Bestival 2013 review

'Nautical but nice'

Bestival 2013 review

Photographer:Sara Bowrey

John Bownas - 09 September 2013

With a nautical-but-nice theme for this year’s fantastical fancy dress there was no room for landlubbers as HMS Bestival steamed into port.

Rob da Bank’s annual end-of-the-festival-season party marked its first decade in fine, ship-shape fashion – and even the few heavy showers that befell the weekend weren’t enough to dampen the audience’s traditional high spirits.

Bestival is a festival that trades heavily on its deserved reputation for delivering a little bit of something for everyone in a beautiful setting that perfectly frames the plethora of stages and arenas.

This was why, as ever, the line-up probably wasn’t what sold the majority of the tickets…although the Elton John crowd was, predictably, the largest of the weekend. Hardly surprising given that the piano-man was playing his first UK festival since 1969.

The number of bass-heavy DJ stages does seem to have swelled over recent years – and there is a growing sense that Bestival is gradually morphing into a more dance-oriented beast.  This probably plays to the biggest demographic who throng to the Island each September to immerse themselves in some autumnal hedonism. These are the 20 to 30-somethings who dominate the crowd and know how to have a seriously good time given a strong enough beat.

Despite there being no Arcadia, these drum, bass and dubstep fans were kept entertained because for 2013 the fire-breathing alien  spider was replaced with a beached 100-foot motor yacht. As dancers and aerialists gyrated on its roof, the HMS Bestival spewed smoke and flames and the crowd pulsed to hardcore tunes delivered by a crew of top-drawer turntable jockeys.

The growing number of dance arenas and tents does come at a cost though. As well as there being noticeably fewer live acts on the programme, the one really big issue across the weekend was the amount of bass-bleed that swamped the air and came close to drowning out many performances. This was always most noticeable at the bandstand, but for those at the back of the main arena during Elton John’s two-hour finale (8) it was also a genuinely unwelcome intrusion.

Fighting the invading sub-frequencies proved no problem for The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing of course (10). More steam-punk than steam-ship, The only-slightly-tongue-in-cheek proponents of this quintessentially English niche-genre played a series of shows across the three days and captured hearts and minds with Victorian panache.

Equally capable of combating intrusive interference was Snoop Dogg (9) – whose rabble-rousing Saturday headline slot actually started without him, so he eventually hit the stage quite literally running.

The Wonder Stuff’s (9) sound engineer’s approach to the problem was seemingly to flood the Big Top with as many high-end frequencies as possible…which meant that Erica’s fiddle playing probably had dogs across the Isle of Wight on a state of high-alert. But the strategy worked, and Miles’ vocals came across as clear as a bell.

Over at Knees Up the Lorraine Bowen Experience (10) was far enough away from the main action to not have so many concerns – but even if she’d been playing right next door to The Port arena she’d have conquered any trespassing tones through the simple expedient of laughter.

Other stand-out performances came from The Strypes, whose ridiculously young age doesn't stop them from grinding out some outrageously spectacular rythmn’n’blues, and Dexys, with Kevin Rowland in top theatrical form as he made the Big Top his own as Sunday night drew to a close.

Beyond the music the fun ranged from bizarre wedding ceremonies and science lectures to funfair rides and test-your-strength competitions. There were the usual hidden relaxation spots tucked away in the Ambient Forest, and for a spot of fine-dining there was always the Surplus Supper Club, whose menu was created from the efforts of Fairshare South West, who believe that good food should fill bellies, not bins.

As far as regular food stalls were concerned the range was extensive, excellent and – for a festival – remarkably good value.

Disappointing perhaps was the range of beers available…doubly so when the only real ale tent sold out on Sunday afternoon. But if that and the sound-spill issues are the only grumbles (both of which are relatively easily set straight) it’s a safe bet that Bestival can confidently start planning for its 20th birthday bash in another ten years.

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