Desert Island Disco was the theme if you couldn’t already tell from the sea of Hawaiian shirts and mirror ball hats that dominated the fields of Robin Hill from the 4th-7th of September. Now in its tenth year, Rob da Bank has created quite the empire with Bestival now raking in 55,000 fun-seekers, and as one of the UK’s very last summer music festivals, it presents them with the opportunity to see off their season of lollygagging and hijinks with one last part-ay. And that’s exactly what they got.
Even for those not there primarily for the music – it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that half of the punters go purely for the party and other things or ahem, substances – one cannot deny that each day featured an embarrassingly fantastic array of artists and activities.
Thursday night kicked things off accordingly with Jenny Lewis oozing cool as she pranced around the Big Top stage playfully stopping songs when she pleased. New tunes off of The Voyager brought the big choruses while Lewis’ older material off of Acid Tongue brought the booty-shakin’.
It was Beck however that owned the night with a compelling trip through most points of his outrageously versatile discography. Bursting out the gate with ‘Devil’s Haircut’s juggernaut of a riff, the shape-shifter then incited one of the largest sing-alongs of the weekend with early hit ‘Loser’ before a raucous run through ‘E-Pro’. Even crashing down onto his knee during robotic rarity ‘Get Real Paid’ couldn’t halt the man’s momentum. While orgasmic live favourite ‘Debra’ unfortunately didn’t get an airing, an extended jam of ‘Where It’s At’ which amusingly transformed into ‘Billie Jean’ and the Beverley Hills Cop Theme amid the band introductions ensured that no one left not grinning like a maniac. Beck is still where it’s at, ladies and gentlemen.
One of the biggest names on the Friday was of course the omnipresent Sam Smith who took to the main stage in the early evening sun. Thrust into the spotlight quite suddenly, Smith was once an awkward and reserved performer so one felt like a proud mother watching him work the crowd with enjoyable ease. Each of his soul-infused pop smashes were predictably met with loud reception but it was perhaps his cover of the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ which stole the show – it felt odd hearing a ‘Monkeys track sung by someone with a great voice.
In the Big Top tUnE-yArDs brought the fun in the way only they can. Those initially wary of the bright colours and eclectic songs that Merill Garbus and crew hang their hat on were quickly converted by the irrefutable bounce of ‘Sink-O’ and recent single ‘Water Fountain’.
Back on the main stage it was time for Disclosure to unleash their dance anthems unto the masses gathered before them. This was a pretty standard set for the Lawrence brothers who seem to have now played every festival in existence but it was a nice touch that Eliza Doolittle and Friendly Fires’ Ed Macfarlane appeared for their collaborations. Sam Smith’s inevitable return for ‘Latch’ brought little in the way of surprise but that thing is considered a festival favourite for a reason.
Finally it was time for easily the most anticipated headliner of the weekend and OutKast did indeed bring the energy early on through ‘B.O.B’, ‘Gasoline Dreams’ and ‘ATLiens’ but the duo sadly could not maintain it. When an anthem arose such as the timeless ‘Ms. Jackson’ or ‘Ghetto Musick’ their audience lifted them up themselves but particularly when André and Big Boi took turns running through their respective Speakerboxxx/The Love Below tracks the charisma that the two famously had in bucket-loads seemed to be absent. Still, their set was a thankful step-up from the half-assed mix of their debut reunion show at Coachella (poor Killer Mike!) and hearing tracks like ‘Roses’ and ‘So Fresh, So Clean’ live sure made my tail wag.
Directly after OutKast’s conclusion the opening sighs of La Roux’s ‘Let Me Down Gently’ brought the Big Top back to life. Elly Jackson kept interaction to a minimal, preferring instead to let new album Trouble In Paradise’s impeccable pop songs do the talking but by the end she could restrain herself no more and gushed about how great it felt to be back playing a UK festival again after La Roux’s lengthy disappearance. She looked so touched by her animated audience during oldie ‘Bulletproof’ that this time she did indeed look just that.
The early hours of Saturday saw Caribou take to the stage in a tent that was predictably packed given that it was prime time for dance music. Dan Snaith and gang – all clad in scruffy white clothing – elegantly played through song after song rarely pausing to address their water bottle-toting audience. Several tracks from 2010’s wondrous Swim showed up including flawless renditions of ‘Leave House’ and ‘Found Out’ but it is often the new tracks such as ‘Can’t Do Without You’ which are granted with the biggest reaction.
Later on Saturday evening, the Big Top was just as rammed to witness one of Darkside’s last performances before the duo part ways. The majority of their set stretched out the dance element of their music wherein they extended the already-not-short ‘Golden Arrow’ to a hypnotic conclusion.
By the time London Grammar stepped onstage, they had a sizable crowd to satisfy and that they did via a live string section and frontwoman Hannah Reid’s pitch-perfect vocals which climaxed with a stunning version of ‘Strong’.
Foals followed and fully proved themselves worthy of their headline status. Despite not being a band known for a stack of hits – ‘My Number’ is really the only song that had a full crowd backing it – the Oxford quintet demonstrated why they are such a respected live act with ‘Spanish Sahara’s slow build and frontman Yannis Philippakis’s unpredictable crowd-surfing being some of the biggest reasons. Throughout Philippakis kept his audience involved, telling them “this’ll be the last time we play this for a very long time” before launching into the ever-powerful ‘Inhaler’ and later informing them that they were watching the last Foals show for “about 18 months”. Curiously there was no ‘Cassius’ and no ‘Balloons’ but there was plenty of streamers which rained down during closing oldie ‘Two Steps, Twice’ which found Philippakis climb into the crowd for the 227th time of the night.
The sun was really smiling on the final day of the festival, as were Clean Bandit through their early main stage set which had most of their audience waiting for that one song. One can’t help but feel theirs was rather pedestrian when compared to the majority of performances that weekend. For instance, later on during his Major Lazer set Diplo bounced over the crowd in a giant inflatable ball (or zorb if you’re in the know).
The Big Top sparkled with Chvrches’ shiny synth-pop, particularly the perfection that is ‘The Mother We Share’. Unfortunately for the Scottish trio however, much of their audience had left before their finish to experience the culmination of the weekend: Chic featuring Nile Rodgers. Finally, a real disco band to justify all those disco helmets and 70s outfits. Before playing however, one more thing needed to be taken care of: the introduction of the record-breaking, 10 metre wide disco ball, of course. An emotional Rodgers explained of hearing the news of his guitar tech, Terry Brauer passing away shortly before stage time and thus dedicated this headline performance to Terry. From there the legendary hit-maker was all about the party, jumping right into ‘Everybody Dance’ to which the crowd responded accordingly.
The man then ensured that the audience before him were properly educated in his credentials before the band ran through a glorious streak of singles he’s penned throughout the years. Songs by Madonna, Sister Sledge, Diana Ross and Duran Duran guaranteed home run after home run for the disco legends and even David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ showed up towards the end. Rightly so though, the band bowed out on two of their own stone-cold classics ‘Le Freak’ and the wonderfully appropriate ‘Good Times’. Shortly after a mesmerising firework display signalled the end of the weekend but by this point it was pretty safe to say the people got their party.