Bestival 2007 - an explosion of music
Bingo, bango, tango, crowd go...
12 September 2007
With at least 14 dedicated musical areas, featuring bands, DJs, comedy and performance, there was more than enough of everything for anybody's musical tastes a Bestival.
The journey had taken longer than anticipated, but by Friday night tent was pitched and ears were at the ready, the walk down from the drop-off point brightened up by the sounds of the wonderful Seasick Steve playing on the Bandstand in the Village area.
Steve (who says the name 'Seasick Steve' isn't a name, but a curse, and who didn't really enjoy the ferry crossing across to the island on strength of that) has been playing all across the festival circuit this summer. A soft-spoken genuine article bluesman and one-time hobo, Steve sings songs about real life. He's incredibly charming and churns out some classic dirty blues on his trademark three-string guitar.
The excellence of his live performances have grown him a host of fans, and his Bestival gig seems to win him many more. He's an outstanding blues musician with a touch of the old school about him, and was a personal musical highlight at Glastonbury. The huge applause thanking him for his set proved his appeal.
Wandering between stages isn't a huge challenge here, except that any festival-goer's fancy will be distracted by stores selling shiny things, the aroma of a global assortment of tempting food groups and an army of beautiful smiling people.
Moving between A to B is less important here, as so much of the Bestival experience is found in the journey itself but I finally made it to the main stage just in time to catch The Go! Team. Still new to the site, attention was constantly distracted by the colourful crowd.
At Bestival, people seem to mutate from the moment they arrive, pretentions disappear as day jobs and 'OutWorld' life are forgotten to be replaced by incredible optimism and the staggering realisation that this could be among the finest weekends of summer. It's dress-up central: it really is like everybody regressed and raided all the garments in gran's costume cabinet. This place is insane.
Taking my eyes off a casually passing lobster, I get into the band, heroically delivering a high class but lo-fi energy injection. This is an action-packed superhero of a band, with rapper/vocalist Ninja coming across like a sledge-hammer driving the band's tunes directly into the consciousness of music-loving minds. The Go! Team are tight, but capable of sporadic flourishes of random feeling brilliance. They've been rehearsing this set, it shows, and it's incredible. Not a conventional festival band, The Go-Team made for a perfect start to Friday's sleuthing by this music hound.
Over to the BBC Introduces stage for XX Teens. This band have a definite post-modern '80's feel. They ooze cool, look great and deliver a musically intense arty punk pop experience, kind of like The Fall with a twist of Sonic Youth inspiration. Combining lyrical intensity with cunningly-crafted slick guitar licks, stand out tracks included Onkawara and relatively recent single, Darlin. Standing here surrounded by the evolving fancy dress party, it feels like I'm in pre-war Berlin. An excellent arty act.
Over to the main stage crush to catch a little of the Chemical Brothers. As the band launched into Galvanise, with its catchy chorus of 'Push the button', I reflect on why such a borderline Dr. Strangelove Armageddon song makes people so bloody happy? All around people are bouncing as the Chemical Brother's light show becomes ever more intense. It's a greatest hits set with a few tracks taken from the band's new album, We Are The Night. It appears every other Bestival dweller has picked up a light sabre torch, so the lights from the stage are reflected by these wildly flailing Star Wars toys - it's like a Jedi convention.
There comes a time for a good sit-down, so it's over to the Jestival tent to take in a little comedy. We caught fast talking, award-winning comic, Andrew Maxwell, who took a chance at being topical only to condemn the Chemical Brothers for sitting behind a pair of kitchen sinks to "cook up beats". The PA in Jestival seemed a little patchy Friday night, Maxwell's voice cutting in and out at times - and you don't need that when you're listening to an angry, anti-PC, adrenalin-fuelled comic spitting out bile, anger and vitriol. He was scandalous, occasionally offensive and very, very funny.
A short time in the Club Dada tent watching a particularly outstanding selection of acrobatics, and it was back to the BBC Introduces stage for Architecture In Helsinki (from Australia). The eight-piece act are tight, funny and capable of creating evocative and emotional music punctuated with generous doses of pure energy. Watching them is confusing - everyone keeps switching instruments and shifting effortlessly between styles - sometimes within one song. Minty and Talking Heads are just some of the names that come to mind watching this quirky and outstanding act.
A late start and its off to the fancy dress parade to watch a procession of people dressed as:
Pirates, kings, queens, burlesque dancers, gorillas, the Red Arrows, pirate ships, twenty Smurfs, a table football set, biscuits, superheroes, Vikings..
Orcs, nuns, wizards, witches, the Spanish Inquisition, pairs of 118 men, golfers, tennis pros, bananas..
The obligatory UK phenomenon of men in dresses joined whoopee cushions and many other extreme outfits to march happily behind a pirate ship, watched by a crowd with just the same fashion sense.
The procession seems to go on forever, and the division between those in it and those watching is solely based on who was standing still. This is Bestival, an extreme, decadent and delinquent good time fancy dress ball.
Son of Dave was the next stop at the House of Bamboo. The former Crash Test Dummies singer caused a complete sensation when he played here last year, and his impressive one-man blues band act was so well-received the applause almost blew the roof off.
Time for the special guest. Weeks of online speculation had nailed the act as Madness or Howard Jones. We got Madness who delivered an essential set of their biggest tracks. Their set underlined the band's special place in UK culture. Madness can play anywhere to anyone in any kind of crowd and get the same reaction. Arguably one of the most important UK acts in recent decades, their songs seem to occupy space within this nation's DNA. Everyone knows the words, everyone's singing along and skanking. It must be love. A triumphant live appearance.
We got out just in time to catch some of New York artist Joe Driscoll's amazing set in the Bollywood Bar. He uses a guitar, voice, beatbox and foot-controlled effects box to perform a substantial set that ably encapsulates his terrific control and spontaneous ears.
"It's all made on stage and chopped with my foot," he drawled. "This guy's amazing," a random stranger leant across to tell me. I have to agree. His entire live set was created right before our eyes and was more than enough to get his large audience moving madly.
Kid Carpet took the stage late over at the House of Bamboo. This guy has real charisma. You can feel his connection with his crowd. With a few trademark Fisher Price toys and an array of electronic instrumentation, Carpet (who looks a little like Ian Brown) puts across a storming live performance, and his enraptured audience clearly love his brand of lo-fi electro-rap.
Passing the BBC Introduces stage I managed to catch DJs Bobby Friction an Nihal delivering a kicking Asian-inspired set. This was one of the most outstanding DJ sets of the weekend, an absolute classic. The biggest of big beats coupled with Asian spice in a miraculous music massala that took over the feet.
Joining 80 per cent of the site to go see the Beastie Boys proved too relentless, and so I tracked down the stunning Simian Mobile Disco. They came on with this huge blast of music, blending semi-familiar sounds with edgy synths and splintered drum patterns. Pounding beats and more conspired to reach straight into the mind, pushing the musical boundaries and grabbing the crowd.
I'd wanted to see this lot for a while, but was totally unprepared for their uplifting cyclic sounds, ability to shift between songs. You have to take a little early Primal Scream, a touch of Suicide and see the band as what they are: extreme purveyors of the finest electronic sounds around. Simian Mobile Disco are anti-heroes: its members no more than shadowy forms barely perceived as shifting between their equipment on a dark stage, technicians caring for a musical animal bigger than any one band member.
Then it's over to the incredibly sweet Sports Day Megaphone. This lovable and exciting act may come from the same school as Hot Chip, but unlike that band, are actually really rather good live, as well as on record. The set seemed a little inexperienced and shambolic, but the evident sweetness of energetic front man, Hugh Frost, and his dancing friends - combined with the musical proficiency and sheer unadulterated enthusiasm - quickly won the crowd over. Sportsday Megaphone is an infectious, energised brand of the finest lo-fi indie-pop-dance.
Final act for Saturday was Berlin-based multimedia performance artist, Planning To Rock. Born Janine Rostron in Bolton, this artist takes her place among the most extreme and interesting acts I've ever seen. Video is an essential element of the set. as the black and white clad musician dons a series of masks, singing with intensity as part of a series of video montages.
It's thought-provoking stuff. Her art is so heavily dependent on technology that you have to ask yourself if she's enslaved to it. But in a way her performance is all that matters and, like Harlequin, her on-stage character disappears after the show.
Mostly this artist is about the shadows - she's a creature from some kind of twisted alternate reality. She's an invisible artist from the advanced art terrorist Berlin set, and if I'd had any mind-bending substances available to me, this performance would have been the perfect place to get to know them. Weird, Wired, Wonderful.
Sunday morning was spent swooning to the incredibly beautiful and delicate sounds of Bat For Lashes. You can tell they're good because there's so much controversy about them: in one corner there's the regular collection of naysayers who just won't like anything they do, and in the other there's a field full of people who evidently get their delicate swooning live set. What's impossible to deny is their focus on reaching just that note in their moody yet inspiringly introspective, hugely evocative live performance. Gossamer beauties who create pretty musical mandellas for switched-on ears.
Over to the Big Top, where
Zion Train took to the stage before a substantial Sunday afternoon crowd, guiding them along their well-traveled
reggae roots inspired road. A festival favourite, the band (led by energetic larger than life front man, DubDaddah) took us
all the way once again, showcasing their outstanding brand of dub/dance once again, though we were disappointed they didn't
play their cover of Ruts track, 'Babylon's Burning'.
Sadly, the crowd thinned out for the very special three-hour set from dub reggae superhero, Jah Shaka. This man is one of the greats. He's a legendary exponent of the Jamaican arts. He uses one single turntable, dropping into the beats with perfect execution.
Watching Shaka you have to recall that reggae is a religious art. Rastafarianism is a religion, and listening to its music a religious act. Shaka (some say) is a preacher man, a seer, a prophet of Jah. The songs he plays are testament and prophecy. He long predates 'Superstar DJ' bullshit. He's an utter inspiration, so those in the know stuck around and a small but incredibly enthusiastic crowd let the music lead them for three hours as Shaka created a spiritual connection, his trademark picture of Haile Selassie smiled at those gathered for the sacrament of dub.
And then came Horace Andy.
His absolutely awesome live performance was the highlight of the weekend for this reviewer. Jah Shaka's outstanding DJ set simply formed the foundations for Andy's. This was a spiritual experience beyond the mundane. The Jamaican great performed all his hits, but what really came across was the incredible sense of unity he generated in the crowd. On stage he's like a mountain, a wise grey beard, his twinkling eyes darting among the crowd, paying attention to everyone. Andy clearly enjoyed his set, which was rounded off with one of the loudest - and longest - set of audience cheers and applause I heard all weekend.
Exhaustion at the intensity of Andy's set meant an unscheduled afternoon break before catching some of Beth Ditto's inspired main stage performance fronting hot act, The Gossip. This singer owned that huge stage, and demonically possessed her huge crowd. Listening while maybe 10,000 people sang along to 'Standing In The Way Of Control' reinforced just how strong this band have become since breaking into the mainstream when that single was re-released this year.
Up at the Bandstand, talented nine-piece band Babyhead mixed and matched styles, sticking a dedicated horn section beside DJ-laced turntable action. They have a unique sound, glittering showmanship and unadulterated energy. An appreciative crowd danced wildly throughout their storming set.
Once one of
the UK's most important live bands, Primal Scream, failed to match Horace Andy's class. Tired performances
of 'Get Your Rocks' off and other more questionable Bobby Gillespie songs failed to ignite. The Orb
packed the Big Top. An ebullient energy flowed among the people gathered there, all of whom seemed to have held back for just
this moment. In keeping with what had come before, the white clad band offered up a reggae dub style set, rather than a greatest
hits selection, and provided an excellent end to a rich musical weekend.