Robin Island Country Park, Isle of Wight
11-13th September 2009
There aren’t many festivals that you need to get a ferry to, but Bestival is one of them, and it’s a really pleasant way to arrive at the beautiful bays and rolling hills of the Isle of Wight.
Conceived as a ‘boutique’ event by Rob da Bank and his wife Josie, Bestival has grown year-on-year from its inception in 2004 to reach its current 40,000 capacity.
Despite this, the event still manages to maintain a homely feel, and this combined with a line up filled with big name acts makes it fairly unique.
You can’t organise the weather, but this year it couldn’t have been better, and we are blessed with sunshine and warm breezes for almost the whole of the festival.
You can plan the line-up though, and one of the masterstrokes of this festival is its realistic, audience-orientated programming. Friday night, when the audience are at their most up-for-it, has perhaps the strongest line-up, and The Fly finds itself running from stage to stage to cram it all in.
Wave Machines are a great upcoming act that we catch on small stage. Armed with masks and a collection of songs that manage to be rhythmic, ethereal and accessible, we have no hesitation in predicting that they will go far.
Other Friday highlights include Florence and the Machine, who wow us with great stage presence, though they don’t seem yet to have enough tunes to be playing in the festival slots that they’ve got. Then there’s Massive Attack. It takes them a few songs to get into it, and for the audience to get into them, but when tunes like ‘Teardrop’, ‘Risingson’, ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ come out, they’re nothing short of breathtaking.
Less impressive however, are MGMT. An act that should be a top festival band, they seem totally spent, suffering from some of the worst sound of the event and, despite their lavish costumes, lacking any sort of presence on stage.
The sound on the main stage was a major niggle though throughout the whole of Bestival. I’m sure there’s a good logistical reason for having the stage at the top of the valley, but as anyone who knows anything about acoustics will tell you, that’s not brilliant for live sound, especially on a windy, exposed island.
Saturday is fancy dress day. This year’s theme was ‘Space Oddity’. The Fly wears a fetching Disco Ball hat, but is easily outclassed by a myriad of other festival goers ranging from Button Moon to the Beastie Boys.
It’s great to watch everyone dressed up and chilling in the sun, and as with all festivals, it’s really the stuff that happens around the music that makes it a great experience. Despite the homely and ‘quality’ feel to Bestival, such as gourmet curries rather than rat burgers, the festival is still lively. That said, if the intensity and madness of Leeds or T in the Park is more your thing, it may seem a little tame.
Saturday appears to have been programmed with dance/party in mind. Returning to the music, Klaxons end their four years of touring promising “a new Klaxons” on their return. They’ve survived the ‘nu-rave’ bollocks and here at Bestival prove that they have great skill in creating overwhelming dance-pop that can ignite a big crowd.
They warm up well for Kraftwerk, who proceed quickly to cool things down. Clinical as ever on stage, but this is easily made up for by the visuals and those songs which, even putting their influence aside, are nothing short of brilliant.
As you’d expect from an event organised by a DJ, there are some great sets on offer too. Annie Mac Presents…a very sweaty tent featuring Toddla T and Erol Alkan amongst others and some very good vibes. Robbie himself DJs on several occasions, including a classics’ set he plays from his very own pod made out of an old jet engine that shoots flame up into the air. It’s eyebrow singeing but good.
Sunday meanwhile, seems geared up for relaxation and reflection after all that action. We sample some more of the different festival delights that Bestival does so well, including high tea and entertainment with Time for Tease Burlesque. Something of a trend recently, Burlesque has suffered at the hands of a lot of poor amateurs, but these girls show how it should be done, and you get tiny cakes and tea along with it to boot!
Mancs’ Doves and Elbow, with their rhythmic melancholy and jovial stage presence, are brilliant acts to finish the final day with. But for those with a party left in them there are still samba bands and a Carl Cox old skool set going on into the night. We, however, retire to our tent very satisfied with this event.
Leaving on Monday however, is not so nice. There are massive gridlocks at both the camp exit and the ferry terminal. There’s also poor management of the crowds, with little information given and, at the ferry terminal in particular, large numbers of people hemmed in with no way of getting out for water or the toilet. Bestival is a great, but it seems as if the event and the Isle of Wight just can’t cope with the amount of people that now want to attend it. If they want to retain the special feeling at Bestival, the organisers need to think about either limiting the numbers next year, or moving to a bigger site because, if not, they risk losing the great thing that they have created.
By Kenn Taylor