Bestival – review

Robin Hill Country Park, Isle of Wight

Bestival is, the lead singer of Django Django robustly notes, "the first festival we've played in Britain this year where it isn't pissing down". As is so often the case, the weather seems to have affected the whole tone of the event. The mood in the crowd is one of sunburnt, benign, animal-costumed open-mindedness, which is probably just as well given the eclecticism of the main stage: Adam Ant's set of triple-tested 80s hits is followed in short order by Gallows's raw-throated hardcore punk, the wafty guitar pop of Warpaint and a DJ set from Flux Pavilion of the kind of dubstep that accurately replicates the sensation of a giant robot repeatedly stamping on your head.

The xx draw what's alleged to be the largest crowd in Bestival's history, which seems faintly amazing. Opaque, hushed and introverted, their music isn't really the stuff of air-punching festival anthems. That said, it sounds fantastic drifting across the night air: the trio have somehow cracked the problem of how to communicate a sense of intimacy to the back of a huge crowd. Florence + the Machine go for the opposite approach. Not exactly the most understated performer to start off with, Florence Welch's set involves an orchestra and choir, a cover of Drake's Take Care and a performance of the Calvin Harris house remix of Spectrum.

Born out of a Sunday evening club night in Clapham, Bestival's dancefloor roots show clearly: anyone still standing at 3am gets treated to a live performance by Detroit techno legends Inner City. While Emeli Sandé is on the main stage, performing the kind of pop-soul songs that seem destined for ubiquity among X Factor contestants for the rest of time, the Bollywood tent is rammed, as it has been all afternoon, for a programme of drum'n'bass, dubstep and reggae curated by veteran British reggae DJ David Rodigan. By the time Rodigan himself appears, delivering something between a DJ set and a history lesson – "Back to Jamaica in the 70s! No internet! No mobile phone!" he cries — the atmosphere is one of barely-controlled pandemonium. There's something rather touching about the crowd's response to records made decades before most of them were born.

Elsewhere, Alt-J, who currently find themselves in the curious position of being the bookies' favourites for the Mercury prize before the shortlist has even been announced, play on a tiny outlying stage, with predictable results: latecomers struggle to get in the same postal district as the band. Similarly, Django Django's idiosyncratic, trebly psychedelia packs out their tent – there's the heady, unmistakable sense of a band on the cusp of mainstream success with music that's anything but mainstream.

Saturday brings with it disco. Coming hot on the heels of a Sister Sledge without lead singer Kathy – contrary to what they keep telling us, they patently don't have all their sisters with them – it's not entirely clear what relationship the Earth, Wind & Fire Experience bear to the actual Earth, Wind & Fire, but whoever it is singing has a falsetto you could perform surgery with. Suddenly shunted up the bill thanks to a no-show from rapper Azealia Banks, suffering from a cold and dressed as a cat, Jessie Ware nevertheless exudes a beguiling confidence. Her electronic take on soul could have been made with the express intention of soundtracking a late Indian summer afternoon.

The appeal of Two Door Cinema Club is a little harder to locate – there's a weird disconnect between their amiable but defiantly ordinary alt-rock and the vociferous reaction it gets. Always a variable live act even at their height – especially at their height – New Order start out sounding ragged. Everything suddenly gels, unexpectedly, with a version of Joy Division's Isolation, given a sleek electronic makeover. By the end of their set, even at the back of the crowd, there's a mood of giddy delight: the last party of the summer appears to be going swimmingly.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Bestival 2012 - timelapse video
See some memorable moments of the four-day Bestival music festival captured in timelapse - including soul veterans Earth Wind & Fire’s set

Alicia Canter, Karin Andreasson and Cameron Robertson

12, Sep, 2012 @11:04 AM

Article image
New Order to headline Bestival 2012
Manchester band's first festival date in seven years sees them join a lineup that includes the xx, Justice and Azealia Banks

Sean Michaels

14, Feb, 2012 @10:44 AM

Article image
Bestival 2011 – review
The leftfield electro brigade resorted to cliche, PJ Harvey enthralled, and the Cure delivered a set on a symphonic scale, writes Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont

11, Sep, 2011 @12:14 PM

Article image
Stevie Wonder to headline Sunday night at Bestival 2012
Multiple Grammy award-winning star to appear at Isle of Wight event in his only UK festival appearance of the summer

Caspar Llewellyn Smith

22, Mar, 2012 @5:15 PM

Article image
Bestival 2012: how was it for you?
From Adam Ant to the xx, share with us your festival highlights

Sarah Williams

10, Sep, 2012 @1:52 PM

Article image
Bestival is the big winner at UK festival awards

Event founded by DJ Rob da Bank named best major festival of 2012, while newcomer Festival No 6 also wins big

Guardian music

04, Dec, 2012 @2:52 PM

Article image
Sleeve notes: Bestival 2012 lineup looking Wonderful

Music news, reviews and discussion from the last seven days

23, Mar, 2012 @3:39 PM

Article image
Bestival 2012 preview: our top picks from the lineup

Adam Boult: Wondering who to see at this weekend's festival? Hot Chip, perhaps? Or Chas and Dave? Here's who to watch out for

Adam Boult

04, Sep, 2012 @5:03 PM

Article image
Bestival review – a non-stop rave of style and substance
Dance-friendly acts flourished at Bestival this year, with Outkast, Foals and Nile Rodgers leading the party, writes Ian Gittins

Ian Gittins

08, Sep, 2014 @12:56 PM

Article image
Friday at Bestival - what have you been enjoying so far?

If you're at Bestival this weekend, this is the place to tell us what you think of the festival so far

07, Sep, 2012 @8:00 AM