Robin Hill Country Park, Isle Of Wight
With 55,000 folk in annual attendance, [b]Bestival[/b] is undoubtedly one of the biggest draws of the UK festival season yet, this year, it’s also one of the strangest. In a summer where curators have resolutely played it safe, [a]Rob da Bank[/a]’s island extravaganza is the anomaly, a festival ruled by the weirdos.
Setting the precedent on Thursday evening is [a]Santigold[/a], who, ever the shy and retiring type, chooses to remind everyone of her existence by dressing up as some kind of pink space-age air hostess. And while we’re all for a bit of Britney meets Nicki Minaj chic, she really needn’t have worried so much. With the sizeable tent bursting at the seams and the filthy strains of ‘[b]Creator[/b]’ still sounding surprisingly fresh, her challenge to MIA’s genre-crossing throne is seemingly not over quite yet. [a]Patrick Wolf[/a], a man with almost unrivalled potential to come across as a complete tool, is happily on form on Friday too – smiling gracious thank-yous and inciting an entire crowd singalong of ‘[b]Magic Position[/b]’. [a]Graham Coxon[/a], meanwhile, a man who by rights should be heralded like an axe-wielding deity, draws a depressingly small crowd to his early evening slot. “[i]This is our last festival of the summer so we’re gonna have some fun,[/i]” he grins before launching into a grungy new number with about as much crowd-pleasing potential as a set of [a]My Bloody Valentine[/a] B-sides played entirely on a musical saw. It’s great – partly because the likes of ‘[b]Spectacular[/b]’ and ‘[b]No Good Time[/b]’ are underrated gold dust and partly because Graham, forgetting his words and gigging like a mischievous schoolboy, is clearly having a hoot.
Over on the Rizlab stage, [a]Friendly Fires[/a] are halfway through their stint as curators. Bringing together the likes of [a]SBTRKT[/a], [a]Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs[/a] and [a]Frankie Knuckles[/a] for a series of one-off collaborations, FF prove their dance expertise with aplomb, though our secret hopes for a headline set go sadly unmet. It’s left to [a]Los Campesinos![/a] to close the day and, while they may be reduced to a mere seven-piece following the departure of violinist Harriet, Gareth and his gang are sounding stronger than ever. ‘[b]The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future[/b]’ is transformed into LC!’s own gut-wrenching ‘[b]Spanish Sahara[/b]’, and, just two days after its release into the blogosphere, even new track ‘[b]By Your Hand[/b]’ is greeted with expectant cheers.
Saturday is Bestival’s fancy dress day, and [a]Oh Land[/a] has come as the girl you always hated in sixth form. Immaculately decked out in black fringing, ridiculously gorgeous and in possession of cooing, dulcet tones and a series of sultry pop bangers, she’s annoyingly perfect. Oh, and she’s a dancer. And probably got straight As too, we’d imagine. Goddamnit. Less self-pity-inducing are forthcoming Radar Tour headliners [a]Wolf Gang[/a], who unleash the joyous likes of strutting stomper ‘[b]Stay And Defend[/b]’ to an impressively large crowd. Like [a]Mystery Jets[/a] or [a]Two Door Cinema Club[/a] before them, Max McElligott and his mates seem to have that all-important indie pop gene that fires itself straight into teenagers’ hearts.
Fresh from her Mercury Prize triumph, [a]PJ Harvey[/a] makes for one of the most incongruous sets of the weekend. Flanked on all sides by a stage covered in brightly lit hearts and smiley faces, her ravaged tales of war and despair prove an uncomfortable fit. Yet somehow, amongst all of Bestival’s hippy frivolity, the sombre weight of ‘[b]Let England Shake[/b]’ hangs heavier than ever.
And so to one of Bestival’s undoubted coups. Taking to the stage for a whopping two-and-a-half hours, [a]The Cure[/a] summon up a whole universe so full of hope and heartbreak we’re left in total shards. Masterfully interspersing crowd-pleasers with more cerebral introversions, Robert Smith and co conduct themselves with near perfection.
A staggering ‘[b]A Night Like This[/b]’ is thrown out early, while ‘[b]Other Voices[/b]’, backed by swathes of smoke and a clear night sky, is torturously gorgeous. Another group that know a thing or two about heartache is [a]The Drums[/a], who bring their melodic melancholy to Sunday afternoon. Having been unceremoniously dumped by guitarist Adam Kessler, their new line-up tries to pick itself up and carry on, but is still clearly hurting inside. With Jacob now assigned to button-pushing duty, Jonathan is left without a foil. It feels more like we’re watching a bitter singer and his newly assembled backing band, and worse, the perk in their lyrics has disappeared entirely. In comparison, a year or so out of the limelight seems to have propelled [a]The Maccabees[/a] from doe-eyed young things into returning heroes. If ‘[b]Wall Of Arms[/b]’ upscaled their ability to create absolutely bursting heart swells, their forthcoming third effort should cause joy-ridden organ failure across the board.
Night falls on the last day and [a]Zola Jesus[/a] absolutely slays the three and a half people that bother turning up to watch her, but all eyes are on the little Icelandic woman dressed as a blue-and-gold tribal clown. Backed by a choir of moshing blondes, [a]Bjork[/a] is entirely not of this world. Focusing heavily on her new album ‘[b]Biophilia[/b]’, but ending with a crashing run through of ‘[b]Declare Independence[/b]’, her ethereal tones and gentle electronics may not, as even she admits, be standard festival fare. “[i]But we don’t care![/i]” she says, and in the Sunday darkness they’re utterly mesmerising. As fireworks bang and white paper hearts waft through the air to the strains of [a]The Horrors[/a]’ ‘[b]Still Life[/b]’, it seems that Bestival might just be the best of all.