Bestival review – the Cure go back to the future for festival season finale

Robin Hill, Isle of Wight
This year’s theme may be the future, but Robert Smith goes on a nostalgic tour of the Cure’s greatest hits, while Wolf Alice let out a howl and Kano brings on a Bond-like brass section

You can’t fault Bestival’s optimism. Given a fancy dress theme of the future, there’s barely a decimated ice-cap, malevolent super-intelligence or Trump apocalypse in sight. For the silver surfers raving with giant inflatable astronauts at the Spaceport, the future means gangs of Vultans, cardboard robots and sexy stormtroopers. For them, the party will rule forever.

Their optimism may be misplaced. Bestival, festival season’s hedonistic aftershow, is condensed this year. Outer fields are abandoned, smaller stages drawn into the main arena, the surrealist fairytale vibe muted. There’s even a marked drop in fancy dress, presumably because the average Cure fan’s wardrobe is notoriously light on silver space leotards.

There’s a sense of the party winding down, but no one told Friday headliners Major Lazer, who jazz up their electro mambos and Jamaican dancehall raves with streamer guns, dancers and bits where they walk over the crowd in an inflatable ball. Still, they are a very expensive DJ set featuring three MCs who insist we get more excited about Rihanna’s Work, and are, arguably, part of the problem.

Crowdsurfing … Diplo of Major Lazer at Bestival.
Crowdsurfing … Diplo of Major Lazer at Bestival. Photograph: Ollie Millington/Redferns

If this year’s Bestival reflects the creative stagnation of mainstream music, it is also home to the seeds of recovery, too. Between Skepta’s dank rages, Kano’s Bond-like brass section and Krept and Konan shouting “When we say drugs money, you say alcohol!”, the presence of grime’s biggest stars mount a challenge to the weekend’s headliners.

Presumably, scooping her enchanting electropop from a misty fjord plagued by volcanic geysers, Norway’s Aurora could hopefully usurp Years & Years’ popularity; a neo-pop band seemingly designed for Bestival by committee, right down to the on-stage dance-off and outfits resembling android parakeets. “We come from the future,” says Olly Alexander, presumably sent to stop themselves making more records.

Likewise, the tub-thumping, culture-throttling Quorn indie of Bastille – a cod-epic cover of No Scrubs? Hell has insufficient punishments – is upstaged by the rock armies mustering on the outskirts: Vant, Pretty Vicious and NYC hippy punks Sunflower Bean. Wolf Alice even bring a rare howl of passion to the main stage on Saturday, raging like a feral Elastica and terrifying anyone who’s misheard that Rolf Harris was on.

During Wiz Khalifa’s Sunday headline set, the rapper delivers a frills-free performance – apart from the barrage of inflatable joints and steam jets. Jubilant hits including Young, Wild and Free are surprisingly tight and gymnastic considering his Olympic-level toking throughout.

Wiz Khalifa at Bestival.
No frills … Wiz Khalifa at Bestival. Photograph: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

The real 23rd-century sounds come from Jagwar Ma’s almighty mechanical Madchester; Animal Collective’s impressions of Vampire Weekend malfunctioning; and Ride’s, um, 24-year-old century psychedelic firestorm Leave Them All Behind.

But all cower beneath the hammer blow of the Cure’s immense history. “I came last year and thought ‘Please Duran Duran, just play your singles,’” says Robert Smith, then does exactly that with his hits for two hours. It’s as incredible as veterans of their more dirge-laden slogs ever fantasised. From In Between Days to Lullaby and Just Like Heaven to Boys Don’t Cry, timeless weep-alongs mingle with barnstorming indie pop and dungeon psych-rock to create the best festival set of the season. Bestival may be reverting to its boutique roots, but who needs a future when the past is this dazzling?


Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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