Overall rating: 8/10
A snippet of conversation overheard between between half-a-dozen blokes who had obviously wandered away from the dance-tastic Port Stage and were lost in the Bestival forest went something like this:
“What’s the Amphitheatre stage?”
“You don’t wanna gae down there – it’s just a load of people talking ‘n stuff!”
..which just goes to show that not everyone appreciates the huge degree of varied culture that Bestival delivers so adeptly.
Beautifully curated avante-garde theatre, high-brow lecture sessions, dance, and yoga classes provide the fine brushwork and detail that you only get to see if you take the time to get up close and study what it is that elevates the festival’s broad strokes picture painted by the dominant big-name headline bands and DJs.
It’s for exactly these reasons however that the Bestival offer can never be accused of being stale or formulaic. Because over the years it has both rapidly morphed into new shapes to bring new experiences to regular guests, whilst at the same time has also a slow and steady evolution; one that has defined (or perhaps that should be ‘been defined by’) it’s core audience.
That audience demographic has shifted as the Camp Bestival brand has emerged. The families now flock to Lulworth Castle every year with their little ones in tow – leaving Bestival on ‘The Island’ almost exclusively to the twenty-to-thirty something crowd who have made it their own. That’s not to say there aren’t always a handful of under-tens to be found enjoying the delights of Robin Hill Country Park – but they seem to be an ever-dwindling minority.
Also, at the other end of the spectrum, there’s still a hardcore of die-hard old ravers with enough years under their belts to be able to make a discerning choice and they still choose Bestival to let their thinning hair down.
This year’s ‘Summer of Love’ theme struck a happy chord and created a harmonious hippy vibe across the site throughout the weekend - an inspired choice for the fancy dress day for the simple reason that so many people fell into their created characters from Thursday and kept up the fantasy right the way through weekend.
There might however have been a slight mismatch between the theme of the weekend and the dominant musical programme, which in keeping with the direction that Bestival has increasingly moved was heavily weighted towards dance producers, DJs, grime, and hip-hop. That’s not to say there isn’t always a healthy dose of power-folk, quirky or introspective indie-pop, and mad-cap gypsy swing to be found at every turn. But these elements are very much the ‘festival fringe’ – with big audiences only usually to be found when the big names come out to play.
That is by no means surprising of course, but there is clearly a huge section of the crowd happy to sit around in the campsite for much of the day and only venture to the main arena when the headliners hit the stage.
Whilst the ‘big name hunters’ were suitably wowed by the familiar, safe, but still relevant and gripping new-romanticism of Duran Duran (8 – perhaps Simon could have seemed a bit more enthused?), blown away by the carefully choreographed stage show of The Chemical Brothers (8 – maybe too choreographed with no room for surprise or spontaneity?), or swept along by the ego-fuelled self-obsession of Missy Elliott (7 – do we really need to be constantly reminded who she is or told to ‘make some noise’?), they may have missed a whole pile of old classics or rough diamonds if they didn’t take the time to explore the smaller stages or look further down the bill.
Still probably the youngest singer-songwriter to regularly grace festival stages, Ned Dylan (8) is 14 years’ old but already possesses more stage presence and confidence than musicians twice his age. His Caravanserai performances showcased his quick-fire punk-styled folk attitude and we’re confident the world will hear more from him over coming years as he hones his craft and gets his GCSEs out of the way.
More raw or emerging talent was on show over at the Invaders of the Future stage – now moved into the thick of it up at the back of the Magic Meadow. The new location looked good on paper making the tent far more accessible at the heart of the festival site. However it suffered as a result from more sound-bleed than in previous years. The sub-woofer thump from next-door DJs was also exacerbated by an overdose of bass in the band mixes throughout the weekend.
There were a few acts who conquered this problem one way or another (maybe through their ability to hear what the crowd was hearing and adjust their playing accordingly), but there were some whose undoubtedly great songs were left buried in sub-frequencies.
Perhaps chief amongst those who walked away victorious was Kimberly Anne (9), who is continuing to catch attention for all the right reasons with thoughtful songs blended together by a fusion of Brazillian and Afro-beat rhythms. Lion Babe (9) were equally up to the task of conquering the tent acoustics, but this time with the sort of high-energy soul which by rights should soon ignite the planet. And Rat Boy (8), whose attitude and style coupled with a growing buzz seem likely to put him firmly into the ‘ones to watch’ pile for 2016.
Sadly, however, the enigmatic and imaginative words of the songs from the unlikely-named L.A. Salami were entirely absorbed and lost in mixes that seemed to leave vocal cords wrapped in cotton wool. Both he and buzzy upstarts The Bohicas would have easily rated 8s but lost several points each through no fault of their own but simply due to the muddy sound.
Hats off and a special mention however to Stormzy (8) for not only dealing with the audio challenges, but also annihilating an unprepared stage-invader by handing him the mic and telling him if he was that much of a fan he must know the songs inside out and leaving him to get on with it.
Of course there were many, many other stand-out moments…most notably perhaps over on the main stage The Jacksons‘ non-stop mini-love fest of timeless pop classics (9), Level 42’s homecoming party (9) and Dodgy’s lunchtime indie sing-along (8).
What’s more important though is that Bestival leaves everyone with their own personal favorite moments – often made all the more special because of their semi-secret and intimate nature.
The joy of exploring Rob da Bank’s Island wonderland is that it allows you to create a unique set of memories born out of the shared excitement of huge crowds and the challenge of hunting down the weird and the wonderful in the site’s hidden nooks and crannies.
We’ll definitely be back for more!
Click here for our full Bestival photo gallery!