A record 48,000 revellers crossed the Solent for the seventh edition of Bestival, their rucksacks brimming with enough fancy costumes and illicit substances to allow the last major festival of the season to see out the summer in a suitably joyous haze. While rainclouds may have made the trip with them for only the second time in the festival's history, there was to be no repeat of 2008's apocalyptic scenes and an impressive line of ensured Rob and Josie Da Bank's 'year of the fantastic' had every chance of living up to its handle, even if some kids spent the entire weekend collecting cans and cups to recycle for 10p a pop...
Twenty past three in the afternoon was a little early even for Four Tet to get much movement from the impressive crowd he'd drawn to the Big Top, Bestival's second stage. Forced to jettison some of the sonorous timbres of recent Domino release There Is Love In You by the acoustic limitations of playing in a tent, he instead provided a chugging bass-heavy set with added visual excitement supplied by quartet of hula dancers.
Giggs was busily judging the mood of the festival just right with queries as to whether his crowd were smoking weed or sniffing cocaine. The former jailbird from Peckham's angry rhymes are steadily positioning him as Britain's premier gangsta rapper, and he soon had crowds crawling all sides of the three-legged metallic spider structure that served as a stage in Arcadia to get near.
It seemed to take a while for everyone to get their bearings as the Bestival site was reordered for the second year in a row. Perhaps this accounts for how few were lucky enough to find the Rock and Roll tent up in the Magic Meadow above the main stage in time for Phosphorescent's blissful early evening set. This year's Here's To Taking It Easy LP fleshed out Matthew Houck's often solemn tones with some blissful melodies, and with a full band backing him he turned in an equally triumphant performance of future alt-country classics here.
Gigg's XL labelmate Gil Scott Heron was less attuned to his audience's requirements, raining down a scuzzy set of funk-jazz that drew minimally from the well-received I'm New Here record he put out this year. Cap pulled hard over his head, he stuck to the keys for the majority of a set that would have been more suited to a late night bar than the tea time on a festival main stage. At least a rousing version of 'The Bottle' was a powerful reminder of exactly why he commands such respect.
The week they walked away with the Mercury it was little surprise that the crowd for The xx spilled out of their tent on every side. They sounded as lovely as ever, but as the only things to have changed about their sets in the past year and a half are an increase in the size of the audience and a decrease in the size of the band, there was little reason for anyone who'd seen them before to put themselves trough the hassle of finding a spot you could comfortably hear them from. Instead DiS sauntered over to watch all-round entertainer Chilly Gonzales in full flow, his usual charm, erudition and piano-tinkling skills intact.
The weekend that Being A Dickhead’s Cool went viral, East London hipster high priests Hot Chip proved they are still cool with a thumping dance-tinged set on the main stage. Absent on paternity leave, Joe Goddard's head was represented on a giant plasma screen that was pushed around the stage, whilst Rob Smoughton (aka Grosvenor), who drummed in an early version of the band, was retained from his appearances on their most recent tour. The effect is the same as ever and a potent reminder of that there's more to this band's appeal than geeky chic.
When Tricky dropped Maxinquaye some 16 years ago, the notion that hip hop could be done in a British accent was still up for debate. That he appears here shortly before Dizzee Rascal headlines the main stage shows how times have changed, and the Tricky Kid's role in that change should never be overlooked. The passion of his performances tend to mean he's never bad, but the fact that 'Overcome', from that classic debut, remains the set's stand-out track is a demonstration that British hip hop has come further than one of its early masters. On the big stage, Dizzee himself has enough big guns in his armoury to take down the most determined crowd and, of course, he has charisma to burn, even when his rave-rap mash-up and chicken squawk vocals really do seem bonkers.
Back in the Big Top it was no surprise to see Magda keeping the dancefloor in perpetual motion ahead of the appearance of her mentor, Richie Hawtin. The delicate electro patterns the DJ wove over persistent basslines made her a strong contender for performance of the day. Or tha was until Hawtin's Plastikman set came and blew everything else out of the water. In a day when artificial visualisation of performance was a regular theme (Hebden's dancers, Goddard's disembodied face) Hawtin turned his DJ set into a ocular spectacular, a huge semi-cylinder of lights surrounding him and reacting to every sonic pulse he pumped into the night. Hawtin's embrace of DJ technology has always come with the proviso that if a piece of software does something for him, he has to use the time saved to be doing something else. Consequently there's always something going on under the surface of his music, and every snare, kick and throb of sound is perfectly placed to keep wellies squelching well into the night.
The first thing we learned on Saturday was that 1990s GMTV fitness fixture Mr Motivator was not dead. In fact he was in the Cabaret tent encouraging a bunch of hungover hippies to do some exercise whilst announcing that, although he was 58, he had no intention of getting old. DiS made for the nearest exit in search of a fry-up.
Featuring their own tambourine-bashing, smurf-hatted Bez-alike, Cornershop bash out the splendid quartet of 'Sleep On The Left Side', their Punjabi version of 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)', their lovely recent cover of 'Quinn the Eskimo' then 'Brimful of Asha' halfway through their set. With three of those tracks coming from 1997's When I Was Born for the 7th Time and two of them covers, any plan to remind us that they're more than one-hit-wonders potentially backfired a little: a wanton stream of festival-goers exited once '...Asha' had had its run out.
To be fair, the sun was out and The Wailers were on the main stage. Whoever the hell it was that was up on that stage, they'd been lucky enough to have been bequeathed one of the great back catalogues of the last century to construct their setlist from. They veer towards the funkier end of Marley's spectrum, with some of the guitar work on 'Stir It Up' sounding distinctly sickly, but founding member and current leader Aston 'Family Man' Barrett's bass still scythes magnificently through classics like 'Jamming', 'Three Little Birds' and 'I Shot The Sheriff'.
Two acts making solo names away from successful bands this year follow each other in the Big Top on Saturday night, but Steve Mason and Jónsi’s approach to their solo outings comes in opposite directions. With a set that utilised tracks written for both The Beta Band and his short-lived King Biscuit Time project, as well as Madonna's 'Borderline', it's to Mason's credit that the songs that come over best are recent single 'Lost And Found' and the mournful title track from his new album 'Boys Outside'. The latter is such a fine example of Mason's elliptical, circular songwriting that it can only make you hope this latest return to music is for an extended stay. Where Mason has stripped out some of the percussive complexities of his earlier acts, Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi has upped the beat quotient considerably for his own solo outing. Essentially a set of glorious crescendos you can dance to, the live incarnation of Go relinquishes some of the too shiny production edges of the record to reveal a genuinely powerful piece of work.
Roxy Music take to the stage every bit the dapper icons they always were. A montage of their sexy album covers as a backdrop and the apparent insistence that their aging faces are only shown in monochrome silhouettes on the big screens maintain their suave grace, and from the moment they open, with 'Re-Make/Re-Model', the hits don’t stop flowing. Bryan Ferry's voice proves itself perfectly preserved to the point that you look away and you could easily convince yourself you were listening to a record being played at any one of the million nightclubs to have played these tracks over the past four decades. And what tracks they are: 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache', 'Virginia Plain', 'Love Is the Drug', 'Let's Stick Together' and especially 'Do The Strand', - each proves irresistible. Even if Ferry refuses to accept everybody else's assertion that he should never have covered 'Jealous Guy', pointedly closing the set with it, it's fucking Roxy Music so that's fine, alright?
A band for whom dressing up and getting wasted in a field comes as second nature, The Flaming Lips could be expected to have found a natural home at Bestival. In the event they seem overawed to see more crazies in the crowd than on the stage. These days the band like to get through the more outré aspects of their stage show (Wayne Coyne rolling round over the crowd inside a giant plastic ball, anyone?) as quickly as possible and move on to the music, but as enjoyable as Embryonic is, it's hardly packed with festival headline slot singalongs. Coyne's constant exhortations for us to "come on, motherfuckers" hardly help, but happily they always have the unrepentant pleasures of 'She Don’t Use Jelly' to fall back on.
Recreating the sights and sounds of the seediest of Isle of Wight clubs, the Cocktails and Dreams area boasted appearances over the weekend from the likes of Vanilla Ice and Katrina from Katrina and the Waves (that's literally how she was billed). Saturday night's guest was Limahl from Kajagoogoo, who came onstage and sang a cappella opening lines of classic songs before adding 'Too Shy' ("the song that changed my life") to the list. A karaoke version was to follow, but it was more fun to head next door to the Come Dancing tent and enjoy a typically frenetic DJ set of rockin' blues from the one and only Gaz Mayall.
Enjoying the outdoor nightlife, a field filled with dancing revellers make Fake Blood's late night secret set quite a scene. After dark, Arcadia's Spider becomes a fire spouting monolith, and while the flames never quite manage to keep time with the music, the spectacle is enough to keep all entertained, as are the persistent minimalist beats.
The final day of the festival was blessed with sunshine but not with Marcus Brigstocke, whose Early Edition, cancelled on Saturday, went ahead on Sunday. Brigstocke, explained stand-in host Andre Vincent, had sacked off Bestival to do a show for Prince Charles and hence much fun was had as guests Rufus Hound, Matt Kirshen and Tiffany Stevenson joined in a chorus of "Fuck you Marcus Brigstocke", partially addressed to Hound's two-year-old son. The show basically involves a bunch of comics sitting round mocking the morning's papers, and it's fun, even if too often Vincent descended into criticism of the audience for not getting his references.
After his near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2006, simply seeing Marc Almond up on stage is a great thing. Looking as elegant as ever, he turns in a rollicking cover of Scott Walker's 'Jackie' and a couple of head-bobbing tracks from 1996's Fantastic Star in the lead up to the inevitable, an inevitably joyous, 'Tainted Love'.
Over the years, Tunng have become Bestival favourites, and plenty of punters enjoy a set from the rockier end of their folk-rock spectrum. 'Bullets' goes down a storm, while Mike Lindsay's guitar histrionics as the set closes are unexpected triumph.
Nile Rodgers brings his tightly drilled Chic Organisation to Bestival with two stone classics: 'Le Freak' and 'Good Times'. Or at least that's what everyone thinks beforehand. What emerges is an hour and a half of hits, Rodgers proudly stating at the conclusion that "believe it or not, I wrote and produced everything you just heard". The living legend had reason to be proud - as well as Chic hits like 'Everybody Dance', the set included songs of the stature of Diana Ross's 'I'm Coming Out'. Oh yeah, and he ended with 'Le Freak' and 'Good Times', which was nice.
While this went on, up in the bandstand attempts at various 'pants world records' went a little awry, with organisers at least certain they had the world's biggest pair of pants laid out across the grass but uncertain as to whether or not they'd succeeded in having the world's biggest party in the pants with all partygoers in their pants. Ho hum.
Later on, The Prodigy could hardly have found a more receptive crowd, drawing probably the biggest of the weekend. Maxim Reality quickly has "all my people" jumping for joy, while Keith Flint bounds to the far edges of the stage and Liam Howlett grins at the scene from behind his stack of equipment, all the while looking not a little like Peep Show's Super Hans. As they storm through 'Breathe', two songs in, a sea of glowing faces becomes very choppy indeed; the waves never really stop from there.
Up in the Rock and Roll tent, Caribou perform to a smaller but no less appreciative audience. The multifarious delights of Swim survive the surrounds with tracks like 'Odessa', 'Sun' and 'Kaili' making a reasonable pitch for being the sound of the summer.
DJ Yoda has provided more than his share of entertainment to past Bestival audiences. Outside in Arcadia as a chill descended, his crowd slowly swelled as people crossed the site from The Prodigy's pitch, and while Yoda didn't quite live up to past performances, it's still always going to be fun watching a crowd's response to the theme from the A-Team.
A decade after Kompakt's Total 2 compilation came out, its reverberations were still being felt in the Bollywood bar, as first Dixon then Aeroplane span sets of tightly wound minimal techno. It's an odd feeling at half midnight on the Sunday night of an English festival to be reminded that one of the biggest acts of the weekend is still to come, but that happens when Aeroplane drops 'Tribulations'.
In the event LCD Soundsystem suffer from muggy sound and an even muggier audience. James Murphy's announcement that this is the last date of their longest ever tour is about the only intelligible phrase to come out of his mouth, which is a shame considering the rare combination of wit and banality he imbues in his lyrics. The tunes still stand up to interrogation though, and as soon as they launch into 'All My Friends' all is forgiven. 'Drunk Girls' is a suitable anthem for the occasion, but the inclusion in the set of early classics 'Daft Punk Is Playing At My House', 'Yeah' and, most of all, closer 'Losing My Edge' make this a fitting end to a very fine festival indeed.