My thoughts on Bestival 2016

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What would be your response to seeing the Chuckle Brothers playing the main stage of a major music festival? Given the crowd’s rapturous response to their seasoned shambolics (complete with Barry miming on the drums), it was a mix of triumph and humored bemusement. This was my second time at Bestival which, ever eclectic, had proposed a “future” theme.  Admittedly the brothers were early on in the day, but the heart-warming nostalgia guaranteed by a set chock full of “to me, to you” and “no slacking” was almost at loggerheads with this.

Oh dear oh dear, you might think. But actually, among a sea of futuristic artwork, glossy spaced-out costumes and (perhaps most importantly) a whole host of new talent, the odd dot of reminiscence in the form of legendary performers- be they acclaimed artists or the silliest of children’s entertainers- was much needed. Heck, 2016 has been a tough year, particularly in popular culture; we need a slice of sentimentality every now and then- not just to remind us of what has been, but of what can be done.

Despite me and James getting there quite late on Friday, we were still able to find space for our tent without having to walk too far into the festival. However, if you go down with more than one after the first day… well, I crave your confidence, your optimistic outlook on the ways of music festivals. Forcing ourselves to set things up properly rather than just dash off to enjoy the music was probably the toughest part of the whole weekend, even more than packing everything up on Sunday morning in the early, hungover stages of a post festival comedown. AND it was a pop up tent.

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Bestival, Chuckle style.

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Bestival and chill.

Maybe my regular attendance of Glastonbury has warped my expectations of other festivals, but the main stage certainly seemed small. For reference, it was on par with the Park stage at the aforementioned Somerset series, and it was much smaller than the main stage at, say, Reading or Leeds. In a way though, you can argue that this puts it on more level footing with the other stages of the festival; that it is on par with the rest, rather than trying to stand out.

Delays on entering the festival meant that we missed Skepta, much to my annoyance and James’s jubilation, but Major Lazer were satisfying Friday night headliners. From the first bounce of “Pon De Floor”, we were treated to all manner of shapes and speeds; even gimmicks like Diplo zorbing across the crowd were enjoyable enough. The only big let-down was the short, acoustic version of “Cold Water,” courtesy of MO, who had played the Big Top earlier. As one of the late contenders for summer anthem, I felt this was a missed opportunity.

After enduring the rain for Chuckle Brothers,  me and James escaped Saturday’s awful weather with a few hours in the Big Top; this is Bestival’s second stage, so more musical tricks than circus treats. My highlight was Beaty Heart, one of the first band’s I’ve heard who truly consider the texture of their innovative electropop, with “Flora” prompting swathes of slow grooves across the tent. Then the rain faded away for Craig David, his comeback continuing to catapult him further into our consciousness with his lively, pure feel-good R’n’B. Another mix of past and future that you can’t explain, but it works.

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The Cure’s Bestival set: “Just Like Heaven,” you may well say.

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The People’s Front Room, Bestival’s best kept secret.

Now, some bands yearn to make their festival slot a special occasion in some way, such as celebrating an album anniversary by playing it from start to finish. Instead, The Cure embraced the best of their back catalog- nearly three hours of it in fact- and delivered a spectacular set that took in all corners of alternative, from psych to disco to indie and back again. From the impassioned jangle pop of “Friday I’m In Love” to the sludgy bass intro of “Just Like Heaven” sending up wistful cheers, the highlights were predictable, but no less enjoyable for being so.

Sunday meanwhile, in the grand festival tradition, was a bit of a blur. Me and James spent lots of it exploring the less-trodden western corners of the festival, wandering through the Ambient Forest to the top of the site to take it all in. Pick of the day had to go to Will Varley on the Magic Meadow’s Invaders of the Future stage. It was a slightly difficult set in a sense because of its close proximity to the main stage, but Varley’s folk was equally rowdy and enthusiastic, doing very well in keeping the crowd with him throughout.

Coming back on the ferry late that evening, drifting in and out of sleep and reveling in the foul-language nostalgia of Teesside Tintin, I reflected that Bestival does feel a bit like a holiday getaway, bowing out the summer in spectacular style. Granted, it WAS slightly smaller this year (as festival organizers openly admitted on social media afterwards), but the festival still felt like it was giving its all throughout. Although I will admit there was a particular hideaway that underlined most of the fun across the weekend: The People’s Front Room.

Fashioned as an otherworldly nineteenth century salon, this tucked-away gem offers a heap of talent across funk, jazz, and all manner of genres for that matter, to be enjoyed from one of the plush armchairs or the Persian-style carpets. Leave your wellies at the door and immerse yourself. Being so close to the artist, it offers an unparalleled level of intimacy- despite the venue doubling in size since last year’s Bestival. It’s easily my favourite find from the fields. For me, festivals are about the hidden delights you stumble into; maybe Bestival is right in pointing to the future, to see what you come across next.

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The highs and lows of Bestival 2015

With the Reverend of Bestival's Inflatable Church of Rubber Love.

With the Reverend of Bestival’s Inflatable Church of Rubber Love.

After years of asking, I finally said yes to my friend James’s hand in marriage in Bestival’s Church of Rubber Love. I know it might seem sudden, but we were both drunk, it was a one-time offer, and it was a giant inflatable church. In fact, we were actually there for another ceremony; not for anyone that we knew though. Like many other party-goers, we were just gatecrashing one of the numerous services that took place across the weekend. As our arms formed an arch and we toasted the newlyweds to Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love,” I felt myself fully embracing Bestival’s summer of love theme. It’s safe to say it was a wild weekend.

It’s been twelve years since Bestival began welcoming indie and dance lovers to its site at Robin Hill Country Park on the Isle of Wight, and this year was as good as any. The fact you have to get a ferry across to the site even makes it feel like a holiday of sorts! Considering Glastonbury has been my go-to festival for the last couple of years, the first thing that hit me upon arriving is how small the festival seemed to me; I was truly shocked that it didn’t take over an hour to walk from one side of the side to the other.

World's biggest mirrorball. Official and that.

World’s biggest mirrorball. Official and that.

But as you’d expect with an event of this kind, there was more than enough to keep me and my friend James occupied over the weekend. Once into the main arena, you wander across different themed areas, such as the manic dance oriented Port and Bollywood Field, opposite the more chilled out vibes of Slow Motion. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you suddenly stumble across something different on the umpteenth visit. On the Saturday we stumbled across a cosy psychedelic salon fresh out of the 19th century called The People’s Frontroom; it was so welcoming we spent most of that night and the next in its quarters.

Considering the plethora of dance, guitar and hip hop talent that permeated the line up, the biggest crowd I saw were the masses that squeezed into the Big Top for… the Chuckle Brothers. Over a brisk ten minute set (half of which was splitting the crowd in half so that we could volley “to me” and “to you” back at each other), there was a song focused around their phrase “no slacking,” a dance number featured Paul and Barry miming on keyboards and drums, and their Tinchy Stryder collaboration from last year, featuring the man himself… or at least the music video playing over the track. Like a bubbling pot of surreal and nostalgia, I just didn’t know what to think.

Tame Impala, letting it happen.

Tame Impala, letting it happen.

Overall, the weekend went without any unusual incidents, until I was backstage on Sunday. My friend James’s sister, Sarah, was managing a few of the acts on that day, and had managed to nab us a few backstage passes, giving us some exciting side of stage views and access to the VIP bar. All very enjoyable, but it became a nightmare for me when later on, as I dashed into The People’s Frontroom out of the rain as the heavens opened, I realised I had left my jacket in the VIP bar. What then followed was half an hour of frantic negotiations and exasperated searching, as security had stepped up and I was told I had to use a different entry route, which proved a nightmare to find.

However, I eventually made my way into the VIP bar, and my frantic efforts were rewarded. As I stumbled across the seating area looking highly frustrated, two kind ladies produced my jacket from under the seat next to them. Judging from my reaction, you would think they had offered me piles of gold. My mood was beyond jubilant; it was euphoria of the most blissful kind. So blissful in fact, that I moved off at such a pace that I promptly slipped over and splashed into the thick mud just outside the Big Top. Of course I was wearing jet black skinny jeans! I still haven’t got all of the mud off.

But looking back on it, when I think about how much fun I had across the whole weekend, Bestival was definitely worth the frantic washing session on the following Monday. The fancy dress costume only adds to the sense of making it feel completely separate from normal life, and the world would be worse off if there wasn’t a place where you could wear bright floral shirts, cover yourself in peace symbols and dance away to Tame Impala, The Chemical Brothers and the Chucklevision theme tune as the summer comes to a close.