Bestival, Robin Hill Country Park, Isle of Wight

Robin Hill Country Park, Isle of Wight

Bestival is fast nearing a tipping point. With a capacity of almost 30,000, it has surrendered the boutique festival status it had four years ago when just 7,000 people attended its launch. Yet the event retains a strongly idiosyncratic identity. With its annual fancy dress theme leading to more than half of the sun-drenched crowd stumbling across the Isle of Wight's rolling hills dressed as pirates, wizards or superheroes, there appears little danger of it succumbing to corporate anonymity anytime soon.

This year's dance-inclined bill is a strong one, with the Go! Team's rampant eclecticism and the Chemical Brothers' slick stadium techno fitting Friday-night main-stage openers. Over in the Big Top, the gangling Calvin Harris unfolds his quirky electro-pop like a man ready to spend the weekend partying very hard indeed.

Saturday finds the beardy Tunng on a bandstand in Bestival's fringe Village, looking as if they should be playing Cropredy in the 1970s and sounding like Pentangle reimagined by Captain Beefheart. On the main stage, a surprise greatest hits set by special guests Madness confirms they are one of Britain's all-time great singles bands. They are a hard act to follow and Robyn fails to do so, her buffed Europop noir sounding spirited but ultimately generic. Meanwhile, Kid Carpet, banging on kids' keyboards and guitars, proves that he is the entertaining but little-needed mutant offspring of Daft Punk and John Shuttleworth.

With Bestival's underbill so strong, it is a pity Saturday night's headliners are a crashing disappointment. Twenty years ago, the Beastie Boys first played Britain as snotty white hip-hop punks surrounded by dancing girls in cages and giant inflatable penises. They were puerile, shameless and, most of all, fantastic fun. Now more than 40, Mike D, MCA and Adrock have released The Mix-Up, an album of funk-jazz instrumentals, and should be playing it early on a minor stage. This pleasant but inconsequential new material drags, the old stuff sounds horribly dated and, unforgivably for a Saturday night festival headline set, there is no Fight for Your Right to Party.

Early on Sunday, Bat for Lashes' precocious pop and Remi Nicole's streetwise indie both work well, and formidable US jazz-soul survivor Marlena Shaw enchants the main-stage crowd. More than the headliners, it is artists like these who remain the best draws for what is still, for now, Britain's most maverick music festival.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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