Highlights include Aphex Twin, Carl Craig, Laurent Garnier, Lee ' Scratch' Perry, George Clinton & Parliament / Funkadelic, The Sugar Hill Gang, DJ Yoda vs Shlomo, Dub Pistols, Freestylers, Stanton Warriors, Soul of Man, DJ Hype, TC, Coldcut, Justin Robertson, Slam...
5th - 7th September, Isle of Wight
With the ever-growing Festival Season coming to an end, and the majority suffering from one of the coldest, wettest summers on record, 30,000 people had pinned their hopes on some September sunshine randomly hitting a small island off the south coast for the 5th year in a row, even though the forecast from the mainland was not looking pretty.
Anticipation and excitement are what feeds ticket holders for this festival, from the moment tickets go on sale early in the year, right through to those first steps onto the site. The organisers maximise this for everyone by booking such a huge variety of quality acts, that no matter who you are or where you’re from, something will always catch your eye on the line up, and it is often something you won’t see anywhere else.
As a result, Bestival has grown quickly since it’s conception in 2004, winning Best Medium Size Festival for 3 years running, and tickets for 2008 selling in record time. The combination of Rob Da Bank’s broad musical knowledge and wife Josie Da Bank’s vision in creating the kind of space that festival goers appreciate has worked well, but the Sunday Best crew haven’t got complacent from such a sharp rise in success, and have made great steps this year to keep improving things. The trip over the Solent was a trial before, but with a good percentage of campers taking the opportunity to get on site a day early, the sort of chaos seen previously was replaced with a steady flow of cars, campers and coaches rolling off the ferries, leaving the only obstacle to setting up camp the unpredictable September weather. If you were lucky enough to arrive before sunset Thursday night, you would have joined the rest of us who were still full of optimism that the elements could be kind to us on the island this year, and the hour long ferry journey itself is a great opportunity to share the anticipation and excitement by meeting a ferry load of fellow revellers in the queue for the bar. We blindly follow the camper in front all the way to the Robin Hill Country Park that is to be our home for the weekend.
It’s not long after we arrive though before the wind and the rain that was predicted hits the island, and things became a lot more difficult…and the first test of this kind for the organisers since the festival has hosted these sort of numbers. To their credit, the relentless rain causes only minor disruptions to Friday’s schedule, and with so many settled and camped, and resigned to the fact that the plush green fields of Robin Hill are quickly turning into sludge, the only thing left is to get the party atmosphere that has made this festival what it is well and truly off the ground…and above the mud.
With the line-up provided by Rob Da Bank, and the sort of intelligent scheduling that can often be taken for granted in these big events, every opportunity was given for people to find their inspiration and lift themselves. Warp Record’s Jamie Lidell was the first to catch our attention, with his blend of beatboxing and live electronics on the Main Stage, but with so much going on all around the site, this was to be one of the few times we actually ventured into the main arena all weekend. The open air stages inevitably suffered in numbers as people looked to the Bollywood Bar, Red Bull Arena and Big Top to find some quality music, but the way acts are dotted around the site throughout the whole weekend we had no problem keeping the energy up, and the route we chose kept the tunes streaming as constantly as the rain came down.
The one place that seemed oblivious to any adverse conditions though was the Rizla Arena, with it’s raised platform dancefloor, good time party vibe and a constant supply of rainproof ponchos and tobacco pouches making it an attractive place to hang out and let loose. Friday night kicked off with a classic selection of golden era hip hop from Kid Acne before the decks, and the crowd, were taken over by the typical groove frenzy that Greg Wilson provides. Treating us to an eclectic mix of edits and re-edits of tracks right across the spectrum, the one thing that remains constant in Greg Wilson’s sets is his attempts to keep you dancing. Playing every day over the weekend, it became obvious from repeated return visits that he has no trouble keeping his promise, and if we could we’d have presented him with a well earned ‘Guaranteed to Make You Boogie’ award. With the Greco Roman Sound System taking it up a notch later on, the Rizla Arena, despite the wind and rain, was the place to warm up.
With the urge for some live music getting strong, we headed over to the Red Bull Arena to see what the Stereo MCs were up to these days. With a new album out, but only 30 minutes on the schedule, we weren’t expecting anything substantial, but how wrong could we possibly be? Ripping up classics like "Step It Up" and "Connected" alongside the much tougher material apparent on "Dubble Bubble", the high energy performance provided by frontman Rob Birch and his two beautiful backing singers painted an unexpectedly vibrant picture on the canvass of live drums and scratches from the DJ. They went well over their allotted time, and the temperature and atmosphere in the tent by the end of their set was tropical.
With Slam aiding the progression over the night with his harder 4 to the floor techno in the Big Top, before The Dub Pistols supplied us with their skank ridden breaks to a crowd who had quite obviously forgotten all about the thick sludge forming underfoot. There was no way anything was going to stop this Bestival from being anything but a stomping party, and by the time we had popped in Club Dada for the Trojan Sound System finale, Friday was proof that we had a great weekend’s entertainment to look forward to.
While the Bollywood Bar was sporting the sounds of Gilles Peterson and DJ Derek, Annie Nightingale set the Rizla Arena alight with some tough breaks on Saturday, before Greg Wilson sent us grooving again early evening. But it was the anarok clad figure of Roots Manuva on the Red Bull Stage that caused the biggest stir of the day so far, and you just knew that when the bassline to ‘Witness’ was to hit, that the roof might well suffer a bigger test than the gale force winds were giving it from the outside. Looking like he could have blended into the crowd without any problem after the show, his down to earth style and obvious desire to connect to the crowd made this another great set, and seeing him at festivals is proving by far the best way to receive his material. With the cleanest of cuts and scratches from DJ MK completing the package, we were well and truly off again.
Next we caught up with Montreal based A-Trak in The Bollywood Bar. Holder of so many record breaking feats as a DJ since his arrival on the scene, we were excited to get the chance to see his skills in action, and at the same time intrigued as to what he was up to over 10 years after he became the youngest DMC World Champion at 15. Remixing and touring with Boys Noize has obviously had an impact on his preferred style, and early on the intention was obviously to make feet move rather than jaws drop, but it wasn’t long before the trademark beats and scratches appeared, and the set progressed in the way we’d expected. Either way he was a hit with the crowd.
A great set from Sinden followed, before it was the turn of The Nextmen to bring their individual sound to the Bollywood table, and turn this Saturday night into one to remember. With the tent totally rammed by this stage, we were so glad to have reserved our spot on the far side well in advance, and had space to move and enjoy the music in the only way we know how. With the rain still coming down outside, the only trauma was whether we could last to the end of the set without needing to cool down and grasp some air as the Bollywood Bar gets hotter and hotter, but as usual, just when you think you’ve got an opportunity, in comes another classic Nextmen cut-up, and the only option is to keep your body moving ‘til the end. Through hip hop and reggae, and on to drum and bass, The Nextmen again didn’t disappoint.
When we eventually got out of there, we were treated to a rare DJ set in the Big Top by techno pioneer and festival headliner Aphex Twin, responsible for inspiring and influencing so many producers since the early days of Warp Records, before becoming founder of his own equally respected label Rephlex Records. With recent acquisitions of their back catalogue part of the current Rephlex roster, 808 State would complete the truly diverse selection of music Bestival has had to offer us so far.
Bearing in mind we had opted against seeing current big name acts like Pendulum, Hot Chip and Amy Winehouse, plus legendary names from the past such as Gary Numan, The Human League, The Wedding Present and My Bloody Valentine, and on top of that blissfully unaware of the massive announcements of the special guests The Specials kicking off their earlier promise of a reformation and UK tour, then followed by another special guest slot from Grace Jones, Bestival was really blowing away all competition in their attempt to keep everyone happy and live up to it’s reputation as being the most accessible festival out there. With still a day to go, we had had a blinder already, and sludging our way back to the comfort of our campervan we couldn’t believe how little the conditions had affected our festival experience. Music is a powerful thing.
For some though, the conditions had become too much, and we witnessed a bit of an exodus on the Sunday before things got going again. Patches of green grass that three days previously been the dominant colour around the Robin Hill site started popping up out of the mud like islands, as tents were packed up and campers made the decision to make their return to dry land. For those that remained, this left the tents with much more space to dance in rather than everyone being packed in like sardines, and with the rain holding off a bit more, we were still excited about what was to come, and who would keep our feet moving on the last day.
Soul of Man celebrated 10 years of Finger Lickin’ Records in the Red Bull Arena early afternoon, before we returned to The Bollywood Bar again to see the flat capped duo that are The Freestylers take the stage. Seemingly determined to fit in every track from their back catalogue into their two hour set, from classics like ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Ruffneck’ to more recent tracks like ‘Push Up’ and ‘Painkiller’, they made sure the final day of this festival got off to a flyer, and when they finally came to a halt, we immediately looked to the schedule to give us something that might possibly keep us on the crest of the wave that The Freestylers had created for us. We gave George Clinton & Funkadelic a chance, but it was still early in their set, and the tempo hadn’t been raised enough for us to stick around. Fortunately, The Big Top was sporting the name ‘Coldcut’ on their schedule, and the pull of a Journeys by VJ set and some tight freestyle rhyming from MC Juice Aleem was exactly what we were looking for.
A fun last pilgrimage to see Greg Wilson still banging them out in the Rizla Arena, plus another history of Detroit Techno lesson by pioneer Carl Craig again steered us onwards and upwards towards the inevitably difficult choice of where to end our Bestival weekend. Even though DJ Yoda pulled a massive crowd into the Red Bull Arena for the finale, I’m sure both Laurent Garnier and festival host Rob da Bank both did equally well in pulling down the curtains to what was another fantastic three days of music.
The Bestival Wizard really does have a magic wand. Whenever he waves it, a trail of stars appear behind leading the parade of fancy dressed freaks with smiles on their faces like they’re following Willy Wonka round the Chocolate Factory…and with the site looking like Augustus Gloop’s chocolate rivered heaven by the end, it’s obvious not even the rain and mud can stop Bestival staying top of the list when it comes to choosing which festival to put your money on next year. With early bird tickets already gone in a flash, it’s time to start saving up for when tickets come out early next year…unless you win that golden ticket of course!
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A full gallery of images, along with all the other events and festivals we attended this year and last year can be viewed here
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