Steph Kretowicz heads to Bucharest to get away from Brits abroad and experience a festival with diversity!
Smack bang in the middle of a Southeast European heatwave the sixth edition of Romania’s B’estfest festival on the outskirts of Bucharest aspires to the global stage. Major sponsorship is spread across the Tunari lot, seven stages and even a newsstand featuring copies of the UK’s OK magazine. One wonders who of the crowd, still hosting mostly locals with rarely a native English speaker within earshot, is going to read about Drew Barrymore’s wedding. But, considering the bulk of roughly 1,500-strong crowd is pretty good with English (probably Spanish and French too), British Islanders are reminded of their own tepid mono-lingualism and narrow perspective on global music (eeeeek - Ed).
Going over three intense nights of festivities, curation spans from Czech/US bagpipe punk to Romanian reggae. Diversity is key to a line up catering for electronic at the Freedom Dance Arena, local young ones at the Romania Future Heroes Stage, plus punk and black metal, for those inclined, a little further out. The bigger acts are split between the two main stages sponsored by a beer and a soft drink, while a personal favourite is the Blazing Vibez stage, next to a lake, some hammocks and a Chilean wine stand for enjoying some chilled red and cool dub and dancehall.
The Romance roots of the local language lends itself well to the tones and inflections of turntablism and dark beats of Parazitii, as well as the gangsta rap of B.U.G. Mafia to follow. Their popularity among locals, due in part to their caustic political commentary, is further proof of the universal nature of hip hop as a force for social change even this far east. Local indie rock like The MOOod, with its hybrid Strokes and Limp Bizkit influences –plus some Blood Brothers vocals thrown in there –doesn’t fair so well in the fans department. Perhaps it’s the fact they sing mostly in English and emulate their Western counterparts but The MOOod and late announcement Mono Jacks are relegated to earlier time slots.
It’s the electronic audiences that are split on the last night between the spectacular laser show and caddish anecdotes of Jarvis Cocker and Britpop icons Pulp, with the nascent dubstep hardrock of UK Modestep in the Freedom dance arena –if you’re not a fan of Linkin Park, don’t bother. Then there’s Welsh ska/metal hybrid Skindred and gaudy, dread-locked front man Benji Webb. He resembles a glam metal Lady Gaga, whose flamboyantly provocative humour doesn’t wash so well with a polite Romanian audience, when he follows up Dutch jazz singer Caro Emerald’s set with, “Did you see that fucking ass?”
There’s a similar sense of unease induced standing between the heavy metal Jagermeister Stage and the downbeat Blazing Vibez at any given moment. The clash of sentiments feels like parallel universes colliding, while the bizarre image of a group of Romanian ‘Draculas’ bikers setting up a merchandise tent between them is even weirder.
Meanwhile, Caro Emerald carries the mantle for post-Amy Winehouse Europe, after cute-as-a-button Belgian Selah Sue. The latter’s ragga soul with a Germanic touch proves the better of the two, especially with hit song ‘This World’. That said it’s as if the whole world has got a whiff of the reggae bug, from Skindred’s surprisingly compatible ska/hardcore hybrid to Romanian folk-infused dub of East Roots. There’s even some of that skanking rhythm in new Garbage track ‘Blood For Poppies’ but, despite the requisite intrusion of distinctly Garbage-esque industrial guitar noise, it’s still tracks like ‘Stupid Girl’, ‘Queer’ and ‘Cherry Lips’ any 80s baby would actually appreciate.
Apart from the overwhelming buffet of music on offer, there’s still a cinema, a fun park, acrobatics, bungee jumping and an impulse tattoo container (eureka!) to contend with. The tent land accommodating for the distance from the Bucharest city centre hasn’t quite taken off yet and those lucky enough to have a hotel room are grateful for it. Yet, there’s something about the continental heat and the languor it conjures that makes beer drinking that much more enticing and it’s just as well because it costs barely a pound. The lines are not long, the place is relaxed and the people are courteous. Add to that a grilled meat Mititei plus a wine and soda Sprit and you’ve pretty much got it made.