Live Review: Bestival (September 2017)

Photo - Victor Frankowski

After a disappointing turnout last year and a move from its Isle of Wight home to the Lulworth estate in Dorset, there were fears that Bestival may have lost its magic. But after 4 days of music, glitter and mud we’re happy to confirm that the festival is just as much fun as ever.

Following a smooth entry on Thursday morning (no queues!) and a slightly rainy attempt at tent- assembling, we were off to see the first band of the weekend, the incredible Yonaka. They may have been on early in the weekend, but the band didn’t seem to mind, mixing driving guitar music with off-kilter dance moves, and even heading down to the barrier to show the crowd some love. Overall impression? Get ready to see them much higher on the bill next time round.

Thursday also saw Radio 1 broadcasting live from the festival’s Temple stage, with Annie Mac hosting, and acts from the coming weekend playing short sets, a showreel of what Bestival had planned. Highlights of this included a stripped back acoustic set from Circa Waves, and a soulful performance from the BBC’s sound of 2017, Ray BLK.

Warm-up complete, Bestival brought out the big-hitters, with Blossoms and Jamie T both putting on stellar shows at The Box, a massive big top that served as the second biggest stage of the festival. As the heavens opened the tent filled up rapidly, and by the time Blossoms came on it felt like everybody in the arena was there to greet them.

Jamie T - Photo: Sam Neil

The band quickly justified their meteoric rise over the past 12 months, with tracks like “Charlemagne” and “At Most a Kiss” sounding phenomenal, and getting a roaring crowd response. The band switched it up too, playing a medley that included snippets of Cher and Oasis, to name just a couple, grinning from ear to ear whilst they did so.

Blossoms - Photo: Jordan Hughes

Jamie T was keen to throw a few curveballs too, with a tongue-in- cheek cover of “Best of You” by the Foo Fighters swiftly morphing into “Zombie”, the crowd’s singing managing to almost drown out his own. “I’m told the main stage isn’t on tonight” he said at one point, “so I guess that means we’re headlining!” The roar from the packed tent made it clear that it was a well-earned slot, and old classics like “368” and “Sheila” cleared any remaining doubts you might have had left. A storming start to the weekend, and we’re not just talking about the weather.

Come Friday morning the rain had well and truly set in and the people that had chosen to skip the Thursday were left desperately searching for camping spots that weren’t a complete mud bath. Despite this the mood was still buoyant, helped along by a stellar second-day lineup.

Kicking off proceedings were garage legends Oxide & Neutrino, playing the aptly named “Garage Pool Party” at HMS Bestival, a stage shaped like a cruise liner. Shouts of “Don’t watch the weather!” from the duo before they played their biggest track “Bound 4 Da Reload” were met with cheers of approval from the crowd, and enthusiastic two-stepping, spraying mud everywhere. Over to the Box to shelter from the weather and see finnish singer Alma, whose bright green hair could be seen from a mile away. Her incredible voice was coupled with a slick stage show, complete with a tannoy announcement as she left the stage, assuring the crowd that there was more to come. “She is changing into something more flamboyant” said the recording, before Alma came striding back out to finish her set. After her short performance the previous night, Ray BLK’s main stage set didn’t disappoint, despite starting slightly late. Winning over a curious crowd, she danced all over the stage, making sure people would remember her. A highlight was her pitch perfect cover of “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, performed dripping in raw emotion.

As Ray BLK left the stage an announcement appeared on screen, announcing that Grime originator Wiley would no longer be performing. Groans went up from the crowd, but it wasn’t exactly a surprise, after all Wiley once described himself as “Like the number 38 bus, I never turn up”. Still, that meant more time to see The Magic Gang, and they were on top form. Playing in a small tent, but all in matching yellow raincoats just in case, the crowd was spilling so far out of the entrance you could barely see the band. Songs like “How Can I Compete?” already sound like indie classics, and the fan devotion even went as far as somebody waving a homemade flag with the band’s name on it. The sound was tight, the tunes were incredible, and the band were loving it.

Ray BLK - Photo: Jordan Hughes

Back from guitars to grime, and the next act up was AJ Tracey. Or rather it should’ve been, if he hadn’t turned up almost an hour late. Droves of people gave up waiting and left, but without warning he came out running and went straight into it, earning a reload on his first verse. The people that were left duly erupted into a mosh pit that didn’t stop until he left the stage, and reached a massive peak when Tracey pulled out a cover of Skepta’s “It Ain’t Safe”. The set was incredible, and showed real potential, it’s just a shame he kept the crowd waiting for so long.

A more down-tempo affair were Friday’s headliners The XX, a band that suited the just-cleared skies and they were playing under. With a mix of minimalist songs from their early career, and the more upbeat, recent tunes, they proved themselves worthy of a headline slot. There was even time for Jamie XX to showcase some of his solo work, a dash of manic energy in the middle of the set. The band themselves have grown into their role on stage, eschewing their old “play the songs and nothing else” approach for a more traditional (and more enjoyable) stage presence. It may not have had the energy of some of the earlier acts, but it was all the more beautiful for it.

The xx - Photo: Sam Neil

With the main stage closed we headed to the Jägerhaus to catch Kagoule, an alt-rock outfit that have been together since they were 17. The closeness of the band really comes through, and their understated, hard edged music sounds fantastic in such a small space.

A final act to end the night, and Birmingham grime producer Preditah seemed the perfect way to keep us awake late into the evening. Preditah has produced for JME, Wiley and numerous other grime MCs, and his DJ set was studded with some of the biggest tracks in grime and urban music, as well as some underrated classics. By 3am when he left the stage we were well and truly exhausted, and headed off for some hard-earned rest.

Saturday was hip-hop’s day, with A Tribe Called Quest headlining and playing their last ever UK show. Nadia Rose was first up, a London-based MC and cousin of Stormzy (who you might have heard of).

Nadia Rose - Photo: Jordan Hughes

She comes on spitting bars in a matching pink jacket, shoes and rucksack, and the energy continues throughout. A beatboxing friend is brought out and you really get the sense that everyone on stage is best mates, from the DJ to the dancers to Nadia herself. By the time she’s ready to leave the stage the applause is deafening, and a chant of her name follows her as she leaves.

Stefflon Don is on straight afterwards, and the rain promptly reminds us of its existence, with the heavens truly opening for the first half of her set. Luckily she’s good enough that it doesn’t matter, and the turnout is still strong. Dancehall style tracks like “16 Shots” are mixed in with more chart- friendly material like her new track with French Montana, “Hurtin’ Me”, with each track getting a better response than the last. A triumphant finale of “Real Ting” is made even better by Stefflon inviting girls from the crowd onstage to dance with her, and the stage is swiftly full of starstruck fans.

After a quick break to see The Smiths Ltd, a very good but slightly out of place Smiths tribute band, it was back to the main stage for Danny Brown. One of the real highlights of the weekend, the Detroit rapper may be known for his strange vocal style and off-kilter personality, but he’s a born performer. Taking breaks to stick his tongue out and show off his newly fixed teeth (his chipped front tooth used to be somewhat of a trademark), Brown hardly said anything, but let his songs do the talking. The crowd was a 50/50 split of dedicated fans and curious hip-hop fans at the start, but by the end the entire audience had been converted, jumping around and gladly obliging when asked to sing along.

Danny Brown - Photo: Mike Massaro

A stop off at Fatman Scoop’s set, where he obliging plays “Be Faithful” and lives up to his name as the greatest hype man of all time, and then it’s time for Dizzee Rascal. With a new album out and a festival crowd that only know the hits, it was always going to be hard for Dizzee to find the right balance, and it’s unclear whether he’s managed it. Classic tracks like “Fix Up, Look Sharp” and “Holiday” still make the crowd erupt into movement, but the mood is more subdued during the new material, and it almost feels like two sets merged into one, rather than a blend of the two styles. He still knows how to work a crowd, but it seems like he missed the memo about not playing too much new stuff at a festival set.

Dizzie Rascal - Photo: Rob Ball

A Tribe Called Quest have no such problems, with a triumphant final set that had the crowd hanging on their every word. The lightshow was great, with a massive image of Darth Maul on the screen, and the tunes were executed perfectly. The group themselves are still some of the coolest men on the planet, and the fun they have as they interact with the crowd is obvious. An attempt to pretend to leave before playing “Can I Kick It” isn’t fooling anyone, and they swiftly run back on stage, changing the chorus to the call and response of “Can Y’all Kick It?” “Yes We Can!” The final “Yes We Can!” has everybody in the crowd shouting along, and serves as a fitting full stop at the end of the group’s touring career.

A Tribe Called Quest - Photo: Victor Frakowski

Come Sunday and the weather had got even worse, with gale force winds causing an early deflation of the “Happy Kanye” sculpture, before forcing the closure of the entire site for an hour. This closure meant Mercury Prize nominee Loyle Carner didn’t get to perform, but as festival organise Rob Da Bank explained, people’s safety is always paramount.

Once the wind had died down and the arena re-opened, Circa Waves took to the main stage, wearing Hawaiian shirts and doing their best to bring a bit of sunshine with them. “T-shirt Weather” was introduced with a smile by the band, who thanked everyone for coming before adding “Sorry it isn’t…T-shirt Weather”. Terrible puns aside the band put in a faultless set, and the enthusiasm amongst the crowd proved that it’ll take more than high winds and rain to dampen the Bestival Spirit.

Blaenavon continue the festival theme of absolutely packing out the Invaders of the Future tent, with people way back from the tent itself dancing and singing along to every track played. It’s good to see such a die-hard fan base, but what would you expect when they’ve only released one album and every track on it is an absolute corker?

From debut album to one of the longest lived chart mainstays on the planet. It was time for the final headliner of the weekend, the legendary Pet Shop Boys. An incredible light show and multiple costume changes ensured that the duo was visually impressive, and an absolutely huge back catalogue took care of the sonic side of things. You don’t realise just how many timeless classics Pet Shop Boys have made until you see them live, as every track introduced is one that absolutely everyone can sing along to. An over-the- top, dazzling close to the main stage, and a final hammering home of just how great the weekend’s line-up was.

Pet Shop Boys - Photo: Rob Ball

For anyone left hanging on and refusing to wait until next year, there was still fun to be had. Isle of Wight based DJ Compton White ended the Invaders of the Future tent with a bang, his unique mix of sampledelica and electronic music getting everyone in attendance moving. It’s hard to stand out as a rising electronic producer, but Compton White manages it, expect great things going forward.

One final stop-off before bedtime and a journey back to the real world (and a real bed), UK rap collective 67. The group come on with no warning and leap straight into their gritty, dark portrayal of London life. Grime and UK rap often straddles the line between glossy chart potential, and a more raw, underground sound, but 67 happily exist in the latter. There aren’t any soulful choruses or autotuned melodies, it’s just pure, hard rap, filled with references to drugs and guns. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it might seem a strange choice to close the festival, but 67 know what they’re good at and do it well.

Photo - Sam Neil

Summing up Bestival is hard. There are so many disparate genres, styles and types of people in attendance. A move in site, a couple of high profile cancellations, and the ever present and ever awful weather would have ruined any chance of a good weekend at most festivals. But despite this mix and these pitfalls, the atmosphere managed to stay true to the “Summer of love” theme, and the weekend still managed to be absolutely phenomenal. There truly is something for everyone at Bestival, and it’s well worth a visit. Just remember your wellies next year guys; I’m sure the man we saw waiting for the toilet barefoot wishes he remembered his.

Review by Jake Hawkes