It’s around 4pm on Sunday and I am sat shivering under a lowered gazebo with a dozen strangers; drink in one hand, increasingly fragile duct-taped pole in the other. We should be heading over to the main stage for Loyle Carner, but as word gets round that the festival arena has been closed due to high winds, all hopes of seeing the rapper live swiftly fade. Slightly irritated, but with the alcohol flowing, new company and the comic relief of tents catapulting though the air, we’re having a grand ol’ time.
It’s Bestival’s first year having relocated to Lulworth Estate in Dorset, a site which over the course of the weekend is battered by torrential rain, hurricane-style winds and hail. Spirits remain high, though, as hopeful punters mudslide their way to the music, vibrant in coloured dress – ‘The Year of Colour’ theme appropriately prescribed to the increasingly gloomy weather forecast.
For those who arrive on the Thursday night, it’s a quick blustery pitch up. After the best part of a box of wine, it’s to The Box Stage, host to tonight’s hyped-fuelled headliner, Jamie T. Warming us up for Wimbledon’s finest is Stockport’s Blossoms; the indie-pop quintet pack out the vast space of the tent with a sing-along performance which truly affirms them as evolving headliners. From a set reflective of Northern music culture to an act which encompasses the capital, the festival marquee transforms to feel as a dingy London venue, the city’s own taking to the stage to massive appreciation. Jamie T works through a collection tracks, from Kings and Queens classic ‘Sticks ’n’ Stones’ to the likes of the seductive ‘Power Over Men’ and raucous ‘Tinfoil Boy’ from latest LP release, Trick, all to equal enjoyment and a tireless energy from the festival at their freshest. Don’t fret, the party’s far from over, many heading over to the Temple for the best in dance music.
It’s Friday, and it’s over to Bestival’s thrilling line-up of grime greats with the likes of Wiley, AJ Tracey and Kurupt FM igniting mosh pits from The Castle Stage to The Box. Providing a moment of calm between the madness, though is Nick Mulvey, with his subtle brand of folk-tinged come-down indie; a special performance on the day of the release of his second LP, Wake Up Now.
No band conquers indie quite as well as electronic dream The xx, mind; their headline set at The Castle Stage proving nothing short of magical, the trio appearing genuinely humble and overwhelmed by the crowd’s enthusiasm despite over a decade on the scene. Working through a collection of tracks from their three-record discography – from poignant instrumental ‘Intro’ to the Hall & Oates sampled ‘On Hold’ from recent release I See You – the crowd embrace the set at every turn, lapping up the band’s intensely melancholic tracks in equal measure to their bolder beats. The show’s climax is reached with ‘Loud Places’, released under the solo album of production member Jamie xx, In Colour. A pulsing rainbow light display conforms to the festival’s theme whist ethereal production brings Bestival to life as an atmospheric utopia, along with a political message from bassist Oliver Sim.
“I love festivals. We live in scary times, it’s quite isolating. So to have everyone together, forgetting all the bullshit in the world… it’s so important.”
The atmosphere doesn’t end with the music at Bestival, as ominous clouds and stubborn rain gives us a not-so-warm welcome to Saturday, were we spend much of the eerie-skied morning eating cheese toasties and mocking the incredible slip-rate of Nike wearers attempting to make it down the campsite hill-turned-mudslide (seriously, swallow your pride and stick a welly on). The storm eventually passes and the sun is out, which means one thing in Rob da Bank’s quirky wonderland: selfies. For Insta kings and queens the whole site is comically ‘grammable, from Bestival’s Love-Bot and the ‘world’s biggest’ confetti cannon, to a colossal blow-up of Kanye West’s mug on a rainbow (Happy Kanye), so brilliantly ironic, it’s a Snapchat opportunity not to waste.
The change in weather is in perfect timing for hip-hop oddball Danny Brown to take to The Castle Stage, entertaining a small crowd of super-fans and newbies alike. A few acts later, a huge crowd is driven to a frenzy for Dizzee Rascal, who holds the entirety of Lulworth Estate in his hands with a swaggering energy. The Castle Stage is packed out right to the back in possibly the biggest crowd of the weekend, despite his early evening set time. But it’s no wonder, playing tracks from his entire discography from Boy In Da Corner classic ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ to Tongue N’ Cheek favourites ‘Bonkers’ and ‘Dance Wiv Me’, it is very much a set of all-inclusive bangers, with a sprinkling of hard grime cuts from latest album, Raskit.
From London to New York, tonight’s headliners are legendary hip-hop collective A Tribe Called Quest, the only four words on anybody’s lips today with their final ever show, having been a dominant name in hip-hop for almost thirty years. An emotional tribute to late founding member MC Phife Dawg, who passed in 2016, is met with impassioned cheers. But this is wholly a show of celebration, with an encore of ‘We The People….’ boasting its pounding bassline and politically-charged bars. ATCQ go down as hip-hop legends of today and of past decades with timely relevance.
“A Tribe Called Quest, we suffered a blow. We lost our boy Phife Dawg. This is gonna be our last show as A Tribe Called Quest, ever”
Perhaps as God’s way of respecting such a one-in-a-lifetime performance from ATCQ, the whole of Sunday is a little bit of a write off for most; the result of weekend of rain on the site and ‘dangerously’ high winds. After the cancellation of Loyle Carner due to the temporary closing of the site – it seems boutique festivals are all fun and games until you’ve got 40mph+ winds and a bunch of towering decorative quirks to knock punters out – it’s down to Circa Waves to restart the party. Luckily, with a little bit of their very own ‘T-Shirt Weather’, it’s hard not to get back into the swing of things getting down to their joyous indie smashes.
Next, Soulwax – last-minute replacements from French duo Justice – further provide the energetic boost everyone needs, bringing their futuristic yet classic big beat inspired electronica to The Castle Stage, with impressive visual aesthetics too. Headliners Pet Shop Boys bring a luminous close to the festival of colour with their 80s cult classics along with tracks from latest release, Super, to include house-pop track ‘The Pop Kids.’
“We’ve survived, we are the Pet Shop Boys, you are Bestival, we are all, tonight, pop kids.”
For those who can’t make it through the mud swamps to the main stage, the likes of Bollywood, the Temple and HMS Bestival are hosting the best in DJs from a variety of genres – an easier choice for tired legs being close to the festival’s entrance and guaranteeing a first-rate rave.
The first year at a new site can always be worrying for festival organisers; perhaps particularly this year having witnessed the collapse of popular Scot-fest T in the Park following a catastrophic move to Strathallan Castle. Bestival, however, is a complete success, preserving a consistent buzz and a fully functioning, thriving festival, – to its power – despite the freak weather.
Post-fest depression is in full swing, and that’s exactly how you know you’ve had a good one. 2017’s festival season truly went out with a bang, Rob da Bank’s colour utopia sustaining high spirits despite apocalyptic skies.
A true British festival experience with a touch of rainbow magic, Bestival lives up to its name.