Not since Camp Bestival 2012 have I found myself inside the green, steely perimeter which temporarily surrounds Dorset’s Lulworth Estate not once, but now twice a year. And doubtless like the many progenitors who’ve since witnessed their offspring graduate from that to this – this being Freshers’ Week Redux; better known as Bestival – certain campsite antics disappoint: think Reading Festival’s notoriously trashy Yellow Camping, with cans of underage Stella Artois interchanged with omnipresent nitrous oxide canisters underfoot, and 2C-B (and worse) replacing knock-off MDMA.
Arriving rather later than anticipated on the Friday night, thus missing Romare in the process, we’re presented with a pretty eye-opening experience; one during which it’s difficult not to feel for the mock castle sat amidst a mêlée that is at once alien to its 17th-century exterior. But provided ears remain open and the campsites are revisited infrequently, relative successes are several…
With his sophomore full-length Wake Up Now released this very morning, Nick Mulvey’s parents are surely considerably more proud of theirs than those aforesaid on today of all days. And while there are two qualms with this latest suite (1. a fair bit of creative regurgitation has taken place, with Unconditional almost indecipherably similar to Nitrous and Mountain To Move likewise with Cucurucu, and 2. the whole SOAS shtick is taken a few steps too far at times, most notably on Transform Your Game (We Remain), during which he’ll firmly assert: “I won’t study war no more”), there’s a suitably triumphant feeling to tonight; not least when so barn- or, rather, tent-storming a singalong prompts a, well, prompt restart to Cucurucu. The totally appropriate Nitrous follows suit, its every line bellowed right back at him with breathless necessity, before Fever To the Form is afforded the sort of psychedelic overhaul that instantly recontextualises the kaleidoscopic sleeve – evocative of that which clothes Goat’s World Music – to today’s release. And his steadfast confidence in Wake Up Now is made immediately evident by his electing to close his set with Mountain To Move: the sentiment that “this world is unravelling” may be removed from “realness” by its facile simplicity, but as a commendable peddler of simpler pleasures, Mulvey really does make it – and by that, Bestival – a much better place.
Less pleasant is the field in front of The Castle Stage, where beglittered, gurning butchers run amok. And making a mockery of Crystallised, meanwhile, are Friday night headliners The xx, with Romy Madley Croft’s guitar out of both tune and time. Her vocals sound discernibly wizened by the disintegrating summer months, so incessant has their self-confessedly globe-trotting tour schedule been this year thus far, but together, they pull through. Say Something Loving admittedly sounds distant, lacking in the lustrous intimacy that Jamie Smith (who makes a few missteps of his own this evening) brings to it on record, while Islands seems aurally threadbare by comparison. So it takes for a breathtaking take on I Dare You to bring the butchers et al. back onside: it’s testament to the strength of the song itself – and so too to the band’s ability to not only reconsider, but so too daringly restructure their work – that even with the bpm unexpectedly bumped down a fair bit, and its rhythmic components written off altogether, it shines brightest. Thereafter, an outro reminiscent of labelmate Adele’s Hometown Glory precedes a rendition of Performance that is totally punctured by the decompression of canisters and a[nother] wrong note; Madley Croft’s “worst nightmare.”
However, it’s from hereon in that The xx are at their absolute best: for while Smith and Oliver Sim watch on, the former gazing on intently and the latter sat down awestruck, they’ll subsequently take turns to (at least proverbially) take centre stage. “Things ain’t worked out my way,” Sim wryly smoulders on the Chris Isaak-slash-Supermode-aping Infinity, while atop pulsing super-club bloops, A Violent Noise is all his. Madley Croft’s candid kitchen sinking on Brave For You is both idiosyncratic and captivating too, but ultimately, it’s Smith who orchestrates more or less throughout; and the night seemingly builds up to his climactic last salvo. And so as Shelter takes on a newly refreshed form, lasers perforating a blackened, uncompromising sky as they collaborate with his jittering synths, we at last have lift-off. Loud Places, the perfect foil, then follows, before On Hold demonstrates just how far they’ve come – and how different a proposition they’ve become – since Smith went solo with In Colour. From its enigmatically mangled Hall & Oates sample, to Sim’s bass line about which the whole thing orbits, to Madley Croft’s ingénue coos, it’s the sound of absolute synergy; and it’s absolutely scintillating.
And such is Smith’s newfound omnipotence in fields such as this, that subsequently, Joe Goddard’s blobby, globular electro-pop makes out like the baton has been not so much passed, as dropped into the quagmire the JägerHaus has already become. Indeed, if this Music Is the Answer, I dread to think what the question could be…
The answer to the legions of male grime artists meanwhile – and the finest thing to have come out of Croydon since Foxbase Alpha – is Nadia Rose, whose incendiary set on The Castle Stage opens a few eyes and ears likewise. Backpacked, and to quote a kitsch Station, she may look as though she’s “on the go,” but going places, “the champ is here” alright. Which is probably a more complimentary adjective than can be applied to Danny Brown’s slimy MDMAnecdotes, the dime-store André 3000 spitting tedious stuff throughout. But he’s no outcast on Bestival’s hip hop-heavy Saturday, and some of this would have maybe been better scattered that bit more liberally across the rest of the weekend. As such, Fatman Scoop – who’s seemingly revived his career as a kind of cut-rate, retrograde disc jockey, much like (comparatively) local lad Craig David – captains the HMS Bestival for 45 minutes inexplicably sprinkled with such chicken-headed dross as I Predict a Riot.
Far more likely to inspire that sort of uproar, then, is Dizzee Rascal, who’s sneakily collected together rather more than his fair share of scampish hits, but it’s Consequence, Q-Tip, Jarobi White and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad who hit it right out Lulworth Park with the indefatigable thew of a Didi Gregorius or an Aaron Judge. Their “last show as A Tribe Called Quest, ever”, it serves not only as a fitting send-off to one of hip hop’s most consistent outfits, the likes of Excursions and Oh My God coming thick as mud and mad-fast, but so too to the late Phife Dawg. A mic stand dominates centre stage, his beaming visage spread across a bluish sky beyond, as The Space Program – from final album, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service – kicks off proceedings. Albeit released only last year, it stands both up to scrutiny and proudly alongside so many songs recorded long before some in attendance were even born, Q-Tip’s recalling “the days when I was a teenager” (Excursions) bringing this into true focus. And while Can I Kick It? – notoriously sampling another late great – continues to kick up a right storm, that We the People…. soundtracks kicking-out time (and does so several times against an ingratiating Union Jack backdrop) goes to show they’ve still got something to give, and seemingly know so, too.
By contrast, Josh Davis’ eternally self-congratulatory trash never really emerges from the shade left in A Tribe Called Quest’s rip-curling wake. Of course, DJ Shadow has repeatedly sampled Q-Tip & Co. (The Number Song, for one, featured elements of Can I Kick It?), and his début album Endtroducing – now of legal drinking age, even in Davis’ native States – was released around the time when the ’Tribe were still at their peak. Yet whereas his East Coast counterparts sounded relevant and revitalised tonight, despite plundering last year’s The Mountain Will Fall for the most part, his sound comes across as irrelevant and devitalised. And with the only material taken from his seminal début mushed into a congested, evanescent medley, here’s hoping Davis shan’t be celebrating its 22nd birthday this time next year…
Back to this one though, and to Bestival’s Sunday, which is blighted by such gusty winds that the site is momentarily shut, punters told in no uncertain terms that it “won’t be opening again today.” (“Two pills [dropped] for nothing!” laments a more vocal complainant.) Hurricane Irma it ain’t, obviously, although those who got to frot the inflatable bit of male anatomy inside the so-called ‘Happy Kanye’ can count themselves lucky, as this – along with The World’s Biggest Bouncy Castle – is, perhaps aptly, deflated posthaste.
Once we’re back up and running again, Soulwax’ choice of attire – bright white lab coats – may look ill-advised, although their modular syntheses are just the tonic to an afternoon’s gin-heavy revelry. It goes without saying that the ‘Soulwax Transient Program For Drums and Machinery’ rebrand is something of a downgrade on Nite Versions and such like, but it may yet prove to be just that: transient. Regardless, bolstered for the time being by not one, nor two, but three drummers, and equipped with Miserable Girl, NY Excuse, and a most topical E Talking, there is real brawn to this brainier of shows. And, standing in “because Justice didn’t show up,” it doesn’t take the sharpest of tools in The Box to unpack precisely who were the clear lynchpins of mid-oughties electro all along.
Later, belonging to a time even longer ago, are the Pet Shop Boys, whose status as a bona fide ‘Singles Band’ is solidified during 90 minutes that are, if neither super nor actually all that electrifying, pleasing enough. The point at which Neil Tennant incidentally juxtaposes the two exclamations, “Bestival!” and “Money!” when introducing 1985 single Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) inextricably links the two pseudo-synonyms; the impression that he and Chris Lowe – who, together, look not dissimilar to the sorts of sexagenarian curmudgeons so commonly sighted at the Emirates Stadium – are more or less still in it for that, and that alone, persists also. It’s not to say that, say, Burn, Inner Sanctum or The Pop Kids are wan nor washed-out, nor that the enduring duo are washed-up, but they’re rehashes of former glories. And when those are glories that a certain Scouser in an adjacent tent has mistaken for Surfin’ U.S.A., etc. you’ve got to question whether this “Sodom and Gomorrah show” really is the most appropriate place for them to be playing these days.
But in the coming ones, Bestival will likely continue to make headlines for reasons that seemed unthinkable as Tennant and Lowe’s sublime reworking of Always On My Mind rang out, to be followed only by another of Bestival’s legendary finales. ‘We’ve got four days of partying ahead so we all need to look after each other and our surroundings’, wrote Rob da Bank in his programme notes. ‘It’s a new start on a new site and we’ve got the chance to make a statement about how we do things, so we’d be eternally grateful for your help to keep the Lulworth Estate as beautiful as it is right now’ they continued. But with the overriding hue from this ‘Year of Colour’ a grubby brown, the word on the (impenetrably muddy) ground was that due to the mess that was made, the festival looks fairly unlikely to return to Lulworth this time next year.
Which is a shame for all concerned; not least da Bank who, given his ceaseless attention to detail, had – along with Annie Mac – hand-numbered each and every piece of confetti loaded into The World’s Biggest Confetti Cannon. But some basic oversights – relocating from one wuthering, highly undulating site to another, for a festival taking in place in mid-September, doesn’t seem to be totally logical; nor does neglecting to lay down woodchip and whatnot until brown has overwhelmed green entirely – ensured Lulworth Estate certainly wasn’t left in the same state as when it was found. However, there remains a chasmic disconnect between da Bank’s vision for Bestival – a polychromic Utopia, where people actually ‘look after each other’, as opposed to selling them virulent pills; a cornucopia of ‘vegan and vegetarian-friendly’ food, drink, goodwill and what have you – and its altogether more dystopian actuality: ‘less litter, more eco-glitter’ rings the new mantra, a weight equivalent to that of 111 elephants having been sent to landfill after last year’s festival, yet come Monday, the campsites resemble those of Richfield Avenue several weeks prior; ‘Increase Peace’ is written on every wristband, and yet premature reports of a suspected ‘murder’ circulate no more than a mere matter of hours after the event. Herein lie the headlines, and for many, the first they will have heard of the festival. And it is this most negative ‘statement’ for which this latest edition at least will be remembered, known and renowned; not for one of the summer’s more inclusive line ups, with perhaps its most diversified audience. And so, although we’ve been spared Red Funnel’s Vomit Comet service en route to Robin Hill Country Park, perhaps the bash was best off on the Isle of Wight after all…