Playback: Bestival 2015
Bestival was another huge success this year. Since Bestival occurs in September, it has become a sort of celebration of the end of festival season. This is everyone’s last chance to enjoy a little live music and outdoor fun for the summer and Bestival always delivers a fantastic send off.
This year we were lucky to have a packed line-up of seasoned veterans like Duran Duran, Missy Elliot, The Jackson 4, Jurrasic 5, Underworld and the Chemical Brothers mixed with a variety of popular artists including Mark Ronson, Jamie xx, Flying Lotus, Gabrielle Aplin, Tame Impala and Annie Mac.
Day 1: Thursday, Sept 10th[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Gosh.mp3,https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Underworld_-_Scribble_Radio_Edit_mp3.mp3|titles=Thursday Mix: Jamie xx – Gosh, Underworld – Scribble]
Bestival on a Thursday is my favorite day in some ways. It’s the least busiest day; most of the venues are easy to get into and you don’t have to push and shove to get to the front of the stage. Tent city is still being formed; the way people work together to create a patchwork of tents fit into a mostly unmarked space is interesting. There isn’t pre-drawn spots to put your tent but somehow everyone fits and the small sailcloth city that rises out of the ground is incredible. Flags are erected to proclaim national pride, some tents are haphazardly combined to create larger tents and a mini party starts to form in each area.
Perhaps the best part about arriving to the festival early is that you are able to see how the organizers set up the event before the area is put to the test by thousands of ticket holders. Most of the venues were in the same spot as in previous years but there were a few new things to see since the last time I traveled to Robin Hill Park. Firstly, there was the largest disco ball I had ever seen sitting near the entrance of the campsites. I’m not joking. It is, in fact, the largest disco ball in the world according to The Guinness book of world records. There were also some new additions that gave a nod to the Summer of Love theme this year: A peace and love commune, a giant fire burning daisy and loads of hippie inspired food stalls.
However, the most important benefit of arriving to Bestival early is that you get to see more music. Ultimately, it’s about the music. The must see acts that first night were Jamie xx and Underworld.
I got to the Big Top early to get a good spot for when Jamie came on and was barraged by the sounds of Dean Blunt. Well, I say sounds but it was more the light show that did the barraging. I’ve been to a few shows in my day and I’ve seen a couple of intensely awesome light shows on stage, but this setup was just intense. It was made even more intense by the fact that Dean Blunt’s style is relatively laid back and hip hop inspired. The light show, however, would suggest that Dean Blunt was a hardcore German techno-witch-doctor.
In any case, I managed to make it through the light show without having a seizure and secured myself a terrific spot in front of the stage for Jamie xx.
Jamie started off the set with some old funk and soul records (which seems to be a theme with high profile DJs these days). It certainly got the crowd moving but as soon as he played an XX song or a new song of his album the crowd went mental. The show became a kind of gentle roller coaster ride in that sense, rising to peaks during his organs music and then gently coming down during the soul music only to be lifted up again when the smoke machines came back on and he played a song everyone knew. “Loud places” was one of the high points of the set but there was something about seeing “Gosh” performed live. The track is a slow burner. An old school drum and bass MC quietly yells “oh my gosh” as the percussion grows. It’s not the bass that gives you the drop like you would typically expect however. The melody is the star in this song and it builds to a crescendo before opening up to give you a huge release. It’s a fantastic contrast to most popular music and dub step that relies so heavily on a bass drop these days. It’s more positive. Uplifting.
That was the highlight of the show for me. It wasn’t the last time Bestival heard that track either. The sample was picked up and played all weekend in all types of formats. It’s sure to be something we will hear a lot more of next festival season.
Jamie xx – Gosh
Underworld came on after Jamie in the Big Top and you can imagine the crowd that it attracted. The fact that they have been playing for over thirty years now is a testament to how talented and prolific Underworld is. It’s amazing how a track as nostalgic as “Cow Girl” or “King of Snake” can take you back. It was a terrific way to end the first night in Bestival
Underworld – Scribble
Day 2: Friday, Sept 11th[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Gabrielle_Aplin_-_The_Power_of_Love.mp3,https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Whats-Golden.mp3,https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/03-flying-lotus-massage-situation.mp3,https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/09-Elephant.mp3|titles=Friday Mix: Gabrielle Aplin – The Power of Love, Jurassic 5 – Whats Golden, Flying Lotus – Massage Situation, Tame Impala – Elephant]
After Thursday night’s dancing and fun, the weekly commute and general hustle of city life was now forgotten. It was officially the weekend and I was ready to consume as much festival food, festival drinking and festival music as humanly possible.
The acts that I had on my must-see list today were Jurrasic 5, Flying Lotus, Tame Impala and Seth Troxler. However! …nothing was going to happen before I had myself some breakfast and woke up a bit. I thought that the best course of action was to head over to the kaleidoscope stage and get involved in the Euphoric Fitness hour (Euphoric Fitness is essentially a morning rave disguised as an 80s aerobic class). And when I say “get involved,” I mean “stand along the edges of the crowd and watch a bunch of nutcases in spandex do physical stuff while I drink a beer and eat a bacon sandwich.” It’s very entertaining.
With breakfast complete, I headed over to catch Gabrielle Aplin on the main stage. It was the first time I would see Aplin live and I was keen to see if her performance would stand up to her recordings. There is always a fear that musicians who become popular via the Internet won’t be able to carry their charisma over to their live show, but Aplin was a delight on Friday afternoon.
[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Gabrielle_Aplin_-_The_Power_of_Love.mp3|titles= The Power of Love]
Gabrielle Aplin – The Power of Love
The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around Robin Hill Park to see Lianne La Havas, Charlie XCX, and some smaller performances. At around 7, it was time to get in front of the main stage to see Jurrasic 5.
I had seen J5 perform nearly 15 years ago in the US so I knew it was going to be a good show. I was expecting it to be slightly less energetic given the average age of the band now but BOY, was I wrong.
The center piece on stage was a giant record player. On either side were DJ booths for Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark. There was a short DJ introduction with the expected scratching and mixing but when Chali 2na took the stage, it was like J5 hadn’t missed a beat.
In a time when hip-hop and rap is primarily a bling and dick swinging contest, it is always refreshing to hear from a group that helped originate the sound of hip-hop back in the 90s. The message is always positive with Jurassic 5, and the music is fit for a house party. All of their singles sounded just as fresh as they were 20 years ago.
Last time I saw them live, Cut Chemist came out on stage with a portable turntable connected to his waist so that he could perform a breakdown while running around on stage. It was like nothing I had seen before.
This time around they’d added a few more elements like that to the show including a scratch off between Nu-Mark and cut chemist with the portable turntables. They also had a bunch of gadgets that where hooked up to beat makers that they could carry around on stage. A giant wall of records: each record was a different size. When Nu-Mark would tap one of the records it would make a certain sound. And yes…at one point the giant J5 record on stage started spinning and everyone took a turn at giving it a scratch.
There’s just no way you can walk away from a Jurrasic 5 show without feeling good.
[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Whats-Golden.mp3|titles= What’s Golden]
Jurassic 5 – What’s Golden
After Jurrasic 5, I headed over to the Big Top to catch the last half of Action Bronson’s spectacle of a show. Through the cigar smoke, I could faintly make out the large man on stage snarling profanities and slinging general lyrical smack down. I know his live show is “amazing” by all accounts, but I just wasn’t feeling it after the uplifting J5 show.
I retreated back to the main stage to catch another artist I’ve been hoping to see live for a while: Flying Lotus.
Flying Lotus has a chilled out soul inspired sound that is very suitable for a lot of situations including: lounging, maxing, relaxing, sipping on cocktails in a trendy underground bar and of course… general chilling. I was quite interested to see how that type of music would translate into a live show.
On stage was a hexagonal type scrim with projections lighting up the surface. When Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus) climbed the stage and entered his hexagonal DJ booth space-ship, lighting bolts began to project from the floor. I knew I was in for something a little bit darker and more intense then originally expected.
[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/03-flying-lotus-massage-situation.mp3|titles= Massage Situation]
Flying LotusMassage Situation
I caught a bit of the Duran Duran show but there wasn’t really much to say about it. I was more excited to get back to the Big Top to see Tame Impala play. They blew me away at Lollapalooza a few years ago and I was ready to recreate the experience in England. I only got to the edge of the tent before the set started and there was already a crush of people. It was kind of fortunate actually. Tame Impala have such a big stadium sound that seeing it from afar you are able to take in the crowd as part of the experience. At one point there were flares and lights and it was just very fucking exciting.
With spirits running high and blood alcohol levels at their peak, I decided it was time to get involved with some serious dance music created by Seth Troxler as he captained the H.M.S. Bestival. More on the H.M.S. Bestival later but all you need to know right now is that Seth took me into the small hours of the night with a smile on my face.
Day 3: Saturday, Sept[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/House_Of_Pain_-__Jump_Around__Official_Music_Video.mp3,https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Platoon.mp3,https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Annie_Macs_Sunshine_Mix_part.1.mp3,https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Block-Rockin-Beats.mp3,https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Airglow-Fires.mp3|titles=Saturday Mix: House of Pain – Jump Around,Jungle – Platoon,Annie Max – Sunshine Mix Part 1, The Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin Beats, Lone – Airglow Fires]
Unlike Thursday or Friday, Saturday presents you with a few problems:
A) it’s the busiest day of the festival so getting into venues needs to be planned out.
B) there are way too many acts playing in one day and you have to resolve yourself to the fact that you won’t be able to see them all
C) you are usually hungover as fuck because of the previous two days of fun
There were a few goals for tonights festival consumption. Last night I learned that there was a secret bar called “The Blind Tiger” somewhere on the grounds. That needed to be found. There was also some must-see music on the schedule: Toddla T, Jungle, Erol Alkan, Annie Mac, Mura Masa, Future Islands, Rob Da Bank, Duke Dumont, Hudson Mohawke and of course, The Chemical Brothers. I knew it would not be possible to see it all, but I thought I would give it my best shot.
Traditionally, Saturday at Bestival is the fancy dress day. This year’s theme was The Summer of Love and I wasn’t about to slack off on this decidedly American theme. Hippies, flower-power, drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll… these are the things we had to work with. My plan? Wrap my self in a giant American flag and call it a day.
Some other great costumes included:
- An aggressively iridescent penis
- The cast of Sesame Street
- A bunch of inflatable instrument playing flowers
- Two very well-hung Scotsmen (not sure how that fit the theme but they had big dicks hanging below their kilts …so that was fun)
- Hippie Jesus
- The U.S. Space team (including a captured alien)
However… the award needs to go to a group of guys in giant inflatable penis suits. Complete with little inflatable balls by their feet. Once you’ve seen a giant crowd surfing inflatable penis, you’ve seen it all. Pictured here is one of the dicks getting hoisted up by his dickhead friends to get a better view… priceless.
As far as the music was concerned it was time to head over to the Main Stage where the special guest was just announced: House of Pain. Those two guys put on a great show in the sunshine. Of course “Jump Around” was the last song of the set, and there wasn’t a single person in front of the stage that didn’t get airborne.
[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/House_Of_Pain_-__Jump_Around__Official_Music_Video.mp3|titles= Jump Around]
House of Pain – Jump Around
Caught a bit of Toddla T over at The Port and saw some of the Little Dragon set as well. Jungle was set to play the main stage followed by Annie Mac and so it was important to get in front for that one.
The first time I heard Jungle was through some of their amazing YouTube videos. Every video features some incredible choreography, dancing or both. Their sound just lends itself to dancing and everyone in the crowd agreed. It felt like there was a house party going on in front of the stage and I was happy to be in the middle of it.
[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Platoon.mp3|titles=Jungle – Platoon]
Jungle – Platoon
The dance party continued with Annie Mac behind the wheels. Her stage show was in the same vein as her famous Friday-night radio show: good vibes + great music. The stage was filled with neon palm trees and beach balls and Annie had everyone in the crowd raving.
[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Annie_Macs_Sunshine_Mix_part.1.mp3|titles=Annie Mac – Sunshine Mix Part 1]
Annie Mac – Sunshine Mix Part 1
After Annie, there was an intermission before Saturday night’s headliner: The Chemical Brothers. I took the opportunity to refill my beer and check out the Diesel, “only the brave” stage. It’s an ingenious concept on the part of Diesel.
Here’s how it works: Anyone can sign up to go up on stage and DJ in front of the massive crowd….you just need to be brave enough to do it. There was a long queue on stage but each new DJ stepped up and dropped a track. It made for an eclectic mix but it was fun to cheer on the underdog.
The Chemical Brothers were up next. I’ll try not to get all emotional on you at this point but I remember when I bought my first Chemical Brothers CD (remember CDs?). “Dig Your Own Hole” was an album I listened to a lot of in the 90s and early 2000s. Seeing them live again was fantastic. Hearing “Block Rockin Beats” and “Setting Sun” performed by the British duo in their home country was special. It was also pretty inspiring because it felt like nearly everyone at the festival was in front of that stage.
[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Block-Rockin-Beats.mp3|titles= Block Rockin’ Beats]
The Chemical Brothers – Block Rockin’ Beats
After The Chemical Brothers set, I noticed that the two frontmen from Jungle were playing a DJ set in the Jägerhaus and I couldn’t find any reason not to pop into that.
The Jägerhaus was an alpine inspired affair made of wood and shaped like a super modern ski chalet. There were all kinds of Jägermiester based drinks on hand of course and a few sculptures made entirely out of forest green Jäger bottles.
To get in, you must enter a wooden tunnel that opens up onto a bar in the back. To the right of the bar was a door that led into a small room with a stage. As I listened to the music coming from behind that door I started to get that feeling. You know that feeling you have right before you enter a club and you can here only the bass of a track you love playing inside? Yeah, That feeling.
The door opened and I slipped in. I was met by a packed room of dancing people and some spine-tingling-good dance music. The track filling the room at that moment was a rework of Matt Cutler’s “Airglow Fires” and it had the kind of dirty beat that makes you switch gears; it’s time to rave.
[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Airglow-Fires.mp3|titles=Lone – Airglow Fires]
Lone – Airglow Fires
The best part about that show in the Jägerhaus was that it was small and cozy but not too tightly packed. There wasn’t a stage so Jungle was setup right in front of you on the ground. While their main stage show was all original tracks, this show was a mixture of original mixes and records the band liked. In other words, this was the greatest house party you’ve ever imagined.
Unlike the occasional pushing and shoving you would get in front of the stage, this show was filled with a bunch of people that were after a good time. At one point a woman wearing a toy beard appeared next to me and gave me a surprised look. It was funny mostly because I feel like I should have been giving the surprised looks in this situation. In any case, I leaned over and shouted over the music: “nice beard.”
She stroked the swaft of smooth hair beneath her chin and shouted back with a smile “I’ve never done this before” and then we carried on dancing like it was totally normal to rock out with a fake beard on.
Dear Bearded woman (I think you said your name is Izy?),
You are awesome. Please email me so that we can hang out.
As the night wore on, I found myself drawn toward the Ambient Forest and The Port beyond. The Port was a stage in the shape of a World War II battleship with a circus of entertainers doing acrobatics and blowing fire off the top deck. It’s nuts!
And getting to The Port was like something out of a J.R.R. Tolkien Novel. First you had to pass behind the main stage and walk up a hill towards the kaleidoscope stage. There is an entrance to the forest hidden by a twisting kaleidoscope light show projected on the trees. Once you are in the Ambient Forest you have to find your way out. If you find your way out the other side of the forest you are presented with a giant ship floating in a sea of dancing people. It’s an incredible sight.
That is of course IF you find the way to the other side. Finding your way out of the forest is no small task when you are inebriated… It was tragically funny how many times I saw a poor drunk soul sitting on the side of the trail – having given up to the Ambient Forest’s maze. And there are a lot of things to distract you along the trail.
I did stay focused on reaching the Port on the other side but I can’t say that I took the most direct route. In fact I think that is partly what Bestival is all about. The journey. Discovery. And as I was looking for the other side of the Ambient Forest I was happy to stumble upon a small door with a tiger printed on it. The Blind Tiger!
I triumphantly pushed through the door and walked down into the underground bar. You immediately notice the change in sound. Most of the venues at Bestival are open air so you can always hear everything else going on around you. A bass thumping in the distance or a lost guitar chord. Even when you leave the festival ground and climb back into your tent at night, you can still hear everything faintly in the background.
The first thing you notice in the Blind Tiger is the silence. I hadn’t been in an actual room in three days. When that door shut behind me, there was no other sound besides what was going on inside that bar.
And what was going on inside that bar was up for debate.
It was smoky. The ceilings were low. There was a man playing the piano with a top hat on. I suppose it was exactly what you would expect from the Ambient Forest. Just plain random. Perhaps it was the drugs kicking in, or maybe I was starting to feel a bit tired from being on my feet all day, but that quiet moment in the Blind Tiger was the perfect intermission.
Once back outside and on the trail to The Port I began to hear the noises of what could only be a rave. When the relative silence of the forest opens up unto The Port, you are swept away by its grandeur. The lights. The sound. The crowd! Everyone ends up at The Port by the end of the night.
To make things even better, the captain of the ship at that moment was none other than Annie Mac. If her show on the main stage earlier in the day could be categorized as her daytime persona then what she was playing from the H.M.S. Bestival would represent after-dark Annie. You don’t need drugs when there is music pumping at your face from a flame throwing battleship and there is ticker tape exploding all around you.
Annie Mac. You definitely win Bestival this year. That set at The Port was incredible.
Day 4: Sunday, Sept[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Impossible.mp3,https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Re-Rewind.mp3|titles= Sunday Mix: Lion Babe – Impossible,Craig David – Re-Rewind (featuring Artful Dodger)]
Admittedly, Sunday was a day of recovery for your faithful reporter. The list of artists I planned to see was significantly smaller (Mark Ronson, Todd Terje, Missy Elliot) and I wasn’t even able to get through half of that. On the bright side, I stumbled on a few unexpectedly good shows.
After breakfast I stumbled into the Bollywood tent to be pleasantly surprised by the legendary Norman Jay on stage. To see that little guy shamble between turntables mixing up the good times was a great first move for the day.
While Norman Jay was packing up, the next act came on almost immediately. A tiny darkskinned woman with the largest mane of curly blonde hair stepped up on stage. …I was intrigued. Behind her on the decks, was Lucas Goodman. He started to spin some hip hop, dance and Funk while she started to hype up the crowd. Together they are called “Lion Babe.”
While Goodman spun a fantastic mashup of Neo soul and dance music, the Lion Babe (aka Jillian Hervey) pranced around stage with 6 inch heels on. All the while she was throwing her wild hair around and contorting her body in ways I didn’t think were humanly possible. Lion Babe gets a massive ‘tick’ when it comes to live show performance.
[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Impossible.mp3|titles=Lion Babe – Impossible]
Lion Babe – Impossible
Taking a break from the Bollywood tent, I went cruising. After doing a litle circuit, I settled on a small stage by the Ambient Forest to listen to some amazing cover songs performed by Kate Simko and her London Electronic Orchestra. Their cover of Sébastien Tellier, “La Ritournelle” was inspiring.
I was determined to see at least one artist on my must-see list and so I made my way to the stage where Mark Ronson was playing next. Little did I know that Craig David was on beforehand.
Now, I know that Craig David was huge back in the day and he was very popular in the US but in the UK…. he was a god. I first learned this when I arrived to see Mark Ronson 30 minutes early and the tent was absolutely bursting from inside. You could see the sweat evaporating out the top it was so full of dancing people. There was quite a bit of women holding their hands to their hearts while they sang along to the sky. It was one of those shows that was so tightly packed that you had about enough room to tap your feet and nod your head to the beat… forget about moving your arms. It was fun to be apart of. To be honest, it completely over shadowed Mark Ronson’s DJ set.
[audio:https://thenewlofi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Re-Rewind.mp3|titles= Craig David – Re-Rewind (featuring Artful Dodger)]
Craig David – Re-Rewind (featuring Artful Dodger)
The reality that I was going to miss the last ferry off of the Isle of Wight started setting in after Mark Ronson and so I started making my way back to the Main Stage to see if I could catch one more show. It’s not something I would have planned on, but when I found out that it was The Jackson 4, I couldn’t complain. It would be a great way to end this years Bestival and wrap up the Summer Festival season.
Bestival still remains my favorite festival. It’s not just the fact that it’s one last ‘hurrah’ before the winter sets in, but it’s the wide range of artists and all the opportunities to stumble upon new music. Most of all, the organizers of Bestival do an absolutely amazing job of curating some of the best artists, food and performances compared to any other festival. It’s not too small, it’s not too big… it’s the festival that is just right.