Was Bestival the send off the summer needed, or a bit of a let down? Dai Howells went down to the Isle Of Wight to see what was what at the 'end' of the UK festival season
Widely touted as the last festival of the summer, Bestival had the dubious honour of pulling the curtains down on a strange old season that - whilst great for sport - wasn't the best for us welly-toting music types. Whether cancelled, rained out or simple taking a fallow year, many summer jamborees around the country saw less ideal celebrations than they'd have liked. Little of this mattered, however, to the 50,000 people gathered in the sun, who managed to witness a particularly rare triumph: a 2012 festival where it wasn't pissing down. So with the ground laid for one of the best bashes of the year, Bestival got underway and began delivering (albeit with a few exceptions), an event to justify the rather self-assured name.
So with that in mind, here's the Artrocker Bestival Swingometer (patent pending), which offers the good, the bad and the wildlife-y about the summer's final hoedown.
Sigur Ros are widely hailed as one of those bands which, whilst evoking confusion or even disdain from the ardent non-fans, inhabit a land of unbridled adoration from their league of card-carrying super followers. What's more, with Bestival being their only UK appearance this year, all the crazed lunatics were out in force. Thankfully, the Icelandic foresome played a festival-minded set and avoided dwelling too much on damp-squib new album 'Valtari'. Packing into the set old favourites such as 'Olsen Olsen', 'Glosoli' and 'Festival', the band played what could be the closest they get to "the hits" without having to resort to a Beyonce cover. Plus, 'Festival' was typically life-affirming, whilst perennial set-closer 'Untitled VIII (Poplagid)' offered a rather sinister edge to the otherwise jovial Bestival proceedings.
Elsewhere, the always-excellent Ampitheatre was a haven for many festival-goers. Situated at the arse end of the Ambient Forest, the gladed natural theatre played host to a number of comedy troupes and spoken word artists across the weekend, many of which were brought along by Scroobius Pip, who played a set himself on the Sunday afternoon.
Rather different to his earlier slot at Replay, Pip ditched the hip-hop and larger-scale production for a number of his earlier - much darker - poems. Even when things began getting unremittingly bleak, Pip brought it back from the brink with his good-natured and self-effacing humour, adding a touch of the ridiculous to what could have otherwise been a sober set.
The Horrors put on what can only be described as a set which sets their found fame in stone. Despite being constantly disappointed with their club shows, they never fail to create noise and atmosphere at a festival. Also-trendy London types Django Django took their (as then unannounced) Mercury nominated, half dance, bit psych bit indie sound to the Psychedelic Worm stage and gained one of the most enthusiastic responses I witnessed all weekend.
Headlining the main stage on Saturday night - to a crowd criminally smaller than that which had turned out just an hour before for Two Door Cinema Club - New Order played the ultimate set, rolling out the hits as well as a few Joy Division classics for good measure. 'Transmission' and 'Isolation' were roughed up takes on their originals, whilst 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' lay largely unchanged in its delivery (apart from, you know, the obvious), with it needing no tinkering in order to make it a crowd-slaying set closer that bigger bands wouldn't be able to match. Yes, Curtis may be long gone and Hooky's now out of the picture, but Sumner and Morris screaming "Love will tear us apart" while the screen behind them beams out the words 'Joy Division' is a spine-tingling moment that could give any other across the whole weekend a run for its money.
Across the weekend, Bestival came alive with numerous sea-shanties and folk-punk singalongs. Cornwall's newest rabble-rousers Crowns played in nothing but pants for their set, embodying the fancy dress theme with celtic-flavoured bodypaint offering a nod to where they came from. Over on the main stage, meanwhile, Skinny Lister played a typically storming set, mixing their Mumford's esque stomp-folk with something a touch more rough around the edges. The set even saw a marriage proposal, with one of the 'Skinny Sisters' being asked for her fair hand in marriage by friend of the band Chris Smith (she said yes, of course). The Darlingtons were placed in between vintage 50s jazz DJs but managed to bring a bit of a buzz to the Pigs Ballroom Stage on Friday afternoon with their semi-acoustic take on their Interpol-esque indie.
Warpaint, meanwhile, also took to the main stage, opting to play just a handful of new tracks, despite being holed up for the past year writing them. The remainder of the set took tracks from across their breakthrough debut 'The Fool' as well as earlier EP 'Exquisite Corpse'. The set closer came from a sublime 'Elephants, followed by a jam session for which the all-girl troupe have become known for using to dispel any ideas that they're all about the image.
Despite drawing the second largest crowd of the weekend (behind only stone-cold legend Stevie Wonder), The XX played a set that, for all its gossamer intricacies, sounded bored. Suffice to say, the teeming throng of super fans in attendance will have gone away happy, but the droll and disaffected delivery for which Romy and Oliver have become known made for a set which looked like a drudge for them to do, so was even more so for the rest of us watching. Singles 'Islands' and 'VCR' draw a positive reception, but the rest made not for a set where the silences spoke volumes, but where they instead offer hollows.
Other deputy-headliners Two Door Cinema Club, meanwhile, threw out 'This is the Life' within three songs of taking to the stage and suddenly the whole event seemed like a horribly apocalyptic festival brought to us by Debenhams where all the wooly hat or falafel vendors start asking us if we want to take out a loyalty card with our Organic Burritos by Julien McDonald. Just horrible.
One thing that invariably got people talking at Bestival - albeit for all the wrong reasons - was the queues. Upon stepping off ferry shuttle-buses, the first view of the festival many got was of a gargantuan snake of some few thousand people lined up just to get their wristbands. Tales of woe varied, with the smallest wait overheard still being one of at least an hour and a half. Likewise, on the other side of the weekend, getting out was one fresh hell after another, with the bus system seemingly being organised by a shaved chimp who Rob da Bank must have liberated from the Isle of Wight Zoo, given a fluorescent jacket to and sent him on his merry way, flinging bus-shaped shit around with the wilful abandon of someone who really couldn't give the tiniest of fucks. It was only a matter of time before every Big Green Coach entering the gates was greeted with a dejected slow clap and a cloud of profanities. Da Bank sure does know his way around a good line up, but unfortunately the organisation might still be some way off, even into year 9.
Flux Pavilion. We're aware Artrocker isn't overly known for its opinions on dance music, but we definitely know this squelchy, fart sounding, headache inducing rubbish deserves the bin and nothing else.
That being said, Jessie Ware, The Unexpexted Items, Sister Sledge, Tankus the Henge, The Staves and Stevie Wonder also made for an event that will endure for almost as long as the queues did.