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theartsdesk at Bestival 2014: Full Biochemist's Report | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk at Bestival 2014: Full Biochemist's Report

theartsdesk at Bestival 2014: Full Biochemist's Report

Rob da Bank's Isle of Wight extravaganza grows ever younger but retains ability to thrill

The Port at night - lasers and raversHeader image © Dennis Dennison/Helter Skelter with lazers © Carolina Faruolo/Foals © Caitlin Mogridge/Outkast © Victor Frankowski/All other images © Finetime

Sometimes you don’t escape. Even for those of us with a sturdy frame and a good track record, every now and then, enjoying the ride means taking the pummelling.

Thus, 36 hours after Bestival I sweat saline syrup over the keys, my back muscles spasm, poisoned, the inside of my head has been scoured as if by wire wool, my throat’s caustic, wrecked, my nose drooling putrefied gunk, my lungs hacking dustbowl bellows, my hands clawed into arthritic knots, my stomach bilious, my mind overcome with an aching desire for sleep, as well as the certain knowledge that all my dreams and ambitions are but charred ruins.

Will it teach me a lesson? Not in the slightest. The law of probability dictates this must occasionally occur. To surrender would be the path to coffee, muffins, comfort, and claiming morning is “the best part of the day” Let’s leave such notions to roosters and greenhorns, and rewind the clock…

Friday 5 September

The Bestival gave me tent-space in an area called the Wild Copse. The festival website said this was a “premium camping area, nestled between a beautiful wooded forest”. Grammar aside, marketing genius is what it is. They charge those that stay here an extra £100 and it’s basically the same as the main camp sites but a lot further away from the action - and with showers. I didn’t pay, but those who did seemed thoroughly satisfied with their investment; Marks & Spencers boys and girls who use the word “literally” to emphasize every verb, and who thought it quite reasonable to sit in hour-long queues to shower every morning

bestival1As showering at festivals slowly becomes an acceptable norm for a generation, so those damned hippies who started it all disappear in the rear view mirror in a haze of body-odour-masking patchouli oil. I liked their hairy, back-to-nature attitudes but Bestival is young and growing younger. This, however, is an inclusive young. Old-timers like myself and my wingman Finetime are welcomed with wide, eager smiles and garden-of-England enthusiasm. These are Annie Mac’s people, here for homogeno-dance, 1XTRA rave, Tweet-indie, pop-cultural tribalism a distant memory. They’re good company too, as we shall see.

Finetime and I set up our tents, eat paella, drink cider, drink lager, start in on the Energizer Z, and head into the fray. The weather is sparkling crisp late summer sun, tonight cloudy warm, and Saturday night clear-skied and chillier. Walking past the Wishing Tree, a venue that looks like one of JRR Tolkien’s Ents, the site appears to have expanded. There’s plenty of room for the 50,000 in attendance and it feels that way. There are those who complain about Bestival’s corporate sponsors but the balance is mostly fine. Sure, it’s incongruous wandering into the Listerine Mouthwash tent when blonked out of your konk, as friends of ours did, but Bestival invests much of such money in glitzy décor, ambient forest fairylands and, this year, the biggest glitter ball in the world (as ruled by Guinness). In any case, our pals who wandered into the Listerine tent assure that minty mouth-swooshing only served to assist their buzz.

First on the musical menu, since we arrived mid-evening, is Disclosure on the Main Stage. I’m suspicious of them. I admire the way they’ve led the charge, bringing solid, classy, non-EDM house back to the top of the UK charts but, on the other hand, they appear a couple of passionless college boy jazz pragmatists who’ve calculated their main chance correctly. They draw a large crowd and when the bleepy tech-dub throb of “White Noise” hits it’s hard to argue.

From there we head to the Bandstand via a circuitous route through the forest. Robin Hill Country Park is a wonderful location for a festival, offering multiple weird nooks and crannies for children of all ages to play.  At the Bandstand our pals Ted Ted and BC are overseeing things. Both wear hats, one red, one grey, and a band called the Fontanas are winding up a carnival-esque set which we briefly watch before Ted Ted hauls us to his Portakabin for a state-of-the-world address over piles of Energizer Z and Jack Daniels. Why is it that catching up with friends at festivals causes such excitement? Even with those we’ve seen just a week before, when they appear in a field, it’s a cause for shrieking and celebration. Finetime and I head back down the meadowed slope, the evening now emanating an added warm sheen of narc-glow.

bestival 2We join the massed ranks for Outkast (pictured left) on the main stage after the sun has set. Around 10pm André 3000 and Big Boi duly appear, the former clad in a silver bobbed wig and a boiler suit emblazoned with “MY DAD HAD COOL ALBUMS”, and the latter touting layers, layers, layers as his fashion option, working it with a camo shorts outfit. Performing to a DJ, band-free, the pair threw themselves into a plethora of their 1990s tracks such “Skew It on the Barb-B”. The crowd bobbed along but only really came alive when the solid gold hit “Ms Jackson” arrived. This they bellowed. Finetime and I deemed the duo bubbly fun but the fact that we wandered off to see what else was going on says something. Outkast were all right.

In the Big Top La Roux was giving “In For The Kill” appealing welly but I went for cocktails at the Bollywood Lounge instead, perching at a crude wooden table and enjoying a dose of nitrous oxide and something fizzy filled with ginger beer and rum. Nitrous is everywhere, the ground littered with with shiny silver bullets. When I first came to Bestival in 2006, there was a stall legally selling nitrous from a big tank high up on the hill beyond the forest. This was a sensible way to do things. Since then the sellers have generally been student-age sorts funding their festival via the risk of sneaking in whipped cream dispensers and nitrous bullets for the rest of us to enjoy. Fair enough. This year, however, there was a change in the balloon salesperson demographic, with a rise in groups of organized south London gentlemen, some of whom were… how to put this without reeking of Daily Mail-style racism? Let’s say there were elements whose machismo posturing was not entirely in accordance with the overall Bestival mood.

bestival 3What Finetime and I really wanted from Bestival 2014 was to rave. I’ve hit a few festivals this summer but never quite thrown my arms in the air for hours on end, hypnotized by techno, techno, techno. Who better to serve that up than German don of the vinyl decks Sven Väth? At the far end of the site, where the main stage was until 2008, is The Port, a giant mock-up of a ship, its gantries and scaffolding covered in freaks, fire-breathers and dancers, a DJ at the core. Here Finetime and I went hullaballoo on Blue 1989 Love Beans for two hours, chatting with the young and high, their pupils ablaze with MDMA vavoom, making firm new friends with 22-year-old D and Charlie, as is right at a rave, while Sven, bless him, simply amped slowly from the funky chug of Damian Lazarus, who had preceded him. He took me to a bass-bounced Teuton place where the BPMs are up and the thump rules, with the endless hiss of balloons adding sonic heft to his crunchy techno. It made me shout until my voice was hoarse.

As he finished at 3am Finetime and I wandered off in search of Ted Ted, who had transferred his professional allegiances by this time to the Travelling Barn tent, which, confusingly, contains the Polka Stage, home to the sort of ska/swing/gypsy bands that are the bread ’n’ butter of Glastonbury’s far fields and, indeed, small festivals everywhere. We arrived in time to throw Energizer Z about like flour at a Fields of the Nephilim concert, while the Temple Funk Collective ramped up a sweating crowd with brass-fuelled two-step funk, culminating in a ska-tastic assault on “The Imperial March” from Star Wars.

They stopped around 4am. What happened between then and 6am, when I tumbled into my tent and passed straight out, is a matter for conjecture. I recall a place called the Boneyard, a 24-hour bar, and a lovely camp man from Newcastle in red glasses telling me at length about how his family thought he was gay but he wasn’t, and I recall dancing very badly – the Top of the Pops shuffle, indeed – with Ted Ted and Finetime to old rhythm ’n’ blues vinyl at the same venue, and I recall Jack Daniels, and I recall Energizer Z and, I recall them occurring again, and I recall Finetime laughing and laughing and laughing in the festival night…

Overleaf: Saturday and Sunday

Saturday 6 September

I am awoken at 8.30am by people WHO DON’T HAVE ANY CHILDREN loudly making a cooked breakfast. At a festival. At a festival where no bands start until midday. I am not in possession of weaponry so they still live. Next, around 9am, one of the “literally” crew starts literally telling everything about what a “literally amay-eeezing” evening he had. I literally need a light machine gun. I awake Finetime and grab wax earplugs from his supplies. He swears by these at festivals but I still recollect a Nineties Glastonbury where I woke to find Scousers rooting around under my rolled-up-towel pillow for plunder. Earplugs were a no-no then, but I must move on. Times have changed. I plug in, blot out, and sleep until two in the afternoon, crawling, at some point, into the mouth of the tent when the sun-fug starts to roast me.

I have been invited to a press lunch at the Surplus Supper Club at 3pm so Finetime and I crawl into clothes and make our way to the marquee in question. Before lunch Finetime exists on tea. Usually he will bring his own to festivals and brew up while still lucid dreaming to ensure a wake-up cuppa. He has to make do with the Surplus Supper Club version while I open a tasty – and free – bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. We sit at a table with Bestival press person Stevie, who is a sweetheart, and a group of journalists. Typically, the latter are all men of between 30 and 50, and I assume, since I’m prone to cynicism about the media, that they will all be cliquey Londoner Q mag-ish slags, but after a few glasses of red I find they’re a delightful bunch from all over. I’m momentarily ashamed of my sneering mind. Finetime has no such prejudices. It’s one of the things I like about him. He always sees the best in people.

bestival 4Surplus Supper Club is an outlet for award-winning charity Fareshare South West. This was set up by goodly souls who realised the UK food industry chucks out around four million tons of food a year. Fareshare South West grab as much of it as they can and redistribute it. This isn’t out-of-date rotting veg or the like, it’s prime material where the bar-codes are wrong, or there’s a spelling mistake on the packaging, or some such. In an example given to us by the maître d’, every pallet of Quality Street chocolates with a dented tin on it is thrown out before it’s even put on a lorry. In short, cost-cutting measures by giant corporate business mean it makes crazy sense to throw out masses of perfectly good food.

Surplus Supper Club is the pop-up restaurant front and promotional arm of this excellent organization. Read more about them here. For the assembled media they cooked up a spanking breakfast (which had sold out completely by Sunday), a gravy-rich, saliva-inducing roast dinner (mine was chicken), and topped it all off with gourmet chocolate fudge pudding. The continuing flow of red wine made the whole experience deliriously jolly until we turfed ourselves out into the afternoon sun.

Back at the tent Finetime and I reload bottles of Jack & coke which have to be sneaked in past Bestival security on the way into the main arena. This isn’t usually too hard, fortunately. I understand the principle – that we buy at the festival’s own bars – but I prefer Glasto’s free-for-all ethos. Don’t their bars still do OK? That said, today is fancy dress day, the theme is Desert Island Disco, and my costume doesn’t leave much to the imagination, let alone anywhere to stash plastic bottles of JD & coke. I am a hula lovely, although some might debate the latter word. My costume consists of a yellow grass skirt, a marijuana leaf lei, a plastic coconut bra, a silver cowboy hat and sandals; Finetime has gone for a red grass skirt, a flowery lei, a lei bra and, for reasons best known to himself, a towering Marge Simpson blue wig that reaches a foot above his head and will cause random strangers to shout, “Hey Marge,” “D’oh!”, etc, all night.

bestival 5Of course, we are the tip of a very large iceberg. The Bestival is king of the fancy dress festival experience, without doubt. In 2014 palm trees are de rigueur, the lazy wear Hawaian shirts, the crazy wear, well, the list is very, very long, but suffice to say there must have been a huge boom in cheap Hawaian-related tat in Britain these last few weeks.

Onsite we run into Finetime’s friends Sapphire and Stella who have access to the Big Top backstage where they take us for more JD & coke. Sapphire is wearing a garish white wig. We are admired and admire in return – the joys of fancy dress. They came over to the Isle of Wight on a ferry at nine this morning and have been drinking ever since. They will later consume Pupil Powder and Leary Dust until they are very, very happy and clamber onstage with Basement Jaxx at the end of their set. Right now, though, their company wish to see Wild Beasts so we head to the main Stage. Wild Beasts are a band I like the idea of but never actually listen to. Now they’re here in front of me twonking out some variety of Nitrazepam indie-funk and wailing over it falsetto, I want to escape. Fortunately Finetime agrees and we walk up to the bandstand where Ted Ted and BC are overseeing the set up of Kwabs.

“They’re very, very serious,” Ted Ted whispers, “and it’s pronounced ‘Kwarbs’ not ‘Kwabs'. If you say it wrong they don’t like it at all.” The last time I saw Ted Ted he was swaying about with hooded eyes at the Boneyard at dawn. “I got up at 4pm,” he adds. Kwabs – Kwaaaahhhhhbs - are, indeed, a serious proposition. Or rather, he is serious as the band takes its name from the young Brit singer who fronts them. They have a rep for taking their sound into post-dubstep territory but the songs I heard live showcased a proficient light R&B funk band, tight and ripe for discovery, as was evidenced by the large crowd they drew. However, they weren’t really my thing and off I went on a journey of many drinks, many boosts and many smoking stops.

Horrifically, surprise guests The Kooks drew a gigantic crowd at the Big Top. It was to be hoped they might have faded quietly and decently from view after their initial nauseating bloom of success back in 2006, but apparently this isn’t to be. They appear to be bigger than ever and a fourth album is on the horizon. London Grammar make hip downtempo electronic dinner party music which I’m not averse to but which requires more as a Main Stage draw than lead singer Hannah Reid wandering around in a Puffa jacket languidly enunciating quiet songs that would once have been called “trip hop”. Up at the Port James Blake and his 1800 Dinosaur DJ crew are playing dubsteppy, grimey dance beats which make me nod my head from side to side but not actually dance.

I’m growing restless. This will happen at festivals. It just means you haven’t found the right spot yet. Looking back, I reckon I made the mistake of chasing the previous day’s Sven Väth buzz rather than settling into a new phase. It was all sorted eventually - but not quite yet. First Finetime and I pushed our way into Feel My Bicep at the loudly and entertainingly decorated Bollywood marquee with its fluoro-Hindi chic. It’s as tropically hot and fuggy as any dance space, with a house pulse building, but we slipped away to buy a drink from the bar.

A problem has arisen today with the Bestival’s bars. They all require ID for the purchase of alcohol. When I was born, Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)” was at the top of the charts. You’d have reckoned I might be beyond ID checks. Apparently not. The issue is that the police send around underage-looking undercover officers to try and catch the bars out. If these miserable tossers are served booze, it’s serious legal trouble time for the Bestival’s licensing, thus managers have made the decision to ID everybody. This turns out to be a truly terrible idea. I’m all right. I happened to have my driving licence on me. Many do not. At Bollywood I saw the worst of it, groups of annoyed people gathering, irritated, miserable, unable to buy a drink, bubbling with not-so-suppressed rage. It created a belligerent, unpleasant, pissed-off atmosphere which was completely unnecessary. This needs sorting.

Finetime and I moved on and managed to eat a pizza which revitalized the parts mere stimulants couldn’t reach. We then headed back to The Port where Paul Woolford, the veteran Leeds DJ-producer, was keeping a crowd grooving on a liquid, organic-sounding house pulse, the best DJ I caught on Saturday. We stayed awhile, chugging about, watching the spectacle of the Port at night, the trapeze artists floating over the crowd, an angel surrounded by red-cloaked figures amid the lazers.

bestival 6Back at the Main Stage – the trekking never stops - Foals are coming to an end. They forced a complete rethink on me. Foals on record - and when I’ve caught distant glimpses of them at festivals - sound so cerebral, so cleverly estimated, indie with a brainy techno-world twist. They’ve never really hooked me in, yet the two climactic songs of their Bestival set, the only bit I saw, revealed a band I didn’t recognise and which I want more of. I must revisit those records. These are not hipster mediocrities. Lead singer-guitarist Yannis Philippakis (pictured left) is a rough-hewn, raw, bandana-wearing rock god, howling gutturally into his mic and flayling about the stage throughout penultimate number “Inhaler”. The set then ends with “Two Steps, Twice” whose African flavours are subsumed by a battering desire to rock out, with a throb in there somewhere that speaks of dance music. They are truly impressive.

So would Chicago tough-house original Green Velvet be, if it hadn’t been for Sven the night before. His jacking, acid house tech fare at the Port is all well and good but I’m in need of a change. This is to be found in the Travelling Barn. After all, much of what festivals are about is skirting the beaten track, ignoring the bands you know to see what’s causing mayhem on the fringes. When I arrive the New York Brass Band are blowing for all they’re worth. They’re from Yorkshire and they all look about 17. Their enthusiasm is catching and the music isn’t half bad either. What follows, however, is even better.

bestival 7I’ve seen the name Tankus the Henge on festival line-ups. “Great name, atypical,” I thought to myself, but had visions of an Ozric Tentacles stoner outfit or similar. I couldn’t have been further wrong (again). Tankus the Henge (pictured right and below) turn out to be a fiery, burlesque-bespattered, gypsy update on the Madness tradition of writing great pop songs with heart and meaning. Some songs, such as “Smiling Makes the Day Go Quicker” may be a touch saccharine, but in a tent full of the jumping frazzled it only raises the roof higher. Their set is a revelation, great fun but with guts and soul, and in frontman Jaz Delorean, they have a diminutive firecracker with the most rock’n’roll name this side of Trip Fontaine, his piano home to a smoke machine. The set ends with a stage invasion by the New York Brass Band who wade through the crowd playing their instruments. It’s a free-for-all, band bodies climbing over each other. I couldn’t tell you the song they finished on - perhaps it was “Recurring Dream”, a magnificent highlight of their eponymous album (which I've located since) - but it showed a band that was both wild and in utter control.

bestival 8Thrilled with Tankus the Henge, I spent the rest of the night talking with them and various of their associates. Their guitarist this evening, it turns out, is really their manager, but you’d never have known from his sturdy on-point playing and occasional Dave Gilmour flourishes. The actual guitarist has broken some bits after jumping off a tall object under the influence. Their manager told me this and other tales, explaining the arcane workings of the steam-punk scene which his band sometimes get lumped in with. We chatted into the night in a Portakabin backstage, while Portuguese festival wreckers El Gadzé kept things jumping with their hectic Afro-Balkan brew. Shady figures stood by the sink discussing a package of white powder they’d found, wondering what it was, what it might do, and whether they should take it. I wish I could have taped the earnest discussion. Can you guess what the result was? Of course you can. Thus ends this night.

Sunday 7 September

Arising today, the weight of deeds done presses down upon my brow, my kidneys, my spleen and all else. The heat is close. The “literally” people are still outside their tent. One of them is dressed as a pirate but his twentysomething features are untrammelled by outward signs of alcohol or substance use. This is surely not right. Or maybe it is. It’s hard to say, as the sun beats down. For reasons too tedious to relate I must leave today. Finetime wants to hook up with Sapphire and Stella for a lunchtime drink and chat. This sounds good, although I’m all for getting out before I hear too many people talking about what they’re looking forward to, excitedly, on this, the climactic day of Bestival, headlined by Chic and fireworks.

We walk past Reggaerobics on the Reggae Roots Stage then find Mr Motivator on the Main Stage. After yesterday’s excesses it seems Bestival folk are keen on the notion of keeping fit. Despite a sprained ligament in his knee Mr Motivator is leading a sizeable crowd through their paces as if it were GMTV circa 1993. I eat a sausage and a bowl of potato and bacon slop, bought from a stall. I drink a Tuborg top. Tuborg! Eternal Bestival bar favourite. Will they ever sort that out?

The final thing I see at Bestival 2014 is Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, the London hillbilly rocker family band, with Kitty and Daisy dressed in black and silver catsuits. They’re great, as they always are, but I can only feel my imminent departure weighing on me. Finetime and I clink plastic cups of red wine with Sapphire and Stella. We hug. They commiserate, and then we’re gone.

I carry in my system the biochemical overload of my undoing, leading to this report appearing 15 hours later than it should have done. For that I can only apologise. I had a bit of a bit of a late one. I think I might coming down with something. The usual crap people never stop with when they’ve overdone it. Or how about “I ache in the places where I used to play,” as Laughin’ Len Cohen put it more poetically for the older hedonist. Whatever, summer’s gone. That’s no melancholic metaphor. Summer 2014 has passed, concluded by the Bestival in its usual colourful, ravey explosion of pizzazz. It’s been fantastic. Time to recharge batteries, hibernate, and burn like phosphorus, come summer 2015.

Sven Väth took me to a bass-bounced Teuton place where the thump rules, with the endless hiss of balloons adding sonic heft to his crunchy techno

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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