For anyone that's never been to Bestival and is yet to be persuaded about making the thirty-five minute boat trip over the English Channel, you really are missing out. Take the best bits of Glastonbury, combine it with the refined subtlety of Latitude, add a dash of Primavera's near flawless bookings and you're somewhere in the right vicinity. Rob Da Bank's annually curated event, now in its ninth year, can once again raise a toast to being arguably the UK's finest gathering of its kind. After all, where else would you find stages ranging from the ragga and hardcore themed Bollywood through to one exclusively featuring live Polka acts as well as your traditional Main Stage and its impressive list of headline acts? Then there are sights such as the giant Arcadia spider, Rave Police, Lost Picture Show plus the themed fancy dress on Saturday which was this year incorporating any and every form of wildlife. Although still seen by some as a boutique festival, probably due to the lack of corporate sponsorship and the eclectic nature of its line-up, Bestival now plays host to 55,000 happy revellers, regularly selling out all of its full ticket allocation in advance every year, something many of its competitors - both large and small - fail to achieve. This year being no different, it would be fair to say Da Bank and his team once again pushed the boat out as far as booking the bill is concerned. Several UK exclusives (Stevie Wonder, Sigur Ros, General Levy) and long established greats (New Order, Adam Ant, Sister Sledge, Earth Wind & Fire) vied for attention with present day chart toppers (Florence, Emeli Sande, Rizzle Kicks) and hot tips for the future (Jessie Ware, Palma Violets, Charli XCX) meaning many annoying clashes are inevitable. But then, being spoilt for choice is the sign of a great festival, right? Right.
Having spent the best part of Thursday travelling first by road then by water before arriving on site, Contactmusic is greeted by glorious sunshine. It's just as well we took our chances on the weatherman's weekend forecast and left those wellies in the car then. That evening's musical delights took place almost exclusively on the Big Top stage, with the next six hours being spent in the company of John Foxx & The Maths, Gary Numan and Hot Chip respectively. While the latter's futuristic funk causes sweaty pandemonium in the full to bursting tent, both Foxx and Numan also manage to pull off exquisite performances showcasing material from their back catalogues and latest albums respectively. It's a heady electronic cocktail that switches from the avant garde (Foxx) to heavy industrial (Numan) before Hot Chip's teasingly perfect dance party brings proceedings to a close.
The next day, Caribbean breakfast wrap in one hand and litre bottle of water in the other to cure last night's hangover, the calming folk of The Staves makes for soothing background music. Replenished and ready to go, hero of the ragga underground, General Levy, is tearing Bollywood a new one, cries of "Booyaka! Booyaka!" punctuating his every move during a show-stopping 'Incredible'. It's over a year now since the UK last saw Warpaint, so when they appear on stage, Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal studiously hunched behind a pair of keyboards, it reminds us of when Editors first embarked on their electronic adventure three years ago. The three new songs they play here, none of which are given titles, all follow a similar pattern that brings to mind tomorrow night's headliners New Order during their 'Movement' period or lesser feted early 80s post-punks The Passions. Nevertheless, the response out front is positive, reaching boiling point when the familiar tones of 'Undertow' then 'Elephants' close their set.
Over in the Big Top, Soulwax are creating a mini-rave of their own, opting to play a disco heavy rather than rock orientated set, a pulsating rendition of 'NY Excuse' proving as euphoric a climax as we hear anywhere all weekend. Later, The Horrors last UK show before they take a break from the live circuit to make their fourth album once more a hazily energetic bundle of krautrock-influenced psychedelia. Despite the allotted stage time of forty-five minutes being much shorter than their usual set, 'Sea Within A Sea', 'Still Life' and 'Moving Further Away' daze and dazzle like the anthems they are long into the night. The rest of Friday is spent hamming it up in the Swamp Shack to jazzy rhythm and blues, throwing shapes to cheesy pop in the wedding-themed Confetti bar and trying to keep up with the house band's furious tempo in the lively Polka tent. Well, they do say variety is the spice of life, and Bestival has it in abundance.
Saturday is all about dressing up and looking silly, so bunny ears and tail at the ready, Contactmusic finds itself in the mood to dance like a refugee from Mansfield's Village nightclub circa 1986. Who better then to bring the party than Philadelphia disco queens Sister Sledge. Reeling out hit after hit; 'Thinking Of You', 'Lost In Music', 'Frankie', 'We Are Family'; and Kim Sledge even inviting the males in the audience to join her on the Main Stage for 'He's The Greatest Dancer'. Sophisticated and sublime from beginning to end, the scene is set and bar raised for what follows.
Ben Howard appears to be making a big impression over in the Big Top too, except the crowd is so ridiculously large it's difficult to get anywhere near to investigate first hand. Mercury Music Prize contender Jessie Ware also manages to fill the tent, fittingly dressed for the occasion in what looks like Catwoman's costume from 'The Dark Knight Rises'. A sultry 'Night Light' suggests her biggest hit to date may well be just around the corner, while unsurprisingly 'Wildest Moments' receives the wildest response, Ms Ware grinning like a Cheshire version of Anne Hathaway.
Fake Blood leaves the perspiring Bollywood crowd wanting more, his twisted electro beats making as much sense on Saturday teatime in a remote Isle Of Wight field as they would in a dingy basement club at midnight. Death In Vegas are a revelation too, and a loud one at that even without the numerous guest vocalists that contribute to several of their best-known songs. Playing on the small Replay stage, its perfect music as the sun sets in the foreground, a crushing 'Hands Around Your Throat' bringing proceedings to a thrillingly devastating end.
Two Door Cinema Club's star has risen somewhat these past twelve months, culminating in them attracting arguably the biggest audience of the weekend on the Main Stage so far. Pleasant as they are, their appeal seems to lie with the fact that there's a certain familiarity to most of their songs. As in, anyone familiar with the works of Bloc Party or Foals would probably recognise where they're coming from, musically, in an instant. There's a mass exodus of under 25s at the end of their set. Those that do stay are treated to one of the weekend's main highlights. Having successfully risen from the ashes of Joy Division, New Order have become something of a national treasure since their first release in 1981. While much has been made of Peter Hook's self-enforced absence, current bass player Tom Chapman proves a more than adequate replacement. As for the setlist itself, it's something of a diehard fan's dream. We get the best of the singles; 'Crystal' and 'Regret' reeled out early, a poignant 'Ceremony' reminding us of their first steps as New Order and a resounding 'Temptation' to finish the first part off. Then of course there's 'Blue Monday', still a legendary, groundbreaking record in its own right, with choice cuts ('Age Of Consent', 586') from arguably their best long player 'Power, Corruption & Lies' in between. When Bernard Sumner and co. return for an encore of 'Transmission' introduced by that bassline, all hell breaks loose. They finish on 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'; well, what else? Ignore the naysayers, this is about as perfect as it gets.
Afterwards its time for more random encounters. London producer-cum-performer Kwes brings the midnight hour in celebratory fashion, fusing post-punk licks with dub reggae and off beat funk precision. Over in the Swamp Shack, Jess Mills looks anything but the daughter of a well-known MP, instead knocking out sassy electro-pop like a young Sarah Cracknell for the post-rave generation. It's left to Field Music to bring Saturday to an end, and their winsome seventies-flavoured middle of the road pop acts as the perfect sedative to a euphoric and occasionally emotional evening.
Three days down and one to go, Contactmusic is starting to feel a little delicate round the edges, rising just in time for Roots Manuva's eccentric hip hop on the Main Stage and Friends sultry new wave dance pop in the Big Top where bass player Lesley Hann's departure and replacement are announced and introduced respectively, much to the surprise of all and sundry bar charismatic frontwoman Samantha Urbani.
London's Palma Violets have been one of 2012's most hyped bands and, while it would be difficult to justify such hefty praise at this early stage of their career, the potential is evident throughout their thirty-minute set. One girl near the front certainly thinks so, stripping off the top half of her clothing until naked while climbing onto a friend's shoulders singing along to every word. Forthcoming single 'Best Of Friends' could be The Vaccines reinterpreting the first Coral LP, reference points arriving thick and fast throughout. One song reminds us of 'I'm A Believer' by The Monkees, another bastardises Echo & The Bunnymen's 'Villiers Terrace' into a scuzz rock free for all while set closer '14' has a touch of 'The Mighty Quinn' by Manfred Mann about it.
Staying with London but moving across to the Swamp Shack stage, Chas & Dave serve up a cockney knees up of their own. Or at least for those within hearing distance of the all too quiet stage they do anyway. Back on the Main Stage, it's left to Icelandic post-rock ensemble Sigur Ros to bring a musical masterclass to Bestival. Playing earlier than they would have liked due to Stevie Wonder's mammoth headline set and the closing firework display after, their flawless performance still ranks as one of the weekend's undisputed highlights. Playing a career spanning set heavy with material from 1999's 'Agaetis Byrjun' and 2005's 'Takk' while opting to only air one song from this year's 'Valtari', they're an utterly mesmerising example of how to make the genre that made them sound otherworldly and prophetic.
With Factory Floor joining a long list of cancellations that also includes Azealia Banks, Chairlift and Frankie Rose, it seems appropriate to stay put and watch actual living legend Stevie Wonder bring the weekend's Main Stage events to a close. He's in fine voice too, launching his set with the reggae tinged 'Master Blaster' before dropping in a delightful 'Higher Ground' and impeccable cover of Michael Jackson's 'The Way You Make Me Feel' for good measure. Unfortunately, it seems like every single one of the 55,000 punters on site is trying to squeeze into the small confined space in front of the stage and we leave gasping for breath, battered and bruised beyond control.
One can't help but feel a tinge of sympathy for Spiritualized at this point, besieged by technical problems and playing to barely 200 people in the Big Top. Faults with the mics cause them to go on twenty minutes later than scheduled, and when the stage manager informs Jason Pierce that's it during a cathartic 'Walking With Jesus' the temperamental frontman throws his guitar to the side of the stage before storming off, clearly unhappy at his band's set being cut short by a third of its allotted time.
With Bestival 2012 drawing to a close, it's left to the cartoon garage punk antics of King Khan & The Shrines and hallucinogenic techno of Gold Panda to provide the climactic soundtrack to an incredible weekend. New friends made and old acquaintances rekindled, the list of highlights quite endless over the four fun-packed days Contactmusic has spent here. All that remains to be said is the first weekend of September 2013 can't come round soon enough, as Bestival really is the best of all music festivals.
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