Roar! at Bestival 2013

Bestival is a success story, going from a smaller operation to hitting the big league in only ten years. But has it retained its dignity?


The Isle of Wight is still a quiet holiday retreat, but as soon as one of its many festivals comes around, it’s a place that I’m sure usual residents would like retreat from. There is madness from the moment you step onto the ferry. Getting there by boat, it felt like we were crossing oceans rather than just the Solent. I didn’t know what to expect on the other side.

Bestival is a sea of chemical-induced happiness, the reincarnation of the 90s rave scene mixed with a vibrant colour scheme and restless. Let’s put it this way, when a beautiful girl asks you desperately for a line, you know you’re not fishing – take a look into her fishbowl eyes.

When I finally got to the site on the Thursday, I was immediately surrounded by slurred voices, and strobes baptising the sky. The party had by then plateaued at a peak which it miraculously retained for the rest of the next 90 or so hours, until the end of the event.

My first night experience was nothing odd: after using my press pass to have a quick snog with the giant inflatable Lionel Richie head in some kind of drunken haze, the last thing I can remember is lying paralytic on the floor outside the Big Top with “SLUT” written on my back. Yet despite my unfortunate vantage point, I was still able to deduce that MIA’s late set was terrible. Endless sub-bass drops marked her entry into the long list of wannabe Beyoncés. More like a primary school DJ with too much attitude than the political warrior she used to be. This concerned the then debilitated me: what would the rest of the heavily sub-bass music at the festival bring?

Of course, there were big names this year, bigger than curators Rob and Josie da Bank have ever put on in previous years, try Elton John (whose classics set nodded it off in style) and Snoop Dogg. Returning the balance though, the mornings were delicate, people sat in their comedowns on the characteristically nautical site, which is a bold challenge to Glastonbury’s Shangri La.

Smaller acts like Lloyd Yates eased us back into the rhythms of the daytime. Theirs was a mature set. I had the privilege of speaking to Yates after, and he awakened me to the two-sided coin that Bestival is. “I am friends with Rob da Bank in London,” he said, “I started this band when I found out my partner was pregnant, I was out in Mexico, and I knew I had to get back to England and just go for it. Make the band work. And Rob has been incredibly helpful.” You could tell that from the endless list of spectacular DJ sets that Rob da Bank is firmly rooted in the dance-music scene. Yet in terms of live acts the festival is still dedicated to a wealth of variety. This means it retains its integrity as an honest platform for artists, while providing a world beating end of summer party.

Most notable of the ample dance stages was The Port. There stood an iron vessel amongst downtrodden fields, with blistering sets from the likes of Annie Mac Presents and Carl Cox. Pyro scorched thrills and a bellowing soundsystem.

The lineup was cleverly well-balanced. Spectacles like Wu-Tang Clan (I can confirm that they are indeed ‘nothing to fuck with’) and Chic were held in the light, meaning you could go from watching big names to unknown bands with ease. This was made more manageable by a medium-sized arena, relatively easy to get around.

Since getting bigger, bringing you everything all the time is what this festival has become about. It does it with style!