Bestival – A Reflection

Art & Culture

As the nights begin to lengthen and that dull tone of grey gradually begins to envelop the country, the British Summer draws to a close and so too does the UK festival circuit. But there’s rarely a better way to see off the last of the sun than an excursion across land and sea to the Isle of Wight’s most festive export, Bestival. 

This year was the 10th birthday of Rob da Bank and co’s colourful event and the theme was one of nautical novelty as the Robin Hill Country Park site was transformed into H.M.S. Bestival, with all manner of maritime thematics and seafaring clobber in full view. Most notably, this saw the creation of a new stage in the area which Arcadia has in previous years dominated; The Port. 

An enormous outdoor stage in the mould of a naval ship, The Port offered some of the night hours’ best options, with the Friday seeing a meeting of techno new and old as the inimitable Seth Troxler followed a staple performance from Richie Hawtin. The sound was particularly average that night however, so it took until the Saturday to be truly blown away there as DJ EZ stepped up for the prime time slot to deliver the set of the weekend. Kicking off with classics like Daniel Beddingfield’s Gotta Get Thru This and Artful Dodger’s Rewind boded well for the rest of the night, as EZ dealt up an unsurprisingly high octane, hit-heavy selection of the slickest UKG, grime and crack house.

There was a heavy hip hop presence throughout the weekend, with performances from such luminaries of the scene as Wu Tang Clan, The Roots and Snoop Dogg providing a well-rounded perspective of the genre’s different styles. Despite the buzz that surrounded the performance of such a mythologised crew, Wu Tang were confusingly placed on the main stage at 3pm on the Friday, a poor piece of programming that resulted in a slight lack of atmosphere for the heads and one that reflected a markedly safer than usual lineup. Vintage hits like C.R.E.A.M. and Gravel Pit evidently caused mayhem amongst the crowd, but much of their new material seemed to lack the panache of their ’90s golden era.

The Roots however were perfectly positioned to take to the main stage on Saturday afternoon with their melodic, soulful and jazzy canon of cuts that saw them delve into 10-minute long sun-kissed jams that took in their recent Afrobeat influence as well as an amazing cover of Guns ‘N’ Roses Sweet Child Of Mine. Snoop’s headline performance on Saturday was an undeniable highlight and, despite his confusion as to whether he was appearing as Dogg or Lion, he dealt up a set that demonstrated just how big a role he’s played in underground and popular hip hop over the last 20 years. From Gin and Juice to Signs, his set demonstrated just how crucial a role he’s played in bringing hip hop to the mainstream whilst staying true to his roots.

The ever reliable Bollywood tent played host to a typically sweaty affair throughout the weekend, with master selector David Rodigan’s Ram Jam offering a salivating snapshot of the UK’s bass music contingencies on the Friday night. From Mele’s house, garage and baseline cuts to Artwork’s refreshingly ‘old school’ set of eyes-down steppers’ delights, which felt uncannily exciting again after all these years, the tent was truly ram-jammed from start to finish.

The outdoor Red Bull Music Academy stage provided a predictably cutting-edge bastion of electronic music, as 22 year old Evian Christ headlined the Friday night with his unique brand of haunting R&B-infused electronica, while Glasgow’s ultimate party boy label and collective Numbers took over proceedings the following night for a typically debaucherous affair. But it was ultimately the relative past masters, Fabio & Grooverider who stole the show for us, as they delved deep into their seasoned collections with a much needed array of tear out jump up, including the ever rowdy Mr Happy.

Perhaps it’s down to having recently attended a number of festivals centred solely around electronic styles, but it seemed to many that the music finishing at 4am was a slight anti-climax which could perhaps be addressed in future years. Nonetheless, this did force us each night into the dark depths of the magical and fantastical Woods, which was vibrantly decorated to such a level of care and attention that it provided a genuinely pleasant space to see out the night. Just don’t expect to be getting out of there in a hurry. And it’s ultimately this sort of devotion that demonstrates the tangible love put into the curation of Bestival, and which is visible across the entire site, that makes it undoubtedly one of the most charming events on the calendar. 

Adam Tiran

Photo credits:

Fireworks: Carolina Faruolo

Snoop: Victor Frankowski

Woodland: Ian Taylor