Review: Bestival

, National Editor


PHOEBE LUCKHURST, a Cassandra for the Ketamine generation, is cursed by her own foresight.

Bestival was predictable.

Predictably, extortion abounded (£4.10 for a pint of cider in the ‘Magner’s Garden’; £6 for a cheeseburger). Predictably, the toilets were a scatological Paradise, although I lack the requisite prurient interest in faecal matter to locate Eden in a Portaloo. Predictably, there was an impossible queue for everything. Predictably, I could have drowned in the mud by Friday night. Predictably, there was a female uniform (a Kate Moss incarnation, to varying degrees of success). Predictably, other people – other sweaty, smelly, offensive people – shook your faith in humanity. Less predictably, a ginger adolescent flashed my friend at the Example set, although later someone pissed on our tent and the balance was restored. I would have predicted that.

Of course, it was all great fun. Festival huxters have located a primal pleasure in being filthy and drunk and listening to big, loud noises and sold it to us for £157.50 a ticket including booking fee. But Bestival is a model. It is obviously, exactly like any other music festival, for all its pretensions. I don’t think its organisers would like to hear that. This year was, apparently, ‘The Year of the Fantastic’, but although elements – see: the decorations – were relatively ‘fantastic’, the ultimate experience was largely indistinguishable from V, or Reading, or Leeds in the sense that a festival is what it is: being filthy and drunk and listening to big, loud noises.

A crowd like any other crowd

The campsite opened at midday on Thursday, except it didn’t; it actually opened at half past one. That was annoying. The site was huge, and to give Bestival a little credit for individuality, it looked pretty cool. Although, like most May Balls, the decorations lacked coherence, unlike most May Balls, the incongruity was exciting, rather than symptomatic of too few helpers, and adhered to the proffered theme. The large magenta Bollywood tent boasted chandeliers and sequined peacocks suspended from the ceiling. The Knees Up! tent reminded me of that below-deck party in Titanic; random vestments hanging like bunting and a few low tables and sofas for smoking and arm-wrestling, a fitting theme for the smallest venue. At night, huge coloured stars set in the landscape shone; the Arcadia stage (which looked, slightly alarmingly, like the sort of big metal spider you imagine stomping through Trafalgar Square come the Apocalypse) sent a little puff of flame into the air at frequent intervals. Sort of like one of those air fresheners.

The best act I saw were The Correspondents, whose mutant electro-swing nearly caused a riot in the Cabaret Tent. They performed on the Main Stage on Saturday night, but the intimate venue suited them infinitely better. They brand themselves as, ‘like hyperactive ducks on a lava lake’; the singer was certainly tireless, even when he knocked himself off a platform – skinny limbs flailing – in a particularly acrobatic move. From this to what was less a stage dive than a stage length – from the back of the audience to the front –  he was a consummate performer.

I Blame Coco performed on Friday afternoon to what I thought was an unfairly tough crowd: although we all tire of hearing, “Good afternoon, Bestival!” after the first time, the female front woman – Sting’s daughter, Coco Sumner – was perhaps, touchingly, entertaining a vision of herself commanding the sort of crowd that a Main Stage slot would usually draw. Her throaty tones provided moments of brilliance – Selfmachine was particularly good – but her set lacked the sort of crowd-pleasers than an afternoon set requires. Example – on straight after – provided them.

The xx filled the Big Top, despite Bestival scheduling them at the same time as Simian Mobile Disco; Hot Chip were – predictably – fantastic live; Roxy Music were louche, ageing rockers whose set was visually fun – shots of the babes who graced their famous album covers, a sort of hypnotic swirling amoeba, the word Roxy in a series of different fonts – and good for a dance. There was, predictably, too much on (although I would happily have sacrificed Tiny Tempah, who basically played Pass Out for fifteen minutes and shouted, “Bestival” for the remaining fifteen minutes of his short set) and stumble into any one of the smaller tents at any time of day or night and you’d find all manner of rousing sets; Karauke! – karaoke, with ukeleles – were a particular gem.

There were so many Cambridge students around that you were never more than a few steps away from the edge of the maw: finding yourself in the shaded area of a Cambridge Venn diagram where your tent-mate plays college badminton with the person you’ve just met outside the Big Top, whose brother is – what a coincidence! – in a Themes & Sources seminar with their friend who they’ve lost in the Spiegeltent but should be back in a minute. So if you were chewing your face off (or anyone else’s) outside the Portaloos on Friday night, well, news travels fast.

For Bestival’s price, you get good music, and a scenic view, but an ultimately predictable experience. Its price places it at the extreme upper end of the May Ball spectrum, but without the chance to reimburse yourself in gluttony and I don’t really think it’s worth £150-odd quid. But I don’t think any festival really is. Bestival was just another fun weekend in a field.

@phoebeluckhurst
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