Live Review

Bestival 2012 (Day One)

Bestival is certainly living up to its name.

Bestival is a name that doesn’t mess about. Calling something the best is very ballsy, or indeed potentially very foolish. Even a certain lager brand stuck a cautious ‘probably’ into their famous claim to be the best beer in the world. Mind you, ‘Averagival’ or the even less snappy ‘Good-but-not-quite-Glastonburival’ don’t quite have the same ring, and if anyone is ballsy, it’s Rob da Bank. With all manner of calamities from BLOC to Creamfields dampening people’s spirits, most festival organizers would be quivering in their Wellington boots, but meanwhile, over on the Isle of Wight, the Bestival machine trundled on regardless. The Wishing Tree started to hear the cries of poor, sodden festival-goers with trench foot yearning for sunshine and a jolly good time, and something, if not the Wishing Tree, listened to our pleas. For the first time in UK festival history (more or less) people actually had to apply sun cream out of necessity rather than sheer hopeless optimism. The share index price of wellies and anoraks most certainly took a dramatic plummet during Bestival weekend, from which the waterproofed goods economy will not fully recover until, well, probably next weekend when it pisses it down again. Rob da Bank calmly promised sun, great bands and magical experiences to remember, and it’s safe to say that at Bestival all three were signed, sealed and delivered in abundance. Probably the best festival in the world? Try definitely.

FridayAs well-rested as we can ever hope to be from a night’s kip on a roll mat, we awake on Friday after a grueling night of skipping round the Ambient Forest. Today marks the beginning of some incredible music, and after guzzling a quick rejuvenating cuppa we set off into the arena. Lolling on the hill in front of Main Stage, we look on in slight bemusement at a communal yoga session taking place before us. Before we really have time to fully comprehend what is happening, though, the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band take to the stage, ushered onstage by an incredibly irritating Unicorn who is MC-ing the daytime proceedings, who somewhat confuses things by mispronouncing the band’s name, prompting us, for several seconds, to think that perhaps Jai Paul has dramatically changed musical direction for a surprise set. Opting to sit back and watch the madness unfold, we thoroughly enjoy ourselves, and have a good old natter to some of the Food Power crew too, who are stenciling pink lettering onto people’s arms. This stamp will go on to form a mightily impressive tan mark, thanks to the sunshine, as well as providing ludicrous free advertising opportunities for Oxfam on festival-goer’s arms.

The real reason we prised ourselves out of tents before midday, though, was to see Scandinavian sisters First Aid Kit along with a fair few others, by the looks of the Swedish flags appearing in the crowd. Other than drums, it’s just Johanna and Klara playing keyboard and a duct-taped guitar, stripped back, exposed, and utterly flawless. Dedicating songs to Pussy Riot and Johnny Cash, First Aid Kit seem to love being up on stage, and it’s perfectly suited chill-out music for a growing crowd of happy onlookers. The beauty of earlier sets like this is that people stumble across music by mistake and we hear some neighbouring punters chattering excitedly about buying ‘The Lion’s Roar’ the minute they get home. As we stroll around, we also come across a band by accident, and watch the Psychedelic Worm tent play host to the brilliant two-piece Ghost Outfit, who remind us of very much of second-album Foals.

After a wander round the Soul Park, and a brief moment spent fearing for the life of a man doing handstands on an 100ft bendy pole at Arcadia, we return to Main Stage for another group who make The Spice Girl’s level of girl power look a bit poxy. Warpaint might look all sweet and delicate as they softy thank everyone for coming along, but once they pick up a guitar the music takes on a life of its own. As with First Aid Kit, it doesn’t matter one jot that this is specifically an ‘all girl band’ band – because Warpaint are completely walking all over plenty of all guy bands with their unbeatable quality. The girls translate their very closely wrapped, intimate brand of alternative rock to the huge stage with ease, and ‘Undertow’ prompts a massive sing-along. Sipping cider under blue skies in a shoddily made tiger outfit, surrounded by all manner of wildlife costumes has to be the perfect way to enjoy music.

Leaving behind Warpaint, it’s a quick dash up to Rob da Bank’s Replay Stage, a fantastically curated tent playing host to plenty of new music. Word has clearly spread that the next band are worth a punt, because the crowd is spilling well out of the tent edges. After ducking under countless people making triangle signs in the air, and some more brazen souls who have scaled poles and archways, we just about secure ourselves a place, and on tip-toes we can make out Alt-J singer Joe Newman in a rather fetching fluorescent orange hat. The quality of both the sound and Alt-J’s performance is through the roof, and from the onstage banter, the boys are clearly bowled over by the turn-out. Rattling through ‘∆n ∆wesome W∆ve’ with ease, the geometrically minded odd-ball band prove exactly why there is so much hype surrounding their innovative debut, and that they thoroughly deserve every word of praise.

After beating a hasty retreat back down the hill, we rejoin Mainstage, where a giant white X is beating through the quickly falling darkness. Anyone can work out that this is either a very expensive, and somewhat misguided advert by OXO stock cubes, or, of course, first headliner of the weekend. The xx prove spellbinding live. As thick white smoke pours across the near-silent arena, Oliver’s effortless, gravel-tinged voice mingles irresistibly with Romy’s sultry melodies in that way that unmistakably belongs to them. Jamie xx also gets plenty of time to shine, his ear for infectious hooks we heard so prominently in his solo material becoming a key component of new material from ‘Coexist’. The whole thing is nothing short of absolutely stunning, only marred slightly by a complete imbecile who takes it upon himself to yell “get on with it” at regular intervals during a beautifully drawn out, minimal reworking of ‘Crystalised’. The fact that the whole crowd spins round to shoot glares, though, speaks volumes about the general effect The xx are having, captivating tens of thousands of people all at once. This headline set feels like the beginning of a new chapter for The xx, and we can’t help thinking the release of ‘Coexist’ will cement them as a key band of our generation. It makes us go all soppy even thinking about it.

The xx’s set ends, and we spend at least five minutes in a trance, smiling like goons and clapping before finally realising it really is all over. Tagging along with a conga trail of high-spirited foxes and badgers who are shouting “Julie” in mock-Yorkshire accents at top volume, we weave over to the Ballroom Field. At one point we are enticed inside a box by promises of free vodka, and end up inside a sort of strange empty white room throwing some shamefully bad dance moves. After picking up the tattered pieces of any notion that we possess natural rhythm, it’s up to the Big Top to ruin our reputation once again. SBTRKT takes to the stage in a tribal mask, as we’d expect a la album artwork, and the whole set is a blur of yet more horrendous dancing and plenty of bass to boot.

After all that pandemonium, we opt for the more calmly inclined dance wares of yet another woman at the top of her game, the brilliant producer and DJ Maya Jane Coles, who is settled into a three hour set at the incredibly decorated, and absolutely rammed Bollywood Tent. She wraps a mind-blowing brilliant night of music comfortably, and come the end of her set we potter back to our tent, feeling all warm and happy inside. Bestival is certainly living up to its name.

Tags: The xx, Features

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