Friday, 16 September 2011

Bestival 2011: Day 1

Bestival - curated by Rob Da Bank's Sunday Best, has fast become one of the most respectable festivals in the country and (heads up for the cliché) is living up to it's name (ugh, sorry). 2011 has been an all-round poor year for festivals - Glastonbury's Michael Eavis controversially claimed he believes British festivals are dying out and will be no more within 5 years, with many other major festivals struggling with ticket sales and some not even selling out. Eavis' claim was dismissed by Festival Republic's Melvyn Benn, but it's undeniable that the turnout to festivals has been low this year. Benn is clearly somewhat in denial what with the Main Stage at Latitude being headlined by a tumbleweed this year.

As the last major UK festival of the year of the underwhelming, Bestival set the standard with a sublime line up and no expense spared in laying on the extravagant entertainment. This year's line up combined the freshest bands on the scene with blasts from the past to the fullest extent; why no other festival has booked The Village People before, I have no idea. Rob Da Bank's festival organisation contains something many other festivals lack - common sense. Bestival delivers what people want...not what it thinks people should want. People want the biggest names, tonnes of gimmicks, hidden surprises and fire in any form. Bestival had all of this and much more.

When I attended the festival in 2009, I certainly didn't appreciate the sheer overwhelming size of the festival. With a capacity of 80,000 - the same as that of Reading & Leeds, it was impossible to cover everything on site within the 3 days on the Isle of Wight, unlike the surprisingly intimate feel of the aforementioned. Musically, Bestival books artists that you never thought you'd see in your lifetime. A prime example of this kicked off the Main Stage on Friday morning - Brian Wilson, better known as leader and chief songwriter of The Beach Boys.

Once the sweet voiced man at the receiving end of groups of screaming female fans, Brian Wilson's growing mental problems on top of his past drug and overeating habits has left his voice significantly deteriorated. Seeing the man who was once so chic, handsome and cool sitting before me was nothing short of depressing. Contrary to his nature, Wilson was joined on stage by a band of young and energetic musicians - emphasising the memory of what he used to be. Unfortunately, this performance was more like a Beach Boys tribute act...and Wilson just happened to be there. He barely sang his own songs and when he did the words were slurred and completely lacking in motivation. However, when a classic Beach Boys song was played such as 'I Get Around', the unity and enjoyment of the crowds regardless reminded me to appreciate that I was watching a Beach Boy sing a Beach Boys song - and that's something few people can say.

On to the Big Top arena and next on the agenda was anonymous-no-more emerging DJ Aaron Jerome aka SBTRKT (pronounced subtract). To my horror this was not before the world's weirdest filler set performed by an African man and the two most embarrassing middle-aged white men I've ever seen. Going by the name of Middle Class Sound System and sporting top-to-toe denim complete with flares and geography teacher spectacles, the two white men stood on a table muttering phrases such as 'slave to the system' over a reggae backing track. Soon the two cryptically bizarre men started repeating the phrase 'I have a tiny penis', which as you can imagine heightened my already eager anticipation for SBTRKT to hurry the hell up.

Eventually the men disappeared to be freaks of nature elsewhere and were replaced by a far more talented couple of men, Aaron Jerome and singer Sampha. During the previous 'set' (if you can call it that), cardboard tribal masks were distributed among the ever-growing crowds in homage to Jerome's previous anonymity. To have looked down to a couple thousand people looking back at you wearing the mask you created must have been a pretty good feeling for Jerome. Playing a set plagued by technical difficulties didn't help the overall sound which fell flat and was out of time for a few of the songs. Roses Gabor walked on stage to loan her vocals to 'Pharaohs' in a puffed up golden outfit which unfortunately was more impressive than the performance. Probably the most anticipated track 'Wildfire' was little more than a pre-recording of the Drake remix, striking me as a bit of a short cut. An overall disappointing set despite a brilliant album - which can quite easily be put down to inexperience.

Immediately after came London post-dubstep duo Mount Kimbie. A no-pressure chilled out set went down well; the guy's minimalist set-up of a sound desk and a stripped down drum kit wasn't anything aesthetically spectacular, but tracks such as 'Maybes' and 'Taps' stood out as highlights of the performance. For me, the live version of Maybes exceeds the recorded one until one half the group Dominic Maker sings what on the EP is a glitchy female sound clip - a London geezer trying it out was a bit of an anticlimax after an ambient build.

Later that evening came Friday's highlight, not to
mention a personal festival highlight. Scotland's own Mogwai played explosive post-rock mainly from their latest album Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. Delivering a euphoric set of consummate drumming and epic guitar melodies building to an elated climax, it's no wonder the group are seen as kings of the post-rock genre hand in hand with Godspeed You! Black Emperor. With hypnotic video accompanying the blissful sounds, the set was as visually stunning as it was musically, leaving a ringing in my ears that seemingly made the set last for hours after it finished.

On leaving Mogwai I managed to catch clashing headliners Pendulum on the Main Stage. I'm generally impartial to the Australian six-piece; pretty samey standard drum n' bass but it does what it says on the tin. A bit of a downer of a set after the intense performance I'd just witnessed got boring quite quickly, there's only a certain amount of 'bass, snare, bass, snare, bass snare' the brain can handle. One thing the group don't lack is masses of energy, massively emphasised by the MC constantly peer-pressuring the crowd to put their hands up. The average set had a few redeeming factors including massive smoke jets and the world's most embarrassing dancing from audience members who seemed to think they were at a 90s rave and struck me as the epitome of awkward middle class people coming out of their shells for one night only.

Bestival is one of the few festivals that is so isolated it has no curfew, making the post-headliner nightlife all the richer. Setting the bar high was renowned German DJ Boys Noize who kept the onlookers awake with his technically brilliant early morning set. Maintaining a full tent until 4am certainly shows something about Alexander Ridha's musical abilities and energetic performance. Playing manipulated versions of tracks from the Oi Oi Oi album got the audience doing exactly what the track '& Down' told them to - Dance, Dance, Dance and welcomed in Saturday morning on a strong note.

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