- Wed, 2011-10-12 10:16
Last year Bestival officially joined the big guns of the festival scene. Having swelled from seven to fifty-five thousand attendees since launching in 2004, it was awarded Best Major Festival at the UK Festival Awards, graduating for the first time from the Best Medium Festival award that it had won on four previous occasions. Not so long ago it was firmly a boutique event, now it is beating Glastonbury et al to the top prizes. But despite its surging popularity the team behind Bestival – headed up by Rob Da Bank – have kept their feet firmly on the ground, managing to couple the sense of occasion that accompanies a major festival with the idiosyncrasies, peculiarities and village fete feeling of the small homespun event that it started out as.
So it was that this year the hordes of punters who descended on the Isle of Wight’s Robin Hill Country Park were able to take in high-stakes motor stunts on the Wall Of Death, a Zen haven in the Ambient Forest, laughs and spoken word in the Comedy & Cabaret tent, live BMXing, Island-brewed ale, a Shisha café and far more before they even had to choose how to divide their time between the thousand-strong crowds and big names present at the Main Stage & Big Top and their more specialist or less well-known counterparts on a host of far smaller stages site-wide.
Highlights among the latter included hot new house producer Julio Bashmore’s jacking set at the Roller Disco, fuzz-rock revivalists Yuck’s crunchy guitars and wistful melodies on the tiny Sailor Jerry’s stage and a whole host of world-class DJs at the Red Bull Music Academy’s pitch, including a carefully judged and energetic set from Pearson Sound and a sublime set of soulful, instrumental hip hop from scene-legend DJ Krush.
Perhaps unsurprisingly though, the majority of the most memorable musical moments took place between the two biggest stages. On Friday night at the Big Top Mogwai delivered fifty minutes of utterly hypnotising soundscapes, drawing from ten years of their back catalogue and moving between delicate textures and walls of noise with ease, grace and a great deal of potency. On the same stage on Sunday DJ Shadow provided a set that was on occasion marred by a seemingly arbitrary decision to modify his old tunes with elements of drum and bass and dubstep. The visuals that accompanied his set, however, more than made up for this slight lapse in judgement: crowds were wowed as Shadow performed within an opaque white globe (known as the Shadowsphere) in front of a blank backdrop onto both of which were projected a feast of eye-catching, interacting images.
Across the course of the weekend the Main Stage blended old talent with new. On Friday Brian Wilson’s band provided perfect sing-along festival fodder (even if a fragile Wilson himself took something of a back seat), and Public Enemy demonstrated their importance to hip hop with a clutch of classic tracks, though Flava Flav regrettably felt compelled to pepper these with frequent attempts to hock his autobiography. Saturday saw pleasing early sets from Katy B and charismatic cockney Paloma Faith, and on Sunday Mick Jones’ Big Audio Dynamite taught a lesson or two on what it means to be in a real rock band before Maccabees mixed old favourites with some material from their extremely exciting-sounding forthcoming third album.
Bestival 2011’s real triumph, however, was in booking both Bjork and The Cure for their only UK festival headline slots of the year. The former’s live Biophilia project is clearly not designed for a festival, but was nonetheless utterly captivating with its carefully designed visuals, tailor-made instrumentation and intellectually engaging subject matter. There wasn’t much dancing to be had, but Bjork’s huge voice - backed by a twenty-strong choir - was enough to keep the crowd entertained, and rambunctious closer Declare Independence injected a sting into the set’s tail. The Cure, on the other hand, are perfectly placed to entertain a festival audience. Their two and a half hour slot sounded a tad indulgent in theory, but it felt like it was over in a flash as the band mined thirty years of material to deliver spine-tingling chorus after spine-tingling chorus. Frontman Robert Smith’s vocals were as poignant and personable as ever they’ve been, and that the crowd sang along with him to virtually every song justifies his band’s iconic status.
In pairing the big with the small, the momentous with the minute, Bestival breathes new life into both. The attendee alternates between witnessing grandiose ‘major festival moments’ and indulging in something that feels intimate and hand-crafted; a contrast that serves to heighten each experience. As long as Bestival continues to pull off this delicate balancing act it will remain a winner.