The Strongbow Rooms @ Bestival

Saving the best until last, The Strongbow Rooms combines three tents for its final festival foray of the year to create the Wierd West Big Top, a cerebral circus featuring punks, puppets and brass band pompery!

And on the seventh festival Strongbow created the Wierd West Big Top!

With the magic of Bestival hitting you as soon as you enter the site, if there’s anywhere the spell resonates from strongest then it’s the Wierd West Big Top. Arguably the most popular venue other than the Main Stage, the three linked-up marquees offer festival goers the chance to chill out on the dozen or so sofas spread across the spacious Strongbow bar, sup up some rays outside on the decked veranda, or get down to some dazzling acts in the Wild West themed main room.

On Friday Adventures In The Beetroot Field host proceedings, programming a number of bands and DJs that straddle the divide between indie and dance and fuse beats and bleeps into guitar music to boogie to. Best of the bunch are headliners Clor, who despite literally wrestling their guitars through whirlpools of electronic fuzz and effects with heads bowed down throughout, stay tight and sound tremendous. Big beats and big hair, they epitomise what the Beetroot Field is all about. Before them, Brighton forest foragers British Sea Power pumel their evening audience with what have already become classics. ‘How Will I Ever Find My Way Home?’, ‘Lately’, and ‘Remember Me’ are the set highlights, but every song is bounced along to relentlessly by the shrub-wielding front row, with the crowd being treated to the band’s giant walking bear for the last couple of tracks. White Rose Movement prove the surprise hit of the day, blasting the Big Top with Bloc Party-like dance rock that once again cements the production credentials of Paul Epworth. And with blistering DJ sets from the likes of Erol Alkan and The Filthy Dukes earlier in the day, it’s a solid first Bestival showing from Adventures In The Beetroot Field with an invitation back next year surely already in the post.

Saturday’s even more of a mixed bag in the Big Top. Sunday Best stalwarts Hot Chip draw a crammed crowd for their mid-afternoon set, with a more matured sound compared to last year when they played early on the main stage. Standing side by side, the four band members swap instruments for effects and drum sticks throughout, currating their own vision of a post-Prince world with tribal beats and squiggly synths sillier than Daft Punk. Just as interesting, but not nearly as asthetically pleasing, are Caged Baby, the Brighton band’s mix of disco punk and sleazy rock failing to ignite on the live arena. Groove Armada’s Tom Findlay lays down a lushious set of chilled and funky house, after The Nextmen provide the day’s hip-hop shakedown, but it’s the evening warmers Vitalic, playing an astounding live deep techno set featuring monstrous tunes from debut album ‘Ok Cowboy’, and the attitude-laced drum’n’bass of Grooverider & Fabio (who you just would not mess with!) that set off the Saturday night party. It’s left to X-Press 2, following their Balearic set in the Bollywood Bar the previous night, to finish things off with some bouncing house music on six decks, Rocky, Diesel and Ashley all throwing in their own effects and samples with telepathic precision and giving some welcome tasters of their forthcoming album. New single ‘Give It’ is so well received it’s played twice!

Sunday gets very silly indeed as Puppetmastaz make their Bestival debut. Wu-Tang Clan meets The Muppets, the show is just what’s needed on a fragile final morning as sore-headed festival goers take refuge in the Big Top. Starring miniature dogs, frogs, rhinos and racoons, all sounding like they’re straight out of the Bronx, Puppetmastaz is like Punch & Judy with a bad case of rabies – slick, sworded, random and hilarious. The story is as vague as it is disjointed, possibly made up as it goes along, but it really doesn’t matter; the best bits come in the songs where the puppets truly come alive, flailing their limbs about, rapping like their next can of Chum depended on it, and spitting mimed lyrics over banging hip-hop beats. Yoda and Miss Piggy make welcome cameos in between arguments amongst the rival ‘crew’ members and huge cheers go up as Kermit’s moaning missus is thrown about squeeling in the show’s finale song ‘Puppet Power’. After such a clever and perfectly placed spectacle, the eclectic beats of Pnu Ruff and Howdi are a slight anti-climax, but Sebastien Tellier changes all that with a stunning UK debut that showers the Big Top with French romance and mystique, the beautiful new single ‘La Ritournelle’ providing perhaps the most picture perfect moment of the whole weekend.

Live sets from Bestival, including some of these artists, can be downloaded at