Bestival 2012 review

'Long may it reign'

Photographer:Jim Stewart

John Bownas, dan frost - 10 September 2012

The summer almost left it too late, but Bestival timed things to perfection.

Dust and parched earth replace the drizzle and mud of so many of 2012's festivals, and all the beautiful people are out showing off.

At least, that is, until (D)Rizzle Kicks (7.5/10) manage to conjure grey skies out of nowhere, and the Sunday afternoon temperature drops sharply, accompanied by light rain - which is maybe the reason why so many people abandon the arena before Bat For Lashes' Bjork-like warblings (6/10).

The Isle of Wight might have the image of being a glorified retirement home for much of the year, but over the long weekend when Rob da Bank takes over Robin Hill Country Park, the population is swelled with revellers in their prime.

Even those who have a few more years under their slightly expanded belts are swept up and borne along by the sense of this being a true celebration of what it means to be young and in love with life, and as the temperatures soar, the heat fuels a feel-good factor that simply can't be bought.

At least in the main part, that is. Yes, the vibe is still relaxed and it’s still a very safe place, but what has crept in this year is a slight increase in the less-than-friendly elements who perhaps simply come hand-in-hand with any event’s expansion in size.

It’s tempting to say that there has been a decrease in friendliness – but that would be unfair to the tens of thousands of genuinely friendly folk who populate most corners of Bestival.

We’re pleased to say that all these lovely, lovely people are still in the vast majority - it's just that the usual hugging and dancing has become interspersed with a little too much arguing and fighting from a small, but annoying minority.

We hope that this isn’t going to nibble away at the festival's traditional sense of community, especially when weather like this weekend’s gives such a boost to proceedings.

The halcyon days of when Bestival was a unique and charming boutique festival are past. This isn't a criticism in itself – far from it – the event has matured like a nice bottle of old port that offers up a rich variety of flavours to even the most jaded palate.  But it always stirs a certain sense of regret in the hearts of those who have been coming here since the start when they see people turning up without a flower in their hair and with an attitude that doesn’t sit quite comfortably with the overall Bestival spirit of peace, love and understanding.

The row of glowing suns that adorned the five-day forecast saw tens of thousands descend on the site early on Thursday, so anyone leaving it to Friday (or anyone in a camper van) found themselves pushed to the very far end of the camping fields, which make for a long trek from tent to stage, especially for those who, through force of habit or misguided fashion sense, have opted for wellies.

At the end of that walk, of course, there is the music. Hundreds of live acts generally around the more eclectic end of the musical spectrum interspersed with an apparently random collection of heavy-hitters.

People come to Bestival seemingly regardless of who’s playing, but there’s an increasing sense that as the years go on, the willful insistence of putting disparate genres and styles up against each other is more of a deliberate challenge than just the result of Rob da Bank's extensive record collection.

So as Adam Ant (8/10) leaves the stage with a an art-school swagger, he's replaced by the raw ferocity of Gallows (8/10), who surely would have been more at home (and more successful) encouraging circle mosh-pits at Download than amongst the hippy hordes who confront them on Friday afternoon.

Don't get us wrong - we love our festivals to give a bit of everything, but sometimes the flavour combinations are just a little too confused.

But the weekend rolls on, and shortly after an enthusiastically received Friday night main stage debut from The XX (8/10), Florence & The Machine (6/10) take their time to warm up, but Ms. Welch finally delivers with a eurphoric final section.

Later on, Jamie XX (7.5/10) takes to the decks at the retro-styled Roller Disco. His set was certainly pleasantly gratifying, if not worthy of a 'dazzling' rating.

The Dewaele brothers also went from live to DJ mode as they flipped from their Soulwax (9/10) live dance personas into their 2manydjs (8/10) alter-egos in the Big Top. It's very much the same kind of show we've seen numerous times before, but it's as reliably banging and crowd-pleasing as it is, at the same time, predictable.

Put quite simply, there is just too much techno and dubstep and not enough disco and house at many festivals these days, Bestival included, so it’s a true treat to catch Greg Wilson's (8.5/10) uplifting two-hour set at Bollywood on Saturday afternoon.

This is followed close on its heels by a similarly sweaty set from electro star Fake Blood (7.5/10). Taking a while to get going the beats were lifting the roof by the end, with classic tracks being dropped in, including 'I Think I Like it' and 'Mars'.

At the same time it's also wonderful to sit at the bandstand (powered by the sun and mixed off an iPad) and be enthralled by The Widowmaker's whistful and uplifting folk-blues (8.5/10) or The Lovely Eggs' dry observational randomness (10/10).

Major Lazer (8/10) put the packed Big Top crowd through their paces with a dancehall infused onslaught of bass and beats on Saturday evening, with Annie Mac (8.5/10) proving as reliable as ever, warming the crowd up nicely for one of the most hotly-anticipated acts of the weekend: Justice (5/10). Unfortunately, they also proved to to be one of the most underwhelming, casting a relentlessly heavy techno beat beneath every song and thereby destroying all of the subtlety and disco charm that makes their studio work so impressive.

Opinions were also mixed about New Order's Saturday headline show (8/10). Although they have the back-catalogue and credibility to deserve the billing, there were those who walked early after realising that they had just never been quite as into the band as they thought they were at the time.

Sunday is, for many, simply a long warm-up for Stevie Wonder.

The anticipation for his set spans the generations, although anyone who simply couldn't wait could have got a sneak peek of most of the set if they had been around early enough for the extra-long soundcheck.

Notably during the day, Crowns petulantly kept their pants on, Palma Violets showed us that you don't really need a keyboard stand, just a roadie with a steady hand, and Kate Nash drew an exhuberant capacity crowd in the beutiful Replay tent for a set that mixed the old familiar girl with the new riot-grrrl incarnation.

Stevie (10/10) is a little late on, but no-one cares when he’s this good, with classic after classic, from 'How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)', 'Master Blaster (Jammin')', to 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours', 'Uptight', 'Superstition', 'I Just Called To Say I Love You', and 'Happy Birthday', via covers of Marvin, Lennon, The Beatles and Jacko. It’s as cathartic and uplifting a performance as any crowd could hope for, and one of the greatest sets this festival has ever seen, very much deserving of the spectacular firework display that follows as the Main Stage bows out for 2012 in style.

Bestival still holds many crowns for its ability to brave the tail-end of the summer and continue to deliver exceptional entertainment. It might have its wrinkles, but long may it reign (without the rain).

Click here for all our Bestival coverage, with reviews, photos and videos.  

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