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Cherwell Festival Guide I – Bestival

Bestival is the late-summer festival on the Isle of Wight with a vaguely hippy leaning, tempered by a light smattering of yummy mummies. Fancy dress is theoretically optional, but in practice this year’s ‘Desert Island Disco’ theme will be enforced with military rigour. Rob Da Bank oversees an eclectic weekend of music in a gorgeous setting, striking a near-perfect balance between DJs and live acts.

Location ★★★★☆

The Isle of Wight is a complete pain in the arse to get to. But once you’re there, it’s almost as painful to leave. As sunsoaked as you can get in September without having to learn the Spanish for “I think Jessie Ware just did a wee in my sangria”.

Headliners ★★★☆☆

Hip-hop fans whose senses are not wholly stupefied by G-Funk rhythms and a surfeit of marijuana will surely all agree that Bestival have gone one up on last year’s Snoop Dogg set by securing Outkast. Andre 3000 and Big Boi purvey a brand of southern-fried, jazz-inflected hip-hop which is mesmerisingly complex. The same cannot be said for the instantly forgettable Chase and Status. Chic and Nile Rodgers aspire to nothing more exciting than Chase and Status do, but where the drum and bass duo’s repertoire grows stale in about 30 seconds, the disco stalwarts still sound as fresh as they did in 1978.

Mid-card ★★★★★

Absolutely stacked. Last year’s album of Daft Punk reworks from Darkside mean that Nicholas Jaar’s darkly funky side project is as close as you’ll get to seeing the helmeted electro duo on British soil this summer. It’s always worth checking in on Skream’s evolution from dubstep poster-boy to mad disco scientist, as it is on the tuneful electro-jazz sketches of Bonobo: both are sure-fire festival highlights. The same can be said of Sven Vath, renowned for drawing mammoth 30-hour sets of gorgeous ambient techno from the battered confines of his SL-1200 turntables. Major Lazer, making their solitary UK festival appearance,are everything Chase and Status want to be but aren’t, while Busta Rhymes is utterly daft but utterly brilliant.

Hidden gems ★★★★☆

Elijah and Skilliam’s blog/record label/club night ‘Butterz’ catalysed the recent explosion in instrumental grime, producing endless reams of bass music that is uncompromising but never unthinking. (Don’t be surprised to hear unannounced live PAs from JME and Skepta, also appearing under their own steam alongside Logan Sama.) tUnE-yArDs knock up drum-loops on the spot that lesser indietronica acts can only dream of in the studio, while Public Service Broadcasting do something similar but more exploratory, adding a fantastically eclectic palette of vocal samples to the mix. The scratch genius DJ Yoda includes visuals to his own even weirder cut-and-stick array, and the glossy electro clattering of Sinjin Hawke is just as full of surprises.  Black Country rockers God Damn snort derisively at all of this, and play their guitars really really loud, pitching themselves somewhere between Black Sabbath and At The Drive-In.

USPs ★★★☆☆

The bonus features at Bestival are by no means limited to ‘Breastival’, a yurt solely dedicated to breast-feeding mothers. Sink The Pink is the most outrageously camp piss-up you’ll find anywhere on the festival circuit this year, with the obvious exception of the feather-boa-clad Scottee who will be overseeing a palace full of cabaret and weirdness. There is always a risk inherent in booking Shit-Faced Shakespeare, who perform the bard’s oeuvre in the desperately inebriated condition their name suggests, but if they keep it together then they could be the funniest thing on the bill- apart, perhaps, from the surreal slapstick stylings of comedy duo Twisted Loaf.

Should I go? ★★★★★

Yep. There are better headline options, but festivals are never defined by the names at the top of the card. Under Rob Da Bank’s curation, Bestival has consistently produced lineups stuffed with next year’s breakout acts and the headliners of 2020, and this year looks to be no exception. Perhaps most importantly, Bestival manages to maintain an alternative atmosphere and cater to niche musical tastes without veering into the cringey posturing that increasingly typifies hippy wankathons like Latitude or End of the Road. Great music with nice people in a beautiful place.

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