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Review: Bestival 2014

“Thanks, Bestival,” mumbles one of the identikit Disclosure brothers, gazing dourly at the seething main stage crowd, “you’re the… Best Festival”. To my astonishment, there is a roar of delight. I imagined him penning this bon mot in the mansion bought by the sales of Latch, tongue sticking out the side of his mouth while Sam Smith gives him a backrub. Theirs is the first set I see and it is as uninspiring as this witticism suggests.

Thankfully, the contrast between this painfully forced crowd interaction and the dazzling showmanship of headliners Outkast, Foals and Chic was painfully evident. I’ve never actually met anyone who knows the lyrics to the chorus of Latch (the crowd’s rendition runs something like “now I’ve got you in my face/I wun ger berberder- fner! fner!”). The drippingly middle-class crowd makes a similarly poor stab at many of Outkast’s numbers other than ‘Hey Ya’ and ‘Miss Jackson’, but Andre 3000’s stage presence is so great that it literally doesn’t matter at all. He and Foals’ Yannis Philippakis are two incarnations of the same frontman god. One is snake-hipped and chain-smoking, one ebullient and clad in a t-shirt reading ‘My Dad Owns Good Records’: both are more than capable of controlling 30,000 ecstatic worshippers.

As with Outkast, the crowd floundered a little during the mid-afternoon performance of Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde. “Any reaaaaaaaaaaaaaal hip-hop heads out there?” the reunited hip-hop legends demand, to which the honest response of a Sunday audience nursing their comedowns with four-pound orange smoothies is “not really, no, although I quite enjoy the music of Vanilla Ice”. It’s a good set but you can sense their relief to get off stage and escape an audience whose response to their earnest injunctions to “smoke weed till you dieeeeee” is little more than polite applause. Clean Bandit’s mum-friendly electro-pop is more warmly received but far more forgettable than the Dilla-dedicated ‘Runnin’’ or the superlative ‘Passin’ Me By’. This unexpected combo is followed by the gutting combination of a cancellation by Busta Rhymes and a frankly distressing set by Major Lazer, replete with garish graphics of bouncing booties. Once they dropped ‘I Like to Move it Move it’ with no apparent sense of irony I headed demurely for the exit.

Away from the main stage, it was pretty much all good news. Setting aside a personal revulsion for fancy dress (does it really improve your festival experience in any way whatsoever to wave a parrot on a stick around for nine hours while wearing a banana suit and a zombie mask?) and the inexplicable presence of 13 trillion nos canisters underfoot in all the dance tents (making it impossible to dance without skittering around like Wile E Coyote on an oilslick), then the vibes were good, the festival was well-run and the stages were thoughtfully organised.

CHVRCHES invigorated the crowd on Sunday evening as the sun set for the last time over the gorgeous cityscape of the campsites, inviting us to turn and gaze back at an array of kitsch including a Ferris wheel, the biggest glitter ball OF ALL TIME and what must presumably have been the world’s biggest collection of bucket hats and wavy sports jackets. There was no hassle (apart from a year-nine style kerfuffle at the entrance when the organisers inexplicably and abruptly started preventing over-18s from bringing their own alcohol into the event). People were there to have a good time, and though there was an upsettingly large number of wizened steampunks and cyberhippies in attendance, there was also a merciful dearth of lairy sixthformers.

The stand out set was from the soon-to-disband Darkside, who sounded even better live than on wax. Their work was given a thick intensity by the understanding between instrumentalist Dave Harrington and electronic programmer Nicholas Jaar, with their set evolving from a song-by-song experimental rock gig to a roaring, continuous ambient performance. Sonically, Caribou amongst others suffered from stodgy mixing on the same stage: this was a complex set which was not best suited to a lock-jawed 4AM crowd. Public Service Broadcasting handled the same dodgy mixing somewhat better, building what can best be described as a modest wall of sound (a garden wall of sound, perhaps) beneath clipped upper-class vocal samples which sounded exactly the same as on record. Eschewing the by-then passé ‘Best festival’ gag, they opted for the moderately wittier ‘enjoy the Restival’ to close their moderately witty set. Late evenings saw the usual suspects from Ram Records, Black Butter and so on doing their thing, with my personal highlight being a chance to see Skream in his increasingly discofied incarnation.

On Sunday evening, I stumbled to the top of the main stage, flaccid sack of stolen perry flopping soggily in our pants as we shuffled guiltily through security. I expected Chic to perform with a little of the weary resignation to an ignorant crowd betrayed by some of their contemporaries. Stimulated by the death that afternoon of a long-term guitar technician, Nile Rogers wept as he led his disco ensemble in an astounding display of technical proficiency and love for the music. The final half-hour combo of Let’s Dance/Le Freak/Good Times, replete with fireworks, stage invasion and noodling slap bass solos, was a distillation of the disco spirit, and thus of the festival spirit too; a relentless onslaught of fun.

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