Live Review of HMS Bestival 5th-8th September 2013

Q: What do you get if you leave 55,000 people on the Isle Of Wight for four days in September?


A: Possibly the messiest weekend of excess on the UK's summer festival calendar.

Having become the official closing party to the summer's festivities that started back in May at Brighton's Great Escape, Rob De Bank's Bestival shindig has developed a life of its own in recent years. Growing to over five times the size of its inaugural 2004 event, Bestival can boast at being one of the few music festivals where the line-up is often secondary in the eyes of many revellers. Described as a "boutique Glastonbury" by some, it's become one of the most prominent names on the calendar, which is testament to its creator and his team of organisers in building and maintaining such a prestigious gathering.

As with past years, 2012's event saw a wealth of new areas and stages. Gone were the Psychedelic Worm and Arcadia, the latter having returned to its spiritual home of Glastonbury. In their place came the Replay Stage and Temple Island, hosting an array of artists of various national and international acclaim. Standing out impressively like no other stage seen at any event of its kind before was The Port, an arena shaped like a boat purposely built in conjunction with this year's nautical theme. Big names in the dance world like Annie Mac, Carl Cox, DJ EZ and Seth Troxler packed its rafters every night, with revellers literally crawling over each other to grab a piece of the action. 

Previous headliners on Bestival's main stage having included Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse and The Cure, this year's event proved just as enticing with Elton John and Snoop Dogg among those topping the bill. While some cynics - including yours truly - may have remarked on the late addition of Fatboy Slim to headline status may have had more to do with cost saving initiatives than any musical merit, there could be little to complain about, particularly with the under card of the line-up over the course of Bestival's four-day extravaganza.

Although often viewed as a preamble to the weekend's main event, Thursday evening, particularly in the Big Top arena, introduced a delectable haven of delights. One-man electronic genius East India Youth brought the beats, while Nottingham's Dog Is Dead delivered an army of rousing anthems. Having debuted two new songs earlier in the summer, those as-yet-unreleased numbers have become permanent fixtures in the live set, 'I'd Never Hit You Back' in particular sounding like a massive hit in waiting.

M.I.A. might be more renowned for her controversial behaviour than any musical accolades, but tonight she owns the stage in a way very few others achieved over the course of the whole weekend. 'Bad Girls', 'Galang', 'Bucky Done Gun' and 'Sunshowers' all come and go with impenetrable aplomb, while 'Paper Planes' accentuates a glo-stick coloured moshpit engulfing the entire Big Top.

Friday, it's the turn of Wu Tang Clan to kickstart a similar kind of mid-afternoon vibe from the Main Stage. Or at least it would be if several of their entourage hadn't been detained by customs earlier. Nevertheless, a rare outing for Raekwon's 'Ice Cream' deflects all attention from his absent friends, for four minutes at least. Over in the Big Top, The Walkmen demonstrates once more why they remain one of the most underrated bands to come out of New York City in decades. 

Better still in the Replay tent are Aussie trio Jagwar Ma. With debut long player 'Howlin'' already set to feature highly in several end of year "Best Ofs", it's even more notable just how well those songs translate in a live context. While lazy comparisons with 1980s Manchester and early Skint Records remain, 'Man I Need' and 'Come Save Me' ooze a sensual, timeless production that wouldn't sound out of place at any juncture from 1967 onwards. It's crowning glory 'The Throw' though that has the whole tent bouncing in unified ecstasy. As anthems go, this isn't just Jagwar Ma's piece de resistance, but arguably one of Bestival 2013's "moments" too. Main stages await next year for sure.

Belle & Sebastian also put on a show that far outweighs any miserablist or twee accusations labelled at them in the past. Sticking with this year's HMS Bestival theme with Stuart Murdoch resplendent in a sailor's hat, their career spanning set is a joy to behold. 'Like Dylan In The Movies' and 'I'm A Cuckoo' create hysterical singalongs out front and 'The Boy With The Arab Strap', an impromptu stage invasion mid-song. By the time 'Judy And The Dream Of Horses' closes the set, everyone walks away smiling with a joyful stride in their step. 

Although still unsure as to why they're so popular, it's fair to say Peace have captured many people's imaginations and, judging by the rammed Replay tent that looks fit to burst, they've pretty much got Bestival sewn up too. London Grammar follow suit, and while all eyes seem transfixed on elegant singer Hannah Reid, it's the probing beats accompanying her sultry voice that confirm their legitimate challenge to The xx's crown in the understated ambience stakes.  

The Polyphonic Spree do their utmost to rouse a still hungover Saturday morning crowd, even throwing in a flawless cover of The Monkees' 'Porpoise Song' for good measure. Merchandise also provide a much-needed teatime assault of loud, effects-laden guitars, which might seem unbefitting to a dance-orientated event like Bestival, yet acts as the perfect wake-up call for the evening that lays ahead.

Attracting a huge crowd on the Main Stage are Rudimental, and with an armoury of dancefloor-pop crossover bangers in their locker, they're nothing short of a revelation here. Another band who've come on in leaps and bounds are Swim Deep, and their energetic and, at times, very sweaty set proves a massive hit with the adoring crowd that sing along with every word that passes through Austin Williams lips.

As headliners go, Snoop Dogg may have seemed like a bizarre choice to some, yet for just over an hour his hit-filled set turns the Main Stage into an Eastside after party of epic proportions. 'Drop It Likes It Hot' and 'Gin & Juice' initiate all kinds of suggestive moves from the female contingent out front, and while the Snoop Lion material perhaps seems a little out of place, 'Who Am I (What's My Name?)' dominantly revives the party spirit. 

The less said about The Knife's art-for-art's-sake performance the better, and so it's left to DJ EZ to bring the evening to a close with a mix of old school garage and pop classics instead.

Sunday seems to have brought the rain clouds to stay, although Trojan Records legend Max Romeo ploughs on regardless without a care in the world. 'War In A Babylon' and 'Chase The Devil' remind all and sundry just why he's held in such high esteem, his iconic status firmly intact, if a little dampened by the unfortunately timed weather.

The Wonder Stuff turn back the clock with consummate ease too. Miles Hunt even reminding the crowd at one point that Birmingham and the Midlands have taken over this year's Bestival, an obvious reference to both Swim Deep and Peace's crowd pleasing performances over the past two evenings. Playing a career spanning set that doesn't necessarily go for the obvious - raucous early b-side 'Ten Trenches Deep' concludes the set - it's a no less crowd-pleasing performance that makes those present yearn for the days when songs like 'The Size Of A Cow' were bonafide top ten hit singles.

With the inimitable Nile Rodgers on guitar, Chic run through a set packed with theirs and other people's hits, all written by the aforementioned genius himself. It's no surprise the entire population of Bestival appears to have turned out for their show. 'Good Times', 'Le Freak, 'Everybody Dance', David Bowie's 'Let's Dance' and Madonna's 'Like A Virgin' among the impressive array of songs touched by the hand of Rodgers, it feels like the party to end all parties.

Yet another emerging bunch of talents from the West Midlands, Jaws, also manage to steal the limelight in the Replay tent. Combining elements of grunge, psychedelia, melodic pop and punk, they're a riot of colour and noise that should stand them in good stead for the months ahead. As Elton John takes to the main stage, we're still in the mood to dance and Kerri Chandler's set over in the Bollywood arena doesn't disappoint.

Indeed, that's what makes Bestival so great. Whatever your bag, there really is something for everyone. See you next year!

Dom Gourlay

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