It is somewhere around 2am and DiS is in a field, on an island off the coast of Hampshire, gingerly approaching Lionel Ritchie's head. A pair of Popeyes are destroying the chorus of 'Dancing On the Ceiling', while two girls dressed as angler fish try to have their photo taken by a man dressed in an elaborate squid costume. In turn, he is trying to persuade them to find a secret disco hidden somewhere in a cave. He thinks Prince may be playing there.
Welcome to Bestival 2013.
Whether it's the last hurrah of summer or the gateway to the autumn, there are many festivals (just ask resident DiS festival junkie Dom Gourlay) but there's really is only one Bestival. Ten years on from its humble beginnings, Josie and Rob Da Bank's 7,000-strong experiment on the Isle Of Wight has ballooned, with a sell-out of 55,000 souls boarding HMS Bestival this year.
Despite that growth in size and capacity, it remains one of the UK's premier festivals and with good reason. Clichéd as it sounds, people keep coming back because it still feels intimate, mischievous, inventive, informative, beautiful, friendly and most of all huge amounts of fun.
Oh, and the fancy dress, people bloody love to dress up.
Over the next 4 days we'll: dine at the Surplus Supper Club, watch a family risk life and limb on the wall of death, try to visit some of the 25-plus stages, almost lose our minds in the Ambient Forest, party hard just off the bough of the giant streamliner (the stunning new Port stage), shelter from rest of the world in the comfort and secrecy of the Caravanserai (the site's other most fantastic new addition), tell everyone that we are seeing Prince at the Swamp Shack (even when we know it's just a DJ set of his hits) and take in over 40 bands.
With all of that in mind, on a scorching day in September DiS erected a tent which felt more like raising a barn and set off to explore what delights the vast site had to offer.
Refreshed and refuelled from our journey across the Solent, our first port of call was the heart-wrenching ambient pop of East India Youth. William Doyle's music draws a modest first day crowd and even managed to surprise those who've not noticed the next act had actually begun. Maybe that's because onstage Doyle seems somewhat introverted, but his music speaks for itself and finds a home in this live environment; the small setting affording space for his electro-arpeggios to grow organically in depth and darkness.
Dog Is Dead's harmonic guitar stomp and brassy pretensions, drew an ecstatic crowd and songs like 'Do The Right Thing' and 'Talk Through The Night' became joyous sing-a-longs. While 'Two Devils' - which always felt flat on record - comes over as a breathless highlight.
Rampant hype about MIA's first UK date in almost three years, sees the Big Top overflowing for her 1am start. Our scepticism means we expect the worst, but in truth she makes a better than expected turn; especially when you consider her ambivalence to a what is an undeniable mid-career flatline. Ecstatically received, she works the weary crowd into a frenzy time and time again, eventually tearing the roof off with 'Paper Planes'.
We've just enough energy to drop in on the crazy, camp and cramped disco delights of Sink The Pink, before shuffling off to a tent that we'd pitched with cack-handed optimism some 17 hours earlier.
In the night our tent had been moved, transported to a world of ominous blustery skies and rainfall. Nevertheless, DiS is made of strong(ish) stuff so we ventured forth towards the distant sounds of drum and bass, following a man dressed like a pirate, in search of strong coffee and fried goods.
The coquettish charms of gyrating pocket rocket, Chloe Howl were our first port of call. Her mix of taught jaunty pop, sexed-up lyrics about how shit it is being young and an A'llo Mary Poppins! vocal stylings are surprisingly infectious. Upbeat crackers like 'Rumour' and 'No Strings' hit better than the downtempo numbers and at her very best she sits on the precipice of a more endearing Lily Allen/Kate Nash hybrid.
At the other end of the female pop spectrum is Kate Boy, whose band of Rhythm Nation fashion revivalists were astoundingly enthusiastic; especially considering the lacklustre crowd for her mistimed early afternoon slot. Still, her vocals feel vibrant and while these dark digitised beats might not suit the time or the weather, single 'The Way We Are' fills the Big Top and had more than a few of the crowd dancing.
As soon as the Wu-Tang Clan appeared on the main stage the sun decided to do the same, proving that even the weather knows they ain't nothing to fuck wit. Unfortunately, their performance is a rather flat affair as the undernumbered Clan fail to hit their stride until 'Gravel Pit', but by that point DiS - and those with good sense - had already lost interest.
Drenge's two-man attempt to re-inject some distorted power into rock, was exuding the rawest energy we'd seen since we arrived. Despite a few technical problems, a slightly abbreviated set and a stage presence which is at best intense and at worst clumsy, they remained a genuinely unpredictable highlight.
Back on the main stage, Captain Jessie Ware's sleek and sexy vocals still maintained an air of effortlessness on songs like 'Fantasy' and 'Waiting For Something'. But as 'Wildest Moments' devolved into a holiday camp sing-a-long, you couldn't help but be pleased in the knowledge that this is the last festival she'll be playing tracks from Devotion.
Is Tropical just seemed grateful that we all turned up to hear their mix of crunchy guitars and discordant programming. Working through a fun and freewheeling set, which closed on a self-deprecating note; "If you like us then tell everyone that you've seen three old transvesties who make some reasonably good music" - they asked and we are certain to oblige.
However, most of us were just waiting for Jagwar Ma to take to the stage, which they do in full Steve Zissou attire. The band seeming genuinely shocked at the huge turnout, but not faltering once, with 'Man I Need' and 'Uncertainty' just two small highlights in a flawless performance, which ignites the dancefloor and marks their layered beats and falsetto lyrics as a highlight of the weekend.
The Flaming Lips were greeted to rapturous applause, but as Wayne Coyne stood aloft his giant electro squid - plastic baby in hand - he seemed heavy hearted. Playing a maudlin set that rattled through 'The Terror', 'Silver Trembling Hands' and 'The W.A.N.D', they seemed intent on bringing us all crashing down to earth. This endeavour reached its peak about halfway through, as Coyne introduced a song by imploring us to help him rise up from its unfathomable darkness; only to play a slowed down version of their usually jubilant 'Race For The Prize'. Eventually of course everything exploded - it always does - but all their glitter cannons and pyro couldn't hide an unease that saw them struggle to connect to the Bestival masses.
Meanwhile, Belle and Sebastian are deep in Bestival love, as we joined them for the opening strains of 'I'm A Cuckoo'. Stuart Murdoch and Co. returning festival-goers' high spirits to their natural levels, with a set that reminded us that these bedroom whimsyists could always rock out. Spirited version of 'I Want The World To Stop' and 'Covers Blown' saw to that, while a stage invasion for 'Boy With The Arab Strap' and 'Legal Man' actually left some in tears of delight.
Outside Fatboy Slim was making good his headlining slot, Norman Cook working the vast crowd into a frenzy with a mixture of old and new tracks. He does play the hits - although many of them aren't his own - but when a choir comes out for 'Praise You' it feels like he couldn't put a foot wrong if he tried.
Illness and a shortened set phase neither London Grammar nor their fans. The crowd hushed for Hannah Reid, whose voice remained crystalline, despite tonsillitis - the live accompaniment elevating her vocal to dreamlike proportions. Unfortunately Reid had to rush off to sing with Disclosure, but no one complained; we know good things should always come in small doses.
The night ended with Square Pusher, his beats and bleeps crafted into something incredible, intense and perhaps even a little more fulfilling than Norman Cook… and with that, we headed off into the fields to find the hidden disco and most probably some chips.
The joyful secular psychedelic worship sounds of The Polyphonic Spree set out to revive our bleary hearts and minds first thing on Saturday. Tim Delaughter's enthusiasm proved once again that he and his expanding crew of musicians are a formidable live talent. Today he engaged in chatter with costumed revellers, danced the 'Robot', turned in an exquisite version of The Monkees 'Porpoise Song' and as a final act of kindness, willed the sun out from behind a cloud on 'Night And Day'.
The only other band who came close to bringing so much pleasure that afternoon were The Roots. For any predominantly hip-hop related act, knowing how to please a festival crowd is key so they opted for a mix of bigger hits interspersed with a medley of covers, rather than ploughing through their deeper cuts. Incorporating inspired versions of 'Sweet Child O'Mine' and 'Somebody That I used To Know' amongst many others, while Black Thought held court on the mic and the band proved - if proof was needed - that they're the natural successors to the JB's.
Meanwhile the Eighties-flecked distortion of Merchandise was billowing from the Replay tent, playing a set which learnt some lessons from their recent lacklustre appearance at Reading, becoming just a tiny bit glorious when the late afternoon sun flooded across the audience while the strains of 'Time' rang out.
In the midst of all this indie jangle, we remembered that the real deal was also playing today. It's still jarring to hear Johhny Marr's voice fronting some of the biggest Smiths' songs; but stronger in both hairline and constitution than his old counterpart he was best chance that we had of hearing 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out'. His brusque delivery allowed it to sit comfortably alongside more recent Weller-esque fare like 'Generate! Generate!'.
As Franz Ferdinand took to the main stage it struck us that they've always felt like a band with a vast back catalogue, one which rarely equates to their modest discography. If you were being cruel you could claim that was because many of their songs sound the same, but tonight their idiosyncratic brand of indie pop-jerk played well. Particularly barnstorming were their renditions of latest tracks 'Right Action' and 'Evil Eye' and by the time it came to 'Michael', it soon it felt as though the wrong act may have been chosen to headline.
Elsewhere, Swim Deep played to an adoring and energetic crowd of pirates - cutlasses aloft. Their sound more at home live than on their - at best - middling album, they rounded out an excellent performance with a stellar cover of 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun'. Leaving the doubters - us included - considering a revaluation of their sound.
Then there was Snoop Dogg. Years hence he dropped the 'Doggy', tonight he dropped the 'Lion', but really he should have dropped the lot. Even in a year when the big hitters of rap royalty have been phoning it in, this was a low. Weak versions of his hits and even weaker covers of his abysmal reggae tracks and pop cameos left this feeling like karaoke Snoop. Of course the crowd loved him and later I ask one grinning bystander if he liked the show, 'It was the greatest moment of my life' he replied… luckily for him he was still quite young.
With a lacklustre Snoop over and The Knife peddling their newfound brand of Jazzersize, it was with much reticence and not a little disgust that we went to the Polka Tent to catch a 'secret' gig from The Strypes. Now, without taking anything away from what I've already written, I have to report that in the dark, sweaty inebriation of that tiny tent, packed with maybe 200 people, the rip-off old school rock clatter of those mini-me Stones felt… kind of electrifying… maybe… just a little.
I'm so sorry… I've let us all down.
After all that, it was off to Port and HMS Bestival, to be washed to clean of our shame in an the ocean of revellers attracted by Hudson Mowhawk's portentous fusion of electro-hip-hop. Rinsed with lasers and steam, the crowd must easily have approached 10,000; each and everyone of whom lost their shit when he played Kanye's 'Blood On The Leaves'. However, its was late so the only reasonable thing for DiS to do was to drop in on The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing at The Pig's Ballroom. It's the last outpost of guitars and drums in the dance-centric Bollywood field and their energetic steampunk-punk was enthralling a crowd who'd taken refuge from the skull crushing beats outside.
Sadly, the only thing that will keep you up past 4am are drugs and youth and DiS was in short supply of both. So we shunned the delights of Simian Mobile Disco and were drawn towards Temple Island, where someone had started an impromptu bonfire; the warmth of which reminded us that sleep was an option and so we stumbled off tent-ward.
Despite heavy rain and a heavy head DiS awoke to discover that whilst our sunglasses had broken, we had not. One unsteady walk around the site and our sea legs returned, with a stiff drink inside us and some Fleetwood Bac (work it our yourselves…) ringing in our ears, we were back in the game.
Early afternoon saw a clash of genres and stages with Mikill Pane at the Big Top and Charley MaCauley on the Replay stage. The former's mixture of pop, rock and rhyme failing to convince, his sound too hollow and disposable to fill the venue or even make us want to stay. The latter was a different story, her powerful vocals belied her tiny frame, backed by sensuous horns and four-to-the-floor beats that echo a subtle Atlantic sound. All of which served as a treat to those who unexpectedly ducked in to escape the rain.
Late afternoon saw yet another clash and DiS ended up at the Red Bull Music Academy stage. We'd chosen to catch the speedy rhymes and self-styled 'fizzy flow' of Scrufizzer, whose mix of dub-step and hip-hop was fresh, intense and exciting - so much so it even managed to a incite a minor mosh pit. The clash? It was Tom Odell, who was incited little more than ennui on the main stage.
There was a lot of chatter about Valerie June, so obviously, we went to check her out. Her powerful bluesy falsetto matched her country/bayou sound - but a shy onstage persona left the feeling that neither she nor the crowd were terribly interested. Eventually everyone warmed up, but by that time Nile Rogers was about to begin and she didn't have the power to overcome his magnetic draw.
Working through hit after hit, you'd think we'd all be weary of Chic by now, yet the enduring longevity of their work only continues to reveal itself with each flawless performance. They played the hits - of course - from 'Everybody Dance' and 'Good Times' to 'Le Freak'; then when they ran low on their own they played a triumphant set of Rogers produced covers, finally encoring with 'Get Lucky'. Young, old, seated, standing, sober or wasted, the collective Bestivalites couldn't help but dance to their contagious funk - and when the rain did come they danced harder, until finally a rainbow appeared.
Soon enough it's time for the big guns and most of the site descended for Elton John. There was the vague fear that it would all end in tears – he hadn't played a festival since 1969 – and whilst he has ample hits to cover a two hour show there's the diva reputation to consider, plus the fact that he'd cancelled dates due to illness earlier in the summer.
We needn't have worried though. From openers 'The Bitch Is Back' and 'Bennie and The Jets' right through to his finale of 'Your Song', he was electrifying. Seeming more surprised at the warm Bestival reception than we were that he was playing piano in the same field as us, the crowd's energy brought the showman out and working through hit after hit from his five decade career. Even the odd new track from his forthcoming album Diving Board was well received - although choosing one of them as an encore felt like an odd choice.
That aside, this was a high-point - not only in terms of the weekend - but in Bestival's 10-year history. It was an occasion that not only marked its passing into double figures but also their rise to the top rank of the UK's festivals: and that is something even a mobile phone-lit sing-a-long to 'Candle In The Wind' couldn't fuck up.
Of course, DiS's work is never quite done and soon we were off to see James Blake whose live show was the perfect comedown to the staggering set which preceded it. Playing to a warm reception, his woozy soul and throbbing bass inspired a certain reverence, even amongst the dazed few who've stumble out of the torrential rain into the Big Top, too early for Crystal Fighters. Their ears caught off guard by the sublime beauty of closing Joni Mitchell cover, 'A Case Of You'.
After that, all that was left was to head over and see Parquet Courts - who's stoner rock inspired some of the most abysmal and hilarious crowd-surfing we'd seen all weekend.
It's was night that many will wish didn't have to end, but when Bestival 2013 eventually did come to a close and Monday cracked us on the head: it was the dreams of what's to come next year that carried us back across the Solent.
photos by Mike Burnell