Review: Bestival 2016
Now in its thirteenth year, Bestival has grown into its position as one of the more established dates in the festival calendar, and has the honour of bringing down the curtain on the summer season. The journey to the Isle of Wight is a fitting pilgrimage – arriving at a festival via hovercraft is quite an experience. This was my first Bestival, and I found it pretty difficult to fault, both in terms of music and logistics.
Still, for those regulars I spoke to, the experience apparently felt rather different. Numerous changes were mentioned, but essentially, everything had been condensed to fall in line with lower ticket sales. Perhaps it had been condensed too much – even for those arriving on Thursday evening there was a real struggle to find a camping spot, and certain stages felt especially crowded on the Sunday night. To his credit, festival organiser Rob Da Bank addressed these issues in a post directly after the festival, providing some context for the changes and promising that the festival would be back next year, stronger than ever. To my eyes though, the production values were truly outstanding – I had a great time just roaming around the site, exploring hidden areas and appreciating all the little touches. Shout out to the llamas, you guys were amazing.
And then of course, there was the music, and what better place to start than with the singular delights of the Chuckle Brothers. Despite the early start, there was a huge crowd assembled, and it was rather heartwarming to witness the seemingly genuine love the audience had for this dynamic duo whose entire career has essentially been based around one fairly lame joke. Still, this is no place for cynicism. Their Tinchy Stryder collab gets a great response, before they follow it up with some pounding techno – no joke, this is honestly less of an exaggeration than you’d imagine. Some people were just born to entertain, and Barry and Paul fit the bill better than most of the hapless indie bands peppering the lineup.
Grime was very well represented at the festival. Wiley’s three hour Eskimo Dance showcase featured the talents of OGs like Newham Generals alongside newcomers such as AJ Tracey, Jammz and Elf Kid. Of the new kids, trap dons Section Boyz make the biggest impression, and it’s easy to understand how they’ve built up the kind of underground following that sees them headlining Brixton Academy later this year. The secret guests were BBK trio Shorty, Frisco and Jammer, who shelled down the Big Top before hitting the Main Stage later on for Skepta’s ace performance. This was largely a showcase of Konnichiwa, but he also found time for a group freestyle session and an airing of Devilman diss track ‘Nasty’. Over the course of the year, he’s gradually ironed out the kinks in his live show, to the point where it hits like a laser guided missile.
Kano has also been working out ways to bring grime to bigger stages, and he brought along a brass band to showcase tracks from his new album Made in the Manor. Having seen too many MC/live band collaborations that took all the sting out of the tracks, I was a little sceptical, but it worked perfectly on this occasion, the brass adding some summertime warmth to proceedings. Older tracks like ‘P’s and Q’s’ and a furious take on ‘Ghetto Kyote’ went down surprisingly well, but the final blast of ‘3 Wheel-Ups’ and ‘Garageskankfreestyle’ gets the biggest response. Ain’t nobody can leng down a stage show like Kano… well, except Skepta that is. Both of their Mercury Prize nominations (and Skepta’s win) were thoroughly well-deserved.
Novelist was a real surprise. To clarify – I’m a huge fan, and he’s undoubtedly one of the most promising MCs of his generation, but I was tempted to miss his set, having been disappointed the last few times. How wrong I was to have doubted him. His command of the stage and the audience has skyrocketed – and let’s not forget he’s still only 19. What’s more, he delivered ferocious energy levels – and it was nice to hear some new bars in the mix as he kept the tent at boiling point for the whole hour. Jammer popped up yet again, this time content simply skanking out. In its own minor way, it felt like a ‘passing the torch’ moment.
But yeah, best set of the festival. Or at least it would have been if not for Candi Staton’s PA set at The Spaceport, sadly brief but fully saturated with joy and wonder. Show me one act who wouldn’t kill to be able to finish their set on a one-two punch of ‘Young Hearts Run Free’/’You Got The Love’. With the sun finally shining down on us, the light being refracted through giant bubbles, it felt like one of those moments where all the planets aligned and everyone’s troubles dissipated into the air. Although it was Day 4 by this point, so take from that what you will.
The Human League played after an energetic but one-note set from Wiz Khalifa, who I had been interested to see after his appearance at Culture Clash the other month, where he did much to reverse the trend of American hip-hop crews failing to grasp the spirit of the event. It fell a bit flat though, and the Sheffield band’s surprisingly muscular synth-pop was much more appealing. Unleashing ‘Don’t You Want Me’ just as the closing night fireworks went off in the distance was a stroke of genius. Earlier, on the Main Stage, Ride played the hits to a small but appreciative crowd. ‘Leave Them All Behind’ was an absolute monster, and ‘Vapour Trail’ gets me right in the feels every time. Craig David was a blast of fun, flipping between the decks and the mic, and he brought out garage pranksters Kurupt FM who later appeared in the Bollywood Tent for a set of their own.
The low-ceilinged Bollywood Tent played host to some sweaty, intense DJ sets. Chief among these was David Rodigan, whose dedication to and enthusiasm for bass music in all its glorious forms is such that you can forgive his predilection for hogging the mic. The Black Madonna demonstrated why her ascent over the past few years has been so rapid, swerving between old school Chicago house cuts and perfectly judging the mood of the tent. Sir Spyro, arguably the finest grime producer working right now, went b2b with Mystry, architect of the most deservedly rinsed instrumental of last year (and this year, come to think of it). Wall-to-wall bangers for two hours and I loved every minute of it. Later on, at the Spaceport, our weekend was rounded off in traditional Bestival style by Fatboy Slim.
It’s a cliché but there really is something for everyone here. The booking policy of spreading the money fairly evenly between the stages means that the lineup has so much strength in depth, and the friendly crowd and great site makes for a great experience. Simply put, if this is Bestival on an off-year, then I can’t wait to see what it’s like when it returns to the height of its powers.