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Playback: Camp Bestival 2021

After months of missing out on live music and so much uncertainty for the music industry, Camp Bestival returned to Lulworth Castle to kick off the music festival season in the UK.

Sure, it’s a family focused festival, but it’s also a place where you can tap into your inner child. Across the weekend we were able to experience a wide range of activities, food and live music. From performances by some of the UKs best artists including Groove Armada, Fatboy Slim, The Cuban Brothers, Norman Jay, David Rodigan, Jaguar Skills and Georgia to stand up comedy, theatre, circus, talks, an Inflatable Church and The World’s Biggest Bouncy Castle, Camp Besitval has something to offer everyone.

There was so much to do and see at Camp Bestival that I would have to write a book to fully cover it all. Instead, I’ve picked out the ten best things I think happened at Camp Bestival this year (in no particular order)

Georgia in the Big Top

The highlight in the Big Top for me was Georgia Barnes (daughter of left field Neil Barnes) on Friday evening. The stage setup consisted of a standup drum kit with a simple neon hexagon erected behind. For a one-woman-band, her performance packs a punch that can carry a whole crowd. And there is something about a drum-playing singer that makes you want to get up and dance.

Sound Bathing

When a friend suggested that I should go have a sound bath in the YONI Sound Cafe, I was hesitant. Images of sitting in an outdoor hot tub with waterproof headphones on came to mind. Then when I was told that it had nothing to do with actual water — it included a live choir that sings to you while you sit in the middle of a circle with your eyes closed — my hesitancy increased.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Sounds a bit too… crunchy granola.”

But boy was I wrong. This was by far one of my favorite things to do at Camp Bestival. The concept was simple: you select one word from a menu of Adjectives and another word from a menu of Nouns. The YONI choir then goes away for a minute or two to discuss your unique choice before inviting you into the circle to be bathed.

Once you have made yourself comfortable on the various rugs and blankets laid out in the circle, the choir set up around the perimeter with a magenta cloth to close you in. You close your eyes, and a one-of-a-kind audio experience is created.

Look… at this point… as I’m writing this, I know how silly this all sounds. But I’m telling you, it was deeply enjoyable. Perhaps part of it was that the wonderful team at YONI weren’t taking themselves too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, they were supremely talented vocalists — there was no doubt in my mind that they were a professional choir with the way the harmonized and worked as one to create a fully improvised piece. But there was no worthiness to it all which might have made it feel a bit too high-brow. It was totally down to earth and a fantastic exhibition of creativity and talent with the aim of making you smile. Sure you could retreat inward and it could be insightful, but it was more than that. It was a shared experience that needed no drugs, just the power of people.

Okay okay, maybe that’s not doing it justice either. Perhaps a better example is the little things like the “Menu Board” which advertised adjectives and nouns that were “Sold Out.” Did you come to order a Spicy Volcano? I’m afraid we’ve sold out of volcano today. Perhaps you would like to order something from our “Specials Board?” (Yes, they had a specials board).

Perhaps none of this is doing the experience justice, and you just need to hear it for yourself. Our group arrived at the YONI Sound Cafe just as they were adding Peanut to their menu. So we ordered a “Bouncy Peanut” and entered the circle:

The “Bouncy Peanut” sound bath

CBD Cocktails

After some full-on nights of raving it up on the grass-covered dance floor, sometimes you just want to refocus and chill. For those sunny afternoons before the night pulls its veil of entertainment over you again, there is time to pause and take in the experience a little. Sure, you could enjoy the daytime with pints of lager, but I’ve discovered a new way — CBD cocktails.

CBD has been on the peripheral of my consciousness for a while now — I would see it in advertisements or in an oil at the supermarket, or in a drink — but I’ve never really been curious about it. You could also be sure to hear about it at most music festivals in the last five years. At Secret Garden Party I sat in on an hour-long talk about the benefits of CBD when used on patients going through cancer treatment. But it all seemed very scientific and not applicable to my daily life.

But then I stumbled upon the InTune CBD truck at Camp Bestival on sunny afternoon and my curiosity was piqued. Serving cocktails with a CBD infused mixer, InTune’s mission is to help you find focus in distracted world. I’ve heard of CBD before, and I know it’s related to the marijuana plant in some way, but I’ve always been skeptical. Then I had one of these delicious cocktails and asked the bartender a few questions and my mind was changed. In fact, CBD (unlike THC) does not get you high. It affects something called your inner cannabinoid system (whatever that is). Rather than being a total out-of-body experience, it just gives you a general feeling of well-being. And that is exactly what you need after a night of partying. It helps that the InTune bartenders know how to stir up a delicious cocktail.

And there was always an interesting conversation or new person to meet whenever you paid a visit to the CBD van.

David Rodigan in the Bollywood Tent

The best show in the Bollywood Tent this year (and there were many to choose from) had to be David Rodigan’s set. The show crossed reggae and dancehall with a bit of drum and bass and a whole lot of good vibes. Mix that with a high energy set from start to finish and you are onto a good night out.

The secret to the show’s success for me was a combination of well-know tunes with the fact that this legendary reggae selector was still giving it large on stage. Rodigan is nearly 70 years old and to see him bouncing around the stage like a teenager while he reaches back to mix and continuously MCs is something behold.(Just look at him bounce around on stage in the video above! It’s amazing!) It’s enough to get anyone out of their seat and dance.

DJ BBQ

Bestival has always been known for its combination of good music and good food. The headline acts appearing on each year’s lineup are what convince you to buy tickets to the festival, but the selection of food always confirm that it was a good idea.

DJ BBQ put these two ideas together in a theatrical performance version of outdoor cooking. Each day they spit roast a large piece of meat — a cows leg, a rack of ribs, a whole pig. Over the long period of slow roasting the meat, they play music and MC their cooking practices. It is a theatrical operation; each player on stage plays his part from the man operating the smokers to the man basting the spit roasted meat with an entire keg of beer. That’s right, an entire keg of beer. You would be queueing up for a pulled pork sandwich and just there to your left there would be a bearded technician wearing a cowboy hat and a leather apron who would just picked up an entire keg of beer and poor it nonchalantly over the piece of cooking meat.

This is a food stall that appeals to all of your senses with smells, sights and sounds as well as flavors. It builds anticipation for the food you are about to consume. The line for this food truck was more than a 45 min wait. But no one minded much; they had a show to keep them entertained and smells to whet their appetites. And I think most would agree that once you did sit down with your plate of BBQ, it made the food taste just a little bit better.

Axe Throwing

Yes, there was fucking axe throwing at Camp Bestival this year! And I missed it. I heard rumors that it was there — real people throwing real axes at an unlucky target — but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Each day I learned another clue of where it might be, but the location always alluded me. From the peaceful quiet of Dingley Dell, to the hustle of Caravanserai, I traveled up and down the festival site in search of this world of lumberjack savagery. Then, on the last day as I was walking to the exit, there on my left side was a tiny stand advertising “Axe Throwing.” It was shut.

High Wire Walking

There is something about witnessing a death-defying walk along a high-wire that still appeals to your sense of adventure. It taps into the same sort of exhilaration you get from watching a live DJ …just in a more quiet, nail biting sort of way.

There was a show each night, but the performance on Saturday was particularly moving. It wasn’t just the people walking across the wire, but there was a whole theatrical performance choreographed to music that gave you something to watch at any moment. At one point towards the end, that included two tight-rope walkers tensely traversing the wire together; one of the walkers had unclipped his safety rope to increase the drama. There was no safety net below either. Call me old fashioned, but that sort of bravery and commitment to your craft just doesn’t exist anymore.

Mexican Seoul

Speaking of commitment to your art, the founder of a new Mexican-Korean feel good street food restaurant called Mexican Seoul was a shining example. The story of Mexican Seoul started with its creator Ashely deciding to quit his job in the city and start following his passion to cook. From his testing recipes in his kitchen to winning a few awards for his wings and people clamoring to open up a permanent restaurant… I think he’s doing pretty well

On the very first day I had arrived at the festival there was rumor of a food stand that combined Korean street food into the form of a Mexican taco. And the wings. Korean BBQ wings. They were a must have.

When I finally discovered the location of the stand, I promptly introduced myself to three tacos, and a plate of wings. It was easily the best food I’d had at the festival that weekend, but comparing it to festival food is probably selling it short. It was probably the best food I’ve had in the UK this summer so far.

I’m no food critic, so I won’t do this justice, but trust me — the combination of fresh Mexican flavors like cilantro, guacamole and lime combined with the comforting blanket of the Korean flavor palette, is something of a triumph in your mouth. It’s soulful and refreshing with just a bit of spice to keep it interesting. And the wings… the sticky crunchy wings that mix sweet and savoury with a hint of sesame take an American tradition to the Asian continent in such a satisfying way. In fact, the wings have already won awards at London’s Wing Fest this year, so it’s not just me saying so.

Mexican Seoul has been seen serving food in a food cart in the Truman Brewery by Brick Lane if you want to try it for yourself.

This Guy

Late into Saturday evening we came across this wizard of festival light in the Star Gazey Bar. I’m not sure what was behind his sorcery, but it looked like he was whipping hundreds of LED strings to the rhythm of the beat.

After watching the video back on my phone days later, I thought it almost looked like the light show was added to the video after the fact with some sort of special effects. In that way, the performance mixed analogue reality with an almost surreal digital overlay.

It was mezmerizing.

Lighting a Castle on fire for Fatboy Slim’s Birthday

Norman Cook — the man behind Fatboy Slim — turned 58 at Camp Bestival this year. To celebrate, the organizers decided to turn Lulworth Castle into a giant birthday cake just after Cook’s headline set.

I’m always impressed by Fatboy Slim’s live set. The first time I saw him play I expected him to play all his hits (which are a bit too commercial for what I’m looking for in a festival setting). I was pleasantly surprised to experience something leaning more towards the rolling bass techno set that hits you right in the chest. Every so often he would sample a few seconds of one of his hit singles to set the crowd wild… only to drop back into the minimalist techno and deep house again.

This was the case with his set this year. And just after the show finished, a few people started singing “Happy Birthday” as Cook clapped goodnight to the crowd. The tune was taken up by the rest of the crowd in a wave of song until everyone was joining in. And to punctuate the celebration, Lulworth Castle erupted into a mass of fireworks like a giant birthday cake just behind the main stage.

What a terrific way to mark the moment and end the night.