Robin Hill County Park, Isle of Wight, September 6 - 9
My my, Bestival, haven’t you grown? The original boutique festival is now a beast with ferocious teeth. Speaking of which, Gary Numan is here. He might be as old as the hills, but he’s still as fresh as a corpse’s burp. Out of fashion for decades, the industrial godfather is basking in overdue respect as he struts, sucks his cheeks in and pours water over his muscles. He’s like a new man.
Donning pirate regalia, Adam Ant is not unlike your uncle in Jack Sparrow fancy dress, but as he himself says, “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of”. Nuggets of pop genius pour forth, with ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’ the pick of a feral set. Not even a twinkle in his father’s eye when Antmusic was in its pomp, Jake Bugg is undaunted by the massive swell surrounding the Replay Stage. It’s difficult not to sound patronising and throw in words like ‘potential’ where Bugg is concerned, but his musical vision has come to fruition staggeringly early. The boy done good.
Elsewhere, Warpaint’s new material is phenomenal. If ‘The Fool’ was overly cluttered, they’ve made way for space on new songs with working titles like ‘New One’ and ‘Another New One’. Trip-hoppy, ambient grooves make way for breakbeats and analogue solos, and they slip in ‘Undertow’ as a late summer treat. Soon we’re all asking: where do Soulwax begin and 2 Many DJs end? The literal answer would be the Main Stage and the Big Top, as the Dewaele brothers keep themselves busy on Friday, though the acts have become so alike it’s difficult to differentiate; in fact, the Soulwax of old has been forgotten with near-Maoist revisionism. Both sets pulsate.
The swell for The xx is poo-your-pants Notting Hill Carnival scary. “This makes the audience for The Cure look miniscule,” shouts one verbose regular swept away in a sea of flesh and panic. It’s ironic that an album as soothingly intimate as ‘xx’ creates a spectacle on such a massive scale, but they keep coming over the hill to witness Romy, Oliver and Jamie not do much. The xx let the music do the talking, and the response as the first few notes of ‘Angels’ strike up couldn’t be any more emphatic. If their sound is entirely modern – a fine achievement – then new album ‘Coexist’ brazenly recreates a winning formula. Over the course of an hour, the repetition of dreamy dual vocals, the subtle pulse that underpins everything and the echo-drenched guitar lines can become wearying. Afterwards, Florence + The Machine’s set is lavish, with an orchestra, harp, backing singers, grand piano, kitchen sink… Florence’s lungs go up to 11, and her ship-whistle larynx belts away with all its might as she irrepressibly leaps from side to side onstage without pause. It makes you wonder what’s on Flo’s rider.
Saturday’s fancy dress theme is ‘wildlife’ and Jessie Ware gamely comes trussed up as Catwoman. If Jessie J was a false dawn for UK soul-pop, her namesake’s material is more nuanced and palatable. She’s the real deal, and her voice mesmerises. You’ll not find a more professional, tight and unthreatening outfit than Two Door Cinema Club, and their anthemic choruses are irresistible, if generic indie-pop is your thing. It’s as though Westlife picked up guitars in order to be dangerous like, say, Franz Ferdinand. This may sound traditionalist, but rock’n’roll should surely be played by people you’re not quite sure you could beat in a fight. Two Door, outside now! You choose which door!
A precocious and sweary Charli XCX has no fear of leaping like a mad salmon or covering an Echo & The Bunnymen sacred cow on Sunday. Her take on ‘The Killing Moon’ should be awful but it isn’t. If Marina has jumped the shark, then that’s more reason to love potty-mouthed Charli’s not-dissimilar oeuvre.
Like Doomsday itself, DOOM is running unfashionably late. He and his cohorts hold up proceedings further by insisting their entire rider of San Miguel is brought onstage. The new JJ DOOM record might be mega, but with a muggy-sounding laptop and DOOM and his posse drinking, they create the vibe of three fat men arsing about in masks at a barbecue. It’s not DOOM’s day.
The last time we saw Natasha Khan she was wearing a man. This time she’s elegant in cape with ruff, which she takes off to reveal a little black dress. The sun has taken its hat off, though Bat For Lashes is the perfect antidote given she’s just so goddamn nice. At first it’s underwhelming, but as the set builds we’re suddenly swept up in her confessional, slightly bourgeois world. There’s hardly a dry eye when she performs ‘Laura’, and even Natasha herself lets out a sob at the end. It’s pretty touching. Following the fireworks, Friendly Fires attempt to keep the party burning bright in the Big Top, putting in a hugely energetic performance, but it’s difficult to summon up much enthusiasm after the majesty of Stevie Wonder’s headline set. He charms our pants off with an endless arsenal of classics including a dazzlingly cool ‘Master Blaster’. There are bizarre and incoherent ramblings between songs, but who cares, he’s Stevie Wonder! It’s a perfect end to a wonderful festival and as the rain comes down one wonders if Bestival can get any bigger than this…