prowess of a twenty-year-old back catalogue - Saturday's Flaming Lips set is one, 90 minute missed opportunity. The clues are there from the start; Wayne Coyne's repeated (and usually unnecessary) pleas for a sodden Bestival crowd to 'come on' and 'help me out'; the all-too-often descents into jam territory that, while brutal and glorious in equal measure, are no answer to a rapidly thinning crowd. And yet, with every masterstroke they deign to offer us, they come within fingertips of greatness. 'Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots pt. 1', with Coyne accompanied only by a lazily strum six-string, is as delicate a moment as its record version deserves, while the likes of 'The W.A.N.D'. and 'She Don't Use Jelly' remind us that while a Pavement reunion is a pleasant nostalgia trip, the Lips have maintained a level of output the Stockton quintet could only dream of. Underwhelming? Sure. But for every lowlight of noodling tedium, there are as many of fist-punching vitality.

Likewise The xx performance in the 6000 capacity Big Top suffers from either naivety on the part of the bookers or post-Mercury mainstream syndrome as literally every person on Robin Hill Country Park seems to want to get in, thereby threatening an unpleasant crush of Hillsborough style proportions. Its also notable that the sound quality for some of the bigger acts in there, namely fellow Mercury nominees Wild Beasts and Sunday headliners LCD Soundsystem isn't all that, and both sets prove underwhelming as a result.

That's not to say the weekend is plagued by disappointments; merely those that promise the most delivering, comparatively, the least. By contrast, Bestival's numerous highlights are found in the far-flung corners of a site that rivals Worthy Farm for nooks and crannies. The Rock n Roll tent proves an arbiter of both talent and conditions for the full three days, mixing a wealth of flawless acts with arguably the best sound afforded any stage. Caribou's amalgamation of glitter-disco, pop-techno and driving math-funk is served well by a crowd that spills ten deep from its entrances, with the likes of 'Sun' and 'Bowls' lighting the touch paper for an explosive, and well-received, half-hour. Mercury nominees Villagers, too, attract the sort of crowd that would have Speech Debelle spluttering into her dusty trophy cabinet; while the Barclaycard prize may have eluded them, it's clear 'Becoming A Jackal' has found the reception it warrants.

On the same stage, even a faulty guitar cannot prevent The Antlers from turning in one of the weekend's best sets, the likes of 'Two' and 'Sylvia' providing genuine moments of multiple neck hairs standing to attention. Similarly, The Archie Bronson Outfit's all out noise pop is a visceral delight that does justice to their description of sounding like Clinic being fed through a cement mixer by Throbbing Gristle.

Venture even further afield and you've London shoegazers The Domino State ripping up the tiny Bimble Inn during the witching hours of Saturday morning, Balkan gypsy folk songstress Dodo beguiling the masses in the Polka Tent and London's answer to Phoenix Electric Pacific playing a surprisingly engaging set to a relatively small but transfixed audience on the Arcadia Stage. If things aren't already surreal enough, Saturday afternoon sees the Bollywood Bar transformed into Studio One for three hours courtesy of dub reggae legends Don Letts and David Rodigan, while the sight of eighties throwbacks Heaven 17 partying like its 1982 and actually pulling it off proves all too much for tearful frontman Glenn Gregory at the end.

Perhaps the most understated highlight of the weekend belongs to the impressive Chai Wallah tent, which becomes a meeting point for those seeking a more refined foil to the populist arena draws. Such is Bestival's commitment to hiding its better points away from plain view, Chai Wallah sits outside of the main arena, instead nestled in a corner of the campsite that suits its heady mix of reggae, ska, dubstep and trance, whilst providing the perfect resting place for those who've over-indulged in far too many substances, be they liquid or otherwise.

On the whole, despite the odd flaw, its fair to say Bestival has rightfully earned its reputation as one of the most chilled out, musically diverse festivals on the calendar, and the fact it finds itself sold out long before the majority of its acts are announced surely tells its own story.

Will Orchard & Dom Gourlay

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