Bestival day four: M.I.A. wreaks havoc, calling for change in Britain

M.I.A. closes Bestival on Sunday night, with an energetic, vibrant – and at times political – performance. There's also sets from Chaka Khan, We Are Scientists, and Plan B.

M.I.A. stands with the people

M.I.A. stands on the front barrier during her Sunday night headline slot. (Neelam Khan Vela)

Rapper M.I.A. balances precariously on the top railing of the front barrier at Bestival’s main stage, shuffling along as she grips the frantically waving hands beneath her. A cohort of nervous-looking security guards has formed behind her, holding her up as she raps furiously to ’20 Dollar.’ A significant portion of M.I.A.’s set is spent like this, with the artist practically embedded in the crowd (and showing an impressive ability to balance on narrow platforms). It may be a Sunday night, but M.I.A. has successfully orchestrated a massive party. “Bestival how you all doing tonight?” she asks the crowd, before adding: “I can’t hear you, make some noiiiise!” She moves frenetically across the stage, dressed in a white t-shirt with a love heart shaped whole across her chest, and a piece of tiger-striped fabric running down her right leg.

On ‘XR2,’ M.I.A. – by this point back on stage – energetically dances, her limbs flailing around, her body bouncing up and down as she performs in the middle of an ornate golden arch. Rainbow lighting swirls behind her; whirring sounds induce heart palpitations, and backing dancers vigorously pump their arms and legs. Just before ‘Double Bubble Trouble,’ M.I.A. changes into a colourful kimono-esque outfit, which she wears with the hood up, sticking her middle finger up as she raps: “I got a reputation,” before going straight into a raucous rendition of ‘Bad Girls.’ There are hardly any breaks between tracks, with M.I.A. maintaining her dynamism throughout. The exception is when she feels that people aren’t showing enough enthusiasm (at one point she refuses to play the next song until “people are loud”).

M.I.A. performing her vibrant headline set to close Bestival on Sunday night.(Neelam Khan Vela)

Launching into ‘Pull Up the People,’ M.I.A. clambers off the stage and back towards the crowd, once again balancing on the barrier railing, and falling forward into the audience. She stays there for the entirety of ‘Born Free,’ looming over the audience. In the middle of the track she hands the mic to a woman in the crowd, who introduces herself as Tara, adding: “We are not born free, the government controls us, the government controls us but we own our destiny…be what you want to be.” M.I.A. then takes back her microphone, before repeatedly holding it over the crowd, letting them rap the lyrics, before playing ‘Borders’ in the electric environment she’s created at the front barrier.

It’s not a flawless performance, however. At one point, the rapper’s DJ informs her there’s only seven-minutes left (M.I.A. started 15 minutes late, without offering an explanation), and initially it seems that her set will be cut short. Luckily, the artist is allowed an extra ten-minutes to round off her show.

Closing with ‘Paper Planes,’ the rapper moves lithely across the stage, People chant along, jumping up and down on recycling bins, shaking various bits of fencing. She asks: “Do you think the British government should do some apologising?” adding: “It’s time for a change.” In the background, a screen lights up with phrases like ‘fake news,’ and ‘proxy wars.’ M.I.A. emits a revolutionary aura and, with her in charge, it feels like everything in Britain might just turn out okay. “Peace. We love you all…enjoy your time.,” she tells the crowd before walking off stage. “Enjoy the rest of your life.”

Chaka Khan pulls out the bangers 

Chaka Khan flicks her hair during her performance on Bestival’s main stage on Sunday. (Neelam Khan Vela)

“Hey, how ya doing?” Chaka Khan asks the crowd in her Chicago drawl, instantly relaxing audience members. The soul singer is partway through her early evening slot on the main stage, which is feel-good and fun. Her smooth singing voice calms hungover onlookers, as they dance joyously in the sunshine. The funk legend is currently engineering her comeback, having released her single ‘Like Sugar’ in June, her first new music in more than ten years, which she duly plays to the crowd. And, although her career has spanned nearly five-decades, she’s so gracious about it all, repeatedly checking in with the crowd (“How ya doing? Ya doing good?”). It’s all groovy, bass-heavy, and happy.

On ‘I’m A Woman,’ Khan’s sways side to side, slowly jiving around on the spot. Still, she struggles in the heat, complaining that “it’s too damn hot” and bemoaning “global fuckin’ warming,” before using a fan to cool herself down. Khan saves the big hits until last, smacking on ‘I’m Every Woman’, which is four-minutes of complete elation. Then it’s time for ‘Ain’t Nobody,’ with the audience cheerfully getting loose to the music.

We Are Scientists have their Bestival debut

Keith Murray and Chris Cain of We Are Scientists play their first ever gig at Bestival. (Neelam Khan Vela)

Indie rock veterans We Are Scientists hop around on stage at The Big Top, with lead singer Keith Murray pulling out a sort of improvised moonwalk. This is, surprisingly, they’re first ever Bestival. And they’re having a hoot. The band are crowd-pleasers, too, playing the tracks that brought them international success on breakthrough album ‘With Love and Squalor’ back in 2005. On ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘It’s A Hit,’ Murray bounds around, his distinctive hair flopping over his eyes, as listeners croon along. Nostalgia practically oozes out of their guitars.

There’s an enviable friendship between Murray and Cain, who banter with one another throughout the set. “You guys can’t see down there, but this guy [Murray] just spilled his beer,” chuckles Cain after a couple of songs. Later on, Cain accidentally interrupts Murray as he’s speaking, with the lead singer responding: “I don’t want to say what I was gonna say because surely it will pale in comparison with whatever nugget you were gonna say.” There are also jokes about the atypically hot English weather, with Cain describing it as “non-English” and asking if people have brought wellies as a precaution (they have).

The band also plays a few tracks from their latest album, ‘Megaplex,’ released in 2018. New song ‘One in One Out’ is performed tightly, and with zeal, which by the end has watchers joining in on the refrain: “That’s why I stopped right where I stood when I saw you.” Still, their old stuff has proved the most enduring. On 2008 track ‘After Hours,’ people leap all over the shop, as the band draw in passers-by that want to be reminded of their youth.